poem in progress

benjy below
with his mom holding him
& his aunt next to both

A mall poem by Helen Yung, captured at Sherway Gardens

this was not one of my better
” found poems ” from the batch


when I first sat down & we chatted
I wanted to write

something to the effect of :

two sisters

she says she doesn’t ever come to the mall
she says she only comes with Her
she says she only came because
” we needed someplace to eat nearby “

I didn’t trust my instincts
& started in a different place

was wondering how we’d end

when i noticed their pretty matching fingernails
” did you do your nails together ? ”

” i did them first ”
she says
” i liked them ”
the other agrees
” so i took it & did mine “

that’s when i knew i should have started
with ” two sisters ”

the poem would have circled back nicely

but that’s very lovely too
— affirmation of instinct —

live & learn

next time i will just plunge in
& onwards

never hesitate

trust that
the poem will emerge

just as the situation evolves
& the image develops


i know what it’s like

to have a sister who goes places
for you

to borrow & bite
the other’s tastes


to the brave women

heading back in time some more :

in 2010 i gave a talk at
magnetic north theatre festival

it was for a panel on building audiences

about 3/4 of the way through
i said :

Consider this… If you really did want new audiences, you would have them by now.

Suppose that this were true. You know where they are. You know where they live, work, and play. Why haven’t they seen your work yet?

this was when i first talked about going to the mall.

sometime in the early 2000s
the international council of shopping centers estimated that

92% of canadians over the age of 12
have visited a shopping mall in the past 30 days

that is a staggering number.

consider how many canadians have visited a
gallery     live theatre      or museum

in the last 30 days

so, to the mall !   
i counselled to the artists & administrators present

my talk
at magnetic north

with some predictions / prescriptions

especially for artists going to the mall

and in the book version of the talk ( available here )
i admitted that 2 years later
i still had not followed my own prescription

my reasons might not be so different from yours…

  1. I don’t like the mall. The air is bad.
  2. Fluorescent mall lighting gives me a headache. Plus it’s bad for my skin.
  3. I don’t need to buy more stuff.
  4. The mall is far away and public transit takes effort.
  5. The mall is boring. People are boring. And lonely. If we start chatting, I will have to listen and they might not stop talking. Their stories might make me feel bad. Or I might yawn. That would be rude.
  6. It’ll be embarrassing.
  7. Nobody cares.
  8. I will be uncomfortable.
  9. I will make other people feel uncomfortable.
  10. What will I say? What will I do? How will they react?

It’s a jumbled, confused list. And as I go on listing reasons for not doing the very thing I’ve advised you to do, the truth becomes ever more clear: These objections are precisely the reasons to do it.

at bottom

i wrote

these objections relate back            more or less

to one objection :

I foresee discomfort. I am scared and feel anxious. The freedom is troubling. It may be very awkward. What if I suck?

to which

i wrote & told myself

i can only berate myself    in words borrowed from
another writer   ( annie dillard, if i’m not mistaken ) :

are you a woman, or a mouse ?

…to the 4, 5, 6 brave women in on this experiment

who have not had this one sitting on the back burner
for a few years – mulled over, forgotten, stirred & stewed again –

kudos & thank you.

some questions we might answer

today – another mall art day

went back to review the original questions posed :

  • what are the parameters that will define art in this context?
  • what levels or kinds of awareness or perception can we play with?
  • what are the most interesting, promising, or impossible acts of art in this context?
  • who cares? what kind of impact can art in this context have?
  • compared to my traditional practice, how does this practice-out-of-context change my interests, objectives, strategies, and self-assessment?
  • what constitutes a success in this context? how do I feel that I’ve accomplished something good? how do I know I did badly?
  • how do I measure, document or speak to the impact of my work for others to appreciate?
  • what kinds of questions and issues are coming up as I experiment?

subway intervention – this time with pants on

photo from blogto.com

an intervention
brought to you by improv in toronto :

This past Sunday, a curiously dressed group of individuals wheeling a cart boarded a Eastbound train onto the Bloor Line. (…) Our mission was simple, transform the old every day nature of riding the subway into a luxury flight experience, making it more a comfortable, enjoyable, and eventful ride. Equipped with snacks, drinks and blankets, our sharp looking flight subway attendants and captain tended to the riders of this particular train. We went and offered these amenities to each of the riders, hopefully making this particular subway ride, a memorable one.

these are the nice folks who
do that annual no-pants subway ride

[ there seems to be confusion
so let me clarify : this is not us !
this is improv in toronto’s work ]

( via blogto.com )

the chill in our social space

lawrence rinder :

There is a chilliness in our social space that we usually only notice when the compact of alienation is broken. Try asking a question out loud, of no one in particular, the next time you are in a crowded elevator. Try standing in a public square, like the fellow I met on Sproul Plaza, with a simple question written on a sign. You can eat a sandwich in public, tuck in your shirt, kiss or even yawn, but ask a question and most people will assume you are a lunatic. Why has wondering become an essentially private affair?

( from ” jochen gerz: the berkeley oracle ”

in art life – selected writings 1991 – 2005 )

on the aesthetics of social practice

” the social turn: collaboration and its discontents ”
artforum, february 2006, pp 179 – 185

by claire bishop :

This mixed panorama of socially collaborative work arguably forms what avant-garde we have today: artists using social situations to produce dematerialized, antimarket, politically engaged projects that carry on the modernist call to blur art and life. (…) For Grant H. Kester, in another key text, Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art (2004), art is uniquely placed to counter a world in which “we are reduced to an atomized pseudocommunity of consumers, our sensibilities dulled by spectacle and repetition.” For these and other supporters of socially engaged art, the creative energy of participatory practices rehumanizes – or at least de-alienates – a society rendered numb and fragmented by the repressive instrumentality of capitalism. But the urgency of this political task has led to a situation in which such collaborative practices are automatically perceived to be equally important artistic gestures of resistance: There can be no failed, unsuccessful, unresolved, or boring works of collaborative art because all are equally essential to the task of strengthening the social bond. While I am broadly sympathetic to that ambition, I would argue that it is also crucial to discuss, analyze, and compare such work critically as art.

read the full article online here

( including a critical response by grant kester
and bishop’s subsequent reply )

courtesy of one day sculpture new zealand.