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Victor Coleman

ChromaLiving - the catalogue (1984)

Vanguard, October, 1984.
[ 654 words ]


ChromaLiving invaded Bloor Street's chic façade in October 1983. This rather out-of-sync publication presumably commemorates the event. An extended ChromaZone collective took over the space previously abandoned (and still unused at this writing) by Harridge's in Toronto's once trendy Colonnade, which has been struggling recently to spruce up its 50's time-warp appearance in that stretch of fashionable shops that crowd the sidewalks along Bloor St. between Yonge and Avenue Road (this flow of unregenerate clothiers is halted, in a Tory flash, by the Royal Ontario Museurn). The environment within the old store was nicely transformed into a kind of cross between a nightclub and a department store. So convincing was this installation that the lines between art and functional commodity began to blur upon entry. Imagine a furniture warehouse done over by Red Grooms and Ed Keinholtz. Blur Street, indeed.

In his catalogue intro Andy Fabo characterizes the 'exhibition' thusly: 'Funk clashed with elegance. The Modern fights it out with the Post Modern.' He makes some allusions to the Constructivists, the Surrealists (especially André Breton's Exhibition of Objects of 1938), mentions the 'applied art' nature of Bauhaus design, points to similar pursuits by Paul Eluard and M. Duchamp, with a final tip of the boxer's helmet to Alvin Balkind's Chairs show early in 75.

ChromaLiving proferred a sense of studied inelegance in its arrangement of objects within the proto-boutique environment. Upon entry one was immediately accosted by salespersons selling inexpensive boutique items; but the pitch stopped there. The boggling diversity of sensibilities that inhabited the rooms, offices, corners, and foyers was inconducive to the hard sell or the soft. Things were not so much arranged for viewing as splayed against the conventional for contemplation and revelation. Experiencing the show was a lot like a quest, complete with a series of tasks to be performed, mostly mental, by the viewer. The aesthetic is anti-consensus. There could be no possible agreement about the 'quality' of individual works — beyond our 'favourites' — or single arrangements or groups of works. We were walking into the living rooms of the delightfully demented, crossing the dangerous threshold between banal modernity and chic into a twisted palace of earnest kitsch, where the distinction between forgery and origin became moot.

In her catalogue essay, Jennifer Oille addresses the edicts of fashion (the roots of the word, says Partridge, are in fact), once legislated, now a function of popular conciliation. In her discussion of 'stays' Oille points out the English propensity to impose order through dress; in the eighteenth century, parish relief made provision for their purchase ... 'Such publicly accountable tax money could only be spent on items indispensible for physical or moral well-being. Stays, from childhood, substituted for Vitamin C and sunshine (only the labourers were tanned) and promoted a straight spine, a symmetrical chest and moral rectitude.' ChromaLiving, presumably, frees us from all prior restraints by discombobulating the order of objects to take them well out of the region of functions.

The catalogue, on the other hand, as an object in itself, is pure commodity. Barring the use of pop-up pages or 3-D photography, it's rather flat, an unclear record of a post-religious experience. The difficulties of identifying individual pieces in installation shots seems to have been insurmountable. The publication is saved somewhat by Oille's thoughtful and witty essay, in which she writes cogently about artists' fashion extravaganzas dating back to the Hollywood DECCADANCE and the Miss General Idea pageants, through 'Nite Spots' and 'Glamazon', although she neglects to mention the seminal, pre-G.I., Betty's Forgotten Fashions, that appeared in Toronto's old Gerrard Street Village in the late Sixties.

It's good to have this neglected form of chutzpa finally recognized as a vital aspect of our more accesible artistic endeavour. Would that Tony Wilson and the ChromaZone collective had had a few more bucks to spend on a better, more lasting product.


Vanguard, October 1984.

Text: © Victor Coleman. All rights reserved.

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