Local Colour Info Centre
by Martha Baillie
Toronto? A door opens, I’m invited in, handed a postcard. Erica Brisson steps from behind her desk.
“Welcome. I am not here to provide you with a map, to recommend a route or destination. Even if you don’t think you do, you are the one who knows this city intimately. Can you describe a place that matters to you? Tell me where to look, where to find a park bench, a white elephant in a front yard, the mouth of a river, a small theatre, a sign that reads “Stella,” or a shopping cart locked to a street lamp. I will go there and make a drawing. How much you colour-in will be up to you. There is no fee. This is not therapy. Please, place your description in the pile of small cards you see on my desk. Thank you. My own preference is for the primaries: red, blue and yellow. Tiny dabs of solid brilliance that chirp and sing when perched on the bare lines of my architectures. I limit myself. Have I offered sufficient clues for you to know that this is indeed the place you hoped to return to? You said this was the spot you wanted to reveal to others. Didn’t you? I wrote down your very words. I do not want you to feel lost. This place is yours. Thank you for lending it to me.”
Local Colour Info Centre
Erica Brisson is a young artist living in a city adept at erasing its own history. Her postcards evoke blueprints. Each one recalls a particular location into existence. Toronto is caught in the act of becoming, and of waving goodbye.
Her drawings issue from moments of captured conversation. Locations of private meaning are made public; previously unrecorded connections between person and place are delicately memorialized as her postcards travel from storefront gallery to apartment or house, naming what is intimate official.
Brisson is one of many young artists dealing the next hand, playing poker with Toronto’s impermanence. The homeless Koffler Gallery has become home to artists who seek to create a narrative of Toronto that is rooted in the specifics of place, weighted with physical evidence yet shifting and transient: an eclectic dialogue between citizenry and metropolis.
In his Koffler Gallery Off-Site project, Museum of the Represented City, Flavio Trevisan meticulously mapped Toronto’s dead-ends, charted the city’s underground passageways, shaped neighbourhoods into heraldic emblems. Iris Häussler’s Honest Threads invited us into a boudoir, created inside Honest Ed’s discount store, to borrow clothes belonging to others, to literally walk out wearing someone else’s shoes, to finger the story woven into their shirt.
What does it mean to belong? these Toronto artists ask. How does a city become home?
October 9, 2012. 249 Crawford Street.
Sandbags hold steady the wooden sign painted white; its pale words, “Local Colour Info Centre,” intentionally faint, as if to say: the sun is too strong, you must settle for pastel pink and baby blue, in a world burnt white. But the world is not white. Dark wind under a metal sky rattles the afternoon. We are in the yolk of Autumn. In the park across the road, a bloodshot tree. Erica Brisson is smiling at me through the window. I enter her cube of glass, her pristine postcard office. Across the road, flames of foliage consume the park. Through sealed windows we observe the trees. Of rebellion, trees know only colour.
I have entered a site of suggestion, of clean, barely visible activity, almost corporate, a space of secretive, immaculate fertility. Where is the logo? Clues are given: printer, scanner, stack of paper. On the long, white table, a bouquet of coloured pencils. On the north wall, an immense map of the grey and white city. Three circles of colour, stacked, recall a traffic light. The colours instruct:
red – consult
yellow – colour
blue – communicate.
In the west window, stand three white cardboard display cases, offering postcards for sale, drawn by Erica, coloured by others, $2.00 a piece. In the south window, three shopping buggies wait to wheel displays of postcards out into the street. Outside the window, citizens wait in a shelter for the coming of the red streetcar. On the east wall, inscriptions on small white cards balance in rows:
“Blue square. Greyish brown. Whole new thing inside. See a deck. In the maze running. Doing some nice things.” AGO. Delilla. Resident, 5.5 years.
“Night time, it’s dark. Behind the condos. In front is the Rogers centre and CN tower. We go hang out and then security asks us to leave. There is an edge to sit on. Down!” Rogers centre parking lot.
“Lively street. Walking along it in evening. Round circle in sky. Looks like moon. Actually clock of fire station.” Moon over College Street. Resident, 13 years.
“Small store. Punk ephemera in the window. Queer punk items. Records. A shelf of zines. Books, largely stolen, mostly theory.” Who’s Emma bookstore. Nassau Street & Augusta. Allain, resident, Toronto, 13 years.
“Stretching between two streets. Garages. Fences. Backgates. Raccoons.” Laneway between Sussex and Bloor. Keith. Resident, loves the city, 38 years.
“CN trestles over the Don, you’ll never find them.”
Breath, voice, and the hand inscribing.
So, this is not the sterile white of a clinic that surrounds me, or the corporate white of disavowal, or the white of art-speak, but a gessoed realm of possibility. Already, dots of yellow, red and blue, mark locations on the charted, urban expanse, asking: where precisely were you? Was there precision?
Postcards in 2012
Brisson’s postcards and Facebook co-inhabit the present: exposing your words, mooring them to image, pinning them to walls, passing the message around.
You left but have returned. You’ve never been here before. You have just arrived and wish you could leave but can’t. You are confronted by indifference, the grind of commerce, a military grid of roads, traffic snarl, the polluted heat of summer, days cut short in winter, a poor design yet the price keeps climbing. In the mail, a postcard arrives, from a young artist to whom you recently confessed your anger at the city and your affection for a singular spot within it. She has sent you a delicate drawing of your landmark.
The commercial postcard, the official depiction of a place that you bring home from your travels and tape to your wall or keep in a drawer (are postcards really for sending?) lures you back to a moment from which you were absent, to a place you recognize though you were never precisely there. It offers you the years and days that preceded your arrival at the site of interest; you may keep this place without belonging to it; you must share it with others; it is on loan; you do not inhabit this memory yet it may inhabit you increasingly, the longer you keep it.
Brisson’s hand-drawn cards are a whispered exchange between you and the artist, overheard by others. She has reached into your memory and articulated, in her visual voice not yours, a specific spot of connection. You’ve sat, childlike, at her long white table and coloured between her lines, or else submerged her drawing, scribbling over it, burying it in your own pigments. Now, you stand at the back of Brisson’s Info Centre, a web spreading inside you of possible streets with alluring names, of deep ravines, and promised avenues. Across the road, dense foliage; the trees sing high notes of red and yellow, and the October wind blows blue.
Erica Brisson is a visual artist who uses drawing and participatory strategies to explore ideas of community, place, and identity. Born and raised in downtown Toronto, Brisson has a BFA from Concordia University and attended the curatorial outreach work-study program at the Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre. She has produced participatory and community-based projects including teaching passersby to build their own furniture out of cardboard in a public park for Dare-Dare artist-run centre in Montreal; designing a mobile billboard in collaboration with inpatients from the geriatric ward of Torontoís Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; and, most recently, compiling an inventory of observations about everyday life in the Berlin neighbourhood of Moabit as part of a residency at the ZK/U Centre for Art and Urbanism.
Martha Baillie is the author of four novels, including The Incident Report, which was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was selected among The Globe and Mailís top 100 books of the year in 2009. Baillieís previous novel, The Shape I Gave You, was also a national bestseller. Her essays on visual art have appeared in Brick magazine and in the Art Gallery of Ontario catalogue on the work of Iris H‰ussler. She teaches at the Toronto New School of Writing and has been a guest speaker at York University, Queenís University, George Brown College, McMaster University and the Toronto School of Art. She lives and works in Toronto.
Design: Tony Hewer | Editing: Shannon Anderson | Photos: Toni Hafkenscheid
Digital publication to the exhibition Erica Brisson: Local Colour Info Centre
Presented by the Koffler Gallery Off-Site at Miracle Thieves | October 4 to November 11, 2012 | Curator: Mona Flip
© Koffler Centre of the Arts, 2012, in collaboration with the individual contributors.
All rights reserved. ISBN 978-0-920863-96-1.