Every Action Tethered

Estate of Will Munro

underwear works and related photography
April 30 - May 29, 2021

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Will series
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Jeffery’s Underwear
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Every Action Tethered 1

Estate of Will Munro
Every Action Tethered 1 , 2021
installation view

Paul Petro Contemporary Art is pleased to present a selection of Will Munro's underwear works and related photography. Will Munro (1975-2010) was a Toronto-based artist and cultural activist, born in Sydney, Australia and raised in Mississauga, Ontario. He was a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design (2000).

Amongst Will Munro’s works of art his hand-stitched reconstructed underwear, which date from 1997, stand out as emblematic of Will's delicacy of technique, his wit in sub-cultural cross-referencing and his exploration of the evolving gender spectrum. In the re-working of this body-based armature, often inlaid with panels sourced from vintage t-shirts and found textiles, Munro acknowledges the personal spaces of intimacy, sexuality, secrecy, shame, pleasure, empowerment and vulnerability.

In the posthumous survey exhibition History Glamour Magic, mounted in 2012 at the Art Gallery of York University, Will's underwear works were suspended overhead, clothesline-style and heraldic, to help celebrate the too-short life of an artist who forged alliances across so many communities in Toronto and beyond. From the catalogue of record, exhibition curators Philip Monk and Emelie Chhangur wrote, “Exploration of masculinity and reversal of gender stereotypes went hand in hand with turning a male-only club into a zone of inclusivity.” In 2019, the National Gallery of Canada acquired six of these works for their permanent collection.

Assembled now for the first time since 2012, Every Action Tethered" provides an occasion to once again take in Munro’s underwear works and related photography, so central to the artist’s activism. In a short essay by Dave Munro, written to accompany his brother’s exhibition, we are taken through Will’s childhood years and formative experiences to his student years at the Ontario College of Art and Design and the development of his signature work. “Slowly, underwear became the means of communication within his work. It was able to open simple dialogues with deep-seated undertones.” In combination with the other facets of the artist’s practice, Dave Munro states, “Every action Will took tethered to all the others.”

Every Action Tethered is a Feature Exhibition presented in partnership with the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

Special thanks to our friends at the Art Gallery of York University for the loan of display tables and Bennett Phillips for his assistance with a digital video transfer of Will’s underwear origin story, Jeffrey’s Underwear (1998). Special thanks to Margaret, Ian and Dave Munro.

Dave's text:

It’s enlarged, sad eyes stared down at him as he was absorbed in its layers of brown, transcendental shades of yarn. “Would you like to make one?” echoed a voice behind a five year old Will Munro. With that simple statement; witnessed by a 70’s-styled, 'precious moments' basset hound rug hooking... a door was opened.

Removed from complicated interactions of a socially regressive suburb; Will Munro, as a small child, found comfort in his definitive dexterity to build with his hands. Unassuming rug hookings were quickly followed by more complex beadwork, weaving looms, cross stitch, sewing, needlepoint, knitting and macramé.

These skills became the cornerstones of Will’s art. Fortified by craft's social uniqueness as an art form of choice for a suburban male child, then slowly politicized through Will’s immersion into music in his very early teens, Punk and Hardcore subcultures brought him further down the rabbit hole of focused interactions of expression amongst kindred spirits. With this, Will grew his understanding of what his hands could not only touch but build, what social connections could manifest and, most importantly, what he felt was missing in the city he now lived.

The manifestation of Will’s fixation on Y-fronted underwear began as a child. A deemed as essential male garment, pasteurized into neutrality, underwear was laden with mystery and curiosity but held in disdain within polite conversations despite being vividly sexualized in popular culture. Mirroring so many social commentaries of his own personal growth it became emblematic of a hidden world and quickly grew into a mighty heraldic device within his own works.

Transgression was Will’s first independent zine, in 1993, prior to his attendance at OCAD. Zines were a cornerstone of communication amongst many subcultures from the 60’s to today. Music had brought zines into Will’s life and granted him access to so many others that shared his personal struggles. Zines confirmed and then reaffirmed his sense of place in a vast network of diverse experiences and dynamic humans spread across the globe. Transgression was compiled over summer travels of watching and playing in Hardcore bands in 1992 at the tender age of 17. The zine featured the image of a hand-drawn stitch pattern for a pair of classic white briefs. The simplicity of the design carried all the weight of his youthful interests, curtailed questions and a sense of personal longing all while arcing the initial dotted lines of his first true social crossovers of the communities he would eventually interweave with ease.

Childhood-Teen-Music-Sexuality-Social Discourse

For Will, underwear became the means of communication within his work. It was able to open simple dialogues with deep-seated undertones. Underwear granted humour to his work, a fixation to those who were beguiled and a ton of questions from everyone else.

Will grabbed bag upon bag of used underwear from Goodwill and By-The-Pound and would reimagine, redesign and restructure them, and people’s thoughts, about the garment. With nothing more than a smirk and a stunted laugh only inches away from every stitch, as he leered over arched threads he pulled through it’s new vestibule. Hour upon hour, he could be found with a needle and thread in hand. With a glazed-over look in his eyes, a mediative state initiated in childhood as a safety net for expression, he had became the guiding mile markers for others to find their place away from the cold, sterile, discordant nature of their Toronto lives.

During his time at OCAD, Will re-birthed the LGBTQ club with movie nights, organized student protests over finical accessibility, helped build TEACH for the Toronto School Board (direct in-class communication with students and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community), volunteered at the Queer Youth Line, helped in the building Who’s Emma Punk Store/Club in Kensington Market, booked punk shows at his home and small venues and began VAZALEEN, his infamous club night that gave birth to Peroxide, NOTO, Moustache, Love Saves the Day and numerous other DJ events. VAZALEEN eventually birthed The Beaver, which defined Toronto’s 'Queer' Street West.

Every action Will took tethered to all the others, a meticulous over-laying of his machinations. His mind worked to create a grand design that his hands could intricately fasten the thread in place to for all to enjoy and, if they wished, follow the next connecting knot. From yarn to a record's groove, Will’s needle moved beyond the ornate to the ethereal with a synergy of history, defiance, sexuality and the warmth and confidence of a tender heart for all.

Dave Munro, March 2021