Star public editor: Slutwalk and the fact of the art
Artists have licence to disregard facts. Journalists do not.
In her first major solo exhibition in Toronto — a provocative video about the 2011 Slutwalk protest — artist Wendy Coburn posits her perspective that in the street theatre of public protest “things were not always what they appeared.”
As the Star’s arts critic, Murray Whyte, told you in his review last week of Slut Nation: Anatomy of a Protest, Coburn’s video suggests strongly that some of the protesters photographed at the Toronto protest were “agents of the police” there to divert attention from Slutwalk’s goal of urging police to show greater sensitivity toward victims of sexual assault.
In critiquing Coburn’s “video art” Whyte draws attention to “a young woman in a brown jacket” depicted in the video. He explains how Coburn “freezes the woman” and “splits the screen” and places beside that woman a photo of a young woman in police riot gear “who looks very much like the same woman.”
“A set of coincidences, maybe,” the artist says in her film’s narration. “But it’s interesting isn’t it?”
To that, Whyte concludes: “To whom and how many, we’re about to find out.”
Well, we have found out. Indeed, things are not what they appeared.
The “young woman in the brown coat” Coburn portrays in her first piece of video art is not an undercover agent of the police. She came forward to the Star this week to identify herself as Mandy Pipher, 30, a Toronto political activist and “staunch feminist” who attended Slutwalk because she believes sexual assault is an important issue.
“The last few paragraphs of that article describe me — or, rather, they describe my image,” Pipher said. “The video suggests I am undercover police there to undermine the protest in an insidious way.
“I had absolutely nothing to do with any sinister plot to undermine Slutwalk,” Pipher said.
“Wendy Coburn never spoke to me. She never told me that I was being filmed or photographed, let alone in close-up. She never tried to find out who I really was before making massive assumptions about me, or weaving those assumptions into a much larger narrative and displaying that narrative in a respected public forum.
“And there is a particular irony in the fact that in Coburn’s film I am stripped of all true identity and referred to only by one article of my clothing; which, by the way, she didn’t even identify correctly. My coat is green, not brown.”