A commissioned work by Agence Topo, CULTURE is an installation on how federal legislation impacts our culture, specifically within the new economies of cannabis legalization.

Put into effect in Canada on October 17, 2018 legalization came about not out of recognition of the plant’s therapeutic utility, nor out of recognition of the social destructiveness of prohibition, nor out of a desire to alleviate the increased burden on the justice system that prohibition had caused for almost a century. Legalization came about because the cannabis market represents billions of dollars in revenue for the state (federal, provincial and municipal) and the private companies that hold the supply contracts for legal sales.

There are numerous examples of ex-politicians, ex-policemen and alcohol companies now on the boards of directors or in partnership with new companies occupying the legal territory of the cannabis industry. To cite just one example, former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino (a man who once likened marijuana decriminalization to murder) sat as executive chairman of medical marijuana company Aleafia until 2020 and is now a shareholder in a legal cannabis retailer in Toronto’s Kensington Market. Compare his fate to that of the more than 500,000 Canadians, disproportionately indigenous and racialized, who bear the burden of a criminal record for an act that is currently legal: cannabis possession.

Recreational use of cannabis is now legal, but the federal Bill C-45 (and Bill 157 of the Quebec National Assembly) reflect rigid federal control, including many absurd and even hypocritical passages.

EtM is particularly interested in Section 1.8.d of the federal law: “it is forbidden for any individual to have in his possession, in a public place, one or more cannabis plants that are in the process of budding or flowering”. 

The connoisseur of cultivation will recognize that only female plants can flower. Consequently, a male plant can live in the middle of downtown in all its growing stages. A female plant that has not yet flowered does not harm public morality. But as soon as a bud appears, the plant becomes illegal. A male plant, legal. A female plant in vegetation, legal. But a female plant in bloom, oh dear! Queer feminists, EtM cannot deny the parallel with the ongoing legal and moral battle over women’s bodies.

So the idea for CULTURE is simple: a blatant challenge to the labyrinthine parameters of the bill – to exhibit a female plant, in full bloom in the public square of an art gallery.

Wanting to both protect our guests and highlight the taboo, the installation includes a grow room, made from recycled coffee bags, enclosed apart from a small peephole. For TOPO’s showcase in Montreal, where the project had its premiere, Et tu Machine created a curtain made from pages of federal law and installed a monitor where we could witness the vagaries of the actions of the six companies supplying Quebec’s yet-to-open Société du cannabis (SQDC). 

With the Toronto Stock Exchange as performer for this installation, Et tu, Machine invested their artist fees in shares of Canadian cannabis producers.

On the evening of the opening, the plant was banned by a member of the company that manages the Pôle de Gaspé (Allied). EtM admits to a certain naiveté in advertising our intentions. Barred from presenting the flower, we projected images of the plant on the curtain and wrote a statement explaining the “bankruptcy” of the project.

Beyond the sewn curtain of bill pages, the real-time scrolling of stock market prices, a playful video (Mary Jane, Alexis & Atom) and a playlist of songs inspired by this inspiring plant, CULTURE’s special, rarely-seen attraction is a beautiful, flowering cannabis plant.

Mary Jane, Alexis & Atom is an homage to the 1971 short film Gordons, Gilbert & George.