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Canadian Art

Review

Brad Tinmouth: Survival Strategies

Xpace, Toronto Aug 10 to Sep 1 2012
Brad Tinmouth <em>Hydroponic Unit</em> 2012 Installation view Courtesy the artist / photo Lili Huston-Herterich Brad Tinmouth Hydroponic Unit 2012 Installation view Courtesy the artist / photo Lili Huston-Herterich

Brad Tinmouth <em>Hydroponic Unit</em> 2012 Installation view Courtesy the artist / photo Lili Huston-Herterich

The basement of an art gallery may seem an unlikely place to create an emergency shelter; however, Xpace’s lower gallery space, Xbase, provides the ideal setting for Brad Tinmouth’s exhibition “If Times Get Tough or Even If They Don’t.” Utilizing the low ceilings, exposed brick walls and lack of natural light, Tinmouth has constructed a refuge reminiscent of 20th-century nuclear-fallout shelters. Consisting of a hammock, survival pack, food rack and hydroponic garden, the basement is a well-equipped space of refuge.

Appropriating do-it-yourself construction plans, Tinmouth’s sculptures highlight a consumer-turned-producer sensibility. Glowing in the centre of the room, Hydroponic Unit consists of a white drainpipe shaped into a tiered, ladder-like structure that hosts a modest garden. The alternative plot would lessen a basement dweller’s reliance on consumer goods, as the system, which recycles water, provides the conditions needed for plants to grow.

A wooden shelving unit in the corner of the gallery contains a second source of food. Fully stocked with non-perishable canned goods, dried food and home-brewed cider, the angled shelves of Rotating Can Rack move goods within reach until all its items are used. Although not self-sustaining, the rack optimizes space and provides supplies that are necessary—with the possible exception of the homebrew.

In an adjacent corner, a camouflage-patterned hammock hangs above an open backpack and a rolled-up camping mattress. According to the exhibition essay by Lucas Soi, Bug Out Bag contains enough manufactured survival supplies to support an individual for 72 hours.

The overall exhibition creates a sense of preparation for the unpredictable, yet at the same time it looks as if it is currently being put to use—it shifts between survival shelter and squatters’ retreat. Appropriating sustainable practices, like water-conserving gardening, for the purpose of emergency food stores emphasizes the sense of preparation for a time when mass-produced goods may not be available. Yet the ongoing maintenance of the garden, along with the sleeping arrangement provided, evokes a sense of occupancy and of an individual’s actual withdrawal from society.

Soi’s essay contextualizes the exhibition in a frame of anti-social and social behaviour. Referencing French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, Soi applies Tarde’s theory—that anti-social acts are eventually reabsorbed back into society for their inventiveness—to the art world.

In an era when the art world often retreats into itself, Soi emphasizes the importance of artists undertaking the (in context) somewhat anti-social act of engaging mainstream culture. Artists who take into consideration a larger visual and conceptual field open up opportunities to stimulate change.

Tinmouth’s conversion of Xbase includes elements of a shelter constructed for retreat. Situated below the main gallery, it is an ideal location for an artists-only haven. However, Tinmouth’s installation highlights his reliance on such universally needed elements as food, water and shelter. For the artist, recognizing the need for a balance between art and everyday life could well prove to be a sustaining strategy.

This article was first published online on August 23, 2012.

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