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Eldon Garnet


When I was a young artist if someone liked my work I instantly worried. Driven by the notions of the avant-garde, my interest was never to please – Nietzsche had taught me never to turn the other cheek. Confronted by a cultural atmosphere of correctness, I felt compelled to fight back and to turn to fellow travellers whose work was an attempt to create the new.


The Acker Awards have been given in New York City for the last few years based abstractly on the award’s namesake, Kathy Acker, an experimental writer who was sexually positive and whom, in a spirit held in disdain today, based her work on the appropriation of other’s texts.


After winning an Acker Award in NYC earlier this year, Istvan Kantor advocated we offer the award in Toronto as a small but idealistic gesture of solidarity with artists who purposely do not fit in. We assembled an informal committee, a loose triumvirate composed of myself, Kantor and native performance artist Kitsuné Soleil, to determine the selection criteria.


Awards for today’s cultural achievement seem to be based on glamour. To be considered a successful artist you have to please your audience. Why else are you playing your music but to please, and as many people as possible? Popularity is how we measure a successful artist. But what if your intention is not to please? What if what you produce has a nasty core? Is it an instant prescription for cultural obscurity?


It is difficult to describe the standard for an Acker award. An inability to confine and prescribe is vital. We are not interested in institutionally accepted artists. If you have won a Juno or an Academy Award, we are not impressed. Commercial success is a negative. We don’t care about that which is loved by popular media. We want artists who fundamentally do not give a fuck. But first and foremost, the award is for lifetime achievement.


Each award winner has been a major contributor to and influence on the Toronto art scene. They are not whom directors of museums or theatre companies would invite to sit beside them at fundraising dinners. Most are unrewarded by our proper cultural establishments. None of this year’s recipients would want to, for example, attend the Sobey Art Award dinner, where the dress code for the evening is business attire.


And what do these illustrious recipients receive for their Acker Award? There are no metal statues, no cheques or plaques. Within the tradition established in NYC, each was asked to give a memento, a DVD, an artist’s work, a length of film – anything they felt represented their work – signed, in a limited edition to be given to their fellow artists.


The Acker Awards will mark and honour the activity of what has romantically been termed the “Toronto underground.” If you have ever been to CineCycle (founded by one of the 2017 winners, Martin Heath), you will instantly understand the term, as it has been preserved here for decades. And not to forget, historically, it has always been from here, hidden away, where the true creators of their time work.


Reprinted and edited from the original NOW Magazine article, October 18, 2017



Murray Whyte

Awards are a growing phenomenon in the Canadian art world, though its latest entry tends not to hew to the script. 

The Acker Awards, Toronto version, a new offshoot of a U.S. prize named for the iconic post-punk writer Kathy Acker, were presented earlier this week far from the glare of the spotlight that attends the country’s top prize, the Sobey Art Award (its winner was to be announced Wednesday night). 

In a raucous affair at the Theatre Centre on Queen St. W., the Acker, true to its localist, independent-minded intentions, named 17 artists to its inaugural roster of honourees, among them seminal video artist Andy Paterson, photographer/filmmaker/provocateur Bruce LaBruce and community arts organizer and artist Dyan Marie. The full list of honorees is posted on the event’s Facebook page

Hatched by artists Eldon Garnet and Istvan Kantor — both paragons of independent culture in the city for decades — and Kitsuné Soleil, the award was the counterpoint its initiators had intended. 

Awards like the Sobey, Kantor said in an email, “only represent the authority and moralist politics of the corporate system and the polite clappings of the media.” Vive la revolution.

Reprinted from The Star article, October 25, 2017

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