I fooled the children of the revolution

Michael Buckland

June 23 - August 5, 2006

Third Space Gallery

 

Michael Buckland might have felt a little out of place growing up in what was then conservative, blue-collar Saint John. His approach to art making is unconventional and blends theatrics, performance and installation: a far cry from representational paintings.  After years of presenting his quirky art in far-flung corners of the globe and most often in Toronto, Buckland returns to his hometown with a multi-layered installation called I fooled the children of the revolution. The exhibition investigates the temporary, the transient and the unstable, and probes the flexibility of meaning through an array of painted graphics, video, beach balls and lots of word play. The various exhortations to action could lead one to imagine that Buckland was hoping to incite some sort of riot or revolt in the townsfolk. The lack of howling protests only furthers his point. Let me explain.

The bizarre, crass, in-your-face imagery, painted directly on gallery walls, includes angry militant cattle, the intersection of black power with a seventies TV sitcom, illustrations from a do-it-yourself weapons manual, and various directives, such as Burn Books, which flares across one wall in a smoky, acid-green font and Eat People Now, emblazoned across short silhouettes of cows. A black-power fist fills an entire wall of the gallery, but it has been covered with the Good Times logo from the hit 1970s TV show, blurring the line between the fight for civil rights and the urge for stardom and comfortable co-option. Playful pink bubbles announce Crush, Kill and Destroy. What, exactly, is this all about?

Some would argue we are living in a post-revolutionary world. Communism called for the revolution of the working class but after Stalinist purges and Tiananmen Square who really wants it? The American Revolution saw the US emerge from under British imperial rule only to begin to assert its own global Empire in the late 20th Century. The French revolution gave birth the Enlightenment, which one could say gave us lots of cool thing like the metric system and Universal Rights, but the guillotine still remains its most iconic symbol and millions of children still go unfed and uneducated around the globe. My guess is that Buckland’s exhibition is taking a somewhat satirical approach to the very idea of the revolution, something that could be summed up with the artist Barbara Kruger’s  maxim: “I shop, therefore I am”.1 Who needs Descartes if one can have IKEA ?2

In addition to the text-based wall works, there are a few installations in the gallery. Actually, one could almost view the entire exhibition as one installation, as the works neatly collude with one another. An old tire, hanging from a rope, has white lettering on each side: no loves yes / yes loves no. Seems as if revolutions aren’t the only things caught up in a cycle of dependence. Western civilization is based on dichotomies: male/female, right/wrong, black/white, 1/0. A pile of boxes, surrounded by beach balls 3  imprinted with the slogan smash the state-save the date and an image of a 2x4 covered with nails, encloses a TV monitor that plays bottles smashing on the floor in an endless loop. The bottles break, scattering glass across the floor, then reverse, flying together like the molten man from Terminator 2 and flashing upwards out of the screen. Revolutions come and go, come and go.

Another video is isolated in a dark room of the gallery. In it, Buckland sets a portable turntable up to play Gilbert O'Sullivan's early 1970s breakaway pop hit, the quintessential sad song Alone again (naturally) 4. While it plays the artist disappears around the block on a walk. He returns just in time to re-set the song and continue his walk—alone again, in perpetuity. Buckland seems to be saying that despite all the rhetoric for change and advancement, we all enter and leave this world alone.

Since a very young age Michael Buckland has tried to be as much as possible like the people he saw on television, eventually leading him to become an artist. He has shown his work and performed in various venues in North America, Europe and Asia. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

IN THE WASHROOMS: artist Shannon Sberna will presents her Cartoon Meat intervention in the two public washrooms of the Brodie Building. Originally from Ohio and currently based in New York, Sberna studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art, with major studies in metalwork. She has participated in various group shows but her major focus is currently jewelry design (badshannon.com).

Cartoon Meat features brown chicken drumsticks stenciled randomly across the walls of the second floor washroom and bright red pork chops in the blue-walled bathroom in the basement. As an outreach strategy in contemporary art, one may often find art in the unlikely of places. For some reason washrooms are especially popular. Perhaps it is because we spend so much time in them, but the time is mostly spent passing through. The time we do spend in them is intensely personal, however. Art in washrooms gives the artist a captive audience, as well as provides a viewer with something different and unexpected to see and think about while they would normally be preoccupied with other things. 

Notes 

1. Barbara Kruger is an artist from New York who gained prominence with her use of iconic white text over black and red that wryly pointed out sexual and social inequalities. “I shop therefore I am” was featured as an art project on, in of all places, cloth shopping bags, pointing out the simulacra of advertising in selling back to consumers our own dreams, fears and desires.

2. For all its purported trendiness and stylish approach to frugality and utility, IKEA makes an incredible amount of money, so much so that its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, is the richest man in the world, and cult films such as Fight Club rail against the monopoly it has over our collective creative malaise as interior designers.

3. The beach balls are everywhere, in various stages of decompression. Who uses beach balls anymore? I thought Ultimate Frisbee was all the rage. In this context they work as a symbol of leisure time: is this what our revolutionary forefathers fought for? 

4. For those unfamiliar with the song, take note of a few facts: It was released in the US in 1972, spent six weeks at #1 in the US, was nominated for 3 Grammies and sold 3 million copies worldwide. Taking note of the lyrics, however, one can see it is probably the most depressing song ever written.

© chris lloyd 2006