By Jessica Lovell
To some, it might just look like a fancier version of their morning double-double, but to local artist Gabriel Parniak it’s a complex commentary on Canadian national identity.
The beaded Tim Hortons coffee cup – size extra large – is an artwork entitled Cup (24 Ounces of Misrepresentation). It has got some international attention after being exhibited at the Supermarket Art Fair in Sweden by curator and Ed Video program director Scott McGovern. He also posted a photo of the work online on Reddit.com’s Canada “sub-reddit.”
“Quickly, it received a lot of attention,” said McGovern in an email from Stockholm. The image of the sculpture now has more than 238,000 views and hundreds of comments.
“I thought it might be funny to see if there would be some response,” said Parniak, describing why he agreed to let McGovern post the photo. “But I don’t think either of us expected it to take off the way it did.” With many of the comments discussing the merits of Tim Hortons coffee and food, it’s clear that a lot of people missed the point of the art.
“It was funny to see so many people completely overlooking the possible layering of symbols going on,” said Parniak.
But the image, posted with little context, also got some thoughtful feedback, he said.
“It was really rewarding to see a fair amount of considered dialogue and critique throughout the thread as well,” he said.
“In other news, Canada’s national identity is defined by a chain of coffee shops,” said one comment.
And another: “Canada really needs some better things to be proud of than a coffee shop.”
Parniak, a multidisciplinary artist currently working as a resident artist at Guelph’s Boarding House Arts, was partly inspired by the mess in the aftermath of a Canada Day celebration when he created the work in 2012.
It was while walking to work on Canada Day that Parniak was struck by the mess of mainly Tim Hortons cups and paper Canadian flags.
“It was during this walk to work that I cam across something I had never seen before: an almost comically supersized Tim Hortons cup sitting on a ledge with about 10 other smaller cups.
“This one in particular stood out even further, as it had a small paper Canadian flag rolled up and stuck in the mouthpiece upside-down (perfect for my feelings about our democracy, as an upside-down flag is a symbol of distress).”
The beads allude to Aboriginal art, but they’ve been glued on rather than strung.
“I specifically decided to glue the beads on so as to raise questions about the historical superficiality of our government’s (inter)actions with Aboriginal histories,” Parniak said.
The attention the artwork has received has gone beyond Reddit to include an article by the Huffington Post. McGovern was also interviewed about the piece by the organizers of the Supermarket fair. The video can be seen on YouTube.
But the piece is only one of a number of works Ed Video and McGovern have taken to the fair over the last few years.
“This initiative allows us to showcase Ed Video and the artwork to a large, international audience of 6,000-8,000 people, and creates new opportunities for future exhibitions,” McGovern said.
Among the other artists with work on display were Amy Lockhart, Gillian Wilson and Philippe Blanchard, and all “were well received,” he said.
Ed Video was the only Canadian arts centre at the fair, he said. “It was great that the Canadian presence at the fair was from Guelph, instead of a larger city like Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver,” he added.
For Parniak, the attention has been positive, but it probably won’t alter the direction of his current or future work, he said.
“If anything, it has given me the impetus to continue making work that I find exciting, and the trust that other people might find it exciting as well,” Parniak said.
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By Jessica Lovell