As we slouch through the 21st century it is becoming increasingly evident that bourgeoning populations and the Capitalist way of life are unsustainable. The environment is taking the brunt of this onslaught and in urban centres trash has become a major issue.
For artists making a social contribution, the gallery system is usually an obstacle since it focuses on getting a financial return from sales. Montreal artist, JP King finds a path to making a meaningful statement in his latest exhibition, ‘Free Paper’, which showed at Whippersnapper Gallery, itself a very innovative space.
‘Free Paper’ is a newspaper that King began in August to materialize by September. In the process he transformed Whippersnapper Gallery into an editor’s office, complete with reference books and copiers. A hand-painted sign solicited the public to enter and engage with the project. King invited contributions from the community and interviewed people who would write articles or draw cartoons. A ‘Life of Quality’ survey queried what people valued, the results later appearing as a graphic in the paper. Various workshops on creative writing, reading sessions and discussion groups were also held.
Prospective contributorscould choose to consider questions like: “If your hands were not tied, what would you hold?” and “What if money disappeared?” while King perambulated them around the city on the‘Nomadesk’, a wheelchair attached to a desk adorned by a typewriter. King was dressed to suit the part of an old-world newspaperman with suspenders and period hat, sans dangling cigarette though. There was an air of nostalgia made more poignant by the reality that the age of newsprint has ended. An article in the finished paper addressed this issue.
King’s project has a lot in common with Relational Aesthetics, an avant-garde trend identified by Nicholas Bourriaud in the 90’s. This form of art takes human relations as a social context and infiltrates the ‘real world’. An example is Rirkrit Tiravanija’s ‘Bookstore’, showing at the Venice Biennale. Usually, political commentary is subdued, according to Bourriaud, who sees relational artists as more concerned with negotiations rather than radical antagonism towards the global system.
At a certain level, King insists that his concept is playful rather than serious and he was looking for “bizarre and curious submissions”, yet, there is an underlying sobriety to this project. By highlighting important social issues like garbage, labour and money, King offers the community an all-too-rare opportunity to voice opinion or frustration. During the process, he notes that he learned a lot just from listening to people. In return, he provided a channel for political thought.
Traditional media shuns serious thought unless it is accompanied by financial endorsement. Ultimately, King’s newspaper reflects the value of the exercise. There are some bizarre and intellectual contributions like “Ekstasis, or a variable scale investigation of a plastic fork” which points out the environmental dangers of transforming matter into toxic synthetic polymers. Visually it’s a beautiful production with a professional feel about it. The topics covered are quite wide ranging and reflect a lot of the angst in our society, like “Global Breathing Regulations soon to be implemented” referencing over-population.
2000 copies of the paper were printed and King distributed them like a paperboy, to commuters, bystanders, educational institutions and bookstores. This was one of the more interesting shows I have seen in Toronto and, judging from the attention it evoked in contributors and readers, I think it was deeply meaningful. As the current ‘Occupy Wall Street’ campaign suggests, we have to rethink the way we live, and ‘Free Paper’ highlighted this in a very novel way.