PUBLIC EXPOSURES: the activist art of condé + beveridge (1976 - 2016)
Opening Reception at A Space Gallery, Saturday May 14, 2-4 PM
For more than 40 years, Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge have constructed images that illuminate the contest between private interests and collective needs in the workplace, communities, and the environment. Public Exposures, a grassroots initiative that grew out of the artist-run and activist communities they have worked within for decades, recognizes the full scope of their art-activism.
In the mid-1970s, Condé and Beveridge turned away from contemporary art’s market-driven mainstream—abandoning their individual careers in the New York art scene—to begin working together in activist collaboration, asserting the political nature of art. The experiences that sparked this radical turn, and the controversy that followed, were the focus of their first major exhibition, It’s Still Privileged Art, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1976. This insider-exposé of the competitive international art scene, and its underlying values, signalled their new path of art, activism, and community engagement.
After some initial collaborations in Newark with community activists, the pair returned to Toronto in 1978 and made the strategic decision to work with unions. As Condé and Beveridge started the process of building trust, they also joined efforts to democratize the artist-run scene, diversifying opportunities for visual artists working in the public sphere.
The artists have made the concept of “work” and working people’s stories the central theme in their staged photography. Their first substantial union collaboration came in 1980 when the bitter RadioShack strike in Barrie, Ontario, ended with a historic first contract for working women. After months of interviews with the strikers, Condé and Beveridge were about to begin photographing when the women decided against appearing in the images, as it would make them too vulnerable to legal action by the company. This dilemma prompted the artists to use actors, marking a turning point in their practice. By fictionalizing their project—titled Standing Up (1981)—they found they could actually be more truthful to the women’s stories.
For these two artists, work is not a commodity, but the lens they use to envision a sustainable world, one powered by human dignity. Photography allows them to expose the forces of private interest that trump collective wellbeing. No Immediate Threat (1985 – 86), for instance, chronicles the life of a family where the son follows his father to work at a nuclear plant. The tale unfolds in the context of cold war politics, corporate power, consumer culture, and environmental denial. Decades later, the types of threats depicted by the artists are more immediate: Fall of Water (2007) portrays the world’s community activists in an epic struggle with the global corporate abusers of water. One of their most recent works, Overtime (2016), is a climate change allegory that looks at the effects of global warming on the culture of hockey, and focuses on a crime scene where a drowned hockey player, in a melting ice pond, is surrounded by a panorama of onlookers.
Public Exposures, presented in spaces throughout 401 Richmond, offers a career survey of Condé and Beveridge’s practice, alongside a series of public events and a symposium that provide further insight into the activist dimensions of their collaboration.
Working in collaboration with The Public Exposures Collective, the coalition of presenting galleries includes: A Space Gallery, Urbanspace Gallery, Trinity Square Video, Prefix Institute for Contemporary Art, and the YYZ Artists’ Outlet, all located on the first floor of 401 Richmond Street West. Presented in partnership with the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival and the Mayworks Festival. Organizations participating in the symposium and related events include: OCAD University, Workers Arts & Heritage Centre, CARFAC National, CARFAC Ontario, No One is Illegal, ONSITE Gallery, VTape, Letters & Handshakes, The Canadian Labour Congress, and UFCW Canada.