From super hot bands like Stink Mitt and We Are Wolves to the renowned Peaches, the Toronto Alternative Art Fair International (TAAFI) was a festival of très hip culture. Peeking into rooms at the Drake and Gladstone hotels, there was an abundance of cool shit to see and do. On Saturday and Sunday, there were lectures on industrialism, contemporary art and leftist politics. The sheer magnitude of TAAFI, which closed on Nov 7, was nothing short of amazing.
While alternative art is what TAAFI publicizes as its main focus, the title of the fair in some ways limits its breadth and scope. TAAFI is in fact a fair of independent culture that includes but is not constrained by just plain old contemporary art. This fair embodies a kind of renaissance mentality whereby art and culture are affixed to and feed off of each other. TAAFI eludes the ivory tower syndrome that results in exclusion. Case in point: the $6 cover charge meant a myriad of people could afford to peruse this unusual event.
Occupying the second floor in both the Gladstone and the Drake, artists and galleries had to shape their exhibit to fit each room. Video installations, multiples, sculpture, painting and drawing — virtually every possible art form — was on display. I scoped the art-laden rooms with two youths who are open-minded and curious but not contemporary-art savvy. While they “didn’t really understand some of it,” they were outwardly thrilled by the deluge of creative energy and mesmerized by the often-risky subject matter. TAAFI’s ability to organize such a vast range of art practice suggests that they are not only committed to diversity but also to pushing the envelope.
Bruce LaBruce’s white room splattered in blood with four spliced videos entitled Women In Revolt was indeed shocking. The effect of blood sprayed around the room and clips of straight porn and women freaking out was disorienting yet intriguing. What left me most stunned was my fascination in watching LaBruce sit on the blood-soaked bed in front of the video monitor reading the newspaper. His body in the space, performing such a normal activity, was jarring and somehow poetic.
The Solo Exhibition room had dozens of pieces from the Queen West window space’s five years in existence, including Paige Gratland’s donut hoes, Jeremy Laing’s gold press-on nails and a looped video by Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay that kept me transfixed. In Subtitled, Nemerofsky Ramsay sits in a sea green hotel room, bored and alone. Facing us, he starts to write lyrics of a Kyle Minogue mega-hit on the screen. His movements are erratic and hyperneurotic. “I just can’t get you out of my head,” sings Minogue, “Boy, your lovin’ is all I think about.” Nemerofsky Ramsay writes these words at high speed. Then the song stops, the fast movement stops, everything stops except the peaceful boredom and loneliness of Nemerofsky Ramsay in the hotel room. As the video loops it becomes clearer just how isolated and desperate he really is.
Notable mentions of artists and galleries showing a fusion of smart and fun work are Derrick Hodgson’s My Mania, Paul Petro’s space with Will Munro’s punk rock aesthetic posters, Georgeanne Dean’s beaded vaginas with clown and Frankenstein head clits, Sadko Hadzihasanovic’s post-sex, dewy-eyed Prince William, Katherine Mulherin’s gorgeously filled room, SAVAC’s room featuring Brendan Fernandes’ piece on immigration and displacement and Christina Zeidler’s video of a vacuum-sealed acrylic deer in a variety of snowy settings.
Fastwürms’ room dripped mysticism, filled with a witches brew of horseshoes, axes, an altar and a wall of shiny new dicks. Dark and divine like velvety sex, the space was transformed into cycles of life, the moon and ritual. The Canadian Photographic Portfolio Society had the three-dimensional wonders of David Hoffos. They were glorious pieces of Japanese cooking. Overly saturated in colour and profoundly artificial, these photographs were holographic versions of the plastic samples often seen in restaurant windows. If only I had $6,000. The eight pieces, all in black frames remarkably straddled the worlds of two archenemies: They were neatly displayed in a grid and in essence were very formal pieces but their high camp value glistened like watermelon Bonnebell on the lips of a favourite drag queen.
TAAFI’s success is based on an abundance of talent, clever organ-izing and a supportive local art scene. Even if you’re not a huge fan of contemporary art there is without a doubt something you could sink your teeth into. Mark your calendars, girls and boys, the fair will return next year.