Art + Activism at YYZ Artists' Outlet (401 Richmond West, # 140), to February 25. 416-598-4546. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Curator Kym Pruesse's international roundup gives artist-activists free rein to problematize and question every imaginable form of cultural and political discourse.
The gallery, set up to convey an almost nostalgic on-campus samizdat feel, serves as an epicentre for happenings, manifestos, leaflets, performances and video screenings.
More than 23 artists and collectives working in every conceivable medium participate, giving a healthy cross-section of art-driven protest and political action. Their subjects include homelessness, sex work, labour, indigenous peoples, globalization and, of course, war.
One of the pitfalls of activist art is an alarmist urgency that fails to transcend or back up its initial premise. And abrasive agitprop on the all-too-familiar evils of (fill in the blank) falls flat when it doesn't offer an alternative vision.
The most interesting pieces look toward new ways of generating action. Daniel Jolliffe , for instance, has constructed a movable public sound system that you can call from your cellphone, giving you one minute to say your piece to whoever is standing around it: anonymous free speech at its finest.
Montreal's A.T.S.A. (Action Terroriste Socialement Acceptable) collective sets up camp in areas where the homeless bed down and offers workshops, performances and interventions, while Toronto's Articipation collective's actions beautify bland or decaying urban spaces.
Scene stalwarts Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge nearly steal the show, however, with their intensely intriguing series of digital photographs entitled Cultural Relations. Their dreamlike montages centring around workplaces in several different communities are startlingly ambiguous and evocative while remaining visually engaging.
If only all protest art could be this subtle.