I have spent the last couple of weeks reading through the back issues of Parallelogramme magazine, the once robust, bilingual, national keeper of movements in and around artist-run culture across Canada (it folded in the mid-1990s). It is a humbling exercise to wade through the critical writing that the magazine supported: long-form, difficult, in the spirit of dialogue, and taking up so many issues that resonate still, today. The writing is good, seriously good (which probably says as much of the editors as the writers), and the conversations happening around, say, form and medium, censorship, the radical roots of artist-run culture and its institutionalization, and identity and difference are as nuanced as the conversations happening today. (Why is that?)
In the Fall 1985 issue, I came across Mark Frutkin’s essay “Notes on Space/s: Going Public,” which examines the relationship between artist-run centres and public galleries, trying to tease out the essential difference between the two worlds. He begins with a rather poetic proposition about the nature of space itself, and how it relates to the production of artists.
Space is an attitude, a state of mind. Space is the locus of creation, a void that is charged and potent. All art begins with space–in the mind of the artist, in the floored-ceilinged-walled space of a studio, workshop or artist-run centre. For the artist, space is the empty canvas, the blank videotape. For the musician, space is silence. For the writer, space is the blank page.
We being with an open mind…and begin again…and begin again. Always beginning means asking questions, refining the questions, honing the questions. If you come to a final and definitive conclusion, then you are no longer an artist and the space fills up with your conclusion and nothing more is possible. You may even experience success, but nothing more is possible.
First there is space and then something is drawn to that space An artist-run centre is an on-going installation constructed of all the materials (painterly, sculptural, electromagnetic) that pass through it. It is an installation that includes the conversations, entrances, actions and exits of all artists, curators, directors, hangers-on and public who have passed through the space. But the space never disappears. It always returns. It never left. And when you come back to the space you find it is a question.
The question you find is this: Where are we going?
As a curator, I am moved by this same urgency: What can we become? This urgency is future-tense and transformative, and is continuously informed by resonance and failure. It is bound up with language, pedagogically inflected and politically concerned. I believe that encounters with contemporary culture constitute important contributions to the production of civic space and consider myself part of a school of thought that believes art is an ethical ordering of relationships through optics. It’s about inciting the potential to change the way we live. It felt like stumbling onto an old friend, coming across this piece of Frutkin’s, to imagine, 30 years later, how I might respond to him from the future about what we have become in the meantime, and to imagine again where else we might go.