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John Marriott
From March 12th 2011 to April 16th 2011
The sum of some

Active on the Toronto art scene since the 1990s, John Marriott proposes a post-conceptual approach that allows for diverse and divergent messages and tones. The short interview that follows aims to better define his practice and influences, while introducing the present exhibition.

In dialogue with John Marriott

Marie-Josée Lafortune : This first solo show in Montreal presents excerpts from a large body of works created between 1995 and 2011. Some pieces allude to the eclecticism generally associated with the 1980s, when notions of impurity and hybridity introduced a certain critical distance with modernism. Has this decade’s aesthetic had an influence on your perception of art?

John Marriott : It certainly made a mark at that time. I remember the sense of absence of a dominant “ism” or master narrative which was eventually filled by Deconstructionism. The prominence of “non-art” materials in the 80s came alongside post-structuralism, psychoanalysis, institutional critique and appropriation, and those theoretical imperatives compelled me to create works that responded to the prevailing orthodoxies. But that is not why I am drawn to materials and sources that have cultural foot-prints beyond the artworld; their presences offer sociological and anthropological value that straddles the boundaries we presume between art and life.

MJL : One cannot help but notice the wide array of mediums and supports showcased in the gallery. Could you comment on your use of appropriations and quotations?

JM : I distinguish my approach by saying that I incorporate rather than appropriate. I work with identifiable objects because they bring traces of the world with them which I work with. While I incorporate objects that are recognizable or iconic, I position them as referents and triggers; I’m interested in evoking and manipulating associations.

MJL : The show’s layout, by means of platforms and plinths, magnify the sculptures displayed (mostly assisted readymades). Does ‘exhibition staging’ hold a special place in your practice?

JM : The mechanisms of staging and reflexive awareness do interest me, I do explore those dynamics and appreciate the drama of culture-making. I want to be transported and I want my art to offer layers of experience – including but not limited to self-reflexivity. I don’t consider my efforts to be Readymades though. While I do engage that legacy in some works, I don’t wish to cancel the significance that objects have independent of art, I want to work with those tones.

MJL : “White Diffuser” (2006-2010) is suspended at OPTICA’s reception, between the gallery space and our personnel’s offices. This revelation of what is usually hidden to the public is reminiscent of a strategy you used at The Power Plant in 1996, showing pictures of the curator’s office. Could this be understood as a consistent attempt to challenge conventions and perceptual habits?

JM : Disorientation is as revealing to me as critical awareness is. I prefer art that offers a tingling in the back of the neck rather than a declaration, so my works do test the edges of conventions and habits. The photos of the curator’s office, his desk, his empty coat-rack, were a way of dramatizing the edifice of aesthetic administration while alluding to entanglements. Similar ideas occur with “Critical Tragedy” (1996), where a lecturer has spontaneously combusted prior to his speech, or “Smile Door” (1999), where in order to enter the gallery viewers had to step through a large smiling mouth with big teeth.

MJL : Although this exhibition is not quite a retrospective, you are (re)actualizing past artworks by suggesting a circuit especially tailored to the gallery space, all the while subverting its functionality. You act both as artist and curator; how do you approach these two combined functions? Could it be defined as an additional ‘mise en abyme’?

JM : This invitation to articulate a quasi-survey of my work has been a welcome challenge. I was not interested in presenting a thesis but certain interests have resurfaced over time. It is a challenge to choose which ones to include and how to allow space for the individual pieces to breathe while suggesting a conversation or collective sensibility. Is this ‘mise en abyme’? Perhaps, but it is also a mingling of works that ultimately pursue their own determinations.


The artist thanks the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, Patricia Steckley, Jerry Drozdowski, Randall Sherwood, the atelier Clark, Marc Dulude, and the OPTICA staff.


John Marriott is the subject of a newly published article by R.M. Vaughan, John Marriott mashes cultural tropes in Montreal (The Globe and Mail, March 4th, 2011). The text is reproduced on Bryon Gysin's official website; his piece Dreamachine (1960) inspired Marriott's Dream a little dream, exhibited at OPTICA.

"The sum of some" is briefly mentioned and recommended in Canadian Art's current "A national and international roundup of the season's best exhibitions / Agenda Quebec" section (Spring 2011, p. 29.).

John Marriott is a multidisciplinary artist and writer based in Toronto. Beyond his participation in numerous exhibitions on Canadian, American and European soil, he has taken part in various international video and performance festivals. He also has organized and curated exhibitions in the past.