Secret Handshakes (& more)

23 April 2015 – The Douglas Coupland exhibition is partly at the Royal Ontario Museum (see Art With an Echo), partly at MOCCA — the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art out Queen West near Shaw.

So here I am on a sunny day, back amid some stacked-up Coupland plastics, then suddenly face to face with something else — something I immediately recognize, even though it isn’t really that something.

Thomson Lone Pine Variant, 2011

“Thomson’s Jack Pine,” I mutter to myself, even though I know it isn’t by Tom Thomson, obviously not. I read the label: Thomson Lone Pine Variant, it says, created in 2011 by Douglas Coupland.

Right Got it. But here is what I have bouncing in my mind:

Jack Pine, by Tom Thomson

The real thing, Tom Thomson’s Jack Pine, created in 1916-17.

Then I read the big poster for this part of the show. “Secret Handshakes,” it is called. It’s all about being Canadian, in a world that so often blurs us into kinda-American. The poster concludes…

… By using imagery and objects laden with symbolic meaning for Canadians, Coupland has created a ‘secret handshake’ not easily understood by others.

Well, I am into this. I take in more of the works (including a not-Lawren Harris that is so very Lawren Harris), enjoying the concept.

I move into the next room. More Secret Handshakes, including a sculptural work that has a whole cluster of laughing admirers. We must all be Canadian. We are all, as t’were, in on the handshake.

part of Secret Handshake exhibit, MOCA

I’m not sure you can explain a joke without being really, really pompous, but — for the sake of non-Canadian readers — let me try. That’s the CN Tower, emblem of Toronto, toppled and burned at the base. A good Canadian joke, since — right from Lester Sinclair’s 1946 radio play, We All Hate Toronto — hating this city has been seen as a patriotic duty, a unifying force from sea to sea to sea.

So there is the tower, aka Toronto, SPLAT. With a very apologetic, so-very-Canadian “SORRY” writ large beneath it. That’s right! Even our vandals are polite!

And — my favourite bit — the numbers “905” above the SORRY. This may reduce the whole thing to a Toronto secret handshake, not a national one. Perhaps only we know that 905 is the area code for the suburban horseshoe around the 416 inner city core, with each set of numbers used with pride or derision depending on which code you inhabit. (I hear a woman practically choke with laughter when she sees the 905.)

The smaller images are anticlimactic for me, but I do immediately recognize them.

in Coupland's Secret Handshake exhibit, MOCCA

The still young (but front-toothless even then) hockey player Bobby Hull peeks out from behind a big RUSH poster, a Canadian band of the 1970s that sold more than 40 million records worldwide and ended up with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so perhaps not totally a Canadian-secret handshake after all.

It’s all pure Canadiana once I’m back out on the streets & poking through the alleys.

RUSH has me still thinking music, and I eventually find myself in what I call “Music Alley” for complicated reasons — anyway, an alley south of Queen West, between Niagara & Bathurst. Appropriate to find a musician painted into a doorwell, don’t you think?

alley s. of Queen West, between Niagara & Bathurst

After that, the images dance to other beats. And beasts.

Here’s a Birdo-beast, for example, along with a beast by a colleague whose tag I can’t decipher.

Birdo & friend, "Music Alley"

There’s a secret handshake of sorts about mid-alley, as I catch a band of red & white blocking my view up the cross-alley.

cross-alleys with TTC

I know it’s a TTC streetcar, maybe you do too. If so, we’ve just exchanged the secret handshake.

I linger a bit here, find myself chattering with a doorstep-sitter who opens the conversation with a fairly aggressive “You like graffiti?” that turns friendly when I answer “Yes!” We throw names around like old pals, he directs me to look at all those canaries over there, we agree that Uber sure can draw little yellow birds … and it’s all swell.

Across Bathurst, heading east into another alley south of Queen that I have just learned in fact has an official name: Parry Lane. Well, I’ll be darned. I find that on-line, not on the street. (But it might even be true.)

Under any or no name at all, this lane also coughs up some art along with boring scrawls. I am taken with this bit of art criticism, not that I totally understand it …

in Parry Lane, s. of Queen e of Bathurst

… and I nod in sympathy with Mr. Sugar Daddy Penguin’s lament.

alley s of Queen, e from Bathurst

Maybe he bought her the wrong designer?

Milling About

Abrupt change of topic, no attempt at a segue; you don’t mind, do you?

I hope nobody tried to follow my off-hand subway reference as directions for our Tuesday walk (River to Lake) down the Humber River. “Don Mills subway station” will never get you there — not least because it doesn’t exist. Try “Old Mill.” That will do very nicely.

My thanks to my friend Kay for spotting the error — what was I thinking? — and my shame-faced apologies to the rest of you.


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  1. A Secret Handshake on Pape (with cheese) | WALKING WOMAN

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