Forgotten & Erased
Death is forgetting we were ever alive.
As I mentioned in my first Substack post, I used to run a newsletter called Goodreads.ca. On July 12 2006 I put out a 'call for Wikipedia content' and asked my largely Toronto art-world subscribers to write Canadian art history articles. I'm not taking credit for this, but today when I looked up Painters Eleven, I saw the article had been created on July 15 2006, by user Ggbroad. So, if Ggbroad was a Goodreads.ca subscriber and answered the call, thank you. Otherwise, what an interesting coincidence.
I looked up Painters Eleven because I was thinking about how they've been seemingly erased from Canadian art history, reduced to a 600 word article on Wikipedia. It came to my mind as an example of the art world’s politics of erasure as I’ve known it in Toronto. There have been waves of fads and fashions, followed by erasures and memory-holes. Names deleted from websites where they were once obsequiously thanked. I participated in the art community at the turn of the century but I effectively stopped existing there long ago, as good as dead.
There is an old idea buried in my memory that memories themselves can be works of art. I was introduced to this through an interview with Jordan Sonnenberg on the erased and forgotten CBC television program Zed. He spoke about “working in rumour” – like, “you can have an rumour be an artwork”. That line struck me and partially inspired my Cable Project, where I got an Ontario Arts Council grant to provide cable television to Toronto media artists. The project lives primarily in the rumour that I'm the guy who got a grant to do that.
Jordan was talking about a project where he’d made an action figure of himself, and this would have been in the late 1990s, before 3d scanning and 3d printing have made that type of thing more common. From what I understand, that rumour is what got him interviewed for a TV show that is itself now a rumour, and it’s a very faded and thin thread through the years connecting then to my repetition of it now. A thin thread trailing back to the world of things now gone.
There’s a memory of New Year's Eve 2018/19 and telling Katherine Mulherin I was dead to the art world. She killed herself seven months later and is now actually dead while I only meant my state metaphorically.
Katherine had a protégé circa 2002 named Tiff Izsa. Tiff curated me into a show of drawings in a space provided by Katherine, the Ne Plus Ultra gallery.
I was friendly with Tiff, and so I was surprised to learn that she too died recently. I had to find in my Journal the last time I interacted with her, and it was fifteen years ago. In the Journal entry I pasted an email I’d sent at the time to RM Vaughan, who is also dead now, another suicide last October. I can post it here without editing out the email addresses because they too are dead.
From: Timothy Comeau (email@example.com)
To: RM Vaughan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Feb 4, 2006 1:38 PM
Subject: Re: updates
Ok, cool I’ll sort it all out and get it posted.
I was back and forth between 1080 and Andrew’s all night, and ended up at the Boat where flirting with naive young girls was like shooting fish in a barrel. Tiff put me up for the night and she was all flummoxed because she thinks she left her video and digital camera in the cab on the way to her opening last night. It’s been a while since I partied myself into needing a place to crash, so that was fun, but now I have to have a quiet night to myself, so I won’t be at Andrew 2.0. But I’ll try to check out the show next week. I’m wishing him well and thinking congratulatory thoughts for him as I type this.
In the last months of her life, Katherine had expressed dismay at how quickly she'd felt forgotten, having had the gallery on Queen St which had been instrumental in the street's rehabilitation and gentrification.
It was easy to "Blame the Drake" as RM Vaughan had mocked, with button-multiples he was giving away around this time fifteen years ago. But the reason the Drake happened was because of the galleries that had already been operating on Queen Street.
Andrew Harwood had opened his Zsa Zsa gallery down the street across from CAMH and he was employed by Mercer Union when they moved from Spadina Ave to Lisgar. Both spaces are gone and erased, Lisgar redeveloped into condos.
I met Andrew twenty years ago at an opening at Zsa Zsa in February 2001. I’d been at my first opening in the city, a show at Gallery 1313 (still there), where I’d run into a couple of people I’d known in Halifax two years before. They invited me to accompany them to another opening “down the street” so we walked together from Parkdale to the Zsa Zsa space at 962 Queen St West.
At that corner there was a hole in the ground. I later learned The Japanese Paper Place had occupied the building there, and there’d been a fire. As we arrived at Zsa Zsa I was introduced to Andrew and at some point asked him where the washroom was. He told me it was downstairs, but there was a line or something, so I went outside and peed in the fire’s foundational hole.
In February of this year, walking Queen St as I now do out of habit – the same walk from Parkdale made in 2001 – I stopped to take a picture remembering how I once peed in the space of the Sekai building twenty years before.
Through Andrew Harwood, I got a job working with The Burston Gallery in the spring of 2003. The Burston Gallery was located at the corner of Dovercourt & Queen, in the space that later became the Starbucks famously graffitied in 2005, after the gallery closed due to increased rent.
At one point I remember Josh Burston talking about a Charles Pachter show, and I was like, “who?” He mentioned that he’d done the mural at the Yonge & College St subway station, and I was unfamiliar with him due to the art world’s silos and erasure.
Also present in the area were Paul Petro (still there) and the Sis Boom Bah gallery, operated by Matt Crookshank. Selena Christo operated Luft gallery in the space now occupied by the defunct Beaver bar. At that time you could stand on the upper level in the Luft space and see the Inglis sign out the window attached the to the building since demolished and replaced by a condo.
Later, after it became the Beaver Café, that upper level is where I last saw Will Munro in person, Djing a year or so before he too died.
Selena moved Luft to 13 Ossington, in the space now occupied by Sweaty Betty’s bar. She and Pol Williams lived upstairs. Occasionally they’d host opening after-parties, and there was one time when we played spin-the-bottle in the kitchen, because one of the fads I participated in during my turn-of-the-century time was an indulgence in adolescent juvenilia as some kind of relational aesthetics thing. (There were performative make-out parties).
Selena moved Luft to 61 Ossington and as I recall, it only lasted about a year there before Selena closed it down, telling me, “I had a five year plan and the five years is up.” She and Pol opened Sweaty Betty’s, and then the Sparrow up the street (forgotten and erased) and then Red Light on Dundas, which has also now gone defunct, killed by the pandemic. At some point they sold them all and moved to Italy, and this is all but a memory.
Matt Crookshank in turn took over the 61 Ossington space, and ran Sis Boom Bah from there while also living in the back, but Matt moved on from the space by spring 2004. It became the now defunct The Ossington bar, killed by the pandemic.
Memories as an art form use spirit as a medium, fragmentarily holding specks of light that once shone, digital videos encoded in the electricity of our souls. But unlike an actual digital video encoded magnetically into the whispered electricity of silicon chips, memories don’t preserve well at all. In writing this and fact checking it as I could, I more than once discovered my memories have blurred and intermingled, and one of the aspects of art I enjoy – that of the time capsule – is betrayed. And our memories vanish at death, when our forgetting is permanent and our lives become a memory to others. All these years later, a world I once knew and some people who had lived in it with me have evaporated into shadows of the mind.