"New Directions in Portraiture"

Trevor Abes

Trevor Abes is an artist from Toronto with a fondness for writing essays and poetry. He was part of the winning ensemble at the 2015 SLAMtario Spoken Word Festival, and competed in both the National Poetry Slam and the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word as part of the Toronto Poetry Slam team. His work has appeared in Torontoist, (parenthetical), untethered magazine, Spacing Magazine, Descant Magazine, The Rusty Toque, The Theatre Reader, Mooney on Theatre, The Toronto Review of Books, Hart House Review, Sequential: Canadian Comics News & Culture, and elsewhere.

“This one’s from a series in which I turn people encountered during my last job into artists to see what kind of work they’d make. The piece takes after Claes Oldenburg’s The Store, commenting on an artist’s search for meaning with tools that could never hope to express it fully. Oldenburg pokes fun at those who try to get at things as they really are, but my protagonist is content with any incremental gain she can get. For her, the value in brushing up against other people’s lives is a type of wholeness, one that outweighs the question of epistemological finish lines.”

Bernadette Bristle, retired wanderluster, browses the aisles of our shop with one of those grated metal shopping carts lined with the bottom of a cardboard box for support. As the chief raffle-prize-buyer for her church, Saint Joseph of Calasanz, she is tasked with purchasing the constituent elements of Godly assemblages to be given out at their monthly charity brunches in support of the community’s hungry and homeless.

Bernadette’s design philosophy to achieve a prize with a God-like appearance hinges on the concept of bounty. Instead of grains, seasonal gourds, and freshly harvested vegetables overflowing from wicker baskets, she buys from us and approximates the excess as best she can. She’s in the building for weekly appointments, anyway.

On her last visit, she had me fill her cart with 6 bibles, 4 cookbooks, 18 gold-plated pens topped with fake rubies and diamonds, 20 individually wrapped bars of soap infused with herbs and tea, 24 miniature notebooks, and 33 bookmarks with hip sayings on them like Dreams Are My Business Plan and Cake Is Everything.

She unzips a flap in the fabric of her full shopping cart, sometimes right there in the store, leaving the structure of the piled items untouched, and photographs it to offer glimpses into the states of mind and senses of order of whoever is on cash that day. Seeing a picture of a bunch of items just thrown in there any which way, next to a picture of a Tetris-approved use of space, is a surprisingly unsecure gateway into judgement.

What she can’t carry she buys through our online kiosk. When the boxes arrive at her doorstep, she cuts the sides down and shoots a companion series about the warehouse packers. I really enjoy being a part of this process because she isn’t computer-savvy and requires someone to do the clicking for her. There’s a restorative intimacy to acting as the extension of an artist’s mind.

Bernadette keeps her portraits in a file on her computer called People I See Every Week But Barely Know. Next to me and my team’s portraits are photos of the slips we hand out so you can rate our service online, which we’d pre-signed so credit went where credit was due. Next to the warehouse packers’ photos are photos of yellow greeting-card sized printouts—Packed by: Name—included with online orders large enough to require the expertise. The remaining works are anonymous if not accompanied by a receipt with a hastily written name along one side.

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