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|VISUALEYEZ 2005 JOURNAL: MAY 27|
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Kathryn Williamson's final installment of Ceremonious Times took place at the McDonalds on 116 th St. and 104 th Ave. We sat outside on the patio and ate a meal, of pasta and salad (probably a much healthier one than we would have eaten had we ordered in McDonalds). The feeling overall was relaxed and festive, like a dinner party or picnic. It didn't really feel like an intervention, though the dinner did operate in a site-specific manner (some of the conversations were about McDonalds and fast food). The Mcdonalds staff didn't really mind that we were sitting there and not really buying anything, perhaps because it was fairly empty, or, more likely, because they were paid too little to really have to care about it. Kathryn offered to share some of the food with the people sitting at the other table. A homeless man came by; he had read the flyer and asked about the project. He was also given a meal.
Again, my questions were to do with how much the event was intended as a social or communal or social event, and how much this was intended as an intervention (into McDonalds, the fast food industry etc.) or an act of generosity (of sharing a free meal).In a larger sense, I also have questions about the use of gestures of charity or altruism within an art context, particularly in the context of privatization (whereby responsibilities are shifted from the public sector onto the private sector, or onto individuals). The rhetoric of altruism/charity is frequently used in this context, that if we can provide for those less fortunate out of the goodness of our hearts, that it will no longer be the government's responsibility to do so (conversely, implying that if we expect the social safety net to support people, that we are selfish or spoiled). At the same time, it could also be argued that to valorize such activities within an art context, is to draw attention to the role of caregiver as a kind of invisible and unacknowledged labour (often performed by women).
The questions I had around intentions were around the project as a whole—what were the intentions of the series, and the relationship of the separate events to each other, and also to ‘Ceremonious Times', the fake community/tabloid newspaper. In a general sense, I wondered in a general sense if there's an apprehension around being clear about one's intentions as an artist, that if the artist were to be clear about his/her intentions that the work would become simplistic or didactic.
Later on, Kathryn told me she felt very uncomfortable with the results of the project, and said that she felt she might have been imposing a New York context onto Edmonton. In the context of the festival circuit (and the nomadic existence it promotes), I wonder if this is a common problem: that we make work inspired by the contexts we live in, and then when we present the work elsewhere, in the context of festivals, there isn't the time to really consider whether the work is appropriate to the context.At the end of the day, Kathryn did a ‘ritual burning' of the Ceremonious Times newspaper, and told everyone she felt unhappy with her project, but was trying to learn from it. This honesty, I felt, was very brave. It's also brave in the festival context to be able to try things out, and to allow work to fail; in my opinion, failure is always better than formula (an approach which can unfortunately be encouraged by the festival circuit; I have heard of cases where artists present the same project repeatedly, because it's a ‘proven success', and presents a certain predictability of result). The best situation festivals can provide, I feel, is to provide this space for risk-taking, and because of this, a chance for artists to question themselves and to grow.
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