Saturday, May 12, 2012

Pretty Vacancy in the Swamp Ward Window

As part of the Art in Public Places Kingston project (APP Kingston) curated by the xcurated collective, "Pretty Vacancy" is on display in the Swamp Ward Window (448 Bagot Street) from May 12th until June 8th, 2012. (Information about the Swamp Ward Window project can be found on its website.)

APP Kingston consists of six thematically related visual art installations in public spaces across the city of Kingston. Each installation is situated in a different space throughout the city creating a unique context for each work of art. The project consists of three locally-based artists (Catherine Toews, Shayne Dark, and me) and four artists from outside of Kingston (Steven Laurie, Robert Hengeveld, and Millie Chen and Warren Quigley.)  The intention of this project is to stimulate discussion about the role of the visual arts and creativity in civic development, while enriching and expanding Kingstonians understanding of public art in all its forms, and through these efforts, to contribute to the development of a successful and viable public art policy in Kingston. More information is available on xcurated's website.

The curators of xcurated (Matthew Hills, Jocelyn Purdie, and Riva Symko) provided the following interpretive text about "Pretty Vacancy":

Kingston-based artist Michael Davidge’s Pretty Vacancy, directly references two things: the 1977 song, “Pretty Vacant” by seminal punk rock band, the Sex Pistols, and the ubiquitous neon (NO)VACANCY signs of roadside motels. While the former inflicts raucous snarls about political unease, recessionary poverty, and youthful unrest, the latter symbolizes a safe place for physical relief from the stress of the highway, and a temporary vacation from the realities of home and working life. Both, however, contain an underlying current of anxiety. The kind of cultural anxiety that has become apparent with the past few decades worth of rapid growth in spectacular capitalism – some might say at the expense of spiritual or intellectual reflection. And the kind of personal anxiety that is present when facing the uncanny strangeness of a blank motel room – like a mixture of the Bates Motel from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and the sterile luxury of a Hilton. Residing somewhere between these two currents, lies Davidge’s desire to captivate and confuse us with his puzzling – and pulsing – textual game.
Davidge’s use of neon is certainly not without precedent. In fact, it has proven to be an attractive and compelling medium for a substantially large number of contemporary artists (including Bruce Nauman and Ron Terada among many others). Perhaps it is that neon is a surprisingly complicated and dialectical substance, which makes it so artistically seductive. Indeed, it can appear both retro and futuristic, it can be tongue-in-cheek but it can serve as a serious mode of communication, it is impossible to ignore and yet it is also an invisible part of our everyday urban-scape. When placed in the context of this otherwise quiet, residential neighborhood in Kingston’s Swamp Ward, is neon an obnoxious imposition or an amusing curiosity?