March 12 – April 8, 2021
By Angel Callander
One prominent outgrowth from the beginning of last year was the rush from European intellectuals to contextualize a burgeoning global health crisis for a frightened global public. Notably, Bruno Latour and Slavoj Žižek connected the pandemic to its already existing relatives in climate and economic crises. Giorgio Agamben, on the other hand, was heavily criticized by colleagues and journalists for his reactionary take on the false choice between health and privacy—neither mutually exclusive nor binary opposites—decrying quarantine as a loss of freedom (proceeding from a cynical and individualist definition of ‘freedom’). Žižek’s book Pandemic!, an expansion on his mid-March essay “Monitor and Punish? Yes, Please!”, was offered for free pre-orders at the end of the same month, and available for eBook download by mid-April. This rush to add multiple voices to dissect a new crisis is characteristic of our oversaturated information economy within a larger system of excess.
Even so, it was smart for leftist thinkers to be quick in shaping a straightforward narrative that connected the dots from systemic exploitation to the Sixth Mass Extinction and something as (quasi-)unpredictable as a pandemic. By attempting to mediate our material processes through knowledge, there was a fundamental truth emerging about how regular people, particularly in the working class, are increasingly broken down to maintaining the bare minimum, to the fight for sheer survival. Horizons of understanding and possibility, cycles of growth and recovery, are all often forestalled by desperation. Solidarity—with each other and our environments—is clouded by obligation and discord.
The group show BLOOMDOOMROOM takes up a response to these problems. Described as “an exhibition about flowering, fruiting, ecological fall-out, late-stage environmental capitalism and art at the end of days,” the show adopts a unique approach in the ecosystem of art shows about climate anxiety and slow apocalypse. On view at the plumb gallery in Toronto from March 12 – April 8, 2021, partially during a spring lockdown, the exhibition uses these themes to tease out the necessary symbiotic relationship of vitality and entropy in all life, aspects of the fundamental dialectics in which all things are constantly in a dance with their own contradictions. It accentuates both the human and non-human dimensions in tandem,showing plant and animal life as equal agents in creative endeavours, while the human dimension fades into the background, revealing itself only through artifacts.
Zooming both in and out, the works in the show invoke larger philosophical and political questions as well as personal inventories of being in the world presently, conjuring a darkness without nihilism or despair.
Contrary to the didactic and moralizing strategies of large institutional shows like AGO’s Anthropocene in 2018, which seek to show ecological ruins that elicit feelings of despair—while also being beholden to not offending the capital interests of museum donors—BLOOMDOOMROOM benefits from the DIY artist-run model, allowing for a more autonomous approach. Zooming both in and out, the works in the show invoke larger philosophical and political questions as well as personal inventories of being in the world presently, conjuring a darkness without nihilism or despair.
Unsurprisingly, Anthropocene did not point to capitalism, instead vaguely referencing “how we, individually and collectively, are leaving a human signature on our world.” Far be it from a large institution to do so, it is probably high time to dispel with the narrative that naming the system is radical, or that the responsibility for causing and consequently solving the crisis should be equally placed at the feet of every person on earth. Accepting that climate change is not just anthropogenic, but, to use Jason W. Moore’s word, capitalogenic (“made by capital”), it is more apt to shift the focus in a different direction. BLOOMDOOMROOM carves out a space to contemplate these multifaceted relationships, aesthetics of transformation, and the value of creatively interrogating the present.
HaeAhn Kwon’s The Baroness Model. 1874 (2021) consists of an open suitcase with a working pond pump and small fountain inside, attached to meandering latex tubing and extension cords. As the fountain thoughtlessly dribbles into the suitcase, I imagine an abandoned airport strewn with long-neglected luggage. At once deliberate and involuntary, it is a strange relic. Describing her practice as recombinations of everyday objects, Kwon uses these items to emphasize a tension between our culture of excess and the ingenuity that emerges out of crises. This work emblematizes a certain feeling throughout the show, as though documenting not a human civilization as such, but its legacy through strange, disembodied artifacts, repurposed and repossessed by non-human entities and the passage of time.
Woolly Marker (2018) by Alex Tedlie-Stursberg lingers across the room, producing a similar impression. A tall abstract figure made with a mud-like texture, adorned with tufts of white fur and an artificial schefflera branch, the sculpture has the aura of something made with a distinct purpose and left behind long ago. The neon eyes of Colin Miner’s Untitled (red eye) (2017), one at each end of the room, along with sets of amphibious eyes peering out of Sarah Davidson’s paintings along the walls, follow and keep watch like portraits of ageless mystics as non-human stewards for the space.
SUM, a broadsheet published by Brennan J. Kelly and available to take away, acts as a companion and sub-exhibition to the show through an archival object. Featuring works by Shannon Garden-Smith, Alex Tedlie-Stursberg, Sarah Davidson, Sonya Ratkay, an interview with HaeAhn Paul Kwon Kajander, and a recipe by Mohammed Rezaei, among other texts and printed works, the publication provides an alternative presentation space for creative experiments. In the same DIY model as the plumb itself, together they demonstrate the types of creative ecologies available outside of the institution.
Susannah van der Zaag contributed a series of photographic prints and a floral arrangement to the exhibition. A farmer and florist, as well as a multidisciplinary artist working in photography and ceramics, Van der Zaag has expressed her mixed feelings about making a living that revolves around the consumption of nature, and the demands for perfection from something so diverse and imperfect in service of a huge aesthetic industry such as floristry. Her prints play out this tension by composing plants she grows with less traditionally photogenic items, like bread, driftwood, and a cracked vase, while the large floral arrangement is left to decay and dry out in the gallery in front of where they hang.
Latour discusses the plight of a Dutch tulip grower, interviewed for the news in an emotionally wrought state at having to discard several tonnes of tulips, as fewer customers around the world meant fewer shipping opportunities. I recall a local news story at the time of a nursery in the Niagara region with the same bent, in which a certain shame about discarding beautiful things—things of nature—meets the fear of economic collapse. Latour notes a camera shot behind the florist of the tulips under artificial lights, not growing in any soil, in preparation to be shipped to the airport and flown on commercial air-freighters. He asks plainly about whether it is useful to maintain this model for producing and selling flowers (of course, it isn’t), following with a phrase that has deeply resonated: “Injustice is not about the redistribution of the fruits of progress, but about the very manner in which the planet is made fruitful.” I would contend it is both in equal measure, accounting for multiple dimensions of our capitalogenic crises in both the environment and the economy.
Since the early to mid-2010s, there has been an influx of texts within the canon of Western science and academia (such as Timothy Morton’s Dark Ecology, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World, Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think, and much of Donna Haraway’s oeuvre from the 1980s onward) that encourage a well-rounded, fundamentally anti-capitalist understanding of ecology as the solution to environmental crisis, invoking the knowledge Indigenous peoples have had for thousands of years. Nevertheless, the prevalence of these ethical discourses has not done much to sway policy makers. Because we live in the empire, theory in and of itself is non-threatening; it is only when knowledge resonates to precipitate a mass movement for serious changes that those with power may have their hands forced.
I have been thinking more about the text Desert (2011), written by a self-proclaimed British anarchist in their late 40s, but otherwise anonymously, and titled as a double entendre: one, detailing the rapid desertification of more regions on Earth through global warming, and two, the desire to desert the society that created this crisis as such. One particular line stands out to me within the scope of this exhibition: “Our lives can be better, freer, and wilder than this… we do our utmost to make them so, not in the ever-after of post-revolutionary heaven, but now.” There are always small opportunities to make each other’s lives more liveable, even amidst collective anxieties and despair. In Pandemic!, Žižek describes an ecological public as “a group of bodies, some human, most not, that are subjected to harm.” Hopefully, we have moved beyond internalizing this as true even if Western society at large does not reflect this understanding. BLOOMDOOMROOM takes this as a starting point, evaluating natural life in its many incongruities, and with the implied viewpoint that recognizing our larger entanglements is the most substantive.
 Jason W. Moore, “Capitalocene & Planetary Justice,” Maize Magazine 6 (Summer 2019), https://jasonwmoore.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Moore-The-Capitalocene-and-Planetary-Justice-2019-Maize.pdf
 Bruno Latour, “What protective measures can you think of so we don’t go back to the pre-crisis production mode?” p. 3, http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/downloads/P-202-AOC-ENGLISH_1.pdf
 Anonymous, Desert (2011), p. 59
 Slavoj Žižek, Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World (OR Books, 2020), p. 97