Exclusive Memory: A Perceptual History of the Future

Tom Sherman a young American artist who, rather unusually, wasn’t dodging the draft, arrived in Toronto in 1971. The city, poised to become Canada’s largest economic, social and cultural centre, was manifesting into a metamorphic landscape of “skyscrapers…sprouting up in a spirited competition to dominate the skyline.” So tall were these temples of Modern capital that the city required a gargantuan transmission structure to broadcast radio and television signals unhindered by their vertical thrust. Though the CN Tower would not be complete until 1976 it would become as irrevocable an image of the city as Eiffel’s gantry is to Paris. In this prospering cultural environment, the new butted up against —  and often butted heads with —  the established, with bold artistic ideas competing for space in what was still a largely conservative art scene. The tower augured, too, the advent of media technology dependency that has since become an ecosphere; Sherman, by chance and by insight in both time and place was able to take advantage of these evolving technologies, an innovator and pioneer in video art.   

The Contemporary Art scene was growing in Toronto, but hadn’t yet been embraced by established galleries like the Art Gallery of Ontario, and was mostly represented in newly created art galleries and collectives like A Space and the Electric Gallery. In these spaces, where Sherman both exhibited and worked, he rubbed elbows with many rising stars: among them Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland, and General Idea. Sherman’s work in this period was centred in electricity, text, and video, which he exhibited in a number of smaller galleries around Toronto, but also eventually at the AGO. Sherman pushed the boundaries of conceptual art, creating thought-provoking and experiential work that encouraged visitors to consider the impact of the changing environment upon them, especially considering the increased waves from broadcasting; his Faraday Cage exhibit and experiment provided a space for people to shield themselves from the electromagnetic fields of the city. He dabbled too in the pseudoscientific philosophies of Wilhelm Reich, building his own Orgone box that visitors were invited to use. Sherman also challenged the boundaries of art through his work in text-based art and through video. His work would contribute “to the establishment of video in and of itself as a legitimate art form…”

Exclusive Memory: A Perceptual History of the Future is structured in three sections: a memoir of Sherman’s early years as an artist sets the context for a retrospective of Sherman’s seminal works, and a compendium of his later life and creative history, much of it here presented in book form for the first time. Sherman’s extended essay about Toronto in the 70s is dominant, providing an in-depth look not only into Sherman’s own life and work but also into the Contemporary Art scene with a generous side of CBC history as Sherman knew it and participated in it, contributing to both As It Happens and Morningside. This wealth of historical information will appeal to Canadian art historians and to Toronto historians in particular. The second section continues in a similar vein of shorter essays with Sherman reflecting on specific events, his ideas on the development of digital technology and the Internet, and his reflections on his career. The final section is a collection of photo essays spanning his career and connecting the artist to the place he calls home, Port Mouton, Nova Scotia. Sherman’s reminiscences, reflections and commentary show a great depth of knowledge and experience and will appeal to his enthusiasts and to connoisseurs of the Contemporary Canadian Art Scene alike.

About the Author

Tom Sherman is an artist and writer, who works across media (print, video, radio, performance, the web). Sherman represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1980, and has been featured in hundreds of international exhibitions and festivals, including the Vancouver Art Gallery, National Gallery of Canada, Museum of Modern Art (New York), Whitney Museum of American Art, and Documenta X. Sherman has received the Bell Canada Award for excellence in video art, the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Art, and is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Film and Media Arts at Syracuse University.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Goose Lane Editions (April 11 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773103008
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773103006