This cat gets it.
Today, I tried to find a GIF to congratulate Nicole Eisenman on her Macarthur Genius Grant win. I was hoping someone out there had animated some of her raunchier queer-tastic work into a splendid loop of twitching, painterly genitalia.
Instead, when I put the “animated” filter on Google Image search and typed in “Nicole Eisenman”, I ended up going down an almost totally unrelated rabbit hole of the art-blog/sex toy industrial complex.
For the past month, I’ve been travelling, so I’ve been experiencing the upcoming Canadian election from a literal distance.
When I first arrived in Berlin, my Facebook feed was clogged with links about Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian toddler, all carrying that same heart-wrenching photograph of the three year old’s lifeless body, lying face-down in the sands of a Turkish beach.
Typing “Aylan Kurdi” into Google search soon automatically added “Canada”: the Kurdi family had been unable to secure immigration visas into the country, and the story became an emotional flashpoint internationally of the migrant crisis.
It was a topic of conversation everywhere: about Europe’s divided response, but also about Canada’s changing reputation. How could a country, once renowned in the 1970s and 1980s for its refugee sponsorship system — from 1979-1980, the government resettled 60,000 Vietnamese people — had managed in the past year to only take in 2,374 Syrian refugees?
Blame the current Conservative government of Stephen Harper, largely regarded as one of the worst Prime Ministers in the country’s history whose greatest accomplishment has basically been holding onto his power for the past nine and a half years.
His legacy will likely be the removal of democratic processes (he prorogued parliament four times when the opposition threatened his minority government), a damning environmental record (our economy is now largely oil-based, numerous scientists have been prevented from speaking to the media and public), anti-terror legislation that has been said to criminalize free speech (see Bill C-51), encroachments on civil liberties (expats who have lived outside the country longer than five years — 1.5 million Canadians — will not be able to vote in the October 18 election).
Most damning, which I read last last Sunday night when I was in Rome, has been Maclean’s investigation into Ottawa’s attack on information: whereas other countries are embracing open data, the Canadian government has destroyed historical records and prevented access to federal scientific data, causing a “national amnesia” in cutting the mandatory long-form census.
So you could say the above James Carl GIF — from the current VOTE show via the Toronto-based collaborative Something to Think About project — resonants. The group show, running until October 18, features text-based works from artists like Kelly Mark, John Marriott and Timeanddesire speaking to a need for change, freedom and democracy in the face of this coming election.
It is direct and plaintive, harkening back to early electronic poetics. (It reminds me a lot of Ana Maria Uribe’s Anipoemas.) The text races across the white space, mimicking the way thoughts can urgently pound and resound in our heads. It is blunt, yet passionate. As director and curator Lisa Klapstock explains regarding VOTE, “we Canadians are a patient, pragmatic generous people; and despite our reputation for being oh-so-polite, we are passionate too. VOTE is an impassioned plea to my fellow citizens: VOTE, please. Our well-being depends on it.”
I’ll be back in Toronto later next month, and I look forward to closing the distance.