Tomas Del Balso and Jason McLean: picton will never be the same
Carbon Art and Design, Ontario Canada
October 7 through 31, 2021
By ANDREW McLUHAN, October 2021
A “local” picking up the rack card for the exhibition is confronted with the familiar figures of Betty and Wilma (of ‘The Flintstones’) by Tomas Del Balso in an unfamiliar pose—embracing, kissing. Behind them, detail of Jason McLean’s jacket from the show with a sort of map painted on the back naming familiar places: Toronto, Picton.
‘picton will never be the same,’ it says. It’s a question clothed as a statement. What does that mean?
This show is part exhibition, provocation, celebration, invitation. It’s not one-dimensional. It reaches out of the room, the gallery, down the alley toward Picton’s Main Street.
It’s about context. It’s about friendship, about community. It’s about change, about confrontation. It’s about comfort but not complacency.
What is an art gallery for?
Carbon Art and Design and curator Hri Neil, are something different. They manage to do something quite difficult: bringing a contemporary art space which would be perhaps more at home (and sustainable) in a large city, to a small town dependant on tourism for its survival – but perhaps we need more for our survival than tourist dollars. This I feel is the message of Carbon in general and of this exhibit specifically.
Hri scours the backroads, peeks behind the public spaces to bring out the best of local artists – of which there are plenty. In doing so, he finds the unexpected and overlooked. Along with a strong roster of local artists, Carbon also presents internationally known artists, such as Nicholas Di Genova, Istvan Kantor (AKA Monty Cantsin), Pam Patterson and Colm MacCool; and the current exhibition demonstrates this with Jason by way of New York City, and Tomas locally in Cherry Valley.
This exhibition meets you in the alleyway leading to Carbon, wheatpasted work on the wall. Not content to sit in a frame, Jason has used conté on the wall outside the exhibition room, showing you in.
Jason’s work comes at you from all directions, a collection of bright shadows which greet you and lead you into a contained space where you discover Tomas Del Balso has been quietly waiting. His part of the room is more focused, still, while at the same time the work itself is a collision of reference, memories and image, as if a pop culture traffic camera captured stills which slide through each other like quantum states or parallel universes intersecting.
The show features parts of Jason’s collaborative project with his son Henry and glasscapsule; ‘Cough Park,’ a telephonic adventure in encounter and response. The phone number 347-601-4266 is put on stickers, posters, bicycles, and distributed widely encouraging people to call and leave a message. You could call right now.
In the gallery, a set of headphones plays a looping program of the Cough Park compilations. It’s a mixture of random phone messages and noise and music, and it’s fascinating.
Nearby, a looping collaborative A/V project plays, blending animation and audio, line and colour, drone and melody, a suggestion of narrative leaving room for the observer to participate in its completion.
There’s a conversation here between place and time, metaphors bridging people together. There’s lineage, continuity, community. Meaning is pulled apart and thrown together and finally constructed anew (or not) by you. That is also a feature of Tomas’s works.
Tomas’s visual mashups bring together not simply images but deeper elements of character to produce not merely a blend of what’s familiar, but to suggest possibilities. Fantasies. Maybe, what the people and characters we think we know do in their off time—when cameras and microphones are still but pen and pencil and brush are alive.
Presented with familiar, even harmless references like The Simpsons, Archie comics, The Flintstones, there’s something mildly disturbing—maybe all the more for its familiarity and supposed harmlessness. It’s as if you have a little flash here and there of an unsettling dream you had forgotten about. The first flush of nostalgic recognition progresses to an almost uneasy feeling you can’t quite nail down or leave behind.
There is another subtle but vital dimension underlying this exhibit which may not be readily apparent to the casual passer-by. There is a meaningful connection between the work in the show, the artists, the gallery and community.
There is a palpable tension: there’s a feeling among some long-time locals that they’re being invaded as more people ‘discover’ this beautiful area. (It’s been ‘discovered’ many times over the last few centuries, and at least five times in the last two decades). At the same time, many long-time locals are realizing that their ancestors didn’t exactly arrive at an empty paradise—long before settlers and Loyalists arrived people were quite happily enjoying the area, and were maybe not thrilled at the newcomers either. This is somewhat… unsettling.
Picton will never be the same. That’s certain. What it will become is very much in flux, but maybe what this exhibition has to say is part cautionary tale, part roadmap to peace through dialogue. WM
Andrew McLuhan is a poet, author ('written matter,' Revelore Press, 2021), lecturer and educator living in Prince Edward County where he is director of The McLuhan Institute, which carries on the McLuhan family legacy in studying the effects of technology on people and cultures.view all articles from this author