Art Gallery of Ontario, 2003-2004
Installation with video and photos
A collaborative art project with Robin Pacific and twenty Protection Services Officers (Security Guards) at the Art Gallery of Ontario. PSO Angus Muller took their photographs, both in uniform and out. They were interviewed by Pacific, and life sized photos with text from her interviews were exhibited throughout the gallery.
A 12 minute video of Mike Litnovetsky, the longest serving PSO with 25 years of service, played in the AGO lobby. PSO James Newstead did the camerawork, with music by PSOs Shawn Devin and Kathleen Trumbley. Mike was interviewed by PSO Patrick Grieve.
Kiosk visitors could select a picture of one of the guards, see their favourite work of art in the collection, and hear them speak about it.
VIDEO OF MIKE LITNOVETSKY
Every time I visited an art museum, I wondered about the security guards. They seemed to be part of the background. What were they thinking about, as they stood so silently and alertly? Did they like the art they were paid to protect? Were they bored?
The patrons mostly treat them as if they were furniture, not worthy of notice at all. We go to museums to look, and to look intently, but our eyes glide over the humans in the room.
So I created a collaborative art project with 20 security guards at the Art Gallery of Ontario. One of them, Angus Muller, is a photographer, and I asked him to take their photos. We debated, together, whether we should shoot them in or out of uniform. Bill McIntyre spoke up: “Robin, I want to be photographed three times, he said. Once in my uniform, once in my house surrounded by my collection of early operas on wax cylinders, and once in my favourite gay bar, The Tool Box, dressed up as a California State Patrol officer.” I realized that almost all of the guards had other passions, other jobs, other hobbies, from collecting autographs to making indigenous jewellery, to playing in a rock band.
Thus was born the title of the exhibition: “Uniform”. It was meant ironically. These "living pieces of furniture” were anything but uniform.
We hung Angus Muller’s life sized portraits throughout the gallery, showing the guards in and out of uniform, and with texts of their thoughts. In the lobby there was a kiosk where you could see each guard talking about their favourite work of art. We made a video of Mike Litnovetsky, who was the longest serving guard and was once run over by a German tank and a Soviet tank at the same crossroads. The exhibition sparked an institution-wide change in attitudes. One guard told me that in twelve years no one ever said hello to her, but now everyone greeted her by name. Guards were invited to sit on gallery committees for brainstorming the future of the institution. Those who were so relegated to the background, became for a time, very much in the foreground. As one guard said, “They’re treating us like rock stars!”