Kelly Mark: It’s Just One God Damn Thing After Another


Kelly Mark: Esselte (detail, 2009): Letraset on paper. Courtesy Diaz Contemporary, Toronto.Kelly Mark: Esselte (detail, 2009): Letraset on paper. Courtesy Diaz Contemporary, Toronto.

By Christopher Régimbal

Kelly Mark
It’s Just One God Damn Thing After Another
Diaz Contemporary
September 3 to October 10, 2009

Veteran Toronto artist Kelly Mark is well known for her conceptual filiations, references to working class and television culture, and tongue-in-cheek humour. This exhibition, her first at Diaz, included sculpture, drawing and video — all staples of her production. The title of one of the show’s new neon sculptures, Working Hard, Hardly Working (all works 2009), is an avenue to discuss the exhibition in the context of Mark’s practice over the last fifteen years.

Working Hard — Consider the hundreds of hours of repetitive labour Mark has put into her Letraset drawings since 2001, when she started making them. The five Letrasets in this exhibition were made up of countless dry transfer characters individually applied to matte board, making these new pieces more complex and less self-referential than previous drawings in the series. They are aesthetic objects as much as they are measures of work accomplished, hour after hour, day after day, and week after week.

Kelly Mark: Nothing is So Important (2009): Neon. Courtesy Diaz Contemporary, Toronto.Kelly Mark: Nothing is So Important (2009): Neon. Courtesy Diaz Contemporary, Toronto.Hardly Working — You can convince anyone of anything if you write it in big, bright letters. This criticism prompted Mark to commission a new, six-foot neon sculpture for the exhibition: Nothing Is So Important That It Needs To Be Made In Six Foot Neon.  Like Letraset, neon has been a favourite medium of Mark’s for several years. Her neon sculptures articulate her evolving art projects and her constructed persona, two entities that are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from one another.

Working Hard at Hardly Working — For more than a decade, Mark has been punching the clock in the morning, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, making Letraset drawings, recording clips of television movies, hitting objects together, watching TV, jotting down lists of things she really should do, and coming up with witty phrases for her neon signs before punching out at the end of the day.

The average worker puts in 7.5 hours a day, 35 hours a week, and 1,875 hours a year (if you subtract two weeks of vacation).  At that rate, according to author Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill, Mark is far beyond the point of mastering, well, being Kelly Mark.  She has excelled at, in her own words, showing up late, leaving early, taking long breaks, having issues with authority, not following instructions or working well with others, drinking on the job, complaining a lot and always working… hard at hardly working. It seems that being Kelly Mark is just one goddamn thing after another.

Christopher RégimbalChristopher Régimbal is an art historian and curator from Timmins, Ontario. He is Curatorial Assistant at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto and his criticism has appeared in Fuse Magazine and on 89.5FM CIUT.