Ashok Mathur is a writer, cultural organizer, and artist-researcher. He currently holds a Canada Research Chair in Cultural and Artistic Inquiry at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. His recent novels include Once Upon an Elephant, a contemporary re-visioning of the Mahabharata’s creation story of Ganesh, and The Short, Happy Life of Harry Kumar, a retelling of the Ramayana through the lenses of current globalized politics and movements. His most recent project, A Little Distillery in Nowgong, is a multifaceted novel tracing the migration of a Parsi family from pre-independence India through postcolonial contexts and travels.
Speaking Truth to Reconciliation (a project in two parts)
ABBAS AKHAVAN, KRISTINA LEE PODESVA, MOHAMMAD SALEMY
September 12–October 31, 2009
Race: Proposals in Truth and Reconciliation
What are the possibilities of talking about race today? It is critical that we continue to challenge the conditions of racism, marginality, exclusion, and xenophobia. But how does one approach talking about a subject whose archaeologies of knowledge have been laden with histories of conflict and contestation? And how does one do this with a commitment to generosity, truthfulness, and reconciliation?
Over the last year, there has been an escalating presence of race in every aspect of social, political, and economic life. Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech in Philadelphia became the most popular video in the world, drawing 1.2 million views in the first 24 hours after it aired. Described by some writers as the most important speech on race given by any American politician, it pointed to the fact that racial discord in the US, although entrenched, distracting, and emotional, was not necessarily intractable. It is this disavowal of intractability that forms the core of Speaking Truth to Reconciliation. Is it possible to engage with a fraught subject, but with a commitment to moving beyond questions of accountability or accusation, towards a conversation that both acknowledges the conditions of exclusion, while seeking shared ground?
Through an exhibition and forum Speaking Truth to Reconciliation brings together artists, writers, and curators to consider the possibilities of discussing this contested subject and “speaking out.”
The artists will engage with Artspeak as a site of dialogue and discussion that takes the principle of “truth telling” as a framing device, while considering these concepts poetically, pedagogically, and declaratively.
Curated by Sadira Rodrigues
TERENCE ANTHONY, MISHTU BANERJEE, NICK BANTOCK, FRANK BESSELINK, GEORGE BOWERING, JANISSE BROWNING, BRICE CANYON, MÉIRA COOK, JUDITH COPITHORNE, CHARLENE DIEHL-JONES, DIANNA FRID, HIROMI GOTO, JAMELIE HASSAN, JAMILA ISMAIL, PETER JAEGER, ANDREW KLOBUDA, YASMIN LADHA, TIM LANDER, KATY MCKELVEY, ROY MIKI, EARL MILLER, WREFORD MILLER, MARY ANNE MOSER, ERIN MOURÉ, BP NICHOL, ALEXANDRA OLIVER, EMILY PARKE, ED PIEN, IAN RASHID, RENEE RODIN, SONIA SMEE, ERIN SOROS, HO TAM, CAROLE THORPE, BARB TURNER, ALVIN VIEIRA, FRED WAH, VICTORIA WALKER, TIM WESTBURY, STEPHANIE WHITE, JANICE WILLIAMSON, SCOTT WILSON, KIRA WU, JIN-ME YOON, GREG YOUNG-ING, SYLVIA ZIEMANN, JOHANNES ZITS
November 25–December 17, 1994
The title fo this show might imply some sort of apocalyptic finale to books as we know them. Or it might signify a pair of upstanding objects gently holding in place volumes of knowledge. And it might refer to some teleological good whereby books, these books, situated here in this artistic space, somehow fulfill their purpose. But above all, to me, this show is about transgressions and conjunctions. All the books here are signs of their makers, the book-producers who created these works in order to resist, to challenge, to demarcate, to influence, to engage with, to complement, and to add to their own often private, often public worlds. What seems most important is the subtitle of this show, something I tacked on a considerable time after the exhibition was in the planning, the phrase: “interesting books from interested people”. In this ironically bland language is a strong sense of connection, a way of addressing the issues of bookness without eliding that which makes the book so “interesting”—its producers and its readers. I should add that part of what makes this so interesting to me is the way the west-ness of this show is located. Often showcased as a largely European, American, or at least “metropolitan” art form, book-works exhibitions tend to draw from various, often elitist, quarters. Virtually all the works in BOOK ENDS (WEST) were produced in Alberta and British Columbia, many of them with regional audiences in mind. This in itself, however, does not remove us from the realm of elitism; although much of the work in the show speaks from places of social/political disenfranchisement, it is well worth noting that much of the work being produced today—through mainstream publishers, the small press scene, and even subversive, alternative means—is itself reflective of how power structures operate and reporduce themselves, often with alrmingly exclusionary results within the academic, literary, and visual art worlds. Keeping this in mind is crucial, particularly in the confusing apce we now inhabit, where such artforms as printing a publishing become increasingly easier and more accessible even as the numbers of those who really have full access are diminishing rapidly.
But what follows is a series of conjunctions that attempt to show how this exhibition is cumulative and how these texts and their producers come together with purpose and longing in the land to the west. The complete list of texts is available elsewhere—the text below is roughly comparable to a selectively random stroll through the show.
and I being with Alvin Vieira and Wing’s Book of Names, a formal book after all, with pages, binding, and text—a difference, though, in that the pages are of seaweed; the binding, a basket; and the text, single-word name-histories of one branch of the artist’s family tree
but how is Patron(age) any different except as a technological telling of the self, an inscription of Andrew Klobuda’s own name caught and replayed in the act of consumer tallying and seeing Kira Wu retell her own image through the telling images of magazined others, imposed and exposed in the 10 Most Beautiful Women or looking at Wreford Miller so carefully handtying his Lyrics for Janisse and how does that move into and over Bikertrucker, scripted and drawn by the hands of Janisse Browning and Terence Anthony
though convention is subverted when Mary Anne Moser boxes a site-specific outdoor art event in theGraceland Art Rodeo, where the pages can be artifacts, memories, or pieces of glass
and glass is where Carole Thorpe is at with handblown pieces sitting around and on top of Vibernum
however, there’s also the book-installation pieces by Sylvia Ziemann, pushing us further from the text, but are these miniatures then not-text, meta-text, or a radically altered text
or are other miniatures, these ones by Roy Miki, single-line poems that become their own books, somehow more texty than minimalism
and what about th unreadabil;ity of Dépaysé from Renee Rodin, unreadable,m that is, without borrowing a microfich reader
but then there’s also an unreadability to the books of disOrientation chapbooks, a project I co-produce with Nicole Markotic, whose Tracking the Game is present here along with other disObooks, the challange here to find new ways to hold these books together, ways to complement the writing with the presentation of the book
although sometimes books are read as unread in Peter Jeager’s bolted-down reading of Kierkegaard
but then we see Brice Canyon and his triad of books, all perfect bound and pushing into and away from the conventions of arist-books
or a glance at the commercially-popular Griffin & Sabine produced by Nick Bantock and the question arises as to what makes a book “work”, that is, sell, in a bookstore and how does this work in our minds as bookmakeers, bookreaders
yet from the other end, produced by Barb Turner as an alternative to the run-of-the-mill public school assignments, is Gates to the Unknown, whose pages reconfigure our ways of reading books
and then there’s Randall Thomas who Abandoned Texts all over Calgary to see which ones would find their way home, all in the name of re-covering books from other publishings
though sometimes returns (read: distribution) comes in different ways as in the postcard project of Jin-Me Yoon’s Souvenirs of the Self and Hiromi Goto’s Tea, whereby the only suitable means of reading seems to be to stamp them and move them along to a friend
however, sometimes publishing is a means away from distribution and more of the process, as in the case with the three-envelope piece, a paper byproduct of a travelling writing workshop led by Robert Kroetsch, Aritha van Herk, and Fred Wah through the badlands of Alberta
or the ongoing wiritngs of Vancouver street poet Tim Lander, whose Ballad of Ronnie Walker is only one of countless works self-published by him and many others
and of course there are others still, working in basements and studios and offices and printshops and just about everyplace else, and some of their works are here but many more are not, and there is still so much yet to produce though the means are often a luxury and the book just a means of production and yet
book ends (west)
~an exhibition of intersting-looking books from interested people~
In November/94, the Vancouver artist-run centre Artspeak will be hosting “book ends (west)”, or what I’m calling ” an exhibition of interesting-looking books from interesting people”. As curator, my intent is to look for work produced, for the most part, in western Canada. I want to emphasize that I’m not necessarily looking for work produced by established artists, or even by people who consider themselves artists. What I am looking for are books of any kind—literary, visual, playful, whatever—which challenge the very idea of “bookness”, produced by anyone who has an interest in the question of making books. Work included in this exhibition may be books produced in multiples or as unique pieces. They may be made from paper, wood, or any other material you can imagine. But most importantly are the producers of the bookworks themselves: to reiterate, I’m hoping to receive work from a range of people, from established artists and writers to those who have never considered themselves to be creati e producers of any kind. Of particular, but not exclusive, interest for this exhibition are “bookproducers” who consider themselves disenfranchised from general cultural/artistic circles.
Please submit work or queries to me c/o English Department, University of Calgary […]
All accepted work will be reutrned after the exhibition.
Deadline for submissions is Nov. 1, 1994
DANA CLAXTON, ROY KIYOOKA, NANCY LALICON, ASHOK MATHUR, SUR MEHAT, MELINDA MOLLINEAUX, SHANI MOOTOO, NHAN DUC NGUYEN, MOHAMMAD SALEMY, HENRY TSANG, SHARYN YUEN
June 25–July 23, 1994
An exhibition organized in conjunction with the Writing thru Race Writers’ Conference.
Speaking Truth to Reconciliation (a project in two parts)
ABBAS AKHAVAN, RANDY LEE CUTLER, KRISTINA LEE PODESVA, KEN LUM, SVEN LÜTTICKEN, ASHOK MATHUR, TED PURVES, MOHAMMAD SALEMY
October 23–October 24, 2009
Speaking Out: A Lamentation for Parrhesian Strategies
Emily Carr University Theatre, Room 301, South Building
“My intention was not to deal with the problem of truth, but with the problem of truth-teller or truth-telling as an activity… Who is able to tell the truth? What are the moral, the ethical, and the spiritual conditions which entitle someone to present himself as, and to be considered as, a truth-teller? About what topics is it important to tell the truth?… What are the consequences of telling the truth?… And finally: what is the relation between the activity of truth-telling and the exercise of power, or should these activities be completely independent and kept separate? Are they separable, or do they require one another?”
—Michel Foucault, Discourse and Truth: the Problematization of Parrhesia (1983)
In a two-day forum, local and international speakers will consider the possibilities of “speaking out” in the context of cultural production. Speaking out describes adopting a position which is perceived to be oppositional to mainstream cultural production and which chooses to reveal the limitations or structures in the operation of power. Speaking out also implies a consequence to the act of intervening or critiquing these institutions. The act of speaking out is not only intellectual, but extends to the value of the speaker as a social individual, his or her place in society, the consequences on their cultural capital, and the ramifications of talking about things most people do not want to.
The project will include a publication co-published by Artspeak and West Coast Line.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 23
6:30pm / Sadira Rodrigues
7pm / Ken Lum
SATURDAY OCTOBER 24
10am / Sven Lütticken (virtual)
11am / Ted Purves
12:30–1:30pm / Break
1:30pm / Ashok Mathur
2pm / Mohammad Salemy
2:30pm / Kristina Lee Podesva
3pm / Abbas Akhavan
3:30–5pm / Panel: Randy Lee Cutler, Ken Lum, Kristina Lee Podesva, Ted Purves, Sadira Rodrigues
Curated by Sadira Rodrigues