Whether you’re an expert in modern art or just a casual observer, the GUT_BRAIN 1: Destructive Desires and Other Destinies of Excess Exhibition has something that will capture your attention. Located in The Blackwood Gallery and across the University of Toronto Mississauga campus, the exhibition showcases artworks involving everyday items and moments to emphasize the toxicity within our world. As reminders that we often forget there are real people behind the capitalist system that functions to our benefit, most of the works present the cultural and economic realities in Latin America—places like Mexico and Peru—and how they are relevant to Canadian life.
As you step into the Blackwood, the first thing to catch your eye would be Four Industries. As the gallery website describes, the film shows “an all-female choir reciting sounds associated with the major industries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries—metal casting, meatpacking, printing, and woodworking—drawing a link between bodies and machines.” Upon first look, you feel unsettled, as though the video captures the reality of a dystopian society, wherein human mechanism, through all its facial, vocal, and physical expressions, becomes robotic. As you become more engrossed, as intended by creator Tania Candiani, you might begin to wonder: to what do we owe America’s progress since its industrial past?
Candiani’s work feels connected to Yoshua Okón’s Canned Laughter in the way the latter imagines fictitious factory workers who produce laughter for US sitcoms. Found at one of the entrances to the William G. Davis Building on the University of Toronto Mississauga campus, Canned Laughter suggests that today’s capitalist society views humans as tools to mechanize labour. The artwork doesn’t inquire about the workers’ well-being but rather presents them, with their fake smiles, to be as satisfied with the outcome as the consumer.
The idea of workers forming a happy background is at the center of Daniela Ortiz’s 97 Empleadas Domésticas (“97 Domestic Employees”). It focuses on domestic workers in Peru. As you look through the images in her installation, you become aware of people in white who are reduced to a backdrop. The photo collection becomes more disturbing the more you look, as you come to realize that most images have several domestic workers who are cut off, showing only people who are deemed important, while others are almost framed out of existence. By the picture alone, you could not make any assumptions about who the person is—they are just domestic workers. Although there is progress in the sphere of technology that tries to make everyone equal and seen, the truth of the matter is that for many, the job you work remains the deciding factor of your importance and value.
Moving to a slightly different side of the exhibition, if you have been to the dining area in the Davis food court and wondered what the hooks overhead are about, then be informed that they are not only a creative addition to make the space more fun. They are part of GUT_BRAIN 1’s Nitsiit (“hooks” in Inuktitut) by Couzyn van Heuven. The hooks bring attention to unsustainable contemporary fishing practices that affect Indigenous food sovereignty. This artwork connects the idea of the past to the concepts of potential futures if we address issues of culture and industry responsibly.
Lastly, I think in the modern context of inflation and housing crisis, the work of Monica Arreola’s Untitled from the series of Valle San Pedro prompts thoughts about our future. The artwork shows unfinished affordable housing built in Tijuana, Mexico, in the early 2000s. Although fast-build projects promise better and more affordable housing for Canadians, they often end up looking dystopian.
When visiting the exhibition, look out for Joseph Tisiga’s Untitled Series, as well as Miguel Calderon’s Camaleón (Chameleon), and others such as Gauri Gill’s Untitled (27) from Acts of Appearance and Adrian Balseca’s Suspensión I (Suspension I) for more insight into the excessiveness and destruction of modernization. GUT_BRAIN 1 will run until November 15, 2023.