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Amy Lam and Jon McCurley have moved Life of a Craphead into the AGO. (Matthew Sherwood For the Globe and Mail)
Amy Lam and Jon McCurley have moved Life of a Craphead into the AGO. (Matthew Sherwood For the Globe and Mail)

visual arts

What is Life of a Craphead? (And is it funny?) Add to ...

Downstairs at the Art Gallery of Ontario, past the rows of model ships and the glassed-in display of Inuit carvings, there is a wall. It reads “LIFE OF A CRAPHEAD.” This bit of text is flanked by two spotlit photographs, one of a young woman in a wooly cardigan basking in the sunlight, the other a tight crop of a square-jawed young man smiling at the camera. Both photographs have a wholesomeness that spills ever so slightly above the meniscus of the believable. The subjects are Amy Lam and Jon McCurley. They are Life of a Craphead.

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Craphead began Life in 2006, ostensibly as a comedy routine. I remember some of those early performances, and comedy is perhaps too tame a word to describe what was going on. Lam and McCurley performed hokey visual gags, but in a way that was aggressive, abrasive: They were testing the audience, flaunting their flaccid shtick, poking and needling at your patience, daring you to find it unfunny. At the time, it seemed dangerous to me, a theatrical kamikaze routine, and thus totally engaging and thrilling.

In the interim, the life of the Crapheads has gotten busier – “We do about three projects a year,” explains McCurley. The two participate actively in the underground theatre scene in Toronto. They are involved with Double Double Land, a performance venue in Kensington Market. They have done performances for the Art Gallery of York University (in one they were strapped to the back of a flatbed truck and transported, Hannibal Lecter-style, up the Allen Road to York University). And now, improbably, they are the artists in residence at the AGO, and they have just opened the exhibition component of their residency: a 50-year retrospective that details the glorious highs of their illustrious career from 2006 to 2056.

It is, naturally, a heavily curated retrospective. According to McCurley, “There were projects that we haven’t done that we haven’t shown.”

“In many ways, they’ve already happened,” McCurley answers.

“There’s a chance, with all of these things, that we’ll think about them too much in anticipation of them,” Lam continues. “One of the things we’ve been saying is that we’ll do more retrospectives. So we might do more retrospectives so that we have more projects that we have to do.”

Their experiments in social engagement and institutional critique will become more daring over the years, and will culminate in two projects: a bank-usurping money-storage operation that will begin in 2046, in which one gives over one’s cash in exchange for food and entertainment; and then, in 2056, the pair will abandon personhood entirely, speaking only through a proxy towel, the Good Towel.

“Only I’ve seen the towel, but I’m not going to tell anyone what the towel looks like. But maybe a clue could be that I found it at the AGO,” says McCurley, evasively.

The pair unveiled the towel at their AGO opening last week, which has led to some theoretical-physical quandaries. “When the show opened, it was in 2056, because the towel was there, and the towel doesn’t exist until 2056,” says McCurley. He pauses to look around the studio provided them by the AGO. “What’s happening now, in here, I don’t know. But here we are, and there’s the towel. What year is it right now – maybe we have to think about that for a moment.”

 

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