Activist visions


COMPLEX SOCIAL CHANGE at Doris McCarthy Gallery (U of T Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail), to January 23. 416-287-7007. See listing. Rating: NNN

Curated by University of Lethbridge prof Josephine Mills, Complex Social Change is an offshoot of an ambitious recent project there involving exhibits, talks, performances, a book and website (

Looking at the Occupy and Idle No More movements as well as LGBT and feminist struggles, the project explores the relationship of universities and art institutions to activism. Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell‘s Feminist Art Gallery contributed an exhibit in Lethbridge as well as much of the material here.

It’s a worthy endeavour that only sometimes comes alive as an art show. The original performances and participatory projects were probably a lot more compelling than the documentation and artifacts from them exhibited here. 

Lori Blondeau and Adrian Stimson‘s Canadian Idol No More, a contest to pick Canada’s top racist that sends up reality TV and the justice system (here represented by banners, photos and text), must have been sensational as a performance. Pillows by Radiodress (aka Reena Katz) printed with dreamy slogans like “AIDS is over… Climate change is reversible… Pronouns are flexible…” were part of her LGBTQ version of John and Yoko’s bed-in. In a tantalizing photo from a performance, Sharlene Bamboat sits at a table above the words “I was trying on my first dildo…” 

There are some memorable stand-alone artworks: Fastwürms‘ Free Pussy Riot, brooms with letter-appliquéd cloth sleeves, a mix of Wicca, culture and sexual politics Michèle Pearson Clarke‘s Diplomatic Communication video of black women holding chalkboard signs like “I am one of dem people” or “Stop asking me where I’m from.” 

Perhaps the strongest work is by the late Wendy Coburn. Her sculptures and photo prints, deadpan plays on lesbian jokes and clichés, include a bronze turkey baster, a plaster pillow adorned with a Finger Cream cookie and a series of dramatic photos of U-Hauls travelling through dark and stormy or twinkling, starry nights.

Individual artworks may be uneven, but Complex Social Change succeeds as a snapshot of what some politicized Canadian queer and trans artists and artists of colour are up to at the moment. | @nowtoronto



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