Ron Terada

15 September — 28 October, 2017

You enter and see the back of an unfin­ished wall. Shin­ing steel studs are exposed, elec­tri­cal con­nec­tions, cables snaking down, around, and plugged into a wall sock­et near the door, a scat­tered con­stel­la­tion of mount­ing hard­ware on the back of the dry­wall. You could pre­sume that there is an art­work on the oth­er side of the wall and you are see­ing the back of it. Or not. This sce­nario of exposed dry­wall and steel is like­ly not an unfa­mil­iar con­tem­po­rary art expe­ri­ence for you.

You turn right. Your view of a large group of text paint­ings on the far wall is par­tial. There are four sizes of paint­ings but they form one unit togeth­er, puz­zled togeth­er per­fect­ly, and you can read a num­ber of them from where you are. Clean black text on white, the can­vas­es butted tight­ly togeth­er form a large band almost eight feet tall that runs beyond your vision, blocked by the new­ly con­struct­ed wall. The light in the space beyond you seems much brighter and of a dif­fer­ent colour tem­per­a­ture.

You may have read that the TL; DR paint­ing series is Ron’s most recent work and that the texts them­selves are found. They are short head­lines tak­en ver­ba­tim from a sin­gle web­site, The Verge, and their font is Chel­tenham, the type­face used var­i­ous­ly by The New York Times for their print edi­tion head­lines, as the out­door out­fit­ter L.L.Bean’s logo, and for any bill in the Unit­ed States Con­gress. The Verge does not use this font, their font is ter­ri­ble.

Accord­ing to The Verge itself, it “is an ambi­tious mul­ti­me­dia effort found­ed in 2011 to exam­ine how tech­nol­o­gy will change life in the future for a mas­sive main­stream audi­ence. Our orig­i­nal edi­to­r­i­al insight was that tech­nol­o­gy had migrat­ed from the far fringes of the cul­ture to the absolute cen­ter as mobile tech­nol­o­gy cre­at­ed a new gen­er­a­tion of dig­i­tal con­sumers. Now, we live in a daz­zling world of screens that has ush­ered in rev­o­lu­tions in media, trans­porta­tion, and sci­ence. The future is arriv­ing faster than ever.”

You may or may not know that Ron has been pro­duc­ing series of found text paint­ings since 1993. Their sources include com­mer­cial gallery ads, high school year­book quotes, Jeop­ardy clues, the sub­ject index from a book about art world finance and the full text of an artist’s mem­oir. These new paint­ings in front of you might seem familiar—their texts are not pre­cise­ly click bait, not quite Buz­zfeed, Upwor­thy, or Breitbart—but their head­lines dab­ble in that log­ic, clear­ly func­tion­ing under a cap­i­tal of clicks. This form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is known and it is dense with poten­tial, pro­duc­ing texts that are simul­ta­ne­ous­ly earnest, self-satir­i­cal, fright­en­ing, mean­ing­less, and absurd.

You read that the painting’s titles are also the texts of the works, fol­lowed by the date, hour and minute that they were orig­i­nal­ly post­ed online. The fleet­ing nature of their rel­e­vance, log­ic or lack there­of, is fixed in front of you as paint on can­vas. The tem­po­ral nature of con­tem­po­rary art pro­duc­tion and its cur­ren­cy, with cru­el tides of atten­tion and suc­cess, may or may not enter your thoughts.

Famil­iar cor­po­ra­tions and busi­ness lead­ers fea­ture in the major­i­ty of these paint­ings’ texts, and you may note that some mea­sure of absur­di­ty comes from the recur­rent obses­sion with the detailed nuance of socio-tech­no­log­i­cal progress in con­cert with the socio-cul­tur­al sub­li­ma­tion of “cor­po­rate per­son­hood”. (If you search this term on the inter­net you will prob­a­bly find that this is the legal notion that a cor­po­ra­tion has rights “sep­a­rate­ly from its asso­ci­at­ed human beings (like own­ers, man­agers, or employ­ees), and has at least some of the legal rights and respon­si­bil­i­ties enjoyed by nat­ur­al per­sons (phys­i­cal humans)”. Fur­ther read­ing like­ly would reveal that most schol­ars agree that this con­cept and law is a prob­lem for the major­i­ty of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.) You may find that a company’s sta­tus update-as-news-as-adver­tis­ing is much more engag­ing and rel­e­vant to your life than many oth­er things.

As you round the cor­ner, you may con­tin­ue read­ing these paint­ings, or turn around to face the source of the light you noticed ear­li­er. Bright­ly lit white let­ters with brushed steel sides pro­trude from the wall, “BEING THERE” writ large in a play­ful font. You may know the 1979 film of the same title star­ring Peter Sell­ers as Chauncey Gar­diner, an illit­er­ate gar­den­er who has spent his entire life with­in the walls of a small estate, only know­ing the world out­side as medi­at­ed through tele­vi­sion. It is a clum­sy but heady Hol­ly­wood film about the nature of real­i­ty, which includes a scene where­in Chauncey attempts to use his remote con­trol to change the chan­nel while he is being mugged. His char­ac­ter goes on to win influ­ence and pow­er as his naiveté (Chauncey uses words that are both uni­ver­sal and mean­ing­less) pass­es for fresh, pro­found wis­dom. This con­cept may or may not feel rel­e­vant to you in this par­tic­u­lar moment in West­ern his­to­ry, or you may just think of being some­where else. It is pos­si­ble you are not aware that the com­mer­cial­ly-pro­duced sign is from 2011 and was made for a dif­fer­ent con­text and city alto­geth­er, and you may think that it is cur­rent rather than pre­scient now.

While you are look­ing at the sign, you see that the dry­wall stops to your right but the steel studs of the wall con­tin­ue on, reveal­ing a room behind but block­ing easy pas­sage. One last sheet of dry­wall would eas­i­ly seal the room. Mov­ing towards this entrance, you can choose to squeeze through the 16-inch space between studs to enter the space or just peer past them. Inside you can see behind the wall to your imme­di­ate left, reveal­ing the mount­ing and elec­tri­cal cables of Being There, but on the far wall is anoth­er sign that you strug­gle to make leg­i­ble, the text is back­lit, and the font is angu­lar and strange. You might decode it cor­rect­ly as “WE WILL NOT GROW OLD TOGETHER”. You find out that the type­face is design­er Wim Crouwel’s 1967 New Alpha­bet. Wikipedia reveals that “New Alpha­bet was a per­son­al, exper­i­men­tal project of Crouwel. The type­face was designed to embrace the lim­i­ta­tions of the cath­ode ray tube tech­nol­o­gy used by ear­ly data dis­play screens and pho­to­type­set­ting equip­ment, and thus only con­tains hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal strokes… Some of the glyphs are uncon­ven­tion­al, while oth­ers bear vir­tu­al­ly no resem­blance to any ver­sion of the let­ters they rep­re­sent (in some egre­gious exam­ples, the fre­quent­ly appear­ing a glyph looks like a J, K looks like a t, numer­al 1 resem­bles a 7, numer­al 8 resem­bles cap­i­tal H, and the x glyph looks like a cap­i­tal I). Because of this, the type­face was received with mixed feel­ings by his peers.”

In your periph­ery you see a series of wood-framed black and white posters. Each poster has a unique large black form print­ed over its orig­i­nal design. The image under­neath the obscur­ing form is an old­er mod­el Apple Power­book com­put­er with a psy­che­del­ic screen­saver and pair of head­phones in front. You might rec­og­nize the under­ly­ing posters as being one of Ron’s exhi­bi­tion con­tri­bu­tions in which he designs the pro­mo­tion­al poster for said exhi­bi­tion, in this case a solo show from 2002, and may won­der if that old Apple lap­top is now a col­lectible worth some mon­ey.

You read that the forms that the artist has just recent­ly print­ed over these 15-year-old posters are decom­mis­sioned cor­po­rate logos, some famil­iar per­haps, but most are like­ly not. These are smooth geome­tries that are attrac­tive, inter­change­able and strange­ly uni­form in their design, com­mu­ni­cat­ing lit­tle about their respec­tive orga­ni­za­tions, like the gro­cery chain Loblaws or the Cana­di­an Nation­al Bank. They are all gen­er­al­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a par­tic­u­lar tech­no-utopi­an futur­ism of the 1960s. You may or may not pre­fer these com­pa­nies’ old­er iden­ti­ties to their cur­rent logo designs, and also might won­der what the artist and the pub­lic thinks of his old­er work com­pared to his new work.

You either squeeze back through the studs, or lean back into the main gallery space, per­haps con­sid­er­ing what it would be like if the wall was just dry­walled over, what the acces­si­bil­i­ty issues and fire reg­u­la­tions are for an insti­tu­tion­al ges­ture like this. Where you go from here is unde­ter­mined but nonethe­less pre­dictable. You may walk fur­ther into the gallery space to find a gallery guide, speak to a staff mem­ber, use the wash­room or retrace your steps back towards the exit. Or you may check your phone for some new infor­ma­tion.

Let me Google that for you.

TL; DR, short for “too long; didn’t read”, is Inter­net slang to say that a text being replied to has been ignored because of its length. It is also used as a sig­ni­fi­er for a sum­ma­ry of an online post or news arti­cle.