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Ceci N’est Pas Une Bombe

Thorarinn Ingi Jonsson has, as he put it to Torontoist in a phone interview earlier today, “seen better days.”
The Integrated Media OCAD student and his final project for his advanced video class are the direct cause––intended or not––for yesterday’s bomb scare at the Royal Ontario Museum, and, a day later, Jonsson is now suspended from OCAD and is wanted for questioning by police.
Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s readymades pieces (the most famous of which is the urinal-cum-art-piece Fountain), Jonsson wanted to make a piece for his final project about recontextualization: the idea that the context changes the meaning of a piece of art. In this case, something that is “quite clearly not dangerous, but when you put it in a different context the viewer recontextualizes it”: a fake pipe bomb, and fake YouTube videos showing its fake explosion.
Yesterday at about 4 p.m., Jonsson walked into the ROM with the fake bomb inside a bag. Attached to the bomb was a note that read “This is not a bomb.” Jonsson thought that the note meant he wasn’t breaking the law: he had been advised by an OCAD Student Union lawyer before installing the piece, he says, against spreading false news, and told that he should not attempt to deceive people about the bomb’s legitimacy. (That’s why, for instance, one of the descriptions for the videos he later uploaded read: “Fake footage of the fake bombing at the Royal Ontario Museum capturing the fake moment of impact.”) Though Jonsson intended to leave the pipe bomb outside of the bag out in the open in a “noticeable spot,” “almost like a presentation,” he says there were “too many people around,” and he decided to keep the sculpture inside the bag, placing it on the right-hand side of the ROM’s Bloor Street entrance with the declarative note visible on top.
“I went a bit down the street, as soon as I came out of the gathering,” he told us, “and I dialed up the ROM and they asked for an extension and I hadn’t really thought that far, so I typed in some random last name and I ended up reaching some girl at some office at the ROM and I simply told her: ‘Listen there’s no bomb by the entrance to the museum,’ and then I hung up.”
Jonsson went straight from the ROM back to school for 5 p.m. to give his presentation of his final piece, where he “revealed the extent of the project.” People in his class, he says “were really impressed with the extent I went to.” Worried that there was a possibility of legal action, he hadn’t told his professors about the piece until the night it was installed.
When Jonsson got back home, he uploaded the videos he’d recorded earlier that day to YouTube (to an account that featured other videos––like the one of Osama Bin Laden on the roof of the World Trace Center watching as hearts pour out of the building and Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me” plays––that Jonsson says are “completely unrelated”). Then, he e-mailed the addresses of them to several news organizations.
“I didn’t really expect it go so crazy.”
Nothing happened until about ten that night, when Jonsson starting hearing about the “crazy circus” that the ROM and its surrounding area had been turned into: streets shut down, bomb squad on hand, and an AIDS gala cancelled (which Jonsson says he had no idea about and that he does “feel bad about”). A day later, “the police are looking for me,” he admits (he intends to approach them, and he fears a mischief charge); while OCAD has taken disciplinary action against him as well, suspending him from the school today for non-academic misconduct.
Photo courtesy of Thorarinn Ingi Jonsson.


  • ElleDriver

    What’s Icelandic for “colossally fucking stupid”?

  • wilshire

    I’m no lawyer, but a “go ahead and do it!” with caveats doesn’t sound like the best legal advice.

  • spacejack

    Oh dear. This reminds me of an incident that happened when I was at OCA(no D). Some students decided to film a scene outside the old Stewart building involving a shootout (with fake guns). Cops showed up within minutes and made it clear that it’s important to get permits for this sort of thing.
    P.S. “recontextualize” – worst bullshit art term ever. But I suppose he’s made his first steps toward becoming a successful publicity-stunt/gimmick “artist”.

  • uskyscraper

    According to Internet translators, it’s “risavaxinn bölvaður heimskur”. Shall I also translate “selfish ignorant pea-brain?” If you want to absolutely panic people as to the possible presence of a bomb, leaving notes and messages that something is “not a bomb” is pretty much guaranteed to do it.

  • Marc Lostracco

    If I saw a package with “This is not a bomb” written on it, the first thing I’d be doing is calling the cops. And then finding the closest means of egress.

  • Robin Rix

    Is this a scoop? I haven’t seen an interview anywhere else. If so—excellent job. If not—still pretty impressive.

  • Gloria

    “This is not a bomb”? Was he aping Duchamp or Magritte?

  • Gloria

    :P Of course, it’s already in the title. Good on me for reading too fast.

  • beth maher

    When I made comment in the previous thread (about being quite proud to have quit that school while I was ahead) I was going to quip that I bet a professor had signed off on this project.
    I was slightly off. A lawyer had. Although, having known a few OCAD profs, I bet the professor would have thought it was a great idea too, (had he known about it ahead of time).
    OCAD. Pffft. What a bunch of whack jobs.
    I think the sign that the kid knew what he was doing was a bad idea, was the fact that he saw a lawyer first, left the bomb in the bag because he was worried “it would cause a scene” and that he did not know about the AIDs gala, and feels pretty bad about getting it canceled.
    Dude: if you didn’t foresee something like this happening, then you obviously didn’t think this through quite well enough, did you?
    I hope the gala sues the kid to recoup funds, and the kid sues the lawyer. Everybody’s happy!

  • Caroline Roberts

    Thank you. I mean it. This incident makes me feel a little better about those dudes who hung the Lite-Brites all over Boston.

  • Jen Chung

    That’s really good product placement for Duracell.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Robin: Yup, we were the first media outlet to break the photo and interview, after David Topping’s frantic afternoon pulling it together.

  • ElleDriver

    @uskyscraper: No, actually it’s “Thorarinn Ingi Jonsson”.
    @Gloria: Yes, he was. They’re both spinning in their graves as we speak.

  • fantasygoat

    One thing I hope that happens is that they make no changes whatsoever to the entrance or operating procedure of the museum.
    If this fuckwit has caused them to rethink their openness and to perhaps install metal detectors, etc. I will personally hunt him down and kick him in the junk.

  • Liam

    In the immortal words of Faux Alex Trebek:
    “What are you, Icelandic or retarded?”
    Point the second: Art school legal rep or no, the correct legal advice regarding this project is four words — “Don’t fucking do it.” Who did this guy clerk for, Lionel Hutz?
    I mean … gah! My legal expertise comes from David E. Kelley shows and Law and Order reruns, and I know that is was a pretty damn stupid idea. How did that ‘advisory’ conversation go?
    “Well, if you clearly label this amazing good facsimile of a pipe bomb as NOT a bomb, you’re in the clear!”
    This whole story wins!

  • Eastside

    Can someone a bit more artistically inclined tell me exactly how this qualifies as art? Strikes me as something that someone who can’t paint/draw/sculpt/write would do to get into art school and hang out with all the other tight-jeaned hipsters….

  • wilshire

    He’s a talented painter, I’ll give him that.

  • quest

    He’s been interviewed by CityTV. Watch cp24.

  • dowlingm

    I hope he gets more than a misdemeanour charge.
    What I really hope is that no overzealous cop thought this was one of the vendors the ROM had commercially-cleansed from the sidewalk getting revenge, and had them hauled in because of a spoilt little boy’s playing with “art”.

  • Marc Lostracco

    How much do you wanna bet that this guy never passes through an airport easily again for as long as he lives? He should just walk directly to the secondary screening room as soon as he enters the terminal.

  • EricSmith

    What a chicken. Even if his initial scheme had been a brilliantly inspired artistic gesture, he wussed out and didn’t follow through. Afraid of getting caught? I’ll bet he was. By shocking co-incidence, everyone else is afraid of getting blown the hell up.
    He was willing to compromise his concept for his own comfort, but not for anyone else’s. Thanks for nothing, maestro.

  • matty

    this is the stupidest thing since that one guy made a urinal and called it “art”

  • Carrie M

    “How much do you wanna bet that this guy never passes through an airport easily again for as long as he lives? He should just walk directly to the secondary screening room as soon as he enters the terminal.”
    You forgot to add ‘and bend over.’

  • Gloria

    @22: He didn’t make the urinal. That was the point.
    At least urinals don’t send people running for their lives. Most of them.

  • matty

    yeah that was my bad attempt at humor. this guy is a retard.

  • EricSmith

    I’ve looked at his unwatchabe YouTube videos, but I still can’t figure out his concept. I’ve seen the CityNews interview, in which he denies responsibility for the consequences of his actions (“I blame the situation”), but the most I can make of the concept is “ja, ja, I recontextualize, bork-bork.”
    No, you dumbshit, lying around in public scaring people is a traditional context for bombs fake and real alike. Me doing a Swedish Chef imitation but attributing it to an Icelandic pseudo-meta-terrorist is more of a recontextualization than that.

  • AnarchX

    what a complete and utter tool.
    i am astonished that he had no idea that this might not be a good idea. no thought on his actions whatsoever.

  • Patrick Metzger

    But for today at least,Thorarinn Ingi Jonsson is the most famous fuckwit in Toronto. And that’s really what it’s all about.

  • mexxonator

    lol I love how in his interview with CityTV, he says how the device was clearly a sculpture, and didn’t resemble a bomb at all.
    Judging from the picture here on torontoist, that definitely looks like nothing but a bomb.

  • David Topping

    OCAD has issued a statement denying that the bomb was made for a course. (Thanks to Beth Maher for the tip.)

  • rek

    Dude’s set. He’s going to be ridiculously famous for the rest of his career at least. Oh yes, you’re the chap who blew up the ROM, smashing idea, that.
    Wouldn’t recontextualizing require something that doesn’t even remotely resemble a bomb being staged as if it were? For example a pineapple or a Cabbage Patch Kid doll, with a note declaring it to not be a bomb, would make far more sense from that perspective.

  • quest

    680news says he has surrendered to police.

  • khristopher

    How can anyone call that art? It’s idiocy, not art.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Jonsson has now been arrested and charged with one count of common nuisance and mischief interference with property.

  • vanweb

    from OCAD: “The faculty involved have been fully cooperative and have been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.”
    What a way to ruin your chances of ever getting a degree anywhere… get your professors suspended from their job!

  • Benc7

    How “art imitates life”….so many innocent people affected by the actions of one idiot…just like a REAL bomb going off. I hope Jonsson gets to complete the experience… in a jail cell.

  • Johnnie Walker

    This whole episode sounds like a deleted scene from Art School Confidential.
    P.S. Lay off the Icelanders, folks!

  • Friend

    does anyone know what time the bail hearing is?

  • Diisparishun

    Can someone a bit more artistically inclined tell me exactly how this qualifies as art?
    There is, at least, a pretty nice Toronto connection on this score. Marshall McLuhan, famous Torontonian: art is anything you can get away with.
    (By which standard, this just might not be art.)

  • Svend

    I wish he blew up the new addition to the ROM, that’s a worse crime inflicted on the city.

  • RealityCheck

    And I was shouted at for saying that thsi was typical artist crap? Recontextualize bombing the ROM for credit, with Prof knowledge.
    He definitely will be getting internal inspections every time he crosses a border or gets on a plane, serves the idiot right.

  • David Topping
  • ronotoe

    oh in toronto you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. toronto the good, the boring, the conservative, etc.
    along comes a little weirdness in sharp angles and suddenly it’s okay to blow it up. because the old building was soooooooooo old and sooooooo wonderful.
    it’s still there people. and now it has an addition. it’s going to be okay.
    regarding the kid: he’s all sorts of pretentiousness messed up. a fake bomb? after 9/11??? a complete and ridiculous idiot. I’m ashamed he’s from toronto.

  • rek

    RC: Typical artist crap? Somehow I doubt you have a clue what the typical artist is like or what they’re up to.
    Art is not the exclusive domain of a handful of eccentrics looking for attention and finding it by breaking the law or pissing on whatever you think is sacred. For the actual handful of eccentrics like that, you play right into their hands when you spout off nonsense like this.

  • jecann

    Why, in 2007, do some art students still think that aping Duchamp is avart-garde? Duchamp was avant-garde nearly a century ago!
    “Avant-garde” is meaningless nowadays. I don’t fully understand his idea that something that looks like a bomb in a public place is being “recontextualised” by people thinking its a bomb. Because it has a note on it saying its not a bomb? If someone pulled a gun on you, and said “don’t worry, it’s a fake”, would it be reasonable to believe the person?
    OCAD. Woo hoo.

  • Gloria

    @45, Jecann: I agree it’s definitely not avant garde, especially to those more acquainted with the art world, but to the average joe, it’s still that … AKA as they call it, “artsy crap.” It seems to take a long time for the most cutting edge art to trickle down to the general public, and apparently for Duchamp’s stuff, it still hasn’t gotten to that point.
    Architects were designing steel and glass buildings at least five decades ago and there are still people who just hate it on principle, even the examples that are widely acknowledged as the best of the best.
    I’d say between artists and those who have an art education, and your average citizen, there’s about a two-century delay.

  • uwajedi

    @David Topping, I had a hard time opening The Star this morning because I had to peel Rosie DiManno’s face off the photo (above) that you scooped.
    How sweet it must be for you… congrats.

  • antiboy

    Wow condescension never sounded so good. (rollseyes)

  • Skippy the Magical Racegoat

    I don’t get it. He specifically said it was NOT a bomb. How could anyone mistake it for a bomb? It’s not illegal to NOT make a bomb, is it? If that’s the case, I’m going to prison for sure.

  • joeclark

    Or, as his name is probably more accurately rendered, Þórarinn Ingi Jónsson.

  • the king in shreds and tatters

    The irony of a bunch of moneyed pooftahs running for their lives at an AIDS fundraiser is a bit rich…

  • Marc Lostracco

    Skippy: you look at that photo and wonder how anyone can mistake it for a bomb?!

  • valerieintoronto

    If anybody feels like donating to CANFAR, Here’s the link.

  • thespian

    I posted this at Bostonist before it starts getting lauded here the way they were doing it, but there’s more discussion here:
    (Bostonist post says ‘Yay, Canadian cops can be stupid too! It’s not just moominites and Star’ (and you’ll have to look those up for yourself)):
    I’m sorry, but that’s fucking *stupid*.
    Have you ever seen a pipe bomb?
    Here’s a realistic mock up of one:
    Compare that to the thing that asshat is holding in his hands.
    Unlike the moominite or Star, things that were clearly not bombs, there is no reason on earth to assume that that supposed ‘sculpture’, which he probably based on pictures he found online, like that wikipedia pic, was not a real threat. You’re being really dumb if you think you can lump that in the stupid here. This is an idiots “I made a ‘sculpture’ that looks just like a bomb, left it in a museum, and was surprised to find out it got treated like one!” and not akin to blinky aliens and stars.

  • dowlingm

    @24 “At least urinals don’t send people running for their lives. Most of them.”
    I’ve heard differently about TTC washrooms.

  • Marc Lostracco

    thespian: Looks pretty damn similar to me.

  • Damon Kemp

    What the hell is wrong with folks. This guys is a douchebag. This guy is just as dumb as the MIT student who wore a bomb in Logan Airport and called it art.
    Personally, I think these guys should be places in the stocks and the public should be allowed to paste them with rotten foods. Now that would be art. LOL.
    Skippy, after serving in Iraq and avoiding IED’s I would think that the item in the picture is a bomb plain and simple.

  • LauraC

    He could have approached the ROM, the AGO, MOCCA, or any gallery, and proposed this installation in a calm way. Most of these venues host ‘artist interventions’ regularly, and this message could have been played out in a more civlized manner – and generated a good dialogue.
    His message (if he has one that isn’t ripped off from Duchamp and Magritte) was lost in the chaos that he generated.
    By planting it covertly – he was TRYING to play puppet master with the police, security, and just general passers-by.
    As an art-lover, I am really angry that this person’s actions will further close peoples minds to truly interesting artwork in the future.

  • thespian

    *this* is the ‘bomb’ worn at Logan:
    See the difference?

  • EricSmith

    The appearance of the fake bomb illustrated above is irrelevant, anyway, because when the time came to plant it he wimped out and left it in a bag. A bag marked “not A BOMB,” announced by a phoned-in “not BOMB” threat, and promoted by videos depicting bombings.
    It could’ve been a bundle of kindling hidden in there, and it’d still be time to call in the robot — who the hell else is going to go look?
    And by all means, check out the un-edited version of City News’ interview with the guy. See if you can find even the beginning of a point to his irresponsible behaviour. The interviewer really does try.

  • Marc Lostracco

    What?! Bombs don’t have large LED readouts and make beeping sounds as they count down? :-P

  • Damon Kemp

    Thespian, that’s true her piece didn’t look like a bomb. But she was still an idiot for wearing something like that to the airport. Especially an airport where the 9/11 guys flew out of. But they both are still idiots of the highest caliber. It still proves you can have an education and still be the dumbest lout on the block.

  • AnnieM

    CityNews also posts a link to the guy’s OCAD profile. He lists his “favourite work of art” as “the destruction of the World Trade Centre” and one of his favourite artists as Adolph Hitler. Tell me that’s not going to get him flagged. That’s more than just stupidity.

  • LoriLynnM89

    That guy needs serious help. The WTC attack a work of art, he must be out of his mind. That guy was stupid thinking putting a sign on the bag saying “this is not a bomb” is going to make people not think it’s a bomb. Moron.

  • davedave

    Some people are saying the note clears him! That is very, very funny.
    Some people are saying the bomb looks so fake the police should have known it was a fake. That is very, very funny too. Go tell that to the bomb squad.
    Fuck his art.
    He needs to go to jail.

  • Cal MacLean

    If the note had read “This is not a PIPE bomb”, he might’ve been able to say he was referencing Magritte:
    (Instead of, you know, just ripping him off.)

  • Damon Kemp

    Expect the next terrorist to put on their bomb, “This is not a bomb!”.

  • EricSmith

    Setting aside the fact that these days terrorists just suddenly explode, wouldn’t a real terrorist’s note say, “This is a bomb,” thus supposedly relieving the bomber of any liability because, you know, it was properly labelled?

  • Damon Kemp

    True Eric. Never looked at it quite that way. I’m going to make sure next time I do something fucked up to include a note. This will grant me the right to commit acts ad nauseam.

  • matty

    Way to miss the point entirely, ES.

  • Ben

    The sad thing is that this whole affair will probably be picked up by boing boing or the Sundayist (whatever it’s called) and get this dorfus even more attention he doesn’t deserve.

  • WannaBinToranna

    ‘This is not a bomb”
    “This is not your’ new jail cell”

  • Doggiez

    I went to York University as a wide-eyed Fine Arts student in the early 1980s, and it was assholes like Jonsson who made me drop out. “Piss artist” was the expression for those invividuals who lacked, say, talent. Why learn the colour scale, or how to do cross-hatching or stippling techniques when you could defecate in a box, put a red bow on top, and hand it to the professor?
    Let’s make Jonsson pay for his art in the best way possible, financially. Perhaps he can make those gawdaful landscape paintings that are produced and sold, it seems, by the pound. At that rate, maybe he can compensate the city, the ROM and the fundraisers for their lost monies by 2525?

  • rek

    What’s with people sticking apostrophes on your to make it, uh, more possessive? I keep seeing it here and at BlogTO.

  • Skootchy

    Despite what people here think, Duchamp didn’t simply put a urinal in an art gallery and call it art. It had a hole in the bottom so that if someone were to urinate in it, it would leak all over their feet. (His other works of art incorporated puns, slips, and other wordplay.) So, If he wanted to emulate Duchamp, he’d put a bomb on display in a gallery in a museum and modify it in some obvious way.
    Also, I wonder if he knew there was an AIDS fundraiser that night. If so, then he’s got more problems than just with the police and OCAD.

  • David Topping

    The article explicitly says that (Jonsson claims) he had no idea about the AIDS fundraiser. From the last paragraph:
    “an AIDS gala cancelled (which Jonsson says he had no idea about and that he does “feel bad about”)”

  • DaveH

    I hope those so-called educators who approved this have their jobs “recontextualized”.

  • rek

    Those so-called educators have already been suspended with pay pending an investigation.
    According to Jonsson the only person with any official capacity at OCAD who knew his intentions was the student union lawyer.

  • phocrastinating

    come on folks, we all know Duracell can’t power a bomb! you need Energizer damnit!

  • WannaBinToranna

    my mistake rek: – )

  • brokenengine

    Ok, first of all, RE: Putting the “Not a bomb” note on the bomb. Er, whats his point? I mean, if he is trying to make an artistic statement by the reaction to a bomb, then ok. But labelling it NOT a bomb? What did he suppose was best case scenario? People see the note and go about their business? How is that art in ANY way? What if I make a sculpture of a Velociraptor and put it near the door with a note that says “This is not a Velociraptor”? Does that recontextualize the Crystal in the same way? Or do I just not get “art”?
    But I guess I knew that I didn’t. 15 years ago, my best friend went to OCAD. For his end of year assignment, he had the entire class come down to an alley. he put on a spider man mask, and climbed the fire escape to the roof. Then, once he was out of sight, he threw a dummy wearing the exact same outfit as him, with a melon in a spiderman mask as a headm down at the class, thus faking his own suicide. He received an A+ for this little piece of theatre.
    I call bullshit on this kind of “art”.

  • brokenengine

    And by “then ok” in my first paragraph, I mean “I still think it’s totally ridiculous and stupid and ineffective, but I get what you’re attempting to call ‘art’”

  • Marc Lostracco

    I think it become less art-like when your “installation” causes people to fear that they might be permanently maimed or die a horrible, early death.

  • ackermemnon

    In my understanding to be able to recontextualize something you need to set a context first. With sending a signed Urinal to the Society of Independent Artists for an Art Show, I believe the context is provided. Placing a fake Pipebomb outside of a museum might stretch the word Art a little too much.
    Michael Stone first claimed his attack on the NI Parliament Building was a piece of performance art – that was in 2006…

  • ars impulsum

    What I want to know…how much has the bomb sold for?

  • hs

    i think we are all in agreement that this student was incredibly irresponsible.
    this art project seems more like a social experiment but the idea is quite immature in many ways, and very poorly thought out and executed.
    firstly, the context/re-context-magritte-duchamp thing – the painting of a pipe, was a painting. clearly it was not a real pipe at all, but a representation.
    the sculpture of the pipe bomb was not clearly different enough from what could be a real bomb, for the viewer to realize it is a representation of a bomb. (anyhow that’s what it seems like to me).
    he could have made it from styrofoam, or ceramic, or pasta even…(okay that was silly, but just to make the point…)
    also, why a bomb? why couldn’t it be any other object?
    i’m really not impressed with this project at all (!)
    why the ROM, as opposed to the AGO, or even the OCAD building itself?
    and why choose to place it in the late/afternoon evening? it was discovered later at night, so who is the audience for this piece suppose to be? the cops?
    i chaulk it up to a certain amount of immaturity in this person’s level of art study. (pretentiousness was mentioned before which i somewhat agree with). i’ll also add selfishness.
    anyone who would create something like this must have had some inclination of the outcome or reaction.
    if so, no one was physically hurt, but the emotional impact of such a thing is huge and can be quite devastating.
    the way this was executed doesn’t lend itself to any real constructive dialog about what the art piece is saying.
    just sticking that somewhere and hoping someone would notice it seems pointless (with some help via the phonecall of course).
    why didn’t the student stay at the scene and see what the reaction would be, and then could have intervened to explain the situation.
    that way it wouldn’t have gotten out of control like that, and it would have been resolved quickly.
    he could have documented what was happening as soon as it was discovered, and then seen if his concept and execution of the idea worked.
    it was afterall a type of experiment.
    if he knew what the possible outcome would be for this project, then he should have been prepared to deal with the consequences (at least he is doing that now for turning himself in…)
    anyhow, just throwing out some further thoughts on the whole “art” of the project.