Karen Correia Da Silva. Photo by Matthew Filipowich
Do you remember when you were seventeen and you thought about being young, and urban, and an artist? Maybe you imagined whitewashed loft spaces with a low-key reek of depravity and beautiful people with their improbable haircuts. And maybe there were poetry readings, and everything was a little bit of a performance, and everything was deeply, self-consciously cool.
Thursday night at the launch of GULCH: An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose, Torontoist found itself in the thick of something that looked an awful lot like this adolescent fantasy. Hatched by Steel Bananas, a collective dedicated to exploring critical theory in real-life art and culture, GULCH is themed around the idea of the rhizome. (For those Torontoist readers who have never suffered or savoured a romp through this field of critical theory, the rhizome is an image that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri borrow from biology to describe a way of thinking that values multiplicity, disjunction, and non-hierarchical development. Don’t be afraid to hit a little Wikipedia on this one.) And if you thought your second-year poststructuralist theory class would never take wing in the real world, GULCH aims to make you think again. Steel Bananas practises what amounts to a sort of guerrilla academia, mingling heady with hip.
To its credit, GULCH takes its rhizomatic stance through to its logical conclusion. This means inconstant page numbering, text atop water-marked text, and a layout that constantly shifts direction. Ok, we get it: multiple points of view, non-hierarchical, disjunctive. The dedication to the project is admirable, but the effect is dizzying, and it makes the content look, dare we say, a little like a zine.
Still, the folks behind Steel Bananas—and many of the contributors that they’ve selected for GULCH—are people to watch out for: these are some whip-smart people, and they can throw down both a rhizome and a rhyme.
To find out more, Torontoist caught up with Karen Correia Da Silva, one of the Co-Editors of GULCH and the mastermind behind Steel Bananas.
Torontoist: Where did the Steel Bananas Project originate?
Karen Correia Da Silva: I started up the zine about a year ago. I only had four writers and was coding it by hand and doing it all myself, and then it just ballooned from there. We’ve had a lot of great artists involved. It’s this collaborative effort: all of these artists in Toronto are throwing events together and supporting one another. That’s what it’s founded on. Being a young artist in Toronto you often don’t know exactly where to go or what kind of places can really cater to the art that you’re doing. You don’t know how to get yourself out there. It felt like it was a good thing to do to foster a sense of community in the Toronto art scene. There are so many pockets of the artistic community in Toronto that don’t really talk to one another.
Steel Bananas brings academic ideas to a non-academic setting. How do you negotiate the tension between those two worlds?
The academic aspect of the zine is that we keep things critical at all times. We’re not just going out and partying; we have things to say, we believe that the art we make is meaningful, that it’s something that should be talked about in an academic way. We want to talk as artists and as people who understand art, and we want to talk about it on a critical plane without having to necessarily align ourselves in any way or affiliate ourselves with certain institutions.
Do you think that it’s accessible to people who aren’t familiar with critical theory?
Not all the content is highly academic. We have a couple of columns that are just for pop culture. Our film columnist, for example: he’s not an art film columnist, he’s a pop culture film columnist, and he does it with a critical eye. It’s definitely accessible. We never want anyone to think that Steel Bananas is something that’s only going to be for academics or people who are already in the art scene and know all the lingo. It’s easy to engage with. I think that’s really, really important to any study of art, to bring it back down to the ground where people are actually doing things. And especially in a place like Toronto, the bulk of the artists are not the people that have a lot of money or have access to venues or even know where to go, so it’s important to keep it real.
How does Toronto as an urban space influence the project?
The project was born here. I’m a Toronto girl; I was born and raised downtown. A lot of people complain about the arts scene in Toronto, about how people don’t work with one another, how they don’t support one another like they do in other cities. I have a completely different vision of Toronto. I really love this city. It’s been great to me, and the people that I’ve met and had the privilege to work with have been really great.
What the project is really centred around is exploring the city through the people. And the urban space itself informs absolutely everything. Most of us working on Steel Bananas live in different neighbourhoods: I live in Cabbagetown, other people live in Parkdale, or Little Portugal. We’re talking about the things that we do from day to day, the way that we are interacting with the urban space. We always want to keep that connection very, very clear. So it’s really a strongly Toronto publication.