No doubt there are a few Bay Street suits, each Sunday morning, who march through the Financial District and into their offices. But yesterday, just after 10 a.m., a particular group of trim, suit-wearing Torontonians attracted some attention as they took to the corner of King and Bay streets with a very different kind of work in mind.
Leading the pack of about 24 professional-looking protesters was Joel Richardson, aka SUITMAN, aka “Toronto’s best-dressed street artist.” This piece of performance art, titled Secret Suitman Project/Projekt, had a team of business-suited men and women (and one child) remove their shoes, take a seat, and close their eyes at one of the city’s busiest intersections for 197.1 seconds—about three and a half minutes—of meditation. The number of seconds was supposed to reference 1971, the year Richardson believes supercomputers and the Black-Scholes formula set the economy on its path to our current financial crisis.
The Financial District, with its construction and traffic, isn’t very conducive to meditation, and the 197.1 seconds seemed much longer than three minutes and change. Besides the occasional noon-hour yoga class, it’s not likely the execs of Bay Street have many comparable moments for reflection.
Richardson’s work revolves closely around economic issues and the power of the business suit, and frequently features stencils of suited men set against mathematical motifs. His murals and graffiti are well known in Toronto, and were featured in New York at an exhibition associated with Occupy Wall Street. But live performance is also part of his SUITMAN persona. He showed up during Toronto’s own Occupy Bay Street protest, and also made an appearance at a public meeting to discuss a mural of his that was painted over as part of Mayor Rob Ford’s anti-graffiti blitz.
On Sunday, the goal of Richardson’s demonstration was to comment on Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and Quebec’s student protests—movements that have taken to the streets in uproar over the mismanagement of the world’s economy. In collaboration with photographers Viliam Hrubovcak and Jolie Fejer, several photos of the meditating businessmen (who were instructed to spend their 197.1 seconds pondering “a world in which the mathematics of finance do not defy the rules of mathematics, or of ethics or of human rights”) will be unveiled at the Green Shag clothing store during the Toronto International Film Festival.
Richardson says that Sunday’s event was a pilot project. He hopes to recreate it in major cities around the world on a much larger scale, shutting down streets and blocks with cross-legged executives.