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Canadian Melancholy... how I thought of the chubbier part of the Biennale de Montreal that I saw in mid-May. (The show is suburbanized, and I'm on foot here.) It was a long weekend, being Victoria Day on Monday. Sigh. The city is deserted. It would look rather like Surrealist Paris if all those lovely statues in the square with their beaux arts nymphs and goddesses hadn't been spoiled by being topped by a stuffy looking man in a suit. It's like putting a turd on an ice cream Sunday. At least the seagulls are shitting on the King's head...
The melancholic tone is set at the Biennale by Jesper Just's widescreen film-to-DVD of amorous whistlers in a Chinese interior, and Scot Treleaven's colorful fantasies of subducted sex. Two punkers find another punker's beflowered corpse in a trash bag. These artists are stuck with Canadianness as a subject, the search for the audience. Theo Sims "sports bar" installation seemed like a good start -- a very traditional old-style pub, with traditional sports like horse racing, not the heavily commodified sports-tainment. But the bartender never showed up to animate the piece...
Ryan Sluggett's installation of three boxed screens and a tiny swinging hard-shelled speaker was fun. He has his modernism and eats it too, making cubistic collage animations for his TVs. It looked like years of work. The speaker was swinging in the air, playing a drum solo. After a while the swing became eccentric and struck the wall. A great touch! I thought, until the attendant came in to stop and straighten it.
The installation of had me traversing a weird boudoir and up a stairs to watch a snow scene dream projected inside a suitcase. Luanne Martineau had some splendid globby knitting alongside a rigorous pieced work in felt.
Some of these guys have stumbled upon ingenious formal devices. Christine Davis projected slides of text onto screens made from buttons. It was gorgeous. The text, chopped up bits from some love/sex affair, was projected part right and part backwards reading, which was cool, but the fractured banality of the texts finally wore me out. Sarah Anne Johnson's pocket dioramas behind holes cut in a plywood wall made ingenious use of a hallway. We end up in an alcove with comfy armchairs watching a TV showing three puppets in front of a fire in the wilderness. One of them takes a swig. This was set up in the clean building which had the more arty art. This included paintings on paper by Annie Pootoogook, a "contemporary Inuit artist." She uses vestiges of the mise-en-scene and figuration of traditional imaging style to present some hard facts of daily life -- poverty, death, disastrous accident. Julie Doucet's orderly text collages in French are strong work, although the idea of using ransom note style seems old hat. Her poetic impulse drives through, and it's surer than Davis's.
Susan Turcot shows new drawings, queer, delicate, layered topologies of apocalyptic ruined landscapes. She is the Piranesi of whom radical green anarchist John Zerzan dreams. A book is there she did for the 27th Sao Paulo Bienal called "Acre." Turcot went to the region, and writes of her travels and encounters in the book. Her words and images reflect dismally on the ruin of the Amazon rainforest. It seems quite appropriate for this oh-so-Catholic city, especially in the wake of the murder of conservation activist Sister Dorothy Stang in the Amazon. Stang was shot while reading the Bible aloud to her killers. How about that? The Church’s green martyr.

Turcot's work is absolutely melancholic, to the point of ghostliness. Looking at her macroscopic drawings, I was struck by the contrast with the Beehive Collective's massively detailed drawings produced on similar themes. The BC has dealt extensively with the exploitation of Latin America, making eye-popping mega-poster allegories on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and the development/exploitation blueprints Plan Colombia and Plan Puebla Panamá.
I've known about the Beehive Collective, even seen their work on display in NYC during the RNC protests. But I had never seen them present, which they did in a session at the Anarchist Book Fair, my real reason for traveling to the north country. The “bees” are really quite insane, and they're a collective, so that would mean -- yes! They make regular visits to Latin America, and talk to people about their experiences with the worst kind of oppression, usually the outcome of unfettered greed, governments in league with despoilers -- the whole old, sad story they have been listening to. And through those stories they concoct their metaphors, which revolve entirely around animals. They are bees. They live in a hive. They "swarm" and "pollinate," spending years to generate their dense and meticulous allegorical representations of the macro-systems of economic and governmental devastation. And its resistance. Then they travel around, unfold these gigantic banners,and explain it all to people. You wouldn't think this would work, but in the condensed presentation the Bees gave at the Salon du Livre Anarchiste de Montreal, you could actually see how it works. These bizarre stories are like fairy tale fables for adults. It brings it all down to the level of moral absolutes. The Beehive Collective has a massive website, and all their images are available for free download. They are meticulous, but prolific.
And they are poor. The live in an impoverished section of northern Maine, in an old Grange hall they have restored as a community center. But they travel constantly, so are always broke.
Go to the website, get a calavera-style skeleton frog patch on a rainbow background shouting "Viva!" It's printed on fabric made from recycled bottle plastic. (What?)
Or have another drink and watch an episode of PBS "Nature" if you can stand it.

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