Speaking Difference

In “The Cure by Love,” Kaja Silverman’s intricate and tender analysis of Hiroshima, mon amour (1959), she suggests that it is the necessary participation of the viewer (of the film, but it is easy to extend the idea outward) that allows for the past to be redeemed in the present, and therefore, any such redemption hinges on the spectator’s willingness to employ their own memories in service of revivification.

By making this subjective appropriation exemplary of true vision, Hiroshima, mon amour teaches us a lesson that runs directly counter to all of our usual assumptions about what it means to treat another person, another culture, or another nation with respect. It indicates that the basis for an ethical relation to the Other is not distance, but its exact obverse…Hiroshima, mon amour shows us that it is only by making something our own that we can set it free, bring it to “its authentic appearance.” This film also gives the lie to the assumption that through our revisions and reconstruction of the past we cannot help but betray it. It suggests that it is only through reconstituting what we have loved in a new form that we can be true to it.

The obverse of distance, as Silverman would have it, is incorporation. I am trying to set this idea of hers alongside that of Rancière’s, and what for the last year has been a rallying cry in my research and thinking, namely that “distance is not an evil to be abolished, but the normal condition of any communication.” In an ethical relation to another, are these two propositions incompatible? They certainly seem so on their surface, but so long as Silverman’s appropriation maintains the difference of the past from the present, then subjectivity becomes a tool used in communication, implicating speaker and listener, or self and another. It puts difference in relation to  a concrete sets of experiences, instead of defining it in terms of an abstract notion of what is common or normal.

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Speaking Difference

It is an immense honour to have precise, critical and generous feedback on one’s work, whatever it may be. The latest issue of C Magazine features a review of The Normal Condition of Any Communication, the exhibition I curated early this year for Gallery TPW, by super-smart Toronto-based writer Joanna Sheridan. As she moves through the exhibition in her writing, she takes the insistence that “language does not close the distance between people, it is the distance between people” to draw an elegant line between the works that points toward the limits of communicability. I am biased, but I definitely think it is worth reading.

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Speaking Difference

Recurring in many different places over the short last while, Joshua Simon’s edited contribution to Sternberg Press’s Solution series, Solution 196-213: United States of Palestine-Israel, circumscribes the situation in terms both critical and full of hope. Perhaps as a method of speaking difference, Simon offers the following proposal in his introduction:

The State of Israel defines itself as a democratic Jewish state. Its sovereignty is underlain by Judaism as ethnicity, religious orthodoxy, and nationality. The subordination to the ethnic, religious, national, and security discourses blocks any attempt for civic and class discourses to happen. These discourses are actually able to open up new and varied alliances that transgress the national, ethnic, and religious conventions that dominate the political reality…the solutions in this book operate within inhabited fictions and embodied narratives. They use speculation and invention as critical tactics for destabilizing the beaten, antagonistic identities while also suggesting new alliances and new horizons (8-10).

Augmenting the notion of civil society to disregard (or cross over) the distinction between Israelis and Palestinians may increase interdependencies between groups of people who otherwise understand themselves in opposition. For instance, mothers could band together over a shared concern around peace, so that their children would not be raised in an environment of civil war and hate. It’s a simple suggestion, but despite a history of displacement, or as Simon characterizes it, “a thesis of hope and an antithesis of pain, together creating a synthesis of history,” there are many shared concerns amongst the people who live in the region. Articulating these may move them into being, as the basis for policy decisions or personal actions because it acknowledges that there is a common good to organize around.

This work will  be hard and conceivably frightening, in part because there is a large chance of its failure. So many efforts before to conjure peace have failed. And yet, confronting this risk of being wrong seems like the only way to maybe be right, or to offer a solution that might move beyond conception and into the intimate lives of people.

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From the Toolbox of a Serving Library, Speaking Difference

Canadian Curated Moment

Sam Durant’s “You Are On Indian Land Show Some Respect,” 2008

Week four, that of the Pointer tool, is being led by Anthony Huberman, a curator and writer based in New York, where he is the director of The Artist’s Institute. Huberman began by asking us to recount a resonant group exhibition, to try and articulate why its curatorial frame worked. It is easy to criticize a show that fails to let work live. It is harder to understand how shows that move us are able to do so. In this latter case, an elucidation of curatorial strategies does not amount to the magic of being moved, but there are certain approaches that seem more productive than others. Huberman attempted a broad distinction between methodologies: that of the thematic shows as an explanation machine, opposed to that of the curatorial lens as an engine for finding (not selecting) works that complicate an initial consideration or curiosity. The distance between these approaches seems slight in the abstract, but the difference is a distinction between inward looking (gathering works that exemplify an idea) and outward looking (following the lines of flight that works bring to bear on points of departure).

In the spirit of Huberman’s question, and Toronto-based writer and curator Gabby Moser’s archive of Canadian curated moments, this exhibition comes to mind (the comments below are inspired by a conversation between Amy Lynn Kazymerchyk, curator at VIVO Media Arts and director of DIM Cinema, and Sabine Bitter, chief curator at the Audain):

First Nations / Second Nature

Curated by Candice Hopkins

Featuring Rebecca Belmore, Matthew Buckingham, Greg Curnoe, Sam Durant, Jimmie Durham, Pia Fuchs, Andrea Geyer, Brian Jungen and Cheryl L’Hirondelle + Andrew Lee

Audain Gallery at SFU Woodward’s, Vancouver BC

06 February-20 March 2010

One of Vancouver’s newer galleries, the Audain’s opening coincided with the city’s hosting of the 2010 Olympic Winter games. In many different respects, the Audain occupies contested space: within the Woodward’s building, a historic department store turned organized squat turned cultural centre; located in the Downtown Eastside, what has been known as Canada’s poorest postal code, but whose future has undoubtedly shifted with SFU Woodward’s new era of gentrification; and built on unceded Coast Salish territory, or less euphemistically, stolen native land. It is fitting that First Nations / Second Nature, the gallery’s inaugural exhibition, featured works that “mediate the politics of site and the shifting conceptions of territory.” Curated by Candice Hopkins, the exhibition served as a counterpoint to the rampant nationalism that characterized a city overtaken by a globalized sporting event. First Nations / Second Nature acknowledged the entwined histories of so many different cohabiting traditions while critiquing a reckless demarcation of difference.

The window façade of the gallery faces Hastings Street, a major east-west thoroughfare for vehicles and pedestrians that is often identified by name when locating the Downtown Eastside cartographically. Facing out of these considerable windows was a large-scale photographic work by Rebecca Belmore. sister depicts a person from behind in a pose reminiscent of crucifixion or flight, a reading that resonates with the austere lack of context within the image itself. And yet, the specificity of the work’s location embeds another reading, which stems from the possibility of her being frisked, which leads to a consideration of institutionalized brutality, murdered and missing women, and cultural stereotypes. She faces away from the street, the consumer and the audience, becoming an anonymous monument inverting the power of not being represented.

The Audain gallery has two entrances, one on Hastings Street, the other accessed through a courtyard on the opposite side of the building. Sam Durant’s light box You Are On Indian Land Show Some Respect, a faithful reproduction of a protest sign from the Native American civil rights movement in the United States, was placed in a direct line of sight from the street entrance. However, on every visit I made to the gallery, the street entrance was locked. I am not sure what motivated the gallery (or building managers) to close this entrance down, but the fact that the courtyard entrance was faithfully patrolled by security lends itself to a cynical interpretation of wanting to keep the street life out of the pristine new building. It is unclear to me if Hopkins was aware the front door would not be functional, because Durant’s work commands attention. Considering the relationships between the works, the gallery, the community and the spectacle outside, Durant’s illuminated message wanted to be the first thing a gallery visitor saw. Nonetheless, the piece was also visible on the gallery walls through the same window as Belmore’s work, and so was able to speak directly to passers-by (the local community and international visitors), whether they came around back to enter the show or not.

Pia Fuchs’s Untitled (Pan-National Flag) is a standard issue flag in its dimensions and material, upon which all the flags of every state recognized by the United Nations has been traced. The resulting visual cacophony reveals something about the standardization of design with its substantially messier centre zone and darkened diagonal cross lines. There are also brief moments of clarity, where the idiosyncratic emblems of some countries stand out. While this work speaks clearly to the absurdity of nationalism, its inclusion was an astute juxtaposition on Hopkins’s behalf, prefiguring the strange ritual of wearing Canadian flags as capes that became increasingly hysterical as the Canadian hockey team advanced toward winning Olympic gold.

Cheryl L’Hirondelle, in collaboration with Andrew Lee, took the antiquated formulation of property law, “everything up to the sky and down to the center of the earth,” and literally turned it on its side. Their work comprises a group of plexiglass tubes full of organic material that was collected within the city block that the Woodward’s complex occupies. Gradations of gravel, bark, shells and other organic material resemble core earth samples, which have been re-orientated horizontally and transformed again into a landscape. However, the cleanliness and meticulous arrangement of the material bears little relationship to nature. Invoking a rational impulse to understand through clinical dissection, the result is alienation. Were those shells really found within the city block’s radius? The real experience of the land resists being subsumed into social paradigms, be it as an object of science or as property.

Greg Curnoe draws out the ridiculousness of the idea of land ownership through his works Deeds/Nations and Deeds/Abstracts: The History of a London Lot, which can summarized by the idea that, effectively, the land owns itself and we are all guests on it. The pair of works attempt an impossible feat: to record every person who ever occupied or owned the land Curnoe’s London, Ontario home and art studio sat on. What rose up out of this endeavour was a documentation of a shift in the conception of land ownership that denied First Nations land rights and made it possible for European settlers to annex property. Although research is often the engine of aesthetic production, this case muddles the distance between the intended art work and the spin-off. What affirms what? What began for Curnoe as a bibliography transformed into a set of paintings memorializing the names of the people who had preceded him on the land he found himself.

Matthew Buckingham’s installation The Six Grandfathers, Paha Sapa, in the Year 502,002 C.E. reverses the direction of research through a hypothesis about of the effects of the  indifferent passage of time on an American national monument, Mount Rushmore. Long the subject of treaty claims and bureaucratic double-crossing, the land has become a symbolic site of the discrepancy between America’s idealized and actual histories. In a kind of colonial manifest destiny, the faces of American presidents have literally been carved into the mountainside (by a man who was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan). Yet, this very land was guaranteed to the Lakota Sioux in 1868, and quoting from Buckingham’s extensive history of the location, which snaked around the gallery walls, “[In 1980] the supreme court rules in favour of the Lakota, acknowledging that the Black Hills were illegally taken but that the court has also declared that the passage of time makes the return impossible and orders a $120 million reparation payment. The Lakota refuse the money.” Geologists estimate that it will take 500,000 years for the presidential faces to be eroded and for the mountainside to return to nature once again, and Buckingham has simulated this erasure with a large-scale digitally manipulated photograph. When all is said and done, there will be no evidence of the carving, but what is the spiritual significance of the history? How is the memory held in the land?

Jimmie Durham’s contribution to the exhibition was a site-specific extension of his Pole to Mark the Center of the World series. Staking a claim by way of a large industrial pipe, he mimics the act of claiming territory that is central to colonialism. But contrarily, Durham’s display does not rename, erase or displace. He draws attention to the import of such declarations, thereby re-appropriating the colonial act and reconfiguring it to suggest, perhaps, stewardship. Durham also contributed a small mirror, which, strategically situated, reflected much of the exhibition inside it. I understand this small accessory to be a metaphorical reflection of the exhibition’s relationship to life outside the gallery: a modest but considered attempt to show the world to itself.

Andrea Geyer’s Spiral Lands / Chapter 2 was situated inside a classroom-like compartment within the gallery where an unmanned, incessant slideshow and disembodied female voice-over played on. The address constantly shifts perspective (scientific, emotional) and tone (imperative, persuasive), digressing into a chain of footnotes that would be impossible to follow if not for the accompanying brochure that documents them. Broadly addressing the idea of landscape, Geyer “point[s] to the fact that visualization is and has always been a sophisticated ideological device, revealing as much of what stands behind the camera as what is found in front.” Deconstructing easy ways of thinking about history, Geyer collages competing and oppositional stories, laying the job of reconciliation on her audience. When navigating the myriad perspectives represented, the prescriptive structure of the relay of information is revealed—history is not concrete, but a process of negotiation.

Lastly, the show takes its title from some early illustrations by Brian Jungen, a gently humourous yet slightly cynical set of cartoons.

Though First Nations / Second Nature was ostensibly a show about contemporary North American colonial encounters, not all the artists were of Aboriginal heritage. In this sense, Hopkins’s lens turned from a rudimentary identity politics to a broader proposition of what can be accomplished in alliance. Though the slogan of “nothing about us without us” is a rich point of consideration, art should be able to speak about political and social issues, not as a counterpoint but as the standard. When art is great, it has something at stake; it is politically and socially formed, and at the same time, formative.

First Nations / Second Nature is a cogent example of Huberman’s charge that great shows challenge their audience’s existing understanding by taking it elsewhere. Hopkins moves differentiated Aboriginal histories into History; she weaved together these perspectives without flattening them out. In a space of contestation and a time of protest, this exhibition stood out as an expression of hope.

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Speaking Difference

Guest Post: Francisco-Fernando Granados

(I am very fortunate to have had Francisco-Fernando Granados, a Toronto-based performance artist, respond to the work of Keren Cytter in the public discussion organized around The Normal Condition of Any Communication. What follows is the text of his response to Cytter’s work. –cheyanne)

Keren Cytter’s The Hottest Day of the Year is a video pastiche that mixes historical fact and intimate fictions as a way to engage with and complicate the colonial dimensions of the anthropological gaze. It follows a certain tendency in recent contemporary art towards the fictionalizing of supposedly objective discourses like anthropology. In that sense, the piece shares a sensibility with the work of 20th century Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, who would do things like write reviews of books that were never written, and who has been taken up a lot lately by visual artists. The other art historical precedent for The Hottest Day of the Year is the work of Vietnamese-American artist and filmmaker Trin T. Mihn Ha, who through her film and video work in the 1980s introduced the idea of framing the frame, or framing the framer of any given work of art that is operating across power difference.

So, the Keren Cytter video gives a heavily interrupted contextual account of the life and genealogy of a fictitious French woman named Anne-Marie Baptiste, who, according to the story, escapes from the Nazi invasion of Paris by fleeing to Johannesburg, and then goes on to become an anthropologist based out of Mozambique, where she dies of malaria after a couple of years of studying the bloody conflict between two local groups, the San and the Khoikhoi.

Baptiste’s story is told through the voice of her own writing in French, and through a biography-style narrative spoken in English by a voice who we later find out is her grandson, who is a filmmaker with a tendency towards the anthropological, himself.

The first aspect of the piece that I would like to highlight in terms of what really grabbed my attention is the framing of this anthropological tendency. At some point near the beginning of the video, he says, “There are 10, 400, 732 people living in Johannesburg. I know none of them. I pay them to talk to me. I pay them to talk to other people. The happier they are, the sadder I become.”

This Anglophone male voice that accompanies the images of working class South Africans that flash across the screen, reveals his position in two ways. First by interrupting the narrative of his grandmother, the thematic subject of his film. And secondly, and perhaps more surprisingly, by including in his narration mention of the economical underpinnings of his relationship with his local informants: “I pay them to talk me. I pay them to talk to other people. The happier they are, the sadder I become.” The framing of the anthropological gaze happens, then, through the visualization of the material structure of the relationship between filmmaker and informant/interview subject. What does this mean? What does this look like in terms of the content of the film? Well, it means that the audience has a sense of how and why the people on the screen have come to speak to the framed by the camera and its operator. By doing this, the narrative of the film manages to accomplish a politics of acknowledgement.

This idea of a politics of acknowledgement finds an echo in a quote by French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, who in a paper where he argues for the insufficiency of values and the necessity of sense says the following: “ To bring into view that which we cannot ‘see’ – that which conceals itself as the origin of the other, in the other – and to bring ‘into view’ the fact that we cannot ‘see’ it: that is what today makes an ‘ethical’ demand, without which any moral standpoint, any normative or prescriptive, assurance, is only the application of a recipe, with eyes closed, sleepwalking…”

I would like to propose, or try out the argument, that the “bringing into view” of the dynamic between European filmmaker and South African interview subject constitutes, certainly not a definitive or praise-worthy state of ethical exchange across power difference, but perhaps a step towards the ethical that makes an intervention inside the logic of the colonial dynamic through the enactment of a politics of acknowledgement.

That said, it seems to me that it is also important to recognize the limits of the politics of acknowledgement. The limits of the politics of acknowledgement may be drawn at the point at which it fails to transform the colonial dynamic. The politics of acknowledgement is a necessary step, but unless something other than acknowledgement happens, it will not change the form of the colonial dynamic.

What may begin to transform the colonial dynamic might be the recognition of forms of resistance, even in its more nuanced forms.

The spaced out account from the Anglophone filmmaker continues: “… I buy a colourful turtle made out of wires from Daniel. He asks me to call him ‘the wire man.’ I ask him to answer some of my questions. He refuses.”

The filmmaker’s narrative of Anne-Marie Baptiste is once again interrupted by a seemingly irrelevant detail. How, then do we read the wireman’s refusal to answer the filmmakers questions? The refusal is itself a challenge to the filmmaker’s own account of his methods (“I pay people to talk to me”). The wireman’s refusal to answer the questions, and perhaps even his request to be called “wireman” instead of “Daniel,” can be understood as nuanced forms of resistance to the anthropological gaze. They are nuanced because they may not be immediately readable as resistance. It is indeed not able to stop or overturn the nature of the filmmakers project, but it is a moment where we sense (a word that is important to Nancy), a staking out of the limits of what the filmmaker is permitted to learn about his subjects. It is a kind of resistance that understands the power differences of people on either side of the camera.

The filmmaker’s inclusion of this nuanced moment of refusal on the part of the wireman goes beyond the important task of acknowledging one’s position of privilege as a person with access to the means of representation. The filmmaker’s framing of this moment within bounds of the film begins to transform the focus of the anthropological gaze by not only subjectivizing it, but by also revealing it as not always reliable.

Now, I want to conclude with the following consideration: does that mean that the filmmaker shouldn’t address his own position? This question engages with one of cheyanne’s questions when putting together this show, which is:

“How can we participate in conversations that extends beyond our particular subject positions? For example, I want to talk about race and representation, but I look the way I look. How do I access that conversation? How do I participate in it?”

I also want to bring up this question because it is one of the things that the more orthodox side of identity politics has been accused, perhaps fairly, of doing: shutting down dialogue around the politics and ethics of representation by creating hard and fast divisions about who does and doesn’t have a right to speak to this issue or that issue.

In trying to work through this I turn to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who, speaking of the ways in which Nietzsche was taken up by the Nazis to legitimize their genocide proposes that we neither accuse NOR excuse Nietzsche for collaboration with the Nazis, but that we instead enter, that we engage with the protocol of his text as a means of turning him over, of turning him around. The thing that I like about this proposition, as an artist who is in some ways engaged in a task of translation through my work is that it goes a long way to undo the false opposition between form and content and gets us to see that a serious contextual engagement with the forms that we work with, gets us closer to a practice that can exist in an expanded social field.

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Speaking Difference

After a year of thinking through the idea of speaking difference–how, to what effect, with what considerations and why–the culminating exhibition of my curatorial residency has opened.

The Normal Condition of Any Communication

Ayreen Anastas + Rene Gabri, Neil Beloufa, Keren Cytter, Claire Fontaine and Reza Haeri
23 June-30 July 2011
Gallery TPW (56 Ossington Avenue, Toronto ON)

The Normal Condition of Any Communication takes its title from the words of contemporary French philosopher Jacques Rancière who states that “Distance is not an evil to be abolished, but the normal condition of any communication.” Considering the potential of participating in conversations that extend beyond a person’s particular subject position, the works in this exhibition perform acts of translation between individuals and across cultures. The videos of Neil Beloufa, Keren Cytter and Reza Haeri massage the space between documentary and fiction by way of dismantling a definitive sense of history in order to reconstitute a plurality of accounts. The notebook works of Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri trace a dialogic process between the artists that, without effacing the personal, is staunchly political. A text-based neon sign by the artist collective Claire Fontaine questions the way cultural and geographical identities are formed. Together, these works suggest that it is possible to communicate across differences so long as a multiplicity of meanings is fundamentally maintained.

Special thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts, the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and Mercer Union for their support of this exhibition.

Public Discussion: Saturday, June 25, 3-5 pm, at Gallery TPW

In response to The Normal Condition of Any Communication, a panel of artists and thinkers will join curator cheyanne turions in a discussion about what is at stake when artworks attempt acts of translation, be it between one person and another, or between different ways of knowing the world. Mirroring the content of the exhibition’s thesis–that communication across distance is only possible so long as a plurality of meanings is acknowledged–the form of the discussion invites others to respond to the exhibition’s framing and the work itself, complicating and complimenting each in turn.

Respondents:

Gina Badger is the editorial director of FUSE Magazine. An artist and writer, her perennial conceptual concerns are the time and politics of contemporary ecologies. Currently based in Toronto, Badger also works in Montreal with the Artivistic Collective and various locations south of the 49th parallel.

Lucas Freeman is a doctoral candidate in political theory at the University of Toronto, exploring the connections between architecture and urban citizenship. He is also a resident cinephile and has worked and volunteered with several film festivals in Toronto.

Francisco-Fernando Granados is a Guatemalan-born artist and writer currently working in performance, drawing and cultural criticism. A recipient of the Chancellor’s Award and the Governor General’s Silver Medal for academic achievement upon graduating from Emily Carr University in 2010, he is currently working on a Masters of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto.

Nika Khanjani works with film, video and text in the form of experimental hand-processed films, expanded documentary, and video sketches. She is preoccupied with notions of dislocation, psychic landscapes, the effects of distance on relationships, and ways of applying ecriture feminine to image-making.

Kika Thorne recently returned from Berlin where she instigated a bar IST a garden IST a café IST a reading room at the Berlinale: Forum Expanded, which produced an ambience that inserted the dirt and vitality of the urban farm, beergarden and infoshop into a stainless steel corporate silo at Potsdamer Platz. Plastic crates and 3/4 ply housed the books, people, krauter and booze, creating a microclimate out of an invisible artwork.

No Reading After the Internet out-loud reading group: Wednesday, June 29, 7 pm at LIFT (1137 Dupont)

No Reading After the Internet is a free monthly series in which a selected text is read aloud and discussed. Peter Schjeldahl’s “Of Ourselves and of Our Origins: Subjects of Art” has been selected to compliment the exhibition The Normal Condition of Any Communication. Within Schjeldahl’s critique about whether or not it is possible to speak sensibly about what we like about art, he raises an important point about the negative import of identities that demarcate difference. In response, he proposes a non-political pronoun of “we” without “they,” thereby hinting at the nebulous thing that happens in an experience of great art. This utopic proposal of Schjeldahl’s is a place to begin imagining communication across distance from.

Participation in No Reading After the Internet is free and open to everyone, regardless of their familiarity with a text or its author. Texts will be handed out at the salon. No pre-reading or research is required.


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Speaking Difference

Digital Natives is a public artwork sited on the electronic billboard at the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver BC. The billboard is located on Skwxwú7mesh land and in many ways embodies a fraught history between local Aboriginal populations and the City of Vancouver. The project’s name also invokes this particular moment in time where relationships to digital technology span generations: my parents have adopted to the presence and use-value of digital technologies; my friends’ children will grow up thoroughly embedded in it. In other words, we are a population of digital natives and digital immigrants.

Curators Lorna Brown and Clint Burnham invited artists and writers from across North America, including myself, to contribute messages to be broadcast over the month of April, coinciding with the 125th Anniversary of the City of Vancouver.

Digital Natives intervenes in the physical, social and historical context of the site, the billboard and the city with a series of ten second text messages interrupting the rotation of advertisements. Taking the form of Twitter messages, invited contributors respond to the site’s charged history, the ten-second format and the 140-character limit of tweets. The sign itself becomes an artistic and literary space for exchange between native and non-native communities exploring how language is used in advertising, its tactical role in colonization, and as a complex vehicle of communication.

The project went live at the beginning of April, but with fewer message than intended. This is from Lorna and Clint’s press release in response:

Public Language Trouble

Sixty messages were created for Digital Natives: three have been omitted by Astral Media Outdoor. [They are presented above], in solidarity with artist Edgar Heap of Birds and writer Larissa Lai. Other Sights for Artists’ Projects is dismayed at the exclusion of work by such respected artists.

Curators Clint Burnham and Lorna Brown state, “Our goals for the project are to use this highly visible location to present a conversation between First Nations and non-First Nations contributors and the public – happening on twitter, on our website, and on the billboard itself, as tweets from the public will be introduced in mid-April. In this anniversary year, we are drawing attention to the messages and languages we usually see in public space, and those we do not. We are disappointed that Astral has refused to broadcast artworks by such renowned artists. Their decision compromises the intent of the project and does a disservice to the artists, whose viewpoints about public space are highly valued.

“Unfortunately,” they add, “Astral’s censoring of artists and writers shows how difficult it is for Canadians to gain access to public space, and to express themselves in public space. This is an issue of censorship, of the suppression of artistic expression, clear and simple.”

As of 18 April 2011, two public responses have also been censored:

“‘Death to the Sign’ – Roberto Bolano”
“censored billboard texts to be Digital Natives t-shirts”

These last two examples evince both Astral Media’s fear of dialogue and some strange/typical posturing of ego. Beyond the highly problematic nature of censorship in general, these examples are rather hilarious instances of the company’s crisis of confidence.

The first three examples of the company’s censorship are not funny at all. I find it particularly disturbing that both tweets (and one translation) reference how the difficult history of the people of the West Coast (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike) is taken up in the present. Whitewashing history means that the lessons of it are lost. We cannot afford to be without a frank recollection of how we have come to populate the land ourselves. This type of reconciliation is only ever difficult, not impossible, and not to be avoided.

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