Asked to be one of the judges for NextFest's Art Fight, as instigated by Adam Waldron Blain as part of the festival's evening cabarets, I half expected the evening to be part performance and part camp in its concept. The result was more disorganization than anything else, but I'm afraid there just wasn't much else.
Certainly not a phenomenon confined to here, "Art Fights" expose the entirely arbitrary assessment of a piece of work as usually judged by popular opinion. It's rarely about the work at hand, usually created on site and in a limited time frame and budget, but the idea of an "art fight" is more about the people looking into the spectacle.
That idea got lost.
One of five judges alongside Todd Janes of Latitude 53, Josee Aubin Ouellette, curator of NextFest visual arts, Chelsea Boida of the loosely connected Institute Parachute and somebody else whose name and role elude me now, the "fight" was a match between Adam Maitland and Craig Knox, two artists I was semi-familiar with, but quite disappointed with by the end of the evening. With a lack of parameters beyond a flimsy set of scoring guidelines hastily scrawled onto scraps of paper including playfulness, concept, and taste, the "secret" ingredient of the fight was styrofoam tubes, which neither of the artist seemed to understand was suppose to be the central theme of the work. All product and no process, the works resulted by Maitland and Knox were respectively a comment on the disassociation of heads to torsos to guts in Edmonton's big city fun district and a carnivalesque shoot 'em up construction/performance of artists as public targets. Or at least this is what I could only assume as neither artist could verbally qualify their work and Blain did not help his peers in any way by clarifying their working terms and conditions. I wasn't expecting excellent work, or even good work, but I was expecting some worthwhile verbal sparring, as anything can be made to sound good if you know how to sell it. As probably the most important trait any successful artist will have, verbosity, or having the capacity to communicate, was simply not at all apparent.
As the crowd got restless with questions and the judges started snapping amongst each other, a five minute deliberation extended into a most ill-informed adjudication process that lasted until two of the judges left/quit. Knox emerged the winner, and there was almost a moment of anticipation before declaring a decision, but the state of nonplus in the room aptly reflected the stale state of critical art dialogue and Edmonton's general aversion to taking ourselves seriously.
After a morning of studio visits in Banff with artists processing and taking their work and profession in an admirably serious and passionate manner, Art Fight was even more of a rude awakening.