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2006 08 16
Angle of Incident #16: Balloonacy

By Gary Michael Dault

Artist Chris Parker’s walk-in balloon-structure rises every day like a mushroom after the rain, and, at night, is lit up from within like a softly glowing UFO. It is nestled into a corner of the courtyard that stretches between the Edward Day Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) on Queen Street West near Shaw St.

When I first saw it, a couple of evening’s ago, the work was no more than a big detumescent bag, lying on ground. Behind it, over in the corner of the courtyard, stood the Edward Day’s Kelly McCray, who, having attached the bag to one of its two life-support fans, was in the process of supervising the thing’s inflation—a now daily task.

We were joking about the enormousness and the enormity of the thing. “Has it got a title?” I ask Kelly. He’s just about to tell me when, somehow, I feel I already know it. “Balloonacy, right?” He grins his dazzling Kelly McCray grin. “That’s right!”.

“But I was just kidding!” “No”, says Kelly, “that’s it—balloonacy!”

Balloonacy is doing double duty in its current sojourn in the Day/MOCCA courtyard: it’s a peripheral part of the Edward Day Gallery’s exhibition called Obsession (August 10—Sept.3), and it’s also one of the “tents” (a kind of meeting-place condom) in an ongoing evening event called In Tents City, set up in the plaza space as part of the program for the current AIDS conference in Toronto. McCray points out that there are three “tents” in the space, onto which, each evening this week, artists have been invited to project images. I ask him if these images—and videos—are all AIDS related. “They’re cusping the line of that”, he says, mentioning, as an example, one South African video of a soccer team playing with a ball made entirely on condoms.

Kelly gets the bag inflated and leaves me alone with it. Well, actually I’m not entirely alone with it because just I’m settling into some sort of ruminatory encounter with its bulkless bulk, its billowing volume, I’m joined by two women of my acquaintance who just happened to be sauntering by. Each of these charming people is a well-established figure on the Toronto art scene and each of them will be coyly rendered unidentifiable here because of the uncharacteristic bawdry Balloonacy seems to have engendered in them.

“Have you been inside?” one of them asks me. You’re supposed to crawl inside? “Oh yes”, says one”, “you ought to crawl inside!”

I look down at its little flap-covered, beak-like portal and decide I just can’t manage it. I hate crawling about on my knees. “I’d feel claustrophobic”, I tell them weakly. This ignites immoderate gales of laughter in my otherwise circumspect friends.

“You know”, says the one to the other, slightly recovered, “it’d be really handy to have a zipper like that!” “Wouldn’t it though?” agrees the second, “you could just zip it up when you weren’t using it!!” General hilarity ensues—well, general except for me, since I am now a) transfixed by a quick vision of women with genital zippers, and b) experiencing a strange alienating feeling that I have somehow wandered into the women’s powder room between acts at the opera.

I need to know more about Balloonacy so I phone the artist, Chris Parker, the next morning. I think I’ve disturbed his sleep, but he manages to give me the facts of the piece: that it is indeed inflated by two fans; that it’s made of standard burlap (“some people call it scrim”) and is lined with rip-stop nylon.

I’m thinking about how much of Balloonacy’s meaning lies in the degree to which it is a generalized object. I begin to compile a Rabelaisian list in my head of all the things it reminds me of: vagina, yes; womb, yes; also a hot air balloon, a tent, a yurt, breast, lung, testicle, bladder, inflatable architecture and octopus (it’s the beak-like opening).

I phone Kelly McCray and ask him what he thinks it looks like. “A big floating potato!” he says gleefully.

[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 08/16 at 03:00 PM

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