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Features / December 24, 2013

Rosie Prata’s Top 3 of 2013: People Powers

Exhibitions that stood out for our copy editor engaged ideas of people, place and community from Palestine to Parkdale.

1. “Phil Collins: they shoot horses” at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto
One of my favourite art-viewing experiences of 2013 happened to be one of the first exhibitions that I went to this winter—something I took to be a sign of a good year to come. I was first in line on opening day at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art to see they shoot horses, a seven-hour, two-screen video installation by British artist Phil Collins, a 2006 Turner Prize nominee and one of my very favourite artists. It’s an older work from 2004, but it has a timeless resonance. It’s also probably Collins’s best-known work, so it acts as a fantastic introduction for those more familiar with the similarly named drummer from Genesis. The piece’s two seven-hour videos play simultaneously on two separate walls. Each video shows a group of young Palestinians engaged in a dance marathon in a Pepto-pink room. As a viewer sitting in MOCCA’s large project space, enveloped by darkness and a thumping soundtrack of trash-pop, acid house and northern soul, it was nearly impossible to sit still and just watch. The dancing in this work is stupendous, the dancers funny and playful, and it’s really only when a Primal Scream song is interrupted by a call to prayer, allowing the dancers a momentary rest, that you realize the political reality these young people will have to face when the marathon ends. They actually danced for eight hours straight, but Israeli authorities confiscated an hour-long segment of the film—an unjust incident that nevertheless provides an indication of the determination and steadfast resolve harnessed by the dancers, both in finishing their marathon and in getting through everyday life in a war-torn region. Collins is adept at bridging the divide between “us” and “them,” creating a sense of community based on how (whether we live in violently contested regions or not) we share the same dance moves, follow the same fashion trends and sing the same karaoke songs as one another.

2. Micah Lexier at the Power Plant, Toronto
The other exhibitions that stood out for me this year also engaged with ideas of people, place and community. The three-part title for Micah Lexier’s Power Plant exhibition “One, and Two, and More Than Two” neatly sets up the levels of community engagement that this conceptual artist has undertaken in creating the projects chosen for the show. For me, the standout sections from the exhibition (which continues until January 5) are his personal and collaborative projects, which comprise levels “One” and “Two.” As I took in the various works there for the first time, I felt like Lexier was becoming my best friend. Here’s someone who is as obsessed with all the same things as me, I swallowed, suppressing a yelp. I work as the copy editor at Canadian Art, and my profession requires me to be highly detail-oriented. Lexier is clearly somebody who is also consumed by a love of words and language, of systems and categories, of neatness and order. His collaborative project with writer Colm Tóibín, 1334 Words for 1334 Students (2008), for which each student from Cawthra Park Secondary School in Mississauga hand-wrote one word from a short story, reminded me of my favourite Lydia Davis story, “We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters From a Class of Fourth Graders,” where a teacher reveals the social dynamics of her class by way of an analysis of their letters to a classmate with a broken leg. I watched This One, That One, Lexier’s first-ever video work, with a room full of strangers, and we were laughing out loud together—a rather remarkable feat for a wordless, seven-minute video of two hands shuffling a stack of cardboard squares printed with symbols. The exhibition as a whole is a triumphant achievement for the artist in terms of both effect and effort. For “More Than Two,” he curated 221 works by 101 Toronto artists, duos and collectives, bringing them together in custom-made Plexiglas vitrines. Accompanied by a beautiful catalogue, the project forms a landscape of local artists—a community shaped and informed by Lexier’s interest in the increment of the individual. This exhibition is a delight to visit and revisit, and it will always have personal resonance for me.

3. “Don’t Call it a Breakdown, Call it a Breakthrough!” at an undisclosed location, Toronto
Two of the artists featured in Micah Lexier’s “More Than Two,” Nadia Belerique and Lili Huston-Herterich, organized their own group exhibition in late October. Belerique conspired with Huston-Herterich—without her landlord’s consent, so don’t read on unless you can keep a secret—to occupy the vacant apartment below her own and set up a one-day-only group exhibition featuring the works of 10 artists from Canada and the United States. Not surprisingly, invitations were circulated quietly, and the side-door entrance to the apartment was unmarked. The show’s brief duration was guided by the sun’s arc across the sky: artworks were installed in the morning, on view from mid-afternoon to dusk, and disassembled in the waning blue light of evening. This kind of underground, independent exhibition has become a defining characteristic of Toronto’s bold and ambitious young art scene. Operating on vanguard logic, artists who are serious about their work are banding together to deliberately foster a community near and far that—by virtue of the quality of the artwork they make as well as the fact that there is strength in numbers—will emerge to become the next cohort of important Canadian artists. In this show, the works were quiet, powerful and seemed perfectly at home in their surroundings. One such piece was by Zin Taylor: in an extension of the work he made during his recent residency on Fogo Island, he contributed two striped and dotted panels of fabric. Draped over the window, they formed an abstracted American flag whose stripes were echoed by the radiator below and then, again, in the shadows on the floor. It served as a reminder that there is magic to be found in the ordinary, if only you pay attention. I will be sure to continue to pay attention to the careers of the artists and curators involved, and I am excited to see what they show us next.

Rosie Prata is the copy editor at Canadian Art.

Rosie Prata

Rosie Prata is a writer and editor based in London, UK. She is currently an editor at Monocle, and her writing has also appeared in Canadian Art, the Globe and Mail and elsewhere.