December 7, 2007

This is Not an Art Critique

From the defense his roommate and fellow artist Peter Moheddin makes in a commentary (Nat Post, Dec 6, 2007), I hope Thorassin Jonsson has the sense not to call him as a witness, should his public mischief charge come to a trial. If I were a judge subjected to such nonsense in defense of somebody planting a fake bomb as an artistic statement, I'd find my thoughts shifting from a stiff fine or community service to moderately serious jail time.

Apparently Jonsson agrees with Moheddin's essential argument (whether point by point I don't know) since he's taken to expressing great pride in the success of his project--planting a realistic-looking bomb, labelled (after Magritte?) 'This is Not a Bomb' at the Royal Ontario Museum on Nov 28 and phoning in a 'no bomb' warning to the ROM switchboard. This replaces an initially apologetic tone. I think he's got the whiff of publicity up his nostrils.

Peter Moheddin begins his defense with a reference to the curious fact that audiences at 'The Great Train Robbery' were so startled by a shot of a train coming toward the camera full speed that they fled the theatre--an effect similar to that achieved by Thorassin Jonsson's 'not-bomb'.

It seems a curious example. Apart from the fact that this was not intended, who has ever talked about'The Great Train Robbery' as a serious work of art? Not even its makers. It occupies a place in the history of cinema as the first film to tell a sustained story, but if I were listing the great short films of movie history, I'd certainly name Mack Sennett's 'Teddy at the Throttle', Laurel and Hardy's 'Big Business', W.C. Fields' 'A Fatal Glass of Beer' among many others. I would certainly not name 'The Great Train Robbery'.

Coming down to present cases. After a long rambling paragraph about the controversy over the not-bomb, Moheddin concludes: ". . . the defining function of a bomb is that it can explode." And?

The implication here--and it's pretty well what you have to argue if you want to claim Jonsson's false alarm was a work of art rather than a high misdemeanour--is that the reaction of the bomb squad was stupid. Duh! guys, this is not a bomb, it can't explode, it even says so right on it. What are you so worried about? To which the obvious answer is duh! how do we know something that looks exactly like a functioning bomb isn't until we test it? It would have been stupid, if not criminally insane, to look at it, see the sign and say "Hey guys, look at this! Says here it's not a bomb. That's a relief! now we can all go home."

What was stupid, profoundly cynical or both (my money's on both) was Jonsson's imperviousnes to the actual consequences of what he was doing, the impact on people's lives as well as the possible juridical implications. The law student who assured Jonsson if he attached a note saying 'This is not a bomb', he'd be absolved of liability? I suspect--what's more I hope--he's getting nothing but Fs on all his courses. It's certainly the grade Jonsson deserves for this project.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides


GC SMITH said...

let's all go to the theater and shoutFIRE!


Nonnie Augustine said...

Yes. We have no bananas. I completely agree with you, Martin. And I know GC is being facetious. xxoononnie

Chancelucky said...

The American legal standard is that individuals are responsible for the reasonable and likely consequences of their actions. If someone shouts "NOt a Fire" at the top of his/her lungs in a crowded theater and several people get trampled because they responded to the tone instead of the words, the shouter would still be criminally and civilly liable for his/her actions.

Martin Heavisides said...

If you mean Gerry wasn't calling me a nitwit, Nonnie, I think you're right, but I'm pretty sure he meant the artist I was criticizing. Thanks for your comments all.

GC SMITH said...

No nitwit that Heavisides. He's a pretty smart fella if you ask me.