Busy ants carry national flags in Donna Conlon’s Coexistence.
DONNA CONLON, GLENDA LEON AND RIVANE NEUENSCHWANDER at Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art (401 Richmond West), to June 22. 416-591-0357. See listing. Rating: NNNN
The three Latina artists in The World Over (curated by Scott McLeod to complement the current issue of Prefix Photo magazine, on the theme of World Affairs) manage to make humorous and provocative art out of the most banal of geopolitical symbols: flags, the U.S. national anthem and the map of the world.
Panama's Donna Conlon, Cuba's Glenda León and Brazil's Rivane Neuenschwander share a playful aesthetic, working with ephemeral found materials in videos, installations and interventions that provide both critical and hopeful commentary on global problems.
León's photo of five continent-shaped clouds floating in a clear sky, Between Air And Dreams, brings to mind themes of planetary consciousness and the artificiality of mapping conventions. On her Ways To Save The World #10: Erase The Borders, a whiteboard printed with a world map, gallery-goers are invited to rub out drawn-in national boundaries.
Two artists have made videos starring ants, a species as social and successful as humans. For Contingent, Neuenschwander painted a map of the world with honey that's gradually devoured by a swarm of them. It's curiously satisfying to see that Europe and North American disappear first, but the process of human eco-destruction won't be so neat.
In Conlon's Coexistence, leafcutter ants ferry leaves along a jungle path, some toting little painted national flags and tiny peace signs. Though their hectic busyness mirrors our own, our beloved symbols are reduced to absurdity.
Conlon collaborated with Jonathan Harker on the amusing Drinking Song, in which The Star Spangled Banner is played by blowing into and clinking on Panamanian beer bottles, their patriotic brand names asserting themselves in the face of the Canal Zone's owners. The song concludes with a resounding belch.
Like the cervezas, this work goes down easy, but there's a lot of content beneath its lighthearted surface.