Trevor Campbell and Midge the Pidgeon, his assigned mascot for the Toronto Fringe Festival. Catch (or cage) Midge at The Fringe Tourist Trap, part of the inaugural Visual Fringe exhibit. (Cat not included.) Photo by Joel MacMillan.
Starting tonight, the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival is unleashing 145 comedic, dramatic, solo, dance, musical, and kids’ plays unto the city. And while actors, directors, and designers have 31 theatrical venues to use as their own peculiar performative playgrounds, this year it’s not only theatre artists who get to have all the fun. The first ever Visual Fringe is bringing the fest’s signature oddball eccentricity to the visual art community too.
“[The Fringe] is so multidisciplinary to begin with, I think it’s just a natural extension to do something a little more strictly visual. It’s also just creating more of what I’ve always thought of as an arts community,” says Trevor Campbell, an actor-turned-illustrator-and-graphic-designer who is using the Visual Fringe to debut his project The Fringe Tourist Trap as his coming-out as a visual artist. “And because so many of the pieces are new or are debuting, it just adds to the creative impulses of the Fringe.”
Staying true to Fringe’s long-established mandate of equal-access and uninhibited creation, nine installation projects were chosen on a first-come-first-served basis by Fringe administrators back in May (eight will be on display at the Fringe Club, one is offsite). The application forms were bare—only the name and medium were required, along with a promise to avoid any hate crimes. In return, the Fringe swore to step back and let the creative juices fly.
So, with a 10-by-10-foot tent as the only limitation, what on earth can Fringe-goers expect in the inaugural exhibitions?
Campbell says his project, The Fringe Tourist Trap, was inspired directly out of a desire to mix theatre, participation, illustration, the Fringe’s inherent kitsch appeal, and his “fascination and horror and love of tourist traps and impulse-shopping experiences.” He’s turning his tent into a pop-up Fringe souvenir shop, touting posters, autograph books, dress-up paper dolls, and “3D glasses, to see the Fringe in 3D, of course”—all available for purchase. Handmade stuffed animals, pigeon-skull lamps, and even a four foot–tall cutout of the festival’s new unofficial mascot, Midge the Fringe Pigeon (the quintessential Fringe photo-op), will be up for auction at the end of the festival.
“It’s part of the unclassifiable nature of the Fringe, sort of like an eclectic, urban, bizarre atmosphere. I wanted to do something that reflected that. I thought a tourist trap seemed like the kind of thing the Fringe lent itself to—the mascot, the souvenir experience, and because [the Fringe Club and Visual Fringe tents are] next to Honest Ed’s, I thought it was the perfect extension of it,” he says.
Also featured is Annex artist bekky O’Neil‘s Cabinet of Curiosity, which features a diorama-like representation that fuses her background in puppet theatre and our human obsession with collecting and nostalgia, in the “Toy Theatre Collage” medium, as she calls it.
Another standout is sure to be writer/photographer/filmmaker Christos Tsirbas’ The World’s Great Books And Other Stories, an exhibit based in photography but that’s also rumoured to have an interactive storytelling component with an 80-year-old drag queen.
Work by Aynsley Moorehouse; photo by Mykola Velychko. Courtesy of the Fringe.
And Fringers unafraid of the dark will love sound designer Aynsley Moorhouse’s See With Your Ears, the Visual Fringe’s only ticketed show. Participants are blindfolded as Moorhouse takes them on a 14 minute–long guided journey to, well, we can only imagine. This is the Fringe after all.
The ninth exhibit, a sculptural project titled Tales of Zambia by Le’vi Lingwabo in partnership with b current theatre, is being held at A Different Booklist (746 Bathurst Street).
Coming out of a secure, 9-to-5 graphic design job with a desk and an office and everything, Campbell is using the Visual Fringe as an opportunity “to just do something wacko”—rather than as a lucrative (artists receive 100 per cent of any sales they make) or thematically moving project—and to make connections to kickstart his new freelancing gig.
“I think it’s going to be cool for us, too, in the way that the theatre Fringe creates that network of directors and actors and designers, the Visual Fringe is really connecting a lot of multimedia, multidisciplinary, and visual artists and expanding our circles that way,” he says.
Visual Fringe producer Ivy Johnson has said that the decision to continue with the project will depend on the feedback from this year, but similar events are already catching on at Fringe Festivals in London, Waterloo, and Orlando. As Campbell says, it seems natural that as the Fringe family grows, it evolves to incorporate artists of all forms and offer them the opportunity to be “wacko” too.