Anna Banana: 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana
For 45 years, Victoria-born artist Anna Banana has defied contemporary art through her involvement with Mailart, artists’ stamps, performance, and love for all things banana. Her artistic career began in Victoria in 1971, when she personified the Town Fool in Bastion Square to try to connect with the city’s community. She quickly became involved with Mailart, a popular artistic movement centered on sending art through the postal service. Through Mailart, Banana asking for banana jokes, tidbits, and information, but also began receiving banana items-- 1,158 all told.
Anna Banana: 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana was a retrospective featuring three works by the defiant interactive artist. Regifting the Bananas allowed visitors to look through all of the artist's banana collection and pick out three items to take home with them for the price of filling out a catalogue form. Encyclopedia Bananica complied all of the banana graphics, newspaper clippings, and jokes that Banana had been sent into 23 categorized tomes. The Survey of Banana Culture within Greater Victoria asked visitors to write their own stories involving bananas, and then place it next to their home location on a map of Victoria.
With each element of the exhibition, Banana wanted visitors to intentionally interact with herself, volunteer gallery attendants, Open Space staff, and each other. Visitors' love for bananas, humour, and free things brought droves of people to the opening on September 19, 2015.
Banana stories from exhibition visitors as a part of the Survey of Banana Culture in Greater Victoria:
"My good friend Uncle Tron and I were playing Bananagrams at the Garrick’s Head Pub, before the renovations, and passing the time by the fireplace. The Bananagrams attracted a bunch of people over to our table and soon we were playing with a couple of strangers. A couple of our friends showed up and were amused that we had more people join the Bananagrams game. In the end, the simple story is a testament to the uniting power of the banana."
"Bananas were a luxury during World War II. When I lived in Africa during the 1960s-70s, I ate them all the time. The locals couldn’t understand how anyone could make such a point of always eating a cheap, local staple instead of more special things, like steak. Even today, eating a banana when I take the dog for her walk around the farm remains a habit and addiction. Delighted to see an exhibit that indicates the richness of banana culture. That’s why artists are the most important people."
"I have a niece named Melissia. She is thirty-one years old and she has had a banana phobia since she was three. Really– true story! She is scared of bananas – never eaten one, never touched one, avoids them in the grocery store – she even won’t have them in any house she visits. I have chosen a banana object from the collection to send to her without warning!"
"We were about ten and eight-years old when my brother and I had a fight of words. In my determination to silence him, I attacked him with a peeled banana, shoving it in his mouth halfway. He bit down and said, “You can’t shut me up with a banana! I’ll just keep eating them.” We broke down laughing and ate bananas."
I began working on Anna Banana: 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana by archiving 1,158 items banana items. These objects were sent to Anna Banana, unrequested, by the Mailart Network, a popular artistic movement centered on sending art through the postal service. It took over 6 months to number and record each piece in the database, and then an additional 2 months to clean and conserve any damaged banana items. The work was at times exciting when I found a piece that was grounded in history, such as a notes to Anna attached to items. But after carefully measuring each piece, writing down any notice of damage, and researching the providence of the object, it was mainly monotonous.
The thrilling part of the exhibition came the night of the opening. Though it did not officially begin until 4:00 PM on September 19, 2015, people already began arriving right at noon when the gallery first opened. Some visitors knew the deal right away; anyone could pick out three items to take home with them from the banana collection, but for the price of filling out a catalogue form. Others came in curious by all of the banana signage outside, and did not believe that the exhibition was real.
As the crowds started to get bigger, there was a wild thrill behind many people’s eyes, as they wanted to pick out the best of the items. After I grabbed a high hanging t-shirt advertising George’s Banana Stand in Skowhegan, Maine for a visitor, there were several verbal groans and complaints from other people who didn’t realize that items hanging on the walls were up for grabs. Many adults quickly seized more than three items; you could see them internally debating which three they would take home. I found the children on the other hand to be very thoughtful and deliberate with their item choice, and thanked the volunteer attendants as they left.
The night was full of humourous moments as everyone tried to figure out the exhibition. Some visitors assumed we were some kind of convenience store; one couple came up to me and asked if the Miss Piggy pink banana bubble bath came in any other scents, while another visitor asked me if Nesquik banana-flavoured milkshake tastes any good.
Many others questioned why the exhibition was considered art. I tried to explain my viewpoint on the show; though Anna Banana was critiquing societies’ love for consumerism, she was also upheaving consumerism by donating her items to the public, and therefore allowing interactions to happen between people with the banana as a kind of connector. The spectator becomes engaged and immersed, becoming a part of the artwork. It is distinctly different than the often-passive experience that many of them might have in a traditional art gallery. Their interactions to the objects, volunteers, each other, and Anna Banana demonstrate the range of human emotions when engaging with art, from confusion and anger to humour and delight, a range as extensive as her collections itself.
-Regan Shrumm, Administrative Coordinator