Arnaud Maggs, a prolific and intelligent Canadian artist, visited my university (Sheridan/UofT) when I was an undergrad to discuss what was then a relatively new body of work, "Notification XIII."
So inspired was I by the death letters, typically a means of communication during war time about a relative's passing. I got it in my mind to somehow emulate the idea. The original concept revolved around a-found-object-and-multiple approach, and I intended to use leftover pieces from a General Idea show to complete the project. The results were pretty disastrous.
At the time, I was an assistant with the Blackwood Gallery. We had just launched a massive retrospective of General Idea's work to great acclaim.
Equipped with a decent amount of naivety and a-lot-to-be-desired-in-the-
skills, I sheepishly asked AA Bronson, one of the groups founding
members, if I could use some of the discarded red and green pill-shaped
mylar balloons after we struck the show.
The original intent of the GI exhibition was to have visitors take the balloons away once they lost their helium. The effect was stunning, though some of the taller visitors got the (literal) upper hand as they were able to reach their prizes more easily. There were still dozens left over that hadn't come low enough to catch. When we struck the show, we climbed up on our scaffolding and pierced the balloons that remained. I tucked some away in the hopes that AA would let me use them.
After some coaxing on my part, and on the proviso that they were only to be classified as found objects, AA graciously agreed. However, it wasn't before he mistakenly thought that I had taken some of the pre-inflated balloons home with me.
I was an undergrad and very badly wanted to be a "real artist," whatever that meant to me at the time. The paralyzing fear of actually asking a "real artist" such a delicate question about his work made me breeze over my original intent, neglecting to tell him that the balloons I wanted to take with me were already pierced and ready to be discarded.
A few confused e-mails later, I sorted out my diction, with the hope that AA wrote me off as a harmless idiot and not an art thief.
The end result of my project ended up being hand stamped death letters in black ink (referencing not human death, but the death of the pierced contents) with a balloon folded inside each one. The contents were then given anonymously to friends of mine across the city.
It ended up freaking out mostly every recipient, due to the anonymity of the letters. To top it all off, one poor friend was being stalked at time. She thought my balloon letter was a twisted/weird parcel from the guy who was following her.
All in all, the project managed to irritate one prominent artist, compromised several personal friendships, and took a lot of explaining and apologizing before it came to a close.
Sometimes, I still blame Mr. Maggs - though he can hardly be held accountable for my complete lack of social graces.
He will definitely be missed.
This is a re-blog from Carolyn's original post last year after Arnaud Maggs passed in November, 2012.
Carolyn Tripp is an artist and writer living in Toronto. Her Tumblr projects are here. Everything else is here.
Photo: Arnaud Maggs via the CBC.