A Portrait of Toronto Art Collectives
by Sarah D'Angelo


It’s always impressive to see a group of individuals working towards a common goal in synchronized beauty, like a collective of Borg swiftly assimilating an alien culture. Impressive, because it contrasts with the reality of everyday human interaction, which is typically riddled with miscommunication and emotional politics. And yet, with so many successful artist collectives working in Toronto, I want to understand what the dynamic between them is that gives strength to their numbers. The mere thought of a group project sends most people back in time, to the claustrophobia of elementary school and sweaty class presentations. Egos get bruised, A minuses are given out, someone’s model volcano gets tossed in the recycling. But clearly, based on some of Toronto’s most exemplary and established collectives, like Team Macho or Queen West’s Fresh collective, finding that perfect union isn’t just the stuff of sci-fi legend. I interviewed three very different artist collectives that are currently beaming under the success of their own team player attitudes.

Freedom Clothing Collective
Located at 939 Bloor St West Freedom Clothing operates as a retail space and an events venue, complete with a garden oasis patio in the back.
Ewa Konart, Amanda Sissons, Karen Carrillo, Marsya Maharani, Jelena Pticek, and Amy Jill Snook

Wowee Zonk
A trio of OCAD's finest students, continuously taking zine fairs by storm with their collaborative comic book anthology.
Ginette Lapalme, Patrick Kyle, and Chris Kuzma

The Deadly Nightshades
Toronto’s fiercest all girl bike gang endowed with super hero fashion sense and matching jackets.
Irene Stickney, Kristen White, Laura Mensinga, Cat Essiambre, Meg Orlinski, Niamh McManus and Patricia Youn the newsmagazine interviewed these collectives about their origins, and what a group identity is all about.

the newsmagazine: What was the beginning like? Was it one persons vision or a purely collaborative effort?

The Deadly Nightshades

Stickney: We evolved slowly, like a fish becoming a reptile becoming a mammal becoming a homosapien. Only we started out as a (mostly-joking) midnight bowling league, and then we became a midnight bike gang, and then we became the highly evolved seven member arts collective that you know and love today. We were basically a tight crew to begin with, but we’ve added some motley characters along the way.


Freedom Clothing Collective

Konart: Freedom Clothing Collective began with one person, Rachel Alexander, who at the time was a Fashion student at Ryerson University. In the summer of 2004 she attained a government small business summer grant to open the shop for a school project. Rachel got some of her fellow fashion design students involved and they set up as a collective. The shop was intended to stay open for that one summer only. However it was such a success and so much fun that she kept it open past then.


Wowee Zonk
Lapalme: Wowee Zonk formed accidently. We gravitated towards each other in school because we were attracted to each other’s styles, it also helped that we all had similar interests and work ethic. We weren’t satisfied with simply creating work for school projects, we wanted to keep really busy outside of OCAD as well. So what started with spending a lot of time drinking and doodling together, turned into more productive ideas and projects. At first Wowee Zonk was just something we thought was a funny title but it turned into more than just a comic issue, we started using it as a way to define our work together. We didn’t plan to form a collective. At first we were just hoping to publish a comic annual of sorts but as we kept working together on non-comic projects, we also kept the title.



tn: What does being in a collective bring to the individual artist?

Freedom Clothing By being in a collective together we can share work space and materials; many emerging designers and artists depend on shared resources in order to do their work.
Also being in a collective is FUN! It can’t be denied that it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it for the fun. For example, Freedom goes camping in a week and I can tell you it’s gonna be mayhem in the wilderness!

The Deadly Nightshades CLOUT.

Wowee Zonk
The collective work we have done has helped us tremendously, and not simply in terms of promotion. It has only been a few months now that we’ve started carrying a few Wowee Zonk sketchbooks around (books we are not allowed to draw in unless the three of us are present) and we believe it contains some of our best work. There really is something to drawing communally as it forces you to be less precious about your drawings and more open to experimentation.
We feel as though the beginning of the sketchbooks might be a more poignant answer to the question ‘When did the collective begin?’


tn: Does being in a collective like Freedom Clothing influence similar styles in artwork and designs?

Freedom Clothing Collective
What we produce as a collective is cohesive in that we share a common goal. The pieces we create do not all fit under one style, which I believe adds value to our shop, because you can be sure to find unique individual design coming from each of us and from each of our many consigners.


tn: What distinguishes The Deadly Nightshades from other collectives in Toronto?

The Deadly Nightshades As far as I know, we’re the only all-girl midnight bicycle crew/fashion design collective that I know of in Toronto...
We’ve only had one copycat gang, called the ‘Friendly Lampshades’ try to take us on, but we’d love to meet some competition!


tn: What does Wowee Zonk want to convey to the public?

Wowee Zonk
As a collective we just want people to see wshat we make and we hope they enjoy it as much as we do. As a comic publisher, we hope to keep promoting our work as well as our friends’.

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