SIMON STARLING at the Power Plant (231 Queens Quay West), to May 11. 416-973-4949. Rating: NNNN
Simon Starling is fascinated with the way systems, whether economic, legal, ecological or technical, come together in the production of what we call culture.
Just after 9/11, for example, the British artist paid homage to a famous 1926 border incident. Marcel Duchamp attempted to bring Constantin Brancusi’s sculpture Bird In Space to New York City for a sculpture show.
Assuming the tapered piece of metal couldn’t possibly be a work of art, U.S. Customs officials subjected it to the duties levied on all imported goods. The subsequent legal kerfuffle changed the legal definition of art in U.S. law to include abstraction.
Starling imported his own slab of industrial steel from Brancusi’s native Romania at a time when the Bush administration had just dropped protectionist tariffs on all imported steel.
This particular backstory and Starling’s clever response to it is a pretty good introduction to his process for his first major retrospective since winning the Turner Prize in 2005.
He explores the ways we are colonized by both organisms and ideas in Infestation Piece, a work commissioned by the Power Plant. Addressing Henry Moore’s long relationship with Toronto as a visiting artist, Starling sank a steel replica of Moore’s sculpture Warrior With Shield in Lake Ontario for 18 months. It became encrusted with zebra mussels, a species native to the Black Sea that has problematically invaded the Great Lakes.
Island For Weeds addresses Scotland’s battle with the rhododendron, a once highly valued ornamental shrub from southern Spain that has grown rampantly across the Scottish landscape.
Starling’s works are better viewed as collaborative processes, of which the parts on display here are only a small part, than as discrete objects.
He extends the contextual boundaries of what is formally called an art work, including elements usually left on the cutting-room floor.