the everyday

As performance and improvisation form a basis for resistance to representation, for Fernandes so also does the alternation of everyday life with art. As Henri Lefebvre noted, “the everyday” constitutes the platform upon which the bureaucratic society of controlled consumerism is erected. It is precisely there that Fernandes intervenes with a work like Is That You Dick? Is That You Jane? (1982), a piece which used large photographs of the aisles and shelves in a typical drugstore. The usefulness of “everyday life” for Fernandes lies in its banality, a quality which brings us back to existence in its very spontaneity and as it is lived. (What counts as banality must of course be culturally relative; for Fernandes, mangos may be more banal than potatoes.) Incorporating aspects of the everyday into works or integrating aspects of the work into the environment of the everyday allows the work to escape specialized formulation, at least in the moment when, lived, it resists all coherence, all regularity.

This reliance on the concepts of everyday life and improvisation links Fernandes’ work to aspects of Fluxus and of Situationist art, especially in regard to the work’s resistances to institutional mediation. Pursuing this connection would, however, overly Europeanize this work which is more effectively related to “post-colonial discourse,” through its affinity with the practice and thought of artists such as Jimmie Durham, Trinh T. Minh-ha, David Medalla and David Hammons. Hammons, for example, has explored similar sites in his performances and installations. His Bliz-aard Ball Sale (1983) in the East Village during which he set up a vendor’s “stand” where he sold snowballs during a winter day, or his Doll Shoe Salesman (1985), in which he sold rubber doll shoes arranged in patterns on the street, fifty cents per foot and, although useless, reportedly sold almost immediately.

Fernandes typically works with low-tech, banal materials and situations, ignoring the sensuous pleasures of hand-made art and the look of refinement, preferring to leave his materials connected with their sources in environments of the everyday, whether of the cold industrial north or the warm earthy south. These materials are frequently lifted from the media or commercial sites, again relating to agit/prop devices. In fact those works of Fernandes which resemble agit/prop may be his least interesting even though they have incorporated aspects of the local artistic milieu in Halifax, Nova Scotia where Fernandes works. The production techniques involved in these more reactive works are often variations on photo-text and so lack the sensuousness of many of his other more “musical” pieces. When a work falls short it is where the voice of moral authority sneaks back in, usually with a reactive impulse and, in spite of the artist’s best attempts at self-undermining, something almost like a conventional agit/prop statement is communicated. Again, as was often the case with Fluxus and Situationist art, “non-art” sites figure frequently in his work: music, poetry, stories, rhythm and secrets are layered into store fronts, billboards, banners or radio. Like Hammons, Fernandes carries out his work with certain irreverences, telling stories as he goes. These frequently consist of anti-aesthetic strategies such as impermanence, ridiculous or awkward humour and form a basis for his refusal of refinement.