Number 600, Oct 25, 2007

'Sales Associates of Sex & Death'

Overt Silliness Exposes Cloaked Absurdity

Creemore, Ontario based artists Kim Kozzi and Dai Skuze have been working together as the collaborative duo known as FASTWÜRMS since 1979. The two also work as teachers in the sculpture department at the School of Fine Art and Music at the University of Guelph. Seeing as Kozzi and Skuze are both life partners and artistic counterparts, their collaboration never really has a beginning or an end.

Self-identified as witches, the FASTWÜRMS are the very first to poke fun of themselves in their work, remarking that “Sardonic and self deprecating humour seems to mix well with wistful beauty and mad love.” In fact, if you can think of a witchy stereotype, the FASTWÜRMS probably have it somewhere in their work. Black cats, cauldrons, pentagrams, bats, skulls, owls, snakes, it’s all there. It would be hard to imagine someone addressing all of these tropes earnestly, so the use of humour is a welcome strategy. The FASTWÜRMS use of overt absurdity is a way of bringing our attention to the cloaked absurdity of everyday life, and of the mythologies of our time. It’s clichéd, but the idea behind the magic, the idea that we can transform our world, is an empowering one. Certainly queer audiences can relate to ideas about subcultures, secret identities, and re-imagining the places that we live in. And the parallels don’t stop there either. The WÜRMS say, “Until recently, (1955 in the U.K.), being a Witch was a felony offense. So we are part of the first generation of Witches in a very long time that get to come out, reclaim and celebrate our ‘criminal’ culture in public.” Sound like a familiar experience?

The exhibition DONKY@NINJA@WITCH at the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) acts largely as a “greatest hits” type of show where several past WÜRMS installations are remounted. In some ways it’s as though Queen Street West, or at least Paul Petro Gallery and the now-defunct Zsa Zsa, have been transplanted to North York. If you’ve only just heard about the WÜRMS, or have been feeling a distinct lack of witchiness on your life, the current AGYU show is an excellent opportunity to refill. But its not all just repeats here. Also on display is a brand new installation titled Pink Donky. And no, that is not a typo.

Though the FASTWÜRMS have a close connection to Queen Street, their work certainly reaches beyond its confines. They have shown installations, performed, and created public sculpture commissions across Canada, the United States, Europe, Korea and Japan.
If you have ever been to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre you’ve likely walked across the FASTWÜRMS "Turtle Pond" floor installation and didn’t even know where it appeared from, or who made it.

All throughout their work the FASTWÜRMS employ various bits of cliché, self-mockery, and humour. For example, their latest video, Donky Ninja Witch starts out with a scene of ninjas dressed in silk pyjamas, wearing socks on their hands as mittens. Rather than taking part in a high-action fight, the ninjas huddle around a fire, roasting marshmallows. Taped in night vision green, the video tracks a group of witches and ninjas as they sneak around in the night, negotiating their relationship with one another. It’s a low-budget work, a pact between workers of the night in make-shift costume. Skuze and Kozzi discuss the idea of dressing up by saying, “Identity is a performance. Witch drag is all about playing with the culturally imprinted seduction of the forbidden, the door greeters and sales associates of sex and death.”

The experience of DONKY@NINJA@WITCH is overwhelming. Six different installations, each could fill its own room, are packed into one gallery. My notes of the show are almost entirely comprised of lists of items. Going through the exhibit several locations and experiences are conjured up: a church craft sale, a hair salon, a teenager’s bedroom, an occult altarpiece, a witches den, and a video salon all come to mind. About the last thing that occurs to me is that the space is still a gallery with white walls buried underneath all of the collections. The experience is quite the opposite of the sparsity typical in most gallery shows. The FASTWÜRMS suggest that “the abundance of imagery gives the viewer endless opportunities for visual pleasure and personal aesthetic shopping. Our sensibility is an extension of the natural world that abhors a vacuum and revels in profusion.” In a way, the clutter is an act of generosity. With enough stuff in one space viewers are bound to find something that speaks to them. At the very least, viewers can return home from the AGYU with a bit of Wiccan morality from the FASTWÜRMS directive. It states, “Do what you will, harm unto none.”