Kenneth Doren and Jean Pierre
United Congress Gallery
California seedless raisins, Reykjavik and rug-hooking
They set up a folding table beside a wall crusted with gig posters. A tablecloth, fruit, cheese and crackers. If someone wasn't standing on the sidewalk, they might think they were at an art opening.
"I realized this morning that maybe I should call someone with the city to make sure that the exhibit was all right," explains Richard Farand of The United Congress, indicating a white sign in the window.
Due to the Public Display Act, The United Congress decided to prevent the public exhibition of Hurting, by Kenneth Doren and Jean Pierre.
A person can walk up and down 17th Avenue S.W. a dozen times a day and not notice the United Congress gallery. Its just a window between a brick wall and a door theres four square feet inside at most, with white walls and a halogen bulb. Up until a few weeks ago, the walls inside were covered with rug-hooking mesh if you were lucky, you could catch two white-clad members of the U.C. Rug-Hooking Guild inside, gradually filling the interior with white wool.
Today the glass is covered with a white sheet and the sign. At the bottom, the lens of a video camera pokes out, looking up.
"I explained the content and (someone at the city) said we could go ahead, but that if anyone complained, we could get in a lot of trouble, possibly arrested for displaying obscene material," Farand says. "So we decided to put the piece on, but cover it up."
A kid wearing a cardboard vest comes by and asks for some juice. His friends stop, ask us what were doing. All of them seem more interested in the appetizers than whatever might be lurking behind the sheet.
"Its a challenge to figure out appropriate work for the public, to choose pieces that people will be able to see all the time," says White-Field Senate, another Congress member.
Last summer, the Congress got a lot of attention with a piece called Self Maintenance. The window was fitted with a mirror, sink, medicine cabinet and ironing board. Every evening between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., artist Carl Chapel George would stand inside and spend the hour maintaining himself brushing his teeth, clipping his nails, plucking his eyebrows. "It was kind of horrible to see him in such a small space, confined," says Senate. "People are pretty embarrassed to stop and look."
Every night one or two people would pause and stare, engrossed with Chapels oblivious devotion to his cuticles and gums, while the sidewalk traffic tried to get past, trying to convince themselves they hadnt really seen a man in a window ironing his pants.
The members of United Congress met at the Alberta College of Art and Design in the late 80s, and started showing at the Comme des Congres two years ago.
"We wanted to show, but didnt want to have to wait around for other people," Senate says. "The gallery system is very closed and we wanted to do things on our own terms. The irony is that now we have people waiting to show here."
The kids come back for more juice and canteloupe. Richard opens up the door adjacent to the window and reaches around to pull open a crack in the curtain. I have to lean right up against the glass to see inside. There's a television set mounted under a green light bulb. Printed on the screen is a poem by Jean Pierre, about the "Sunmaid Seedless Raisin girl, and her blouse." It takes a moment to make sense of the image on the screen until I recall the camera poking out from behind the sheet and realize, Hey, thats my crotch.
Perched on top of the set is the illicit material in question some paper penises and bottle-blonde centrefolds, propped up in a soft-core diorama. Standing on the street and peeking through a curtain at the display, the effect is comical behind me, kids eat crackers and yell at passing cars, and here I am, staring through a hole in a sheet at some bare-chested women on top of my own televised groin.
Given past duration, Hurting will probably last another few weeks. If you go by at night, the sheet is lit up green from within, and even though you cant see them, the pin-up girls and the Seedless Raisin girl are all inside, snickering to themselves. In the meantime, the Congress is getting ready to move to Japan.
"We tried to move to Iceland once," Richard and Senate tell me. "Two of us went first and the rest were to follow. We took Icelandic lessons at the Scandinavian Calgarian club. We got there and realized that Iceland is the most expensive country in Europe. Spent two weeks trying to find jobs, only eating rice. Used the last of our money phoning home to warn everybody else not to come."