To create PATH, Michael Alstad infiltrates the underground maze
of food courts, bank machines and retail shops of the PATH
Network, on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14th, 2001. It is a systematically
designed consumer network stretching over 10 kilometres, and
forming the gut of Toronto's financial district.
During their lunch hour, thousands of white-collar workers scurry
for an hour in the basements of Toronto's tallest buildings.
Their efforts are not exactly romantic gestures juxtaposed against
the grandiose architecture above ground; buildings dusted in
gold, candle-shaped, dimly lit twin towers, knight-like, proposed
by Mise van der Rohe, or Calatrava's stately galleria, as enchanting
as the Black Forest, fittingly transformed into white steel.
These are Toronto's landmark bank buildings rich with metaphors
of romance. The workers are more like runny unformed concrete,
oozing out from these utopic structures.
Alstad uses the detached observer's eye to navigate the PATH
Network. He poses as a tourist to gain video access of people
at bank machines, and others sifting through stock market indexes,
Valentine cards and boxes of chocolates. PATH is a re-mix of
clicking heels, incomprehensible sweet-nothings and electronic
money transactions. Alstad heightens and jams the droning effects
of bottoming finance activity with desperate consumer frenzy,
which propels the most romantic day of the year. The resulting
four-minute video, as fate would have it, also marks the day
in the history of the Toronto Stock Exchange that saw a huge
decline and sell-off of high tech stocks through the worlds
largest fibre optic company, Canada's Nortel Networks.
PATH is a video work that is as much about high-powered finances
and consumerism as it is about the shifting sense of art practice.
Traditionally, artists have and continue to use the notion that
a period of creativity is necessitated by reclusion.
Alstad is proposing a new shift in the paradigm that creativity
= reclusion. He does this both physically and temporally with
PATH by choosing Valentine's Day to record the workings of a
highly sophisticated and confusing underground network. Alstad
has co-founded Symbiosis Artist Collective, YEAR ZERO ONE -
www.year01.com - an on-line
forum, gallery and resource for digital media art, and curated
countless other projects. However, it is the administrative
role that must be perceived as a period of reclusion from the
role Alstad is most interested in cultivating: his role as artist.
Alstad does this by moving out of the traditional gallery environment
to make his art/work.
In the case of PATH, however, the art/work is brought back into
the gallery as evidence and manipulation of the infiltration.
It is a gesture of place that seemingly blurs the line between
art and work.
GROWTH (1997) is a precursor to Alstad's PATH. Conceived for
The Bank of Symbiosis, an exhibition
organized by Symbiosis Collective in a former bank site in Toronto,
Alstad constructed an immense GROWTH sign out of lawn grass:
green, muted, and eventually dying through the course of the
exhibition. The Bank of Symbiosis project challenged the art
space by placing it within the architecture of the bank, and
GROWTH turned splendor into drought.
In the twentieth century, work became less meaningful to us.
The terrain for satisfaction dwells within non-working time.
This impacts on the way we shape our world.
Does non-working time continue to offer both entertainment and
social value today? Alstad poignantly points out with PATH that
the act of thousands of people who leave work with fixed determination
to get a hot meal, do their banking, or run an errand, does
not necessarily account for a break in non-work time. Rather,
it is only the rhythm of work that alters - yet rhythm itself
allows the fiction of rest and entertainment to enter. From
within the PATH network, work is organic, flowing through and
clinging to the patriarchal structures of the office towers.
What we construct is merely an alternative environment to the
"constructed" working environment in order to provide a greater
sense of satisfaction. This double construction, so to speak,
becomes a very strained terrain of satisfaction.
Today, people are, more than ever, attached to their work. Even
romance is work on Valentine’s Day. Here lies the strength of
Alstad's own work: PATH has the acute ability to show us the
animal scurrying within his own cage.
Paola Poletto, Toronto - 11.20.01
P A T H was included in the international competition at the
5th Graz Biennal of Media
and Architecture in Graz, Austria - 11.7.01 - 11.11.01
Paola Poletto is an artist and arts administrator. Most recent
initiative is the Inflatable Museum at www.kissmachine.org.
She is Project Coordinator at DXNet, a network and portal for
the design community - www.dxnet.net
- and division of the Design Exchange, Toronto; visual arts
editor for Broken Pencil magazine and founding co-editor of
Kiss Machine Magazine. Paola is represented by Artcore Gallery,