Saturday, 8 December 2007

Fake bomb at R.O.M. as art object

An art student from the Ontario College of Art & Design planted a fake bomb sculpture on November 28th outside the Royal Ontario Museum has certainly inflamed passionate opinions on all sides. He sure did inflame mine too. This trilobite almost shed a carapace over this art project.

There is coverage at the National Post
here and here. Some from Toronto Star here. Opinions rage here. A couple of quotes from a student in support of the project can be seen at the end of the Toronto Star article here.

The basics seem to be this: a student, last name Jonsson, made a film for class showing a woman walking into the ROM gift shop, and an apparent bomb going off. This video was subsequently uploaded onto YouTube. Later, he planted a fake bomb outside the museum with a note on it saying "this is not a bomb". He called into someone at the museum and said, "Listen, there is not a bomb outside the museum". The fake bomb was apparently wooden dowels painted to look like metal pipes, bound together with batteries, wire and a motherboard.

An AIDS research fundraiser was disrupted by the hoax, possibly costing them an estimated $100 000 in donations, and traffic was of course tied up while police sent a robot to have a closer look at the not-a-bomb. Jonsson later said he had no idea a fundraiser was going on.

There are some quotes in the media about support from some of the students toward Jonsson's project. Some have said that "art is what makes you think". Or that he had recontextualised (non-explosive) objects in the manner of Duchamps' urinal.

Okay, my thoughts on this. I went to a heavily conceptual university art program too, and I am a passionate lover of the sciences, and of the ROM in particular. So sure, what I say is critical and coming from my particular background.

You want to call it art? Fine. It's art. There. The whole production is art. Kind of been-there done-that derivative shock art, I'd say, but go ahead and say it's art. The definition of art is as ephemeral as the definition of religion, or what constitutes "good" music. To a large extent, in the post-modern realm, art is in the eye of the creator and sometimes the beholder, though the beholder is often increasingly irrelevant in the naval-gazing world of post-modernism.

But I believe this young immature shock-auteur is still responsible for his actions. Two things I learned in university are 1) the value of research, and; 2) to tailor your artistic creations to your audience, and accept their reactions.

The first point is I don't (bloody well frickin') care if he knew there was a fundraiser or not. I read how he says it in the news as though he is trying to absolve himself of being responsible for an event he was unaware of. Well, he should have done his research before picking that day, at that time, and that end of the museum to do his project. He cannot be absolved when he didn't do the research. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and neither was ignorance of what was happening inside the museum.

There is an absurdity to Jonsson's claim that he was unaware of what event was going on. He has made statements about how he was surprised by the police's overreaction to the art event/hoax. But they did not know what was going on with the bomb-shaped object! It is the same as his statement. He cannot claim to be unaware and by implication not responsible of the fundraiser and then disingenuously claim that the police overreacted when they were not aware! Poorly thought-out hypocrisy.

That is the second point. Who was his audience? His classmates and professors? It ended up being the police and emergency services, participants of the CANFAR fundraiser and the rest of the downtown core. He needs to accept the audience's reaction.

I hope in the end he does some growing up, perhaps sentenced to some community service helping roadside bomb survivors from the armed forces. And I hope the ghost of Rene Magritte kicks him in the backside for recontextualizing (ripping off) the "This is not a bomb" statement from Magritte's "C'est ne pas un pipe" Treachery of Images series.

You want to call it art? Fine. You put it out there, now face the rabble and be responsible.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks Nancy.

Leslie Hawes said...

This link to wikipedia talks of the 'right to shout fire' argument. Apropos here, I think.

I am all for people making a point, and even advocate civil diobedience, but please leave 'art' out of it. It's hard enough being labeled an artist, as it is...

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