Happenings

Contingent Convergences

What is still called public space has been undergoing a profound transformation over the last decades. Neoliberal practices have induced a shift in the political and moral structures that demarcate space so that even if public space remains a cherished idea, it is now rather common that the public nature of public space be legislated in such a way that only certain kinds of manifestations of the public be possible. From the historical phenomenon  of unregulated common spaces such as the the agora, to a contemporary public realm wholly regulated by either public authority or private property laws, the forms of publicness happening within the city have evolved. According to scholar and ex-architect Miguel Robles-Durán, public space is no longer a place available to all for social gatherings, debate, protest or retreat without specific purpose for the simple reason that these uses do not “[meet] the requirements of the private investors, private corporations, and of public-private alliances to extract land rent and most importantly, to develop new spaces in which re-invest their accumulated surplus” [1]. The boundaries between personal and collective expression are blurred as they are recoded in favour of commercial interests or reduced to state-sponsored notions of participation. Whether designed for cultural or commercial uses, urban spaces are equally appropriated for this new form-of-life, where the dictates of privitization either actually characterize spaces or are used to justify legislation that operates against the manifestation of dissent directed toward governments or the market, themselves increasingly indistinguishable.

Despite the manifold changes in social organization that neoliberalism has produced, voices of dissent that imagine that other worlds are possible cannot be quelled. The list of recent actions are, by now, quite familiar: anti-austerity riots, Idle No More, Occupy. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was not just a series of football games but waves of protest against the expenditure of public funds to finance the games and a corresponding diminishment of Indigenous land rights.

Mega events, in fact, are a microcosom of these practices, where non-state actors are suddenly very able to act in ways that sidestep regular democratic or legalistic processes. In what has become rather common, these types of mega events become paradigmatic drivers of social, economic and political transformation emerging in service of neoliberal agendas. Long before the events arrive, and even before a host is assigned, cities compete to offer the most extreme benefit to the mega-event overlords, competing to offer the most extreme tax breaks or most robust infrastructure for the event itself, the cost, of course, displaced onto citizens and used to justify rollbacks of social services, including support of culture or access to education.

This afternoon, I will be part of a discussion at Blackwood Gallery about the paradoxes of public space as part of the exhibition Falsework. On the invitation of Adrian Blackwell, I contributed an essay to his Furnishing Positions project, which is part of Falsework, reflecting on whether public space is made by the state or its citizens. Using a series of programs that happened at VIVO Media Arts during the 2010 Winter Olympics as a case-study, I propose that in our neo-liberal present tense, public space is more a philosophical position than a spatial organization. Come and convince me otherwise. Details below.

Adrian Blackwell, overlay of all configurations of "Furnishing Positions," 2014.

Adrian Blackwell, overlay of all configurations of “Furnishing Positions,” 2014.

FURNISHING POSITIONS: CONVERSATIONS

Part colloquium, part workshop, and part experiment, this event is a support structure for the exchange of ideas.

Eric Cazdyn, Greig de Peuter, Karen Houle, Mary Lou Lobsinger, Dylan Miner, Paige Sarlin, Scott Sørli, Christine Shaw, Kika Thorne and cheyanne turions. Moderated by Adrian Blackwell.

Saturday, November 22, 2014 | 1 – 6PM

Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto Mississauga

A shuttle bus will depart Mercer Union (1286 Bloor St. W) at 12:30pm, and return at 6:30pm. Snacks and refreshments will be provided.

If capitalism has produced two forms of property, one owned by the state (spaces of public authority) and the other owned by private citizens (private property), then public space is always an appropriation of one of these. Insofar as public space is political, that appropriation involves the construction of a physical space in which the paradoxical reality of capitalist society is rendered sensible.

Adrian Blackwell’s Furnishing Positions explores the paradoxical relationship between publics and space through three different structures: a sculpture consisting of thirty pieces of furniture, reconfigured over twelve weeks to test the social effect of different spatial forms; a broadsheet series that interrogates six paradoxes of public space through artwork and texts by twelve contributors from diverse disciplines; and now, a set of conversations that test these ideas with an assembled public in the sculpture.

Furnishing Positions: Conversations brings together the contributors to the broadsheet series in order to test the ideas developed within its artworks and texts in dialogue with other contributors and an assembled public. The event is structured through two conversations. The first will function as a sequence of short monologues, in which each of the broadsheet contributors will present their ideas in turn. The second conversation will involve contributors and the assembled public and will be an opportunity to connect and relate these discreet provocations. Between the two conversations, there will be a break, during which time the assembled public will reconfigure the sculpture for the second half of the event.

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[1] Miguel Robles-Durán, “For the Brief Moments of Confrontation,” in Make_Shift City, Renegotiating the Urban Commons, ed. Fracesca Ferguson and Urban Drift Projects, in cooperation with the Berlin Senate for Urban Development (Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2013), 25-31.

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Happenings

OAAG’s Innovation in a Collections-based Exhibition

Last week, as part of the Ontario Association of Art Galleries (OAAG) annual awards celebration, I had the honour of accepting their inaugural award for Innovation in a Collections-based Exhibition for Other Electricities, an exhibition commissioned by and hosted at the Art Gallery of Windsor.

Working with the gallery’s collection, which has been amassed over a 70 year period, I attempted to unsettle its colonial assumptions using only the collection and the gallery as tools. It was a bold proposal and I had no idea if it would work. That OAAG would choose to acknowledge the exhibition in this way seems so hopeful and I imagine that the innovation of the gesture will be undone in the methodolgies other member galleries bring to bear in the collections-based exhibitions they will make, to come.

The award was accompanied by jury notes: “This exhibition presented a rigorous and considered pairing and contrast of modern and contemporary artworks from a range of mediums found in the Art Gallery of Windsor’s permanent collection. The sensitive juxtaposition and exploration of relationships between colonial and Indigenous cultures effectively brought to light issues of sovereignty and the strategies of cultural decolonization. This entire exhibition was further enhanced by the strong curatorial essay presented in the on-line publication which will provide a lasting legacy of this provocative collections-based exhibition.”

I must extend sincere thanks to the Art Gallery of Windsor, to Catharine Mastin, Nicole McCabe, Stephen Nilsson and Chris Hummer, but especially to Srimoyee Mitra, their risk-taking, tough and visionary curator for offering me the opportunity. Thanks also to OAAG for fostering this kind of dialogue across the sector, especially to Demetra Christakos and Veronica Quach for making the awesome spectacle of the awards actually happen.

A full list of 2014 award recipients can be found here. Congratulations to everyone!

Photograph by Henry Chan.

Srimoyee Mitra, AGW Curator, cheyanne turions, guest Curator, and presenter Jan Allen. Photograph by Henry Chan.

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Happenings

If We Carry On Speaking the Same Language to Each Other, We Are Going to End Up Repeating the Same History

Extract from Syklus 2013, Michala Paludan, image courtesy of Abejderbevægelsens Arkiv og Bibliotek.

Extract from “Syklus,” 2013, Michala Paludan, image courtesy of Abejderbevægelsens Arkiv og Bibliotek.

This Monday, 10 November 2014, I am going to lock myself in a room with eight other people overnight in the spirit of feminist consciousness-raising sessions of the 1970s. Organized by Mikaela Assolent and Flora Katz, the experiment is part of a larger project entitled If We Carry On Speaking the Same Language to Each Other, We Are Going to End Up Repeating the Same History. The title is incredible; the sentiment sharp. What is the shape of change? And what do we agitate for? And what form do our tools take? In an exciting way, I have no idea what to expect, but here’s how Assolent and Katz have framed it:

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At the end of her book This Sex Which Is Not One (1976), Luce Irigaray addresses another woman and imagines what their experience could be outside of a social construction created by men, for men. She observes, “If we carry on speaking the same language to each other, we are going to end up repeating the same history.” For Irigaray, women’s liberation is not only about deconstructing imposed roles and identities, but also re-appropriating and/or inventing a language of our very own, that allows us to invent and live entirely new stories. To do so, we must start from scratch and independently rebuild what was previously confiscated.

In the spirit of  collective encounters, as conceived by Lois Weaver (The Long Table) and Malin Arnell (The Oncoming Corner) and inspired by texts which reflect on art as a space for a community to come (John Roberts, Art, ‘Enclave Theory’ and the Communist Imaginary, Third Text, July 2009) we will further investigate the questions evoked above through a series of collaborative evenings taking place at PARMER in November 2014. We would like to experiment using the sharing of experiences and knowledge to undo the inherent power dynamics of the groups assembled. Thus, we aim to consider these sessions as a space for the collective production and exchange of singularities.

Participants in the November sessions include: Maia Asshaq, Arlen Austin, Corrie Baldauf  & Megan Heeres, Lindsay Benedict, Amber Berson, Maibritt Borgen, Sara Constantino & Rochelle Goldberg, Catherine Czacki, Leah DeVun, Alaina Claire Feldman, Ariel Goldberg, Saisha Grayson, Joseph Imhauser, Liz Linden, Kylie Lockwood, Jane Long, Jordan Lord, Jacqueline Mabey, Trista Mallory, Anna Ostoya, Michala Paludan, Rit Premnath, Chloé Rossetti, Julia Trotta, cheyanne turions and Wendy Vogel.

Each person is invited to bring an element, prepared beforehand, that is as close as possible to their own area of expertise. The element, such as a text, anecdote, performance, video, object, et cetera, will be up for discussion according to the conversation format and staging chosen by its presenter. Listening, commenting, and contributing will be open, with participants being free to speak spontaneously, whenever possible. Each individual will thus be able to negotiate their own contribution to the session.

With the aim of questioning even the parameters of  these sessions themselves, the procedure used to compose the participant groups will also be discussed. As a space open by invitation, PARMER seeks other strategies of  inclusiveness to redefine the boundaries of  what is public. What defines the level of accessibility of  an artistic space? How this ephemeral community that we will constitute during the session can have strong common grounds and the right level of openness?

The sessions will conclude with a public reception on November 23rd that will include material collected and developed over the course of the sessions.

For more information please visit the website.

A series of  sessions following the same protocol took place in Paris, France, at the artspace Chez Treize, in Fall 2013. 
See documentation here (in French).

This project is supported in part by the Danish Arts Foundation and the Visual Arts Department at the University of California San Diego.

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My contribution will depart from my on-going project No Reading After the Internet and its concern with collective forms of knowledge production. My interest specifically is in non-institutionalized learning, particularly methods that de-emphasize scholarship and prioritize improvisation, intimacy and a multiplicity of meanings. Given the notion of expertise at the heart of If We Carry On…, I wonder if these methods are in opposition to one another, or if there is the potential for a productive, mutual implication between a stance of knowing and a stance of engaged not-knowing. There’s something also about the way that ideas move, about translation and adaptation, that I hope to bring to the conversation by way No Reading’s history: an itinerant project now collectively supported and transformed, rhizomatic, producing strange but related fruit in many places around the world. How does knowledge begin and end? Inspired by the different forms that the No Reading project has produced—like its life in Vancouver with Amy Lynn Kazymerchyk and Alex Muir out of VIVO Media Arts or its translation into No Looking after the Internet with Gabrielle Moser—I will use the opportunity of If We Carry On… to think through methodology as substance. Quite aside from any of our singular fields of expertise, I imagine the result of our evening of *not* carrying on will be a thing that none of us can yet anticipate and hopefully that the orientation of No Reading will be one way of registering whatever collective thing will transpire.

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Uncategorized

Thinking Again about Artist-run Culture

Self-determination

As I understand it, the impetus behind the formation of artist-run centres (ARCs) was artistic self-determination. ARCs, as a form of self-determination, distinguished themselves from commercial galleries in their distance from (if not their opposition to) the market, and they distinguished themselves from museums in the temporal direction of their activity, which was unconcerned with historicization and prioritized experimentation over connoisseurship. Emerging in the late 1960s, arguments for self-determination were taken seriously and the support of ARCs can be read alongside other social phenomena of the time, such as the civil rights movement, second wave feminism and antiestablishment counterculture. At this time, the infrastructure of the Canada Council already existed and the Council’s expansion to support artist-run initiatives reflects its adoption of the zeitgeist.

Given the oppositional stance of artist-run centres—from the beginning operating against the market and against the museum—I think there is a case to be made for these impulses of self-determination as an early model for what came to be known as institutional critique. Avoiding the inherent contradictions of institutional critique—namely, that there is no outside from which to offer critique because, as Andrea Fraser demonstrates, “the institution is inside of us, and we can’t get outside of ourselves”—ARCs offer instead a practice of critique by embodiment [1]. ARCs are the institution, which has allowed them to be influential on the form of institution itself.

In Diana Nemiroff’s essay, “Par-al-lel,” which was written in the early 1990s, she studies the history of ARCs through the words that have been used to describe them: alternative, artist-run, parallel. I am not sure how the term “parallel” emerged to characterize the relationship between ARCs and museums, but in her essay Nemiroff quotes Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker suggesting that “a problem with the term ‘parallel’—‘something similar which is continually equidistant’—is that it does not adequately define the artist-run centre as an alternative, that is, ‘mutually exclusive, available in place of another, and a group of persons disassociating themselves from conventional social practices’” [2]. According to Nemiroff and Danzker, “parallel” did not reflect the alternative positioning that was fundamental to the early conception of these centres. At that time, the term “artist run” was in favour, but contentions surrounds that term now, as Reid Shier points out in his essay “Do Artists Need Artist-Run Centres?” Alternative was and remains an aspiration.

Is there virtue in reconceptualizing curators and administrators as artists in order to maintain fidelity to the moniker “artist run”? Might the reclamation of “parallel” offer any value in better describing what these organizations have become? Can “alternative” act as inspiration?

Mutual Becoming

While the desire for self-determination played a part in the formation of ARCs, it is not an argument for their continued existence. The political, economic and social climate of 2014 bears only slight resemblances to 1967 and it must be recognized that we change the world by being in it.

A pervasive example of this practice of mutual becoming is the phenomena of organizational structuring and programming, both geared toward council mandates. That ARCs have boards of directors cannot be untangled from the Canada Council’s dictate that they do so. That so many Indigenous artists show work in ARCs probably, unfortunately, cannot be divorced from the strategic priorities of funding bodies. Nemiroff notes another early example of this mutual becoming: “Because the [funding] programmes were community oriented, they encouraged artists to define themselves in practical terms as a community. This orientation in turn affected the way in which the artist was able to perceive his/her role vis-a-vis the larger community” [3]. AA Bronson suggested as much in his 1983 essay, that while the development of artist-run culture in Canada led to our humiliation as bureaucrats, it also led to the realization of an art scene where there had been none previously [4]. This changes things. We have an art scene. We have access to production resources. We have exhibition opportunities. There are structures of mentorship.Given these changes brought about by a history of artist-run culture in Canada, the terms of what artists need to practice have also changed.

From the position of artists in Canada, what do they need from artist-run centres today?

Die Die Die

And I can’t help but think of death and dying, of organizations on life support, of the reality of limited funding. There is a general lack of of public discussion about the ethics or necessity of organizations folding; there is no lack of private discussion on the matter though.

Why?

What better time than now to reflect on how these organizations—a relatively fixed set of institutions across the country—are serving their constituents. In my visions of a utopic art-world future, I want to live in a world where the presentation and contextualization of art is supported outside of the market and where historicization is complicated (those classic desires of the artist-run model).

But what are the limitations of the current technology of artist-run centres?

The Future

I don’t think it’s that ARCs are obsolete, but that they are living beings (of a sort), subject to succession. This metaphor has limited use-value, but like any ecology, artist-run culture requires periods of growth and periods of destruction. It’s not that I have an interest in killing off organizations per se, but there’s an undeniable stagnancy in the system. I think that artist-run culture is ready to have conversations about what a reconfiguration of the landscape might look like. And actually, just last year, the Canada Council announced a policy of a redistribution of funds, implying that they are ready too.

There was also an anonymously published text in one of the final issues of FUSE, where a group of cultural workers delineated some tactics for infrastructural redistribution, including merging institutions into “super-centres,” but, they note, “part of what’s standing in the way of such succession is that no one’s done the math. With a dearth of precedent, no one is sure how the councils will respond, and people fear losing jobs and programs…The death and merger of centres are not suggestions; they are inevitable as the sectors evolve with changing climates. The only question is where and how the decisions will be made—collectively by institutions and the artists they represent, or top-down through the funding process?” [5].

So, where do we want those decisions to be be made? And are we brave enough to make them?

[1] Fraser, Andrea. “From the Critique of Institutuions to an Institution of Critique.” Artforum, 44-1 (2005), unpaginated.

[2] Nemiroff, Diana, “Par-al-lel.” In Sightlines, edited by Jessica Bradley and Lesley Johnstone, unpaginated. Canada: Artexte editions, 1994.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bronson, AA. “The Humiliation of the Bureaucrat: Artist-run Spaces as Museums by Artists.” In Museums by artists, eds. Peggy Gale and AA Bronson, 29-37. Toronto: Art Metropole, 1983.

[5] Anonymous. “Art, Austerity and the Production of Fear.” FUSE Magazine, 37-1 (2013), unpaginated.

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Considerations, Happenings

MVS

I always knew that words would be central to my life, but a teenaged version of myself—clad in black and folded over piles of paper—never would have predicted that I would find myself as a woman working in the arts. When I decided to go to university, my choice to study philosophy was the perfect consequence of listening to too many The Doors albums (and thus reading a lot of Nietzsche), combined with a desire to study science but knowing that I am no good at math. Maybe the logic is hard to follow, but suffice to say that art was not there as a beckon. And yet! After so many years of thinking and writing about what art does, the fall brings with it a return to school at the University of Toronto in the Master of Visual Studies program. As part of the Curatorial Studies stream, I will have the immense privilege of studying with a stellar faculty and some impressive fellow students. I am stoked and skeptical, humble and curious. It’s gonna be tough, but what a privilege to have this time to read and think and talk.

I have no illusions that what I think school will be about, now, will be what it turns out to be, at the end of it all. But at this bright moment at the beginning, here’s what I hope.

Over the past few years, I have noticed that I lack the language to speak about what I would broadly term conceptual writing (a problem with words) and abstraction (a problem with images). I stutter, and because I am constituted through language, this lack corresponds to an inability to make sense. As it stands, the only real tactic I have in response is to open myself to the work. To move through it despite not knowing, but I am convinced that these works want something more, something explicit, from me as their audience. In approaching the MVS program, I am excited to use this as an opportunity to develop some basic conceptual and aesthetic literacies as have been provoked by these encounters.

I want to develop a fluency at detecting or developing these strategies for engagement, and I want to develop a fluency at engaging.

I anticipate that one consequence of this will be that I being with art and artists. In my practice so far, I have often started with ideas, a result, perhaps, of coming to curating by way of philosophy. I have tried not to do the thing where art works are selected as demonstrations of a curatorial thesis. But what I have done, I think, is use artworks as a way to test curatorial hypotheses, which means that ideological propositions have been central to how I approach my work.

Andrea Fraser has diagnosed this need to develop aesthetic fluency thusly: “[there is] an ever widening gap between the material conditions of art and its symbolic systems: between what the vast majority of art works are today (socially and economically) and what artists, curators, critics and art historians say that art works…do and mean.” I want to challenge my impulse to first assign political and philosophical meaning by beginning with form instead, to practice making sense of the things that make up my world, not as instrumentalized nuggets of language, paint, sound or material, but on their own terms, which are always embedded.

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Happenings

TBD

TBD-Feature-Image3-2x7743tcb0xaol2sfyhe68

As a cultural work, I harbour many desires about how the institutions and practices that make up my work might operate differently. Familiarity breeds familiarity. Familiarity also breeds insight, and insight corresponds to imagination. In the cultural work that I do, I try to make authority and convention strange, or at the least I try to work in ways that maintain the possibility of ideological or programmatic disruption.

Over the past year, I have been collaborating with the STAG Library (Aja Rose Bond and Gabriel Saloman), Gina Badger and Eric Emery on Brew Pub #3, a journal in the form of a beer whose contents, labelling and other printed and online material constitute the contents of the publication. Published by the STAG, this issue of Brew Pub explores a relationship with Artemisia vulgaris, commonly known as mugwort, an invasive species which has spread from Eurasia across Canada, flourishing in urban spaces that have been altered by human intervention such as abandoned lots, rail-yards and roadsides. Through the development of a beer using wild-crafted mugwort from the city of Toronto—land with which the Huron, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe people have a long, historic and profound relationship—we have been considering what and how mugwort can teach us about exploring the conflictual complexity of settlement. Here, publication is liquid, consumable. Here, authority is plant.

Tonight, the exhibition TBD, curated by Su-Ying Lee, opens at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) and Brew Pub is a part of it. As described by Lee, “the exhibition title TBD, most typically used as an acronym for ‘to be determined’, proposes that the definition of a contemporary art gallery is not fixed. TBD exposes the defining factors of contemporary art galleries for scrutiny and examines the institutions’ effects on communities in order to imagine possible futures and new approaches.”

Lee also partakes of these visions of experiment that accompany cultural labour, and at the MOCCA, these questions are timely. As the organization gears up to leave its Queen Street West space—subject to a familiar story of gentrification that the gallery no doubt participated in—the opportunities for reflection, consideration and dreaming are ripe. What do we want arts ogranizations of the future to be? What provokes us to anger or joy in how arts organizations function today? Is there a way for a gallery to responsibly shepherd its gentrifying aura? Within TBD, the inclusion of Brew Pub poses a question of scale: how can a large, institutionalized gallery work with a small, experimental space in a way that does not subsume nor stifle the energies of either organization? I can say that so far the experience has been incredibly supportive, but I wonder what you think, of translations in scale and of institutional possibilities.

Join us tonight for the opening! And then join  us a series of events related to the launch of Brew Pub #3. Further information can be found here.

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Happenings

Cities for People

For the next year, at the invitation of Musagetes, I will be contributing to the dialogue at Cities for People, a research project and collaborative experiment looking at how the tenets of resilience theory can be usefully applied to our social world. Operating from four perspectives—governance, the economy, the built environment and culture—the project aims to describe the ways our North American cities and societies are currently shifting. If we better understand how the different aspects of our communal lives intersect, the hope is that we can mount suitable responses to the challenges awaiting us, such as a changing climate, overpopulation, the unethical concentration of wealth, austerity politics, neoliberalism, access to clean air and water, access to healthy food, racism, sexism, urbanization, et cetera. I will be focusing on the arts, on the ways that artists’ practices might be described through resilience theory, but also exploring the ways that artists are already employing (or challenging) its doctrines in their works. My first posts are up now (an introduction to myself, an introduction to my methodology and a profile on entrepreneur Lisa Baroldi) and as I begin to deeply engage the project, I realize it is asking me to take seriously the claim that art can do things, real things, change-the-world kinds of things. I predict I will be disappointed at times, but I’m sure that that won’t be the end of it. If nothing else, this is an opportunity to consider how better to leverage art to do the things I wish it to do. Surely art is not so different from the practice than science, in that we can effect change by way of it—a tool to use in service of a vision, complete with unbreakable parametres. Or so this will be my task to demonstrate.

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