Cooler @ Visualeyez

Here’s my proposal:

The watercooler is the cultural icon representing the site of office gossip. While some workers have a daily space to gather and share, others – particularly the solitary cultural worker – do not. Festivals like Visualeyez provide artists an important opportunity for professional networking, as is often lauded of the festival scene. But they also offer the sort of casual camaraderie, bonding and sharing that is critical not so much to professional development, but to creation of community and social bonds.

In 2003 artist Paul Couillard was commissioned to be Festival Animator for Latitude 53’s Visualeyez festival of performance art. While several friends decided to take a road trip, I remained in Saskatoon to prepare for the upcoming Pride Festival. Paul’s writing kept me gleefully in the loop; his regularly serialized posts had just enough juice to keep me salivating.

I want to explore the roles that storytelling and gossip play in building spaces for community. Using blogging and new online social media channels, I’ll develop a series of timely, potentially embellished stories from my experiences at Visualeyez. Like a cross between Artforum’s Scene & Herd and Perez Hilton’s celebrity gossip blog, the project will differ from conventional festival blogging in that it will focus on the social and ‘behind-the-scenes’ action, rather than critical coverage or reviews of work.

I’ve been dealing with themes of gossip and community in my work since 2004, when I first developed the Canadian Art Gossip Generator. The generator is a client-side javascript gadget that strings names, activities, and snarky comments together into randomly-generated gossip . It’s kind of addictive. Portrait series Friends of Friends deals with storytelling as community-building. In Friends, I work with found photographs to needlepoint people I haven’t met, but know through the stories of art-world friends. Here, gossip is the literal thread that weaves our social networks together.

Last summer I asked Festival Animator Shawna Dempsey about her coverage of Visualeyez 2008’s events. It was hard — but professionally necessary, she admitted, to put on a brave blogging face in the midst of the injuries, technical failures, and general pathos that had befallen the festival. Looking at the floor, I was slightly embarrassed by my enthusiasm for her stories of angst-induced group bonding; they were the best part, but hadn’t made the cut. It’s just this kind of mythic storytelling that I deal with in Friends of Friends, and the sort I hope to recreate in my project Cooler. What happened in the hotel room after the performance was finished? Who got a concussion? Who started to snicker? Good event blogging makes you feel like you’re there, one of the ‘it’ crowd. See

Before the festival, I’ll set up web hosting and a blog, and prepare my presence on relevant social media. I’ll aim to make use of the most popular, up-and-coming tools and spaces, with interactivity paramount. The website will be heavily branded, and I may choose to produce swag as a physical promotional tool. Rental/use of a watercooler will also need to be arranged ahead of time.

Arriving at the beginning of the festival, I will set up a space for the cooler and several comfortable chairs onsite at Latitude 53, or the selected home base of festival activities. Although I’ll be attending as many festival events as possible, both I and other festivalgoers will have a comfortable space to run back to and talk/work.

During the festival, I’ll want to be everywhere I can. I’ll quietly assume the roles of paparazzi, society reporter, Perez Hilton, Rita Skeeter . My presence at events won’t be performative, per se; I won’t be dressing up or hiding in the bushes with a telephoto lens. I’ll just get around. Artists, organizers and festivalgoers will be treated like celebrities; their stories, both titillating and mundane, made an object of fascination. I’ll leave reviews to the critics, emphasizing happenings outside/after/in the bushes behind the performance. Like gossip blog The Superficial, there will be little differentiation between what was actually seen, and what I heard happened, assumed, wanted, dreamed, misheard, or invented to make for more interesting reading.

My project will quench people’s thirst for juicy gossip, and aim to create hype and buzz, contributing to a busy, 24-hour festivalesque atmosphere. It will facilitate the participation of both the local art community and those not attending the festival. Visualeyez’s accessibility and reach will be extended, as people outside the city get excited by hearing about the festival. I’m also open to working with Visualeyez and it’s critical writers on joint projects: I see Cooler as complementary to, not a replacement for, the role of Festival Animator. This extended context will be engaging and grounding as a place from which to understand the art. Plus, hopefully, its infamy will linger.

Some festivals are known for their convivial atmosphere, where artists are encouraged to network. My project will work better in this concentrated sort of atmosphere, where there are plenty of opportunities for socializing. For similar reasons, I would prefer to be housed in the official festival lodging.

I should note that it’s very important to me that the project neither actually invade people’s privacy, nor spread serious rumours. It will be readily apparent on the site that the project is “for entertainment purposes only”, and not meant to be an accurate account of happenings. Though silly, there’s no room for maliciousness. From experience, I’d expect my writing to err more toward the bathetic: fan writing, with awestruck and dippy boosterism.