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Jennifer Oille

Kent Tate
Museum of Post-Habitation, Toronto, October 20 - 31 [1983 ]

Vanguard, Vol. 12 #2, March 1983.
[ 863 words ]


There are some artists who go about their business more or less underground, unpublicized and seemingly outside the established systems, commercial, 'alternate' or institutional. Kent Tate is one. In 1980, he shredded and fermented all his drawn / photo works, encasing the residue in Plexiglas — an epilogue to his past that was a prologue to his future course. Tate has since invited people to play slugget by flashlight in a downtown alley; slammed car doors and blinked their headlights to Ken Freidman's score, Music for Cars, in a parking lot; placed two display units in a storefront window, in one a moving clock and one cat, in the other a stopped clock and seven rats; set a Finas gas station roof with a transparent tent and a camp stove cooking cabbage which, when soggy, was put in a suspended sarcophagus...

Many of Tate's exercises are best forgotten, which is not bad since that was probably the artist's intention. Worse, many smirk of 'happenings' and other counter-culturalisms, the avant-gardist rather than the vanguard. However Tate's most recent effort, the Museum of Post-Habitation, an incarnation at and of his studio / living space, portended the substantive in the artist's spirit and was of actual substance, not at all puerile, but sad and sardonic, a visual commentary that scored a few points.

Tate's studio, not in the trendy art part of town, was in a two storey white house looking to have been built about 1800. The present owners, The Drug Trading Company, terminated his lease, with reasonable cause. The very fabric of the building was rotting. Rather than a preservation order, for which age is not necessarily an excuse and which often simply options chic boutiques and chi-chi bistros, Tate's conception of a Museum of Post-Habitation was the ultimate logic for this building and its prospectus of abandonment. Like any museum everywhere, this was to display the middle links, the connections between person, place and time, here furniture and appliances plus some pre-fab 'effigies' — candle masks, the wicks burning, the wax melting to lie lumpen on window sills and floors.

The execution could have been chaste, the cliché museum which does not sully the visitor. Instead, Tate took a visceral approach to give the place a persona and the standardized experience a gut reaction. The frame, walls-floors-ceilings, was applied with a catacomb pallor; the 'relics' were appliquéd with the fungus and mildew of the bygone (for the record, kapok). With only the 'effigies' as illumination, the visitor stumbled up the stairs, was besmeared with whitewash and sediment. Groping to see, he / she heard as well. The sleeping quarters — an iron bedstead, a radiator hissing, a man's suit on a chair; the kitchen — a fridge, the stove with elements glowing, a washer / dryer clunking; the bathroom — the tub dripping; the living room — empty.

On the last night, Tate staged a performance, form and content, an auction of Museum goods. Something only has value when someone is willing to buy it / or when it is in a museum. The audience stood. The waxen faces waned on the mantel. Tate, dressed like a 30s movie mobster, presided with gavel; an assistant, dressed like a central casting 'Albanian', brought in the bona fide objects. A box of powdered milk. A foldaway bed. A birdcage containing a dead bird, the carcass of a checkout chicken, previously eaten. All the while a radio was on, CJCR, 1430 on your dial / the proper coincidence, the intervention of chance / the reaffirmation of dead space. A frying pan featuring the burnt sugar which had exuded the essential museological smell was sold to a Burger King ad extolling the feature of lettuce and mayonnaise; 'quality appliances' from your gas company stores backed up the disposal of two flypaper strips and a dead 100 watt bulb; a coat rack went unsold to the tune of Hello Dolly and, in a fit of pique, was ignited on the roof and tossed to the sidewalk where it quietly smoldered away.

The only remains of the Museum of Post-Habitation are the souvenirs, ironically but fittingly, the purvey of any museum everywhere, vending being a tradition of the institution. The Museum of Post-Habitation had a store — and coupons for 20% off on purchases there, most tellingly fortune cookies, readings like 'a fool can hear the explanation 10,000 times and be no wiser, an intelligent person can understand after 2,000.'

I would like to have said that a sense of anonymity remains, after all the postcards dispensed in the store, images of each Museum room, were not labelled 'By Kent Tate' but rather 'They Slept', 'They Ate', 'They Washed', 'They Relaxed'. However, all precedent actions considered, a 'kind' of anonymity has become a Kent Tate 'style'.

Finally, I would like to have said that a sense of anarchy remains, at the least an autonomy outside the established systems. But the understated facts, A.R.C. sponsorship and an O.A.C. materials grant via YYZ, dispelled the sensation.


Vanguard, Vol. 12 #2, March 1983.

Text: © Jennifer Oille. All rights reserved.

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