Please give a warm welcome to this lengthy guest post by Chris Randle about Double Double Land, the Toronto art space where tonight they’re celebrating the KLF and its burnt million pounds (with a lecture by Chris).
When I visited Double Double Land a couple of months ago to interview the new cultural space’s curator-inhabitants, the flux was obvious: A comprehensive renovation was far from finished, there were dumpsters full of the previous residents’ junk out back and they still weren’t entirely certain about that name. (Its main rival was “Fourth World,” taken from Heavenly Creatures.) Geographically, though, almost nothing has changed: Go down the stairs from Double Double Land’s second floor, past the bakery below and the punk house across from it, walk south for about a minute, and you’ll reach the address of its predecessor, the makeshift gallery/kitchen/venue/etc. Jamie’s Area, which blinked in and out of existence in 2009.
I’m exaggerating the continuity. Jamie’s Area was founded by Daniel Vila (of Bite Yr Tongue), Sarah Butterill and Bonny Poon, closing around the time she left to study art at Frankfurt’s Stadelschule in the summer. A few series (such as the Globe and Mail-documented Food evenings) will continue on, but the curators are palpably excited about their new digs, by the fact that they actually live in them, and seem uninterested in bounding the programming with even a rough mandate. DDL’s Jon McCurley is one of several people planning Hello Decade, a long day of performances, art, music, print and loot boxes that’ll be co-anchored by the Kensington space, the White House, DeLeon White Gallery and Everlasting Fortress in late June.
Double Double Land is run by Dan Vila, Jon McCurley (of Life of a Craphead and also author of the play that gave the venue its name), Rob Gordon (formerly of Les Mouches, currently of Pony Da Look) and Steve Thomas (of Steve Thomas). Four of us sat down with an enormous bag of baby carrots to discuss the humble rebirth of Jamie’s Area inside a Kensington roach manger, their plans for the space, and why most relational art is pseudo-political meanderings.
[Proprietor's caveat: Zoilus does not necessarily endorse or agree with various tossed-off bits of vitriol contained in this interview.]
Chris Randle: Did you decide to come in here before or after the 19 Major disaster? [in which the house at said address, where Dan, Jon and Steve all previously lived, caught fire from a neighbouring one]
Jon McCurley: After…I was in Montreal and then I was told that our house was on fire, and somebody sent me a link to the news and there was a video of a firefighter on our roof shooting into one of our bedrooms. [Laughs] Also, you guys got kicked out because the neighbours had a terrible time, right?
Dan Vila: Oh, yeah, the neighbours hated us too.
Jon: Because they’d have bands all the time.
Dan: We didn’t have bands all the time –
Jon: They sometimes had bands.
Can you guys talk about what this place was like when you arrived here?
Jon [animatedly]: This place was really really full of shit and garbage. Where you’re sitting now was a big pile of children’s toys which seemed to have been rubbed in brown margarine. I went to recycle it – it was full of cat shit and broken glass and art. I cleaned this thing yesterday and it looked like someone had poured Ovaltine into every crack…but it wasn’t Ovaltine, it was probably roach feces. We pulled off sheet metal from there and there was a whole world –
Dan: A whole world of roaches living there.
Jon: When I moved in there was a piece of wood on the floor, and when you picked it up it was completely covered in roaches. It was like…I don’t know, it was like science fiction or something. There were three dumpsters worth of garbage in the back and two – we had to take stuff to the dump twice, so that’s probably four dumpsters worth of garbage, which was all “the ‘90s.” It was mesh hats with graffiti written in marker on it and Adbusters magazines and dried-out magnum markers. And everything was covered with graffiti, and it smelled like – and there’s piss on the floor.
[wave of laughter oscillates around the table]
Steve Thomas: Where Dan’s room is there was a big pile of garbage and a mattress on the floor, with a guy named Tommy sleeping on it.
Dan: Oh yeah, his dog had chewed a hole through the whole mattress. Even to the springs. His dog had gotten through to the other side of the mattress. It’s like digging to China.
Steve: Actually when we first moved in he was just sleeping in the big room, in the middle of a pile of garbage.
Jon: A man still lived here and the landlord was so, uh, unreal that he wanted him to live with us. He asked if the man would live with us forever, with all his garbage.
[everyone laughs again]
What are you thinking for the programming? Is it going to be the same thing that was happening at Jamie’s Area…and with bands again, because the landlord isn’t totally insane about that? Or…
Dan: I think – yeah, some of the programming will continue. We’re gonna continue doing the Food series and the Talking Songs series and then I guess we’ll do things – this is just the stuff I want to do…
Yeah, I meant to ask what you guys [Jon and Steve] wanted to bring in.
Steve: Well, continuing on from Jamie’s Area, we’ll probably do more of those Symposia. Maybe some readings? But we’ve also been talking about different kinds of things, like classes – teaching kids art or writing.
That reminds me of 826 Valencia.
Steve: I want to do that here. I tried to get an internship at this [literary education] program called NOW HEAR THIS!, which is run by Descant, and they liked me but I had a job so I couldn’t do it. But I’m thinking I’ll talk to them and try to work something out.
Jon: Yeah, we’re gonna teach kids how to do their homework. There’s a couple other ideas. We’ve started doing a meeting every Monday morning, which is a Darren O’Donnell idea but it’s different, where people are meeting and talking about ideas they want to do and then try to help them execute them together. … I came up with an idea with Sarah Butterill that for now is called TV Drama, which is a weekly performance that’s a series, with characters, and it goes on forever. There’s different writers and different actors, but it’s like live performance-art theatre with recurring characters that happens every week. I have an idea with Sarah that was – new bands, there’s a new band [playing] two songs every week, one original and one cover. I wanted to start a male-only dance class here because we’re gonna have dance parties too and the room’s really big. This summer I taught myself how to moonwalk using YouTube and then I realized that it’s pretty easy, you just have to think about it. So maybe we’ll start that. Um…what else is there?
Dan: There was a fog machine we found in here, so we’re going to do a fog event…I also need to make a dreamachine for the fog event because I want there to be a lot of three-dimensional light things…
Jon: Sarah had an idea she wants to do that’s a fundraiser, I guess, and it’s a video dance party modeled after MuchMusic –
Jon: The video dance party that Sarah Butterill was talking about – there’s much more video now, people dancing on video that’s not music videos…to have VJs pick stuff off [Youtube] I think would be interesting. I want to have a video game night…
Dan: I still want to do the “Starbucks in Kensington” thing, but I think that might have to wait until the summer. And I still want to do Touch But Don’t Look, the blindfolded touching-only art show.
Jon: But we’ve spent most of our time doing cleanup now and we haven’t really had a chance to come up with ideas together, which we will. Our time so far has been entirely spent bothering each other about getting up and moving things. And spending each other’s money. So it’s been a different kind of art experience. [Dan laughs]
I think it’s great that you’re living in the space and also running it at the same time. There aren’t that many – I mean, there’s a bunch artist-run galleries that I can think of, and a smaller number of artist-run music venues, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head where the people actually live there. Is Casa del Popolo in Montreal like that? Do they –
Dan: No, that’s just a regular venue. I think there is a venue in Montreal where people live, though.
Jon: Friendship Cove?
Dan: Friendship Cove. And then there’s a place in New York called Silent Barn as well, but it’s a shithole. It’s not gonna be like one of those places that’s a shithole.
Jon: We’ve lived in a shithole. And then it burned down. I’ve actually lived in three shitholes that burned down. The first shithole – the day it burned down I saw mice running from the building. [Everyone laughs]
Dan: Speaking of getting sued, another event that we’re gonna have is, uh … my friends Sarah and Courtney, they found a plaster cast from a film of Willem Dafoe’s face…They matched up all the wrinkles and the nose and it’s definitely him. And they’re gonna make, like, 40 plaster casts of it and hang them on the wall and sell them and then we’re going to have a screening of Antichrist. …
[Antichrist spoilers excised]
Dan: And they’re going to write Willem Dafoe and tell him they’re using his face, which I guess is illegal? And they’re gonna…see what happens.
[Jon had to leave here]
Have you thought about what the mandate is for the place? Do you have one? Is there some set of organizational principles?
Dan: I don’t think the mandate’s going to be – I doubt we’ll have a published mandate like Jamie’s Area did. Also I don’t feel completely like the programming at Jamie’s Area lived up to the mandate…There’s definitely a “no shitty stuff” mandate though. I think it will definitely be a logical continuation of Jamie’s Area, it won’t be a radical departure, it just won’t be stated so specifically.
You also said in one of the articles about Jamie’s Area that “we’re operating outside the system because we’re afraid, because we’re weak.” Do you think that’s still the case, or…
Dan: Yeah, for sure. Uh, for me it is, I don’t know if for Steve it is.
Steve: What’s the alternative? Squatting?
Dan: No no no, legitimately.
Steve: Oh, I thought it was that we’re doing it within the system. Aren’t we?
Dan: Not really. We’re not doing it within the system. I mean, we’re doing it within a system, but I don’t think we’re doing it within – like, I don’t think we’re going to be going after any grants. Maybe we will, I don’t know. Yeah, maybe we will. Jamie’s Area definitely had an explicit no-grants policy, which I think is good but it’s also limiting, in that instead of being pseudo-enslaved by parameters established by arts councils you’re enslaved by capital. And there are ways – even though grant applications are terrible things to write I think there are ways you can pretend to box yourself in but then get around it, or something.
I’m interested in the question of grants and institutionalization because – you know Nicolas Bourriaud, the relational-aesthetics guy who sort of coined the term? I read this brutal essay about him and the newest thing he curated, by Owen Hatherley, in the New Left Review I think.
Dan: Was it the thing he did at Tate Modern?
Yeah. And he sort of – there’s a bunch of vectors [Hatherley] attacks him on but Bourriaud…he has a bunch of curatorial positions but at the Tate he’s funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which was set up by this Armenian oil magnate. And Hatherley goes on to attack what Bourriaud and some other people have done in creating their enclaves and furthering atomization. Trying to create a little micro-utopia temporarily instead of changing the broader world, as I guess was the goal of a lot of modernists and earlier avant-garde people. There’s a specific line that I wrote down here: “The international artists appear able to transcend class, stepping blithely into productive spheres different from their own, entering into factories and immigrant communities without any tension or hostility.” And there’s this hilarious part where he goes after Bourriaud for the language he uses, which is all “negotiating,” “reconfiguring,” “reconstellating.” These artists are “traversing” various issues – a very vague sort of language that stands in for the lack of any actual action or critique on their part. And apparently the catalogue for this Tate exhibition is a bunch of masturbatory letters between him and the various artists.
Dan: Is the author being critical of the way relational aesthetics artists are going into specific communities, like, I don’t know, Santiago Sierra or something?
There was this guy who – I forget his name, I think he’s French, but he went into a Japanese phone factory and started working there, learning how to make phones from the [workers]. But it was presented by Bourriaud as this very touristy thing, they didn’t acknowledge any tensions in doing it.
Dan: I think that’s the problem with Bourriaud’s take on it, it’s this very optimistic take rather than, um…I don’t think I even read the whole book, I read most of it, but it didn’t seem to acknowledge the inherent exclusivity of an artist cooking a meal at a gallery for other artists. And there are people who fall under the…whatever of relational aesthetics who do consciously reveal the tensions inherent in it. Santiago Sierra totally does that. I don’t know if you’re familiar with his work, but he’s a Spanish artist who – he’s pretty confrontational and most of his stuff’s about labour. But he does it in a way that’s inhabiting the thing that he’s critiquing. So he paid a bunch of, I think five or six young drug addicts in Mexico or Brazil to get a line tattooed across their backs, so that when they stood together it would all line up, and stand in a gallery for five hours. And I think he paid them in drugs. And then he did another thing where – he does a lot of stuff with labourers, day labourers. … He’ll pay them to hold a huge piece of drywall at a 45-degree angle for four hours or something in a gallery. He’s almost over-the-top with tension.
One thing I love so much about what Darren O’Donnell does is that he’s sort of half-mocking a lot of the relational aesthetics people, what they do, but he’s also doing it in this consciously politicized way. A lot of them throw around vague leftist language but he really goes for it.
Dan: It’s corny. A lot of it’s pretty embarrassing. It’s kind of like [how]…the new internet language is embarrassing, like tweets. It’s embarrassing to say. A lot of the stuff at Nuit Blanche that could fall into that realm, like The Apology Project, it’s just…regardless of the concept, it’s embarrassing. [Laughs]
Steve: I don’t know if we want to talk about – we talked about doing on-brand and off-brand programming…
Dan: Oh yeah. Shit.
Steve: Maybe you should – like, someone gave you the idea of wrap parties…
Dan: Oh yeah. This doesn’t really pertain to Double Double Land as a conceptual space, it’s just…there was the idea of –
Steve: Of capital? Us being enslaved to capital? [Dan chuckles]
Dan: There was just the idea of having…I don’t know, I ran into this girl who works in TV and she said [Monty-Python-level imitation of woman’s voice]: “You should have wrap parties for TV shows when we’re done shooting! Everybody gets wasted!”
Jon: Uh, when you guys take a break you should check out my new rug…
Dan: Okay. Yeah, I don’t know. I had an idea to assign every event a catalogue number, and then off-brand events would not be assigned a catalogue number.
Steve: I mean, I want to try to make this my full-time job. I don’t have a normal job right now, I have a few part-time things. So things like…making a school, I don’t know if that, I don’t know if it’s on-brand or what…
Dan: Depends on the kind of school.
Steve: It’ll be a cool school. Maybe Amy Lam will teach, uh, beekeeping or something.
Does she actually keep bees, or know how to keep bees?
Steve: Uhhhhh…I don’t… [General laughter]
It seems like you’re not sure whether to go for grants or not –
Dan: I’m kind of ambivalent about it. In some ways I definitely do like operating without having to have those kinds of considerations. And maybe it will also depend on – it’ll depend on capital, ultimately. If this space doesn’t, if it’s not able to sustain itself, that might be a route worth considering. I just don’t wanna do it if it…uh, if it would –
Steve: Make us lame? [Dan laughs]
Dan: If it would just affect programming. We just wouldn’t think of the grant first and then adapt the project to the grant.
It sounds that, with things like the school, you’re actively trying not to form this incestuous clique like a lot of the relational art ends up as.
Dan: It has been pretty cliquey thus far. Well, I mean, we’ve only had three events and two of them were kind of cliquey but then we had this reading –
The Eileen Myles one?
Dan: Yeah, the Eileen Myles one. That wasn’t cliquey at all. Or it was a different clique.
I hardly recognized anyone there, but they were all –
Dan: They were all fifty-plus.
Yeah, they were – a lot of people that Charlie [Huissken] knew.
Dan: Yeah. Charlie’s gang. [...]
Steve: But, I mean, what does cliquey even mean? Like, more cliquey than any event where people who know the same –
I don’t think it’s the basis for everything you did at Jamie’s Area or everything you’re gonna do here but when you’re sort of dipping into that…relational-art stream –
Steve: And you’re only relating with your friends?
Yeah, that can completely kill it.
Dan: Yeah, for sure.
Steve: Yeah, that makes sense.
Especially if –
Steve: We were relating to some weird dudes at the end of that party. [Laughs]
I got back around 3 am because I went to see Anagram. Did it get weird before that? Is that when it got weird?
Dan: That’s around when it got weird. Well, a bunch of people showed up at, like, 2:30. I want to avoid stuff like that in the future.
Becoming an unofficial afterhours?
Dan: Yeah. Yeah.
Dan: Am I having too many carrots?
No, eat as many as you want…But yeah, I guess there’s this danger of becoming really cosy. Taking, y’know, grant money or money that…what’s a good example…the Galen Weston Foundation? Do they fund art? I’m trying to think of a rich Canadian person’s foundation –
Steve: That would be great, if we could take rich people’s money and have parties with our friends. I think it’s less justifiable to take government money and have parties with our friends.
Sure, but there is a danger I think of taking either institutional source of money and…tossing it in the air with your friends, swimming in Scrooge McDuck’s money pit while pretending that it’s Great Art about globalization and neo-liberalism.
Dan: I definitely wouldn’t feel good about – yeah, taking government money and tossing it in the air with my friends. Did you ever see that Adbusters…this is such a stupid Adbusters thing to do…On Buy Nothing Day they would go to malls and throw money at people.
Which is really –
Dan: It’s so patronizing.
Yeah, it’s such an Adbusters thing to do. Just to fuck with people and not actually do anything to change or reform or really even disrupt the system at all.
Dan: No, they were just – I saw video footage of it on their website. This was years ago. And they would toss the money from, like, an upper balcony and videotape people essentially –
Steve: Scrambling for it?
Dan: Yeah, scrambling for it. And be like, Ohhh, look at these idiots! I mean, they didn’t say that, but…I wonder if they got a grant for that.
Dan: One plan that Rob and I have for a band is to only play here, ever. Never anywhere else.
Steve: That’s a pretty good idea.
Dan: Yeah, I think it’s a good idea.
Steve: As long as the bakery thinks it’s a good idea.
Oh yeah, I should ask about that. How it’s been with – and there’s people working in there when you want to do events, right?
Dan: Initially the one baker complained about my birthday party, and then Rob talked to this other baker, this woman, on Friday before the show. And she was like: “Make as much noise as you want! We love music! Just no dust from the ceiling…” So we need to find out when this woman works and only do loud things then.
Dan: Kensington’s weird. You know your neighbours immediately.
I think that’s also kind of perfect for what you want to do, though.
Dan: Kind of, yeah. I don’t want to be…I have a lot of problems with Kensington Market. I don’t want to become a Kensington Market person. I’m scared of Kensington Market people in a way [laughs], even though I definitely like aspects of the vibe here…I feel like this space isn’t a continuation of whatever the narrative is around here. But it is kind of in a way, just because it’s somewhat ramshackle and unofficial…
Yeah, I mean, if you’re gonna try and operate a little school and make a bunch of relational meals…
Steve: …then that’s Kensington?
Yeah, it’s better to do it above a bakery and next to a punk house and across from this sports bar rather than go into an antiseptic room inside the Tate.
Dan: Sure, yeah. But I think you also have to be cautious of your own self-regard. You can’t pretend that you’re some kind of frontiersman. Like, that’s how Mercer Union thinks of itself. “We’re so fucking brave. We’re crossing all these barriers moving to fucking Bloor and Lansdowne.” It’s kind of embarrassing.
I’ve been to events there since they moved, but I don’t really know who runs Mercer Union or is on the board. I think I just read a couple of articles about them moving. Is that how they’ve portrayed it?
Dan: I don’t know if that’s the way they portray themselves publicly, but…that’s in their propaganda or whatever that they submit to the granting bodies they get money from. This border-crossing frontiersman gallery mentality.
The untamed wilds of Bloor and Lansdowne…
Dan: I don’t mind Mercer Union. I don’t even know if they genuinely believe that about themselves, maybe they’re just bullshitting in order to get money…
Steve: Maybe they’re just being smart about it. Maybe it’s like “this will sound good on a grant.”
Dan: Yeah, that’s true.
[And then we went to check out Jon’s new rug]