February 12 – April 24, 2016
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents The Foundation, a new and expansive body of work by artist Patrick Staff, their first solo exhibition in Canada. The project, which centres around a major film installation but also comprises sculpture, print, and text, explores queer intergenerational relationships as they are negotiated through a body of historical materials. The film combines footage shot at the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles—home to the archive of the erotic artist and gay icon and a community of people that care for it—with choreographic sequences shot within a specially constructed set.
The legacy of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991), better known as Tom of Finland, spans multiple generations; his work made a considerable impact on masculine representation and imagery in post-war gay culture. The foundation was established in 1984 by Tom and his friend Durk Dehner to preserve his vast catalogue of homoerotic art, whilst endeavouring to – to quote the organization’s website – ‘educate the public to the cultural merits of erotic art and in promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes about sexuality.’ Today, Durk runs the organization and lives in the house, along with a handful of other employees and artists.
Rather than focusing on Tom of Finland’s work, Staff’s film evokes the foundation as a set of relations. It explores how a collection is formed and constituted and the communities that produce and are produced by a body of work. Through observational footage of the house, its collections and inhabitants, the foundation is revealed as a domestic environment, a libidinal space, an archive, an office and a community centre; a private space which is also the home of a public-facing organization and the source of a widely dispersed body of images. In the work, Staff foregrounds their own identity and personal dialogue with the different communities of the foundation to consider how ideas of inheritance and exchange are complicated by gender identity and presentation; in this context, of a younger trans person within a context dominated by the overtly masculine, male identity of an older generation. The documentary style footage of the foundation is intercut with a series of scenes, which are shot in a set incorporating aspects of the building’s architecture and technologies and operate within the register of experimental theatre. These sequences, featuring interactions with an older actor, use choreography and prop to explore the body as a site for the construction and deconstruction of subjectivities.
Through a varied, interdisciplinary and often collaborative body of work comprising film, dance and performance, Staff considers ideas of discipline, dissent, labour and the queer body, frequently drawing on the historical narration of counter-culture, radical activity and alternative forms of community building. This new work is the product of several years’ research and dialogue with the Tom of Finland Foundation and is Staff’s most ambitious and large-scale project to date, bringing together languages of film and live performance with sculptural materiality to explore the body as a political, living archive. The Foundation explores the complexities of cultural artifacts and collective identities, via an examination of ownership, appropriation, responsibility and desire.
For Vancouver CAG has developed a new broadsheet publication and an associated film screening event co-programmed by Staff with Canadian curator and writer Robin Simpson. Continuing the format of Staff’s recent screening-performances Dreams of Travel (2014) and Uniform Smoke (2015), this expanded public programming brings together a number of voices that generate resonances with the politics and interpersonal relationships that constitute the project, rather than describing or fixing the meaning of the work. Grounded within a Canadian context, it seeks to forge a connection among Trans/Queer contexts, production, dialogues and communities. The broadsheet contains specially commissioned texts by Juliet Jacques, Paige Sarlin and Staff and Simpson and will be distributed city wide, in Vancouver, as well as in Toronto via defunct Xtra newspaper boxes.
The Foundation is co-commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery, London; Spike Island, Bristol; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; and Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. Co-produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London and Spike Island, Bristol. With thanks to the Tom of Finland Foundation. The Foundation is supported by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, The Elephant Trust and the Genesis Prize. The broadsheet publication and screening project is supported by The British Council.