The idea for this exhibition came after a long discussion on the philosophical differences between artist-run centres, private galleries and public museums, and the fact that these spaces now function in disturbingly similar ways. Today, one can jump from an alternative space to a hip commercial gallery and come into contact with the exact same art. Has self-censorship seeped into artist-run culture by way of conservative, popular programming ? This is a question we are hesitant to answer. Yet, through this project, we wish nonetheless to open up a dialogue on what it means for artist-run centres to be identified as “alternative” spaces dedicated to the dissemination of contemporary art. Our personal belief is that the alternative culture we have taken decades to build, with sweat (a lot of it) and conviction, is turning onto itself by emulating what larger institutions are doing. Artists’ right to self determination and self-expression is in some ways stifled by the very centres that were created to support the basic principle of artistic freedom.
For SCATALOGUE, we chose to select a subject that has not previously been the focus of an exhibition in Canada. Our objective was to give viewers a chance to connect with new, unseen or even so-called contentious art. SCATALOGUE is a critique of the conservatism affecting most artist-run centres. It assails the bourgeois art world as well, in a time when the commodification of contemporary art is simply out of control. An example of this is Wim Delvoye’s sold-out edition of sealed shit (a copy is included in this exhibition), purchased by collectors at US$1,500 apiece.
Excrement is a common anthropological subject/object in historical museums, but it still remains a controversial one in the art world, in some cases igniting mass protests against artistic freedom (one remembers the recent furor brought upon the Bronx Museum for showing Chris Ofili’s painting The Holy Virgin Mary, adorned with colored elephant dung). Ironically, shit has been a persistent metaphor and medium since the beginnings of Modernism, inspiring the imagination of many influential thinkers and artists. This subject has been an important, tenacious counter-voice to the institutionalization of art, beguiling artists such as Duchamp, the Viennese Actionists, Manzoni and Hammons.
The works selected in SCATALOGUE allude to important historical moments of the last 30 years, the same amount of time that Galerie SAW Gallery has been in existence. Fascism, anti-semitism, sexism, homophobia, racism, consumerism and globalization are some of the issues tackled by more than 30 international artists working with painting, sculpture, photography, multiples, book works, film, video, performance and creative writing.
The exhibition SCATALOGUE (the title is morphed from the words scatology and catalogue) takes shape as a living, interactive archive of contemporary art with many of the objects on view intended to be handled and manipulated by the public, thus playing on Western notions of sanitation and proper didactic presentation. Part interpretative exhibition, part survey show, SCATALOGUE is an experiment in thematic curating, designed to present to a wide audience art that is not normally supported by institutions in Canada.
Although the exhibition's subtitle makes blatant reference to the popular perception that contemporary art is futile, or just plain crap, SCATALOGUE is meant to reverse this misconception by presenting an array of work that affirms art's potential for social and political change. Indeed, it should become radically clear to the inquisitive viewer that this exhibition is not literally about shit, but rather about shit’s potency as a metaphor for all things abject, hopefully engaging us with a fundamental inquiry about the human condition.
- Jason St-Laurent + Stefan St-Laurent, curators