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Introducing Anna Banana

In anticipation for the release of Anna Banana: 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana in the fall and the opening of the exhibition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria on September 18th, here is the introduction by Helen Marzolf, Executive director, Open Space Arts Society, Victoria, B.C:

I smirk every time I type the artist’s surname: Banana. Banana! Artist Anna Banana bequeathed this linguistic barb to anyone writing about her work, ensuring that its absurdist and anarchic origins remain intact, on many registers. Banana’s practices—mail art, artistamps (artist’s stamps), performance, publishing and interactive events—form a bountiful legacy. Banana’s art is zany, parodic, renegade, unrelentingly political and irresistible to participants, who, inevitably, become complicit in her escapades. This book, and the projects comprising 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana, demonstrates an artist of spectacular breadth and unrelenting energy.

Inasmuch as every artist has a philosophical armature for his or her work, Banana’s is a conviction that art, and its attendant pleasures and conversations, belongs to everyone. Her under-the-radar practice is based at a Banana command centre in Roberts Creek, B.C., a place that mimics an idealized museum, that encompasses collections and archives, public programming, touring projects, marketing, publishing, fund development, extension and, of course, exhibition.

45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana is the first in-depth presentation of Banana’s work in her home province since the mid-career survey organized by Grunt Gallery, Vancouver, in 1990. Although Banana’s methodology strategically bypassed art institutions, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and Open Space welcomed the opportunity to reassemble her work before all knowledge of Banana and her work is displaced by patriarchy’s hagiographies. Banana’s significance has many facets. She is a long-standing correspondent and organizer in the “Eternal Network” of international mail art correspondents, and one of a minority of women who figure prominently in the genre. Her interactive projects presaged contemporary social practices. Banana connects vast art geographies of amateur, recreational as well as professional and commercial artists and collectors. She meanders throughout these different milieux heedless of borders, ever wisecracking, critiquing, parodying, undermining, celebrating and reinventing.

As a core part of 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana, the artist will launch two new interactive works, unleashing more Banana mischief. What better way to honour Banana’s entire life’s work? At the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Banana will invite visitors to “open the mail” received in response to a call for submissions in A Celebration of Mail Art. At Open Space, the artist has choreographed Regifting the Bananas, a dispersive action, to identify new stewards for her collection of hundreds of banana artifacts donated by mail artists over the past decades. Banana’s research is playful, engaging and potentially transformative. Her practice mimics serious silliness wherever it thrives, whether in marketing, politics, etiquette, bureaucracy, science or other aspects of a manipulative or controlling structure. Banana’s projects at Open Space and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria reshape cherished functions and structures of the art ecosystem, a hallowed domain of the marketplace. She messes with the passivity of the visitor by inviting participation, igniting the affective and cognitive power of art. She inverts the acquisitive impulse of collection building, and adds a playful twist to what artist and economist Hans Abbing calls the exceptional gift economy of the arts.1 Banana asks us to invest in other forms of exchange. Her one-on-one banana-centric exchanges animate personal, social, political, aesthetic as well as economic dimensions.

Banana’s self-determined agenda for a tough-minded life in art began with her self-declared early persona, Town Fool, which scandalized Victoria in 1971. Her current persona, the lab-coated Doktor Anna Freud Banana, combines characteristics of a trustworthy scientific researcher with the benign face of a social sciences survey. In this current conservative milieu, knowledge workers—the scientists—and the pursuit of rigorous knowledge (especially research with no immediate market applicability) have all been relegated to the domain of fools. Anna Banana, caught in a time traveller’s knot, returns home to the staging ground of the town fool. 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana opens a temporary arena where Dr. Banana’s inimitable practice bursts forth to provide an essential civic service: illuminating our fool’s paradise with exuberant critical precision.

July 13, 2015
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