With recessionary economic trends, disappointing art auction results and shrinking government funding putting the squeeze on many galleries and museums in Canada, new and unusual sources of support are coming to the fore, offering exhibition spaces in unlikely venues. The recently opened Red Bull 381 Projects on Toronto’s Queen West is one such gallery that—thanks to financial support from Red Bull (yes, the energy drink makers) and programming support from an independent curatorial board—is attracting an impressive roster of Canadian artists. Curated by Catherine Dean, the gallery’s latest group exhibition, “You Don’t Really Care For Music, Do You?” surveys contemporary projects inspired by the “cultures, lifestyles, thought processes, and at times bizarre and eccentric outgrowths of music enthusiasm.”
Taken from the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the exhibition’s title also references Toronto-based artist and curator Dave Dyment’s ongoing project Pop Quiz. Using his personal record collection as an archive, Dyment mines its lyrics for questions, both profound and banal, to pose to the viewer in stark black-and-white text on a projected video. Separated from their original context and presented in no particular order, the questions prompt speculations from the viewer that begin to form a loose and nonsensical narrative.
Lyrically inspired narratives also drive the work of Montreal artist Alana Riley, who asked local merchants in her Mile End neighbourhood to perform their favourite love songs on camera. Just as popular love ballads are both deeply personal and laughably clichéd, the performances seem to reveal something about their singers but never manage to bridge the gap between the subjects and artist, who remain strangers at the end of the song.
Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay’s Jimmy Somerville Project likewise conflates the personal and the popular by presenting documentation of the artist’s ongoing tribute to the 1980s Scottish pop star—namely, by creating a new Somerville tartan and attempting to convince the Queen he should be knighted. Finally, Tony Romano’s experiment, growing plants in isolated soundproof cabinets, tests the effects of affirmative and negative musical expressions on plant life—with surprisingly consistent results.
Taken together, these multimedia projects make a case for why we should continue to care about the impact and legacy of musically inspired artworks, particularly in a time of financial instability. (381 Queen St W, Toronto ON)