The Canadian Art Database


The Winnipeg Effect: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

The Winnipeg Art Gallery, November 3-5, 2016


Sewer of Stories

randolph      randolph      randolph

Jeanne Randolph

This incantation was published in Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan's group exhibition catalogue "Subconscious City" curated for The Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2008. I took the title of the exhibition literally. our personal Subconscious knows only the dumb, merciless cravings of our hindbrains. I pondered how to represent aspects of Winnipeg that are inherent in the same way. I decided that whatever is inevitable in a city's hindbrain must be its Will–to–Depravity. A City's Will–to–Depravity is impossible for newspapers to depict with facts. But whatever is impossible to depict continues nevertheless. "Sewer of Stories" therefore is evocative, not factual. "Sewer of Stories" is like a perpetual crossword puzzle; the audience can fill in any names that seem to them to match the clues. -JR

Sewer of Stories
Freud pictured consciousness as an ancient city. There are many layers of city life, each built upon the other. The most recent of buildings and streets, with their living pedestrians, are obvious to the eye. These are the now–vibrant, between past and future. Further down, if excavations topple an edifice, make of it rubble to be hauled away, there is more rubble beneath, older but not necessarily trash, especially if the city is Rome. The magnificence of other eras, of other events and rituals ornament the grand cold earth below. Saxa loqunter, Freud had said, “these stones speak.”

And beneath these layers (We continue with the allegory of consciousness, almost–consciousness, and subconscious–ness) an underground river travels, whose rivulets, like the tendrils of a city, slither darkly under everything dead and alive, covered or uncovered, reachable or unreachable, occasionally spitting through like froth or oozing through like bile. This river splays its roots, and it soaks into everything. And the face of it shines in the sun, like our own Assiniboine shines. Seemingly busy about town, the river is our civic subconscious, a sewer of stories.

Our very own Assiniboine is the collector of plagues. She drains off every swarm from our air, our streets, our gardens and our skies. She has swallowed the thousands of crimes of a thousand spineless beings, all piled in her soot and slime as she crawls and undulates beneath the light (and our Winnipeg light is peerless). She is our cloaca maxima, our sewer of stories, the library of plagues, speaking volumes.

Each and every plague has added its tinge to our civic subconscious, our river Assiniboine:

the alfalfa loopers that ate grassy graveyards;
the snowball aphids in burnt–out buildings;
the blister beetles that pocked the skin of babies;
the elm leaf beetle that dined on loveliness;
army cutworms that invaded the silence;
cottonycushion scale that puked in pillows;
potato leafhoppers who wouldn't sit still;
hairy chinch bugs that spewed halitosis;
casebearers who brought bad news;
dock aphids that startled old ladies;
mellowphon aphids that yelled “FIRE!” in theatres;
the bagworms who stole from the poor;
backswimmers that never kept their word;
the shootmoths that squawked before thinking;
silky ants that seduced blameless virgins;
the tarnished plant bugs who quoted without context;
fiery hunter beetles who didn't wire to code;
bark beetles that yelped at strangers;
the calligrapha olmo that was publishing slander;
cankerworms that discouraged all hope;
rose chafers with their catty remarks;
tortoise beetles with very thick skulls;
squash bugs known for their unkindness to strangers;
aspen blotchminers who sold out to Disney;
the pink bollworms who scratched the surfaces;
the conchuela that made its living by fraud;
corn borers whose jokes were not funny;
currant stem girdlers that paraded their shame;
greenhouse orthezia who sneezed without hankies;
cowpea curculios that poisoned the lakes;
harlequin bugs that wore too much make–up;
lace bugs that suffocated the peonies;
the toothy earwig that ate all the pies;
eyespotted budworms that spilled their seed;
flatbugs that embezzled funds;
fall webworms who deceived and lied;
garden fleahoppers who abandoned their families;
fungus gnats that eroded all confidence;
glowworms who kidnapped children;
golden buprestids who preened in shop windows;
the differential grasshopper who was such a racist;
elasmopalpus that fornicated in potholes;
purple hairstreak butterflies that sold heroin in schools;
hard maple budminers who cut funding to orphans;
the hackberry engraver who dispensed sexist postcards;
honeylocust midges who were holocaust deniers;
hornworms filled with pride;
hickory horned devils that scorned girl scout cookies;
red–humped caterpillars who wore out cowboys;
dingy cutworms with their worthless bargains;
dogday cicadas that spread malicious gossip;
apple fruitminers who riffled through purses;
the lady beetle who was a preacherman's mistress;
leopard moths that flew in the face of reason;
apple maggots that stole schoolboys' lunches;
mealybugs who clamoured for office;
gall midges who complained about laughter;
sowbugs who wouldn't ever reap;
the cyclamen mites with blue bloodshot eyes;
great ash sphinx moths that lurked in fireplaces;
red spruce needleminders who dealt in cocaine;
oblique banded leafrollers who wrote right wing speeches;
orchidflies that were lascivious and vain;
pipevine swallowtails who preached tautologies;
the plum gougers who foreclosed on mortgages;
the lesser appleworm who flattered the flatterers;
the red–necked peanutworm that threw cabbages at Jews;
the red–headed sawfly that swore at ambulances;
raspberry horntails that favoured their cronies;
the bristly rose–slug who judged without mercy;
the southern false chinches that spread gonorrhea;
stiltbugs that looked down their noses;
the scurfy scale with its lust for the limelight;
snout beetles that conspired assassination;
spotted slugs dirtied by blasphemy;
red bugs and stainers that spat on the sidewalks;
the pickleworm, composer of jingles;
tussock moths that pissed on mens' slippers;
thorn skeletonizers that put melamine in catfood;
timothy billbug, strangler of Indians;
tipdwarf mites that envied Bill Gates;
the potato tubermoth that refused to learn;
the twicestabbed ladybug that made men impotent;
the stink beetle that stole scented candles;
wheelbugs, that married their sisters;
wireworms who pierced the lungs of invalids;
the false celery leaftier who held rabbits by their ears;
pepper maggots that sold polyester as silk;
narrowinged mantids who denied evolution;
loblolly mealybugs that wrote sentimental poetry;
curcubit midges who always cut corners;
willowbeaked gall midges that lay eggs in the beer;
bulb mites that cursed the darkness;
the black witch moth that pushed hobos off bridges;
the ceanothus clearwings that whitewashed corruption;
the smeared dagger moth that stabbed plate glass windows;
the bristly rose slug that tore up the treaties;
the flatid planthopper that derailed the trains;
gloomy–scale that infested the coffee shops;
the cleft–headed spanworm that lied to the public;
saratoga spittlebugs that were doping the racehorses;
chrysanthymum thrips that pushed for euthanasia;
digger wasps that married for money;
obscure root weevils who always blamed others;
glacial whiteflies that obstructed justice;
and silverwing skippers that just did not care.