This fall, I have been lucky for the talking. I had the immense of honour of engaging Rebecca Belmore in conversation as she moved through the research stages of developing a new land-based art work in the Sudbury region. As part of my work with Art Metropole, I conversed with Mendi + Keith Obadike and Rainer Ganahl at the New York Art Book Fair about the translation that takes place when an entity moves from “here” to “there,” which departed from their contributions to the recent publication Commerce By Artists. Amish Morrell and I wondered about how conversation produces publics at the Toronto International Art Fair, as part of C Magazine‘s Conversations series. And as part of the Living in 10 Easy Lessons exhibition on view at Gallery 44, I participated in a forum that asked members of different communities to come together and discuss the implications of the project bringing socio-economic concerns into an arts context.
This talking, it is powerful. It does things. Recall the children’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes: talk can uphold regimes, and so it stands that talk can also disrupt them. Talk, I’d like to think, is a strategy in a larger project of mine, which is to figure ways to disrupt inherited historical narratives. This project is not about making room for a particular favoured history, but rather to develop tactics that can be used in service of narratives I cannot even imagine. Power works to perpetuate itself, but it also seeks to conceal itself. I think that talking is a way to interrupt the facade of self-evidence that history presents itself behind.
There are three categorical methods at our disposal:
- Make visible those things that are hidden or denied.
- Reveal the absurdity in accepted ideologies.
- Make new responses viable.
What lurks back there, once the variable nature of history is admitted?
In different ways, all the artists I spoke with this fall were engaged in work that could be understood as disrupting social norms or rusty logics. Rebecca Belmore’s practice is very much in service of a vision for the future (a future different from the obvious trajectories of the world they way it is now). She does not employ seduction to engage her audiences in that movement, but rather against her performances they are asked to apply their own experiences of society. In the dissonance, where neither understanding is self-evident, radical imaginations creep up.
For Mendi + Keith Obadike and Rainer Ganahl, they use blatant articulation as a force for recalibrating old categories of understanding into new terms of engagement. For the former, their project Blackness for Sale calls into question the colonial language and ideological limits of a ubiquitous technology by employing racial stereotypes. But more than this, they used the limits of the medium, and media more generally, to force their audience to acknowledged the absurdity of perpetuating a commodificaton of black bodies. For the latter, with his project My First 500 Hours Basic Arabic, an imagined (or desired?) distance between cultures is collapsed through embodiment. In a sense, by playing out worn understanding, insufficiencies are revealed.
Amish and I, painfully aware of the context of our talking, tried our damnedest to insert a bit of slow philosophy into the quick market of the fair.
Finally, Linda Duvall and Peter Kingstone, through their exhibition, tried to make invisible skills visible, challenging simplistic, judgmental understandings of different kinds of lives, asking their audience to unmake the project as art by moving differently in the world outside the gallery.
And as example of why this kind of work is important, this exchange from Yo, Is This Racist?:
Anonymous asked: When I was a kid, I had this weird ass substitute teacher who came in a told us all about how the white man came and “bettered” the lives of the natives, going on and on how we were so AWESOME to them. Can you say WHAT THE FUCK? Where did she get this information? A white supremacist lab or something?
Yo, the white supremacist lab is actually pretty out in the open.
Anonymous asked: Yo, the white supremacist lab is out in the open, but they still like to hide it behind innocuous names like “school” and “my job.”
That is mad true, tho.