General Idea

General Idea at Maureen Paley

General Idea at Tate Britain (Bo attempts to hug the wall, photo by Qiaoer)

General Idea’s beloved AIDS wallpaper was exhibited in Maureen Paley in November. There should be another installation of their work in the Tate Britain. During my research on the collective, I came across two interesting texts:

Dot Tuer, “The CEAC was Banned in Canada” (1986)

Philip Monk, “Battle Stances: General Idea and CEAC” (2016)

Thirty years separate the two texts, but both texts begin by staging a contrast: between the positions articulated by the Centre for Experimental Art and Communication (CEAC) and those articulated by the artist-collective General Idea. Very generally we might say that, within the terms of this contrast, while CEAC appears to signify the values of “socio-political engagement” and “revolutionary critique,” then General Idea appears to signify the opposing values of “ironic distance” and “ambiguous critique.”

CEAC had been tragicomically shut down in 1978 as it lost council funding (Monk 2). Within its brief 2-year-long running, CEAC is known with its extreme political engagement. Dot Tuer and Philip Monk both did profound research on CEAC and discuss on many related debates.

According to Tuer, in the early 70s, artists such as Marras and Corley who were engaged in the Body Politics (known as the voice of gay movement in Toronto) founded the Kensington Arts Association (KAA), which also known as the predecessor of CEAC. Their interests in the formulation of relationships between art and social practice led to challenges on the capitalist social structures and ideology (Tuer 4). Applying McLuhan’s study on media, Marras and other artists suggest video as a tool to subvert the specialization of roles and bring political revolution (Tuer 10) and making art outside the gallery system. CEAC became “an artist-run centre whose philosophy, politics and ideas seem very remote from the city’s current infatuations” (Tuer 3).

By being the opponent of General Idea, CEAC identified themselves as the antithesis to dominant ideologies, rather than being an alternative to the predominance of commercialized publications. “To be antithetical was not to be alternative” (Monk 7). CEAC demonstrates a much more ambiguous (even hypocritical) position, and General Idea might contain a more pointed critique within their ambiguous approach.

General Idea relies on pleasing the funder. Therefore their works have to be more implicit in a way making an appropriation and internalizing the effectiveness. CEAC is more intend to make a direct critique. Their esthetic is revolutionary and engaging/effecting the outer system of art. The arts councils positioned under the hands of a repressive political structure are like a puppet of Canadian government (Monk 14). The demission of CEAC under political repression not only twisted the radical stances in Toronto art communities but also raise the awareness of their relying on state funding.

General Idea, “Shut the Fuck Up” (1984)