Abbas Akhavan’s Makeshift Objects, part of Tools For Conviviality, reference torture and incarceration.
TOOLS FOR CONVIVIALITY at the Power Plant (231 Queens Quay), to August 26. 416-973-4949. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Canadian and European artists loosely apply the theme of tool use to dissect social behaviour through a political or absurdist lens in this Melanie O'Brien-curated show. Its inspired by radical priest Ivan Illich's 1973 Tools For Conviviality, a critique of our elitist technological society, which he wanted to replace with one based on egalitarian interrelationship.
Illich's idea of convivial tools might not include Iranian-born, Toronto-based Abbas Akhavan's series of prison-style shivs and weapons made from ordinary household items, which pull in references to torture and domestic violence as well as incarceration.
He displays them like precious artifacts in a vitrine, a strategy that only slightly distances us from their malicious aura.
Museum subway station's plastic totem pole might give us a break from TTC ads, but Vancouver-based Haida artist Raymond Boisjoly points to the startling disconnect represented by this decontextualized bit of his culture. In an outdoor photo-mural, he ornaments a photographic negative of the station with the word "Toronto" in a black metal font. His use of the Scandinavian metalheads' script, which usually conjures dripping wounds, completes an odd circle of cultural appropriation.
Combining monumental drama with school project fun, Vancouver's Geoffrey Farmer riffs on The Hunchback Of Notre Dame with an impressive two-storey-high evocation of a rose window made of coloured string. Farmer also leads a workshop for kids aged 8 to 12 on August 12, when they'll transform a lumpy 8-foot black pole with a knee-like protrusion (which he says is a worm digesting an idea but also resembles a giant bird leg) into a monster described in the novel.
Other highlights include Swintak and Don Miller's colonization of the Power Plant with an outhouse and natural items from their artists' residency site in Shelburne; German artist Ulla von Brandenburg's rustic stage platform paired with a little film projection of masked Sardinians performing a primitive ritual; and French collective Claire Fontaine's pairing of cultural theory and menacing everyday objects.
It's difficult to effect change from the confines of the art world, but these cerebral works do present a thought-provoking portrait of the terrain we've travelled since Illich's day.