Enter the Dragon Tank! 3 art curators decide who will have their dreams become a 'reality'

It's not a reality show, it's an art exhibition. Check out some of the parody "pitches" that scored a deal!

It's not a reality show, it's an art exhibition. Check out the parody 'pitches' that scored a deal!

The country's top (fake) business moguls, (pretend to) wheel and deal with artists who dare to brave the Dragon Tank. (Courtesy of Dragon Tank)

Two upstart artists think they've found a solution for loneliness. Will their clothing line for lovers have the Midas Touch? Plus, a digital guru will tempt you with a totally inedible gift basket, guaranteed to cure what ails you...and quadruple your Instagram followers. Three Toronto art curators (pretending to be trashy venture capitalists) will decide who will have their American dreams become a reality! From now to September 9, enter Toronto's Ignite Gallery...a.k.a. the Dragon Tank.

It's not a reality show, it's an group exhibition featuring nine original inventions — stuff that's totally, utterly bizarre and serves no obvious need, and, depending on your perspective, it's also stuff you could never do without. So, you know, it's stuff like art.

I think there are a lot of connections between the entrepreneur and the artist.- Luke Van H, Dragon Tank co-curator

Curators Court Gee, Natalie King and Luke Van H came up with the concept, and they've styled themselves as "1 per center" Dragon Tank judges Don V Parkway, Sabrina Sabrina Ph. D and Buck Plusheet to amp up the absurdity of the project. (So we're clear, though, they're not demanding "projections for 2019" on site at the gallery or anything. The "deals," so to speak, were done when they selected proposals from the exhibition's 10 artists.)

"I think there are a lot of connections between the entrepreneur and the artist," says Van H . "I think they just have different ways of approaching a similar idea. They have these ideas in their head of what they want to bring out and bring into the material shared world, but they just have different ways of approaching it."

"Artwork can be consumed; products can be consumed. So I think there is a strong undercurrent through it all," adds King.

Every artist developed a piece specifically for the show, and though they play along with the reality show formula to different degrees, there's usually a bigger conversation hiding beneath the punchline.

Check out some of the "pitches" that scored a deal with Dragon Tank!

AssPhace by Elise Conlin. (Courtesy of Dragon Tank)

Who are they? Elise Conlin

Where are they from? Elmira, Ont.

How much are they asking for? "I'm asking for $50,000 to start my business called AssPhace."

The pitch! AssPhace

"Is your driveway cracking and crumbling? Are you losing all your precious valuables to those hungry cracks?"

"Introducing AssPhace, an innovative and groundbreaking combination of mundane driveway maintenance and beautiful portraiture. Our talented team of asphalt artisans will come to your door and pour asphalt in the shape of your face!"

"I imagined AssPhace for the families who love putting sticker-families on the back of their cars, but want to go a little farther and spend more money while showing off their family. It pokes a bit of fun at the 'personalized' family stickers. It also makes for an interesting way to find someone's house. 'Which house is Carol's?' 'Oh, it's the one with her family portrait asphalted on the driveway.'"

Souvenir Sculptures by Philip Ocampo. (Courtesy of Dragon Tank)
Souvenir Sculptures by Philip Ocampo. (Courtesy of Dragon Tank)

Who are they? Philip Ocampo

Where are they from? Toronto

How much are they asking for? "Enough yearly income to move to Europe on a whim."

The pitch! Souvenir Sculptures

"Souvenir Sculptures is a line of handmade destination souvenirs that allows buyers to experience tropical paradises like Berlin, Reykjavik and Glasgow from the comfort of their overpriced 6 ft x 10 ft downtown apartments."

"Souvenir Sculptures was born out of a desire to discuss the privileges associated with travel, to challenge the idea of Europe as being the 'place to be' and to illustrate my own insecurities about not being financially able to move to 'hipper' places like I see so many of my peers do."

Clothing for Lovers by Lex Burgoyne and Will Carpenter. (Courtesy of the artists)

Who are they? Will Carpenter and Lex Burgoyne

Where are they from? Ottawa

How much are they asking for? "$100,000. Right up front."

The pitch! Clothing for Lovers

"A lot of our friends spend a lot of time in an office and on a computer screen, and we might be interacting really closely online but we don't quite have any reasons to gather in the way we might need to."

"The product, I would say, is definitely born out of the influence of Toronto on my art practice and Lex's as well. So we've decided sort of the target audience would be the 20-30 millennial crowd, hustling and bustling Torontonians and people from other big cities."

"I have all these statistics about touch-starved North Americans. In Europe — say, in Italy — they might touch 300 times a conversation, just casually. And we are sitting at one time — if that — per conversation."

"The solution that we've presented is kind of a band-aid solution."

"[Clothing for Lovers] uses these black outfits that you can put on. We have designated these touch points that are magenta pink with Velcro placed on them, and also gloves that you put on when you don the outfit."

"Then, you can stand in designated poses — say, one person will have a hand on another person's shoulder. As two people, you can both wear the outfits and continue the touching experience up to a recommended 15 minutes. Anything more than that, we joke, is exceeding the doctor's recommendations."

Golly Grillz by Kadrah Mensah. (Courtesy of the artist)

Who are they? Kadrah Mensah

Where are they from? Brampton, Ont.

How much are they asking for? "This product is not available for purchase, as it's a tool created only for a certain demographic. It's meant to lift the stress on Black people to perform whiteness, and having it available for purchase would make it vulnerable to misuse by non-Black people. There's a lot of discourse right now around the ways Black speech is consumed in mainstream culture by non-Black people but is still widely condemned, and this tool would exaggerate the problem if it ends up in the wrong hands."

The pitch! Golly Grillz

"Golly Grillz are luxury grills that are wifi receiving. They help Black people navigate white spaces by allowing them to code switch in real time. That's the concept with the wifi. It's sending you [info] in real time — 'OK, this is what you have to say next, and this is how you have to say it.'"

"Grills have historically been tied to the Black community. They're popularized by Black people. And also, this piece is kind of touching on performance in different ways, because grills are worn by entertainers and they're consumed in popular culture, and it's just another way for a Black body to be consumed. That in itself is its own performance, wearing grills. I'm kind of subverting it and changing it into, 'OK, now I'm talking about another type of performance which is like the performance of speaking white.' Or speaking in a way that's 'proper' or that doesn't reflect your cultural identity. A way that makes you pass, basically."

#retailtherapy by Kaley Flowers. (Courtesy of the artist)

Who are they? Kaley Flowers

Where are they from? Toronto

How much are they asking for? $2,500 (Note: This valuation's no joke. The sculpture's available for purchase through the gallery.)

The pitch! #retailtherapy

"The current political climate, economic instability and impending ecological collapse have you feeling down? Life is surely less difficult with a bit of #retailtherapy and easily purchasable #selfcare."

"My idea for [#retailtherapy] was kind of like a gift basket, so I've compiled different ceramic forms. There's a charcoal ice cream, for example — so that's referencing that food trend of putting charcoal in products. I see it in juices, pizza. I feel like people just buy it to post about it online."

"I've noticed a shift in people not just buying products we need, but products that we like to share. All my work, a lot of it deals with the internet and how life online affects us, so I'm kind of fascinated by how a lot of products are just literally purchased to show online — to show that you bought it, and to show the aesthetics of the products. And that's kind of the concept for the show. These products don't really have a purpose."

Dragon Tank. Featuring Obay Alrifai, Solskin Brask, Lex Burgoyne, Will Carpenter, Elise Conlin, Kaley Flowers, Ryan Grover, Steven Lourenco, Kadrah Mensah, Philip Ocampo. To Sept. 9. Ignite Gallery, Toronto.


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.