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  • Annette Dunlop

What art is for


I was looking at the AGO’s emerging online and all of the artists were doing work about their cultural trauma, history. One was exploring her Filipino ancestry. One was indigineous, focusing on narratives of domestic strife. One was commenting on the isolation faced by Northern indigenous communities. A black artist memorialized a black Canadian hero. One was working on dismantling homogenous ideas of history/historical memory through a traditional Punjab style of embroidery.


And this is the only way we’re allowed to slice the cake right now. If we create and it is heard. It is because we are addressing social, racial, ethnic, ancestral trauma, and/or our identities within these groups. I’m sure these are very interesting projects.


Meanwhile my girlfriend who has committed her life to the soprano sax, who plays like an absolute wild woman. Who studies with her musical heroes and spends all of her time creating, when she isn’t working a minimum wage job in order to survive in the city, gets rejected for another grant.


SO what fascinates me, from a bird’s eye view, is what is being funded, what is allowed to be expressed right now.


Meaning, and a very particular meaning, quite moral in tone, is prioritized over beauty and self expression. Which is curious, because that’s a fairly Christian undertone. ANd I don’t know about you, but I feel like Les Automatistes had to do a tonne of work to free artistic reproduction from the weight of the Church..


Le Refus Global. Borduas, Riopelle. Abstract expressionism. Stream of consciousness writing. Expression. Instinct. Beauty. Exploring the medium.


Painting stopped being a completely religious commercial exercise where we were doomed to paint portraits of religious figures and their pasty relatives.


But here we are again. Someone is telling us what is right and good and it’s even more slippery. The very institutions that keep a few Borduas kicking around in the “AbEx” room. The institutions that are bringing the indigenous work out of the basement. And some beautiful stuff there is in there, too. Daphne Odjig.


And what I love about Daphne Odjig, whose work is absolutely located within a line of indigenous artists, is that I can see this relationship visually. It is clear from her work what she is doing. That is what I want to relate to. I can see the woodlands style Norval Morriseau like patterns, and structure. But I can also see new colour patterns emerging and a different kind of visual storytelling and a feminine touch.


Rita Letendre’s work is absolutely on fire. I don’t need to know that she is indigenous when I look at her work. There is something, dare I say, deeper than that. More universal. Her colour palette and shapes shine with a bravery that clearly rejects a need to make meaning on one level to honor energetic relationships on another level. That is what happened to painting when the camera emerged. We freed ourselves of the slavery to a projection of three dimensional reality onto two dimensions. And yet, here we are, saying that a painting has to mean something more than what it is, inherently. We ask, instead of what it is and how do I feel about it, we ask what does it mean socially/politically? As if that is the only level of reality that is valid.


What about a beautiful, dynamic painting?!


What about walking up to the painting directly and having an experience, rather than walking up to the plaque on the wall besides the painting that explains or documents the painting? Or tells us the context within which it was created. Which is, by the way, a fucking interpretation.


Can’t we see that we’re abusing the very medium that we’re using as a transportation system for a morally grounded conversation.


If you have to explain your work, you’re using the wrong medium. Explain with the paint. Or write and explain with the words. Do not use the words to explain the paint. The more we get to explaining the work, the further we get from the energy.


And of course it is art that is taking the brunt of this newly glorified moral consciousness.


Weird, I thought we had an opportunity with art to dive into the unknown, express energies that were preverbal. That we could plant seeds that would break the social contracts which incidentally repress us, even as we lean upon them for support. But no, now is the time to review all art history to see that it was nice.


Now you can’t paint, or walk, or talk, unless you feel an appropriate amount of shame or rage, depending on your cultural inheritance, and the particularly dominant social conversation about your trauma.


White guys? Painting? Get the fuck outta here. We’ve had enough of you. Your instincts mean nothing to us. Is this sexist or racist? No, it's just that the people who are on the boards that make the decisions are terrified of being called racist themselves. So we have, out of fear, shaped our agendas to be “socially correct”.


ART. The one space where we’re supposed to be able to explore truth. A place from which emerges truths that can shift social norms, yes. Or, fuck truth: let’s have some experiences. But to control this space, too. Well this is dangerous shit.


Am I not also part of this world? AM I not allowed to assert my experience?


What is the rhetoric through which we are currently judging and prioritizing expression?


Can we not see that this is not the only part of reality? It’s like we are allowing the social superego to dominate our experience. And we are acquiescing.


Is it possible that, as humans, we actually really really love having someone tell us what to do?


Is this the result of shooting down the man in the sky that we all felt so oppressed under? Why are we so used to submitting our freedom of expression that we allow one moral code to slip in for another?


Can we not have a more differentiated relationship to what is sacred to us personally? Or do we need to assuage our anxiety with being valorized by the group?


What if my offering to the group is another perspective. Surely, abstractly, we can agree that is important. If we take the birds eye view, we can see that we value diversity. It is even one of the values that we suggest we are upholding in our rigid social conversations.


And yet, we do not value diversity of opinion. Our valuing of diversity is concretized onto a particular mode whose fad is currently giving money to people whose family history is one of being abused. But certain stories are more popular than others. Black is more important than asian. Indigenous are allowed to hate white people and tell them to their faces. Still nobody really cares about indians from india.


But what if I have a different opinion? One that doesn’t fall alt right or alt left? We’re so ready to cancel, to be canceled, that we need to find the group that will support us when we are attacked. So we defend preemptively.


VISUAL ART. visual art. There are so many types of painters I love. I love painters who are so free with their brushstrokes, so sensually driven and erotic that I am mesmerized by the flow of paint and they manage to stay on the edge of control. They are making images and also teasing me with their simultaneous control and flaunting their looseness. This is like a sexy dancer owning space on the floor. I am moved by his body, I am moved by his rhythm, I am moved by the eye contact he makes, the gestures he forms, his instincts, his spontaneity. There is storytelling within his medium. I intuit his feelings somatically and still there is great room for mystery.


We’re still so uncomfortable with mystery that we’re trying to quash it with meaning. You can't tell me the meaning of a dance. The goal of dancing is not to assert meaning. It is to assert experience. Do you know how good it feels to dance?


Do you know how good it feels to paint? To respond to colours and textures and communicate intuitively with a part of myself that is not just my head, not just my superego?


This is the place where we explore energies that are coming up from below. Or Above. This is the role art has been and has always needed to play. We are blocking instinct and intuition.


Sex plays the same role. Do you think we wanted to be intimate as neanderthals? Do you think we enjoy risking the emotional and physical violence? No, there is deep instinct which drives the connection, to fuck, the sensual and mysterious reality of being with someone who is not you. Who is different than you. It’s not primarily about meaning. It's about letting energies move that had been building up and laying stagnant. It’s also about procreation. What’s the world population? 7? 8 billion? Do you think we would have made so many of ourselves if it were primarily about fucking? It’s about fucking.


You can’t turn fucking into meaning making. It’s an abuse of fucking. We have been so abusive towards our own inner realities for so long that fucking generally remains in the shadow. It’s a swear word. Fucking. I’m not supposed to say it. Sex. Oooh. She’s talking about sex. How dare she. Did she get permission? From her father? Or her boyfriend or god or the social superego that we’re all so invested in even though we pretend we are really fed up with the bearded Christian superego?


This is like giving money only to people who fuck really sweetly. Imagine we weren’t allowed to fuck unless someone told us we could. And then for some reason we listened to them. LIke lab rats. Like teenagers who had not yet individuated from their parent’s value systems. Which they assumed had to also be their value systems.


DO you know how much random back pain there would be from unexpressed eros? Do you know how much shit would not get done?


We can’t squeeze the very hose that is the source of life, telling it that it’s not allowed out unless it behaves, and then complain that we are depressed.


It’s eros. It’s libido. It’s psychic energy.


THIS IS WHAT ART IS FOR



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