Make-believe & marginal histories

Toronto artist Darryl Bank returns to Kingston with his own stranger-than-fiction take on the city’s past

Darryl Bank’s quasi-museological installation looks at histories in serious and ironic ways.
Darryl Bank’s quasi-museological installation looks at histories in serious and ironic ways.
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Darryl Bank is interested in the histories you never bothered to notice.

Like the story of Ted Serios, a Chicago bellhop who claimed that he could imprint photos (what he called “thoughtographs”) into a Polaroid camera through a psychokinetic process. Or, more locally, the story of the failed attempt to create a Utopian collective of faculty and students living in what is now known as the Princess Towers in the 1980s.

Appropriate, then, is his latest endeavour; a quasi-museological exhibit of a marginal—and wholly fictional—history of his own.

Now operating out of one of Canada’s leading contemporary art galleries, The Power Plant in Toronto, Bank, ArtSci ’06 has returned to Kingston full of myth and mysticism.

With Every Stratified Thing on Earth, Bank tells the tale of John Anderson, a film technician in Queen’s film department in 1985, who claimed he could imprint mental images on video cassettes if he maintained physical contact with the VHS player. Immediately, there was a surge in public interest that connected Anderson with creative communities in the city who championed his abilities. After much scepticism and research by the Queen’s psychology department—which Bank thoroughly documents with transcripts, articles and newspaper columns—Anderson is found with a magnet in his possession while conducting his supernatural feat. He is discredited, his followers are disillusioned and the story is ignored, arbitrarily tossed aside along with the rest of Kingston’s marginal histories.

“For me, those are the interesting stories,” Bank said. “And with the exhibit I thought, ‘how can I do that?’”

Bank, our fictional historian and non-fictional curator, has assembled and displayed all of the elements of the story: the ‘Kingston tapes,’ the media coverage, various psychological research materials, even—and especially—a 52-page book of academic criticism and interpretation.

These are, of course, all fictional, all written, created, recorded and imagined by Darryl Bank. But this, to Bank, is the point. This is the artistic space through which he can reflect on our concept of history or the greater nature of technology.

“I’m interested in what this story suggests about technology, technology as magic, and what the story suggests about history, especially the history of a city like Kingston,” Bank said.

Although it may sound like the plot of a novel, Bank insists his focus is on fiction in the greater sense, instead of the limiting characteristics of fiction in the literary, cinematic or theatrical sense.

He wants to see his story transcend specific media and exist, in the Artel’s cosy exhibition space, as a real, malleable and tangible history.

Although he admits that he is developing a short fiction, Bank is avoiding all associations with fiction in the traditional sense.

“I prefer to develop this fiction and write it journalistically instead,” he said.

“Fiction is just something that is there. With visual art, it’s not something people are always comfortable with.”

This, too, is the intended effect of Bank’s multimedia exhibit: To present the viewer with a fiction disguised, in every regard, as fact, but in a medium (or media) not traditionally associated with detailed narratives.

But, most importantly, the display is the product of Bank’s nostalgia for Kingston, a city he said is layered in accessible historical narratives.

“I wanted to do something that was a new project about the city in some capacity. When I was here going to school, there were a few things that led me to be interested in Kingston’s history. I was interested in this dichotomy, where there was this official history—the Fort Henry history, the Queen’s history, the Sir John A. Macdonald history—but then there are also all these other stories in the recent history of Kingston which are, to me, more telling of what the city is like,” Bank said.

“I guess I was sort of interested too in the way that there’s this art community in Kingston that’s smaller, more rough and tumble. It’s not slick and highly professionalized like Toronto. And there seems to be more eagerness to collaborate.

“The social motivating factor of Kingston is also what I’ve tried to reflect a little in the story.”

Bank’s nuanced community narrative is, in the mind of the artist, equally reflective of the conceptual nature of institutional history as it is about local mysticism and his sentimentality for this city.

“It’s sort of playing around with the idea of what’s history and what’s worth remembering,” Bank said.

“It’s mutable, it can be changed, there is no ‘capital H’ history—all history is subjective. It’s been subject to people authoring it, privileging certain information, certain stories or certain cultures over others. It’s necessarily a subjective practice.”

But Bank’s stance as a fictional historian, among other positions, in the exhibit is its most profound and sardonic aspect.

“I wanted it to be museological. That austerity of ‘this is presented by an institution, supported by these different thinkers or writers,’ all that stuff works to legitimize it in an ironic way because it’s all kind of a joke. A serious joke.”

Darryl Bank’s show runs until September 28 at The Artel.

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