PART 2: Guerilla Art and Politics (A Conversation with Mostly Air)
The monolith may have been what pushed me to write this story, but I could never forget my original point of entry. With no sign of the High Park Demon Statue out in the real world, I once again relied on my new friends from WEIRD TORONTO. Immortalized in loving posts, comment threads, and a handful of pictures, the High Park Demon Statue had clearly retained many devotees. I quickly realized that I was not the only one looking for her, looking for answers that seemed unattainable. So, I did what any myopic, obsessive person with Private Investigation training would do. I reached out to some WEIRDOS on the internet.
WEIRD TORONTO had understandably moved on to newer and weirder things, but in my wild hunt through old comments, I came across Erica Sweeney, a WEIRD TORONTO group member who claimed to know the artist. After many attempts at crafting a message that wouldn’t seem too ‘weird’, I asked if Erica could get me in touch with the artist.
The artist, who uses the name Mostly Air, was understandably hesitant at first. They had been burned by previous interviews and did not intend to do an interview that refused to address the very real issue of white nationalism in this story. After assuring them, first, that I was not from BlogTO, and second, that I did not intend to shy away from Gus Stefanis and his violent beliefs and actions, they agreed to answer my questions. The following is my (mostly unedited) conversation with Mostly Air.
1. Do you have a name for the statue (I have been lovingly referring to her as the High Park Demon Statue)?
I didn’t give the statue an official name, although “the Goddess” always floated around the back of my mind. However, being that I unleashed her into the wild where people can make their own interpretations, I’m sure many people have named her as they see fit. I kind of prefer it that way, since the point of guerrilla art is to submit your creation to an arguably more public kind of scrutiny than commissioned works, thus making them far more public domain than something purchased.
2. Do you currently have custody of the statue? When was it removed?
I do not possess the statue, as far as I know, it was removed in the weeks shortly after the beheading incident. I assume this was by the park employees, though I don’t actually know.
3. How did you react when you found out about the vandalism? Did you expect any kind of backlash?
I must admit I was surprised when I found out about the strange YouTube beheading of the statue; not surprised that it happened, but definitely quite perplexed by the bizarre nature of who it was and the absurdly delusional motivation behind the act of her destruction.
4. I read that you have had other pieces vandalized before, can you break down some of your previous experiences with vandalization? Why do you think your art is being targeted?
I have done a lot of public 2D pieces in the past, with aerosols and mixed media. Usually, when I plan a piece, there is a lot of work involved, between scouting an appropriate location, designing stencils or any other specifics of the piece, and the time put into creating it. While there is inherent value and fulfillment in this type of creation, it comes with a certain degree of fatalistic philosophy. As any aerosol artist or casual bomber can tell you, graffiti is the art of impermanence. You submit your art to the anarchy of a society that may not appreciate the medium for what it is, and you will inevitably see your works tagged over by someone else. The most common perpetrators are usually dumb drunk kids- I’ve seen quite a few sloppily spray-painted dicks or terrible tags on my 2D pieces before, and that kind of goes with the territory unfortunately.
In that sense, I wouldn’t say that my work has ever specifically been targeted any more than any other graffiti artist. I’m sure most artistically inclined bombers are familiar with this kind of wanton vandalism. For the statue, I was attempting a new and more permanent type of medium, but I expected that inevitably it would be destroyed by someone. The fact that it was a grown man and a nazi was certainly something I didn’t anticipate.
5. Do you think Stefanis posting the video of the vandalization will deter other artists from creating guerilla art?
No, I highly doubt that. It certainly hasn’t deterred me. I think most graffiti artists don’t generally give a fuck about the people who want to destroy their work. It’s more about making a statement in the moment and hoping that the right people appreciate the work upon its discovery.
6. Another guerilla art piece was vandalized with white nationalist propaganda near High Park, only a couple of weeks after your piece was vandalized. As an artist in this city with such a connection to High Park, how does it feel to see this continually happening?
I was not personally aware of another piece near High Park being destroyed, that is news to me. I could only assume if the vandal in question was also a white nationalist, they either were aware of the incident involving Gus and felt further compelled to act upon their mutual delusions, or it was Gus himself. Perhaps that is a naive assumption, but it still boggles my mind that the destruction of guerrilla art, which in no way is related to political or racial issues, should trigger such ire from a wide array of dormant nazis.
I might be wrong, and I hope I’m not- but I still remain baffled by the motivation. I suppose ‘thinking people’ can never fully understand the motivation behind acts of such brainless lunacy. If it were merely drunk kids, I would be only mildly annoyed. Knowing the perpetrators are affiliated with nazis or religious maniacs, it only galvanizes my spirit to antagonize them further, and with things they can be antagonized by (without delusion).
7. How do you feel about the WEIRD TORONTO Facebook group community and their responses to your work and the vandalism? How do you feel about how BlogTO handled the situation?
Around the time that the leaves started to fall and the statue became more visible to people in the park, I was made aware of several online articles regarding its discovery. The reactions seemed quite positive, albeit understandably confused about its origin and purpose. The WEIRD TORONTO Facebook group gave her quite a bit of attention and from what I read, people seemed to love it. I think it was generally understood it was simply there to be weird and to confuse- which I think is right up WEIRD TORONTO’s alley.
The statue was also featured on BlogTO, though far more confusion was initially expressed in the article than the casual acceptance I noticed on WEIRD TORONTO. Shortly thereafter, a writer from BlogTO reached out to me to ask some questions about the piece, to which I agreed. The article she wrote only really paraphrased my responses and seemed to only highlight the fact that it wasn’t necessarily intended to be a demon, rather than framing the conversation more clearly from the perspective of artistic creativity, as I had framed my own responses to her.
I shrugged off this framing at the time, although to be frank I think my responses to her questions were far more interesting and articulate than perhaps the medium of BlogTO could ever allow. I’m not going to blame the sensationalistic platform they’ve branded themselves with as having resulted in the nazi thing, but the misplaced attention didn’t help. Ultimately, that was my own fault for speaking with them at all. Nevertheless, the statue became a sort of focal point for art and nature lovers for a time, and a lot of park-going folks who stumbled upon her left offerings and clearly got a lot of joy from her, which I was happy to see. I think some of this was random, but I know the WEIRD TORONTO group was actively promoting her for sightseeing and I am thankful for those people who got to experience her from their platform.
Regardless, at some point, a grown man who was evidently a politically active white supremacist and religious nutbag decided to come from Scarborough to scrawl biblical nonsense on her and knock her head off as some sort of peculiar statement. I’m not sure what that statement is, but I’m sure it’s as coherent as it seems. I had reservations about discussing anything further with BlogTO, though when another writer representing them asked me to comment on the nazi incident, I thought it might be a good way to sink my teeth into Gus’s throat and draw a necessary distinction between reality and the pathetic fantasy in which that person dwells. My response was as blunt as a bat to the kneecaps and was, unsurprisingly, not published by BlogTO.
However, after doing a bit of curious digging on Stefanis, I was led to a rather grim website affiliated with the nazi party he previously ran for, which promoted quite clearly the desire for an ethnostate. The article on that site indicated with great relish that the CNP (Canadian Nationalist Party) had filed a cease and desist order against BlogTO for somehow misrepresenting their white supremacist leader by describing him as a white supremacist. While I suspect BlogTO may not have published my responses unedited anyway, I cannot actually begrudge them for remaining quiet, having learned of the legal barrier they had obviously incurred in the time since I gave them my response.
The cowards in this incident remain the nazis, who evidently didn’t want further attention drawn to them- and judging by the emphatic reaction of many from the WEIRD TORONTO group, who have since enjoyed trolling Stefanis for his self-perpetuated notoriety, this would be wise of them. It should not be understated that any further unsavoury actions perpetrated against ‘thinking individuals’ by these brainless ideologues will be met with a great deal of hostile retaliation, which I think is marvelously warranted and will be most satisfying to watch.
8. Will the statue ever make a return? Further, will you continue to make guerilla art despite people like Gus Stefanis?
That particular statue won’t return, but I will always continue to create my art, whenever and wherever I feel. Gus isn’t the least bit intimidating, and I doubt any other artist would think so either. I might add, that since making the egregious error of publicly showcasing his sacrifice to his little god and Hitlerian ideologues, many people are well aware of him and have him in their proverbial crosshairs. I’m quite confident he’ll be thinking twice about being so public with his insane bullshit in the future, as should any of his potential sympathizers.
9. Is there anything else you want to say about this experience?
Making this statue was a fun experience, and I’m glad so many people got so much joy from it while it was around. Keep supporting guerrilla art, and always tell nazis to fuck off! -Mostly Air
Thank you to Mostly Air for taking the time to talk to me and for creating the High Park Demon Statue in the first place. I saw first hand the joy that it brought other people, and I can attest to her power without even seeing her myself. I also want to say thank you to Erica, who not only got me in touch with the artist but also facilitated the entire interaction in order to maintain the artist’s anonymity. Thank you Erica!!