Pamphlets created by artist Glen Johnson (Glen Johnson)
Well, I went to Artistic Licence Bureau, Glen Johnson's new art show at Platform, and I stood in a long line, filled out some forms, paid five bucks, waited in a cramped room with bad lighting in an uncomfortable chair to get my picture taken, and finally left with a small card bearing my name, my birth date and an image of me that is actually less flattering than my driver's license photo (and believe me, that's saying something).
And it was really, really fun.
I now have my coil-bound 2011 Artist's Handbook, several handy informational pamphlets, and a provisional artistic licence to practice as a critic ("mid-career, stagnant") for one year.
Johnson's endlessly intelligent, laugh-out-loud funny show plays with the double meanings of the word "licence," the first usage suggesting freedom from conventional rules, the second designating a little piece of paper you need to get from the government.
The Winnipeg-based artist has created a painstakingly detailed bureaucracy - he's actually constructed the whole office, from the institutional linoleum floor to the low, acoustic-tiled ceiling - where you go to apply for a permit to identify yourself as an artist. As several bossy posters and handouts remind you, "After December 31st, 2011, only persons in possession of a valid ARTISTIC LICENCE issued by the ARTISTIC LICENCE BUREAU will be considered artists."
You can pick up booklets that offer advice to aspiring video artists ("It is So Art!"), performance artists ("ME, ME, ME: Turning Self-Obsession into a Career") and curators ("Those Who Can't Do..."). You can fill out a questionnaire, checking off boxes about sex, death and French aesthetic theory. You can pick your Type (Painting, Drawing, Intermedia and so on) and Class (you can try applying for the Genius category, but watch it: You need to have been interviewed on national television for at least seven minutes and to have your own Wikipedia entry).
In this affectionate but often killingly accurate parody of the art world, Johnson explores the ins and outs of art school, group shows and the granting process. In his spoofy version of official prose, he warns the applicant that being an artist involves almost no money but might draw a certain amount of social cachet at cafes, poetry readings and "house parties where the decor could be described as 'eclectic.'"
The whole elaborate setup is very clever, a little cynical, extremely funny but also, at bottom, serious. Johnson is looking at the increasing bureaucratization of art and the odd paradoxes that arise from attempts to systematize, organize and regulate creativity. By getting viewers involved in the process, he's challenging them to rethink their preconceptions about art and the art world.
I could go on, but as Johnson points out in my new "Everyone's a Critic" booklet, "The important thing to remember when writing about art is that almost no one will read it and those that do will have no expectation of understanding what you have written." Whew.
Alison Gillmor, CBC Reviewer and newly registered "critic"