“Terminal Building Project”

A Space

A Space, the first of the artist-run centers here, has recently been moving art into areas not usually associated with it. A previous show, “Apartment Number,” was set in a sublet suite in St. Jamestown, a classic exercise in high-rise living/social engineering; through installations, video, and film, it set out to explore the impact of this environment on the individual. Having dealt with the ways buildings have with people, A Space then had its way with a building—when curator Chrisanne Stathacos gave an about-to-be-demolished structure an Irish wake of a sendoff. Murhall Developments donated 680 King Street West, a turn-of-the-century downtown corner factory building that had done time as a warehouse, salesrooms, and studio spaces, and was to be torn down, except for its landmark clocktower. Stathacos selected Paul Campbell, Wendy Knox-Leet, Rae Johnson, and General Idea to work the exterior.

The art, except for that of General Idea, was ephemeral in the extreme. Any site-specificity amounted only to the incorporation of objects found within the building into work without; this was all suprastructure, contributing nothing to the dialogue between art and architecture. The building was a norm of its type—brick, five stories, rows of regular windows—but the artists, again with the exception of General Idea, treated it all too prosaically, merely paraphrasing everything any building has ever projected, and so late on the uptake that any originality of (re)construct had already been made redundant by “postmodernism.”

Beginning at the beginning, Campbell built an altar, filling up an arch with white plaster and inserting niches for three urns whose pseudoclassicism was Daygloed into limp kitsch, like centerpieces of plastic fruit. Stathacos herself suspended three columns of painted bedsheets down the wall and lad a fourth on its side, in the style of the best ruins—Ironic Columns, suitably Ionic. On the roof, she perched three “Tormented Figures,” plaster castaways intended to express their age as occupants of metopes and pediments have always done, but lacking in contemporary irony. Around the corner of the building Knox-Leet simply amplified her pieces of shaped plastic, sequins, and glitz assembled on wire grids, and dangled them down, doing nothing except decorate. Johnson treated a sequence of windows as TV screens framing a program of paintings. A self-portrait turned on the set; the mythic heros Terry Fox, the Pope, and Superman appeared; then followed a raid on the Barracks, a purportedly gay bathhouse; and finally, we saw the Toronto police chief and the powers that be—Reagan, Thatcher, Trudeau . . . Big Bogus, or a coy vignette seen through a living-room window, making too obvious connections in form and content.

In a parking lot in the angle of the building General Idea landscaped piles of dirt into an unearthly terrain, lovingly planted with silver-painted newel posts, concrete blocks, and partial railings—transvaluations of rubble into relics, ingots on an earthly sea. Toronto’s Fault: The First Tremors (the ruins of the silver bar from the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion) was a vision of the building as it will be when it is fallen . . . General Idea once again showing up the cracks in the sham, the fissures in the fabricated environments and general ideas that orchestrate our lives.

Jennifer Ollie