Power Play

Opening Reception
Friday November 13, 2015 - 7pm to 9pm

  • Polyhedra Series - Desert Cactus
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David Bierk, Jamelie Hassan, Kristi Malakoff, Jeannie Thib, Dennis Tourbin, Andy Warhol and Joyce Wieland

Power Play presents work that challenges us to consider currency, movies, televised and printed news, advertising, and clothing as mediums that construct, legitimize, and shift power. Each of the works in this exhibition post-date the publication of Marshall McLuhan’s widely popular Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in which he introduces the concept “the medium is the message.” The idea McLuhan proposes is that new inventions and technologies (the medium) make subtle yet profound changes to our social structures and behaviours (the message). Thus, the message of news coverage of theft is not found in the content of the story, but rather in the increases of fear and classism.

McLuhan is often credited with prophesising the Internet, our most predominant medium today. On January 4th, 2013 the following question was posted on Reddit, an online bulletin board–style forum, “If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about life today?” Username nuseramed, a redditer, replied “I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.”1 Shared and reshared as screen grabs, reposts, and typographic overlays on countless photos, this hyperbole and punch line captures the simultaneous failure and success of a medium with so much revolutionary and democratic promise.

Wieland’s Untitled (1965) conflates concepts, ads, and headlines rendering words such as patriotism, big cash savings, genocide and Pepsi in a reducing font size much like an eye test chart. The work concludes at the bottom with four round cells animating a sinking sailboat. In the catalogue accompanying the AGO’s 1987 exhibition Joyce Wieland, Marie Fleming writes “The works deal with tragedy in a matter-of-fact way. The boats sink as easily and with as little cause as the hand becomes a flower – one is as much a metamorphosis as the other.”2 Similar to Warhol’s car crash paintings from the same era, Wieland is “concerned with a commoditized world that serves up disaster on a daily basis as part of a media and entertainment spectacle.”3 The eerie quietness and charm of Wieland’s sinking sailboat rendered in pleasant animation cells recalls that allegory about boiling frogs.4

In response to nuseramed, another redditer wrote “The real revolution is small and fast and slides right into our lives so snugly that we forget what our lives were like preceding it, that we become anxious and disoriented when denied access to it.” Intricately structured hierarchies are instilled, propagated, created, and exasperated by the mediums in which we exist and participate everyday. The artists in Power Play work from a deeply personal and political motivation, betting that perhaps in the medium of art, the groundwork for real change can be laid.


1. Reddit comment “If someone from the 1950s…”
2. Marie Fleming, “Joyce Wieland,” in Joyce Wieland, 1987. AGO catalogue in conjunction with exhibition of same name, April 16 – June 28 1987 Key Porter Books, Toronto, ON. p. 54
3. Joanne Sloane, “Boat Tragedy, 1964”, Joyce Wieland: A Life and Work Art Canada Institute, Joyce Wieland
4. “I’m referring, of course, to that proverbial frog that, placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes the danger it’s in and is boiled alive. Real frogs will, in fact, jump out of the pot – but never mind.” Paul Krugman, “Doc Hopper’s Boiling Frog Metaphor and How It Irritates James Fallows” Around the Sphere blog entry


Photography by Lesli Michaelis Onusko (except Kristi Malakoff, Polyhedra Series)

Regular Hours: Wednesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. Admission is by Donation.

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