XX: Roy, you are going to have an absolutely fantastic tape. It’s like a fucking movie camera. That’s a beauty! So, what are you doing here?
RK: I keep flicking it back and running it, you know… what I’ve been doing all night is, I’ll let it run through for 30 minutes, and then I’ll get the buzzing signal that tells me it’s at the end. I play it back and listen to it a bit, then I rewind the whole thing, and then do it again, and again, and again, and again, cancelling out each successive thirty-minute stretch. I can do that at the Cecil because the nature of what occurs as conversation is that thing: it is not discriminatory, it never stops, and it is totally impartial as to what is uttered or said. —— Roy Kiyooka, audio transcript excerpt, audio cassette tape from the Roy Kiyooka fonds, Simon Fraser University
MT: The prototypical intermedial figure is Roy Kiyooka. Since Roy, no one has come close to forming a hybrid practice like his. He was the only one who could show how it was done and articulate it.
SW: Roy Kiyooka is the only one who really got into Greenbergian modernism for a time, when he was painting. He painted until 1968. Then he stopped. Instead he poured his energy into writing, film, photography and music. And he was admired by many in the Vancouver scene because his practice was so hybrid. He stopped believing in painting altogether.
KH: At the same time, intermedial interest contributed to the initial explosion of artist-run centres. There was Intermedia, Western Front, Video Inn, Women in Focus, Metro Media… all with a 1970s atmosphere of frivolous play. The Pitt was more punk rock verging on anti-intellectualism. But Artspeak went the other way: serious, intellectual, internationally-facing.
PC: “Enlightened provincialism” means that in Vancouver we weren’t defined by Toronto. By going to Europe and having dealers there, we by-passed the usual validation. I think of Jeff Wall mostly, and a few others —— those guys were able to go over New York. They didn’t have to wait for New York or Toronto to give them a show. They were in Europe and taken very seriously. People in Europe knew who Vancouver was. No matter who you were, there was this scene and you were a part of that. At the time, it was something —— it was a small scene, but it by no means had to take second place. That was part of the writing scene as well, the idea that, “We’ve got our thing and anybody who knows about writing in North America knows that we’re up to something.” But we did that by completely reaching past all the normal channels; we didn’t wait for presses in Toronto to do that for us.
RL: Another way to look at it is that in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, there was a specific tension between Toronto and Vancouver, and that really played out in the work. In struggling with this book that I’ve been trying to write, I formulated it in the following way: in BC we have a cosmopolitan regionalism, which is in distinction to a provincial nationalism in Canada. So, Canadian art is by definition provincial, whereas art in British Columbia is, of course, a smaller area of concern. But it somehow went through that and came out the other side as cosmopolitan. Now I rethink it, because I question the categories "nation" and "region." And also, maybe I was just being loyal to my friends, right?
LM: Some influences came from further afield, like when people like Dan Graham, Lawrence Weiner, Robert Smithson and Lucy Lippard came to town. Or on the literary side, there was Kootenay School of Writing’s New Poetics Colloquium in 1985 which brought people like Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian and Ron Silliman. Of course, this is all very remote, and yet oddly familiar from so many repetitions in numerous narratives and histories of Vancouver art and writing.
DG: When I did Homes for America (1965), it was published in Arts Magazine (1966) and Ian [Wallace] and Jeff [Wall] really liked it a lot. They were best friends and Ian pretty much started Jeff going on historical things dealing with classical painting because he did a piece based on Poussin’s Et in Arcadia ego (1637–38) called Lookout (1979). It was on Hornby Island, and all these hippies dressed up as if they were Greeks.1
SW: The hinge year was 1981 when Jeff Wall was in a big show called “Westkunst” in Germany. It was the show of the year, Kasper König’s version of the 20th century. And in the contemporary section —— after you’ve gone from Picasso to Pollock and Warhol, and you wonder, “Well, who is contemporary?” He put Jeff in that section.
GK: Although Mr. König’s original intention was to invite 30 young artists to show in the “Today” section, many creating specific works on site, the money for “Westkunst” ran out, and the original scheme had to be altered. With an additional $50,000 from the city fathers, Rudolf Zwirner, a Cologne dealer, took over. Other dealers were, in effect, told which artists’ work they were to send, and allowed to choose and install specific examples. The result is essentially a trade show, with each dealer offering his hottest item.2
MB: On the literary front, there was the closure of the David Thompson University Centre and then the formation of the Vancouver version of the Kootenay School of Writing (KSW) in 1984. Comparable to the IWW [Industrial Workers of the World, founded 1905], KSW has traditionally held that any form of institutionalization, whether of labour or aesthetics, remains fundamentally in support of hegemony. Here one might recall that the IWW’s political objective was not to reform capital, but overthrow it. Similarly, KSW did not conceive itself as merely a new trade college. In tracing both the school’s political stance and ideological critique to a specific history of leftist struggle in the 20th century, namely, that of anarcho-syndicalism, a consistent position begins to emerge amidst the myriad writing and theory projects that took place there over that first decade. Between 1984 and 1994 the drive for an alternate poetics fuelled corresponding aspirations for a new political critique and a distinct community formation.3
JD: The new formation was attractive to art people in some ways, so there was crossover. Bill Jeffries, who ran the Coburg Gallery, asked us to do a reading series there, because the long-standing series that existed already in the gallery was really dwindling. I specifically remember him saying that not even the friends of the reader were coming out to the readings and that he felt that generation of writers were at the end of their moment of community. He saw KSW as an emergent formation. He was committed to a relationship between poetry and visual arts (in his case, photography) and wanted to have a vibrant reading series in the gallery. I still recall the first reading —— the gallery was packed and we counted 70 people; it was a mix of writers, artists and art students from SFU and Emily Carr. We did screen-printed posters at Emily Carr on blue paper that we got dumpster diving at Mills Paper on Clark Drive.
LM: Artspeak came out of KSW who had the space; the board agreed to make a small room available for a gallery. Discussions around it are in the KSW board meeting minutes, along with protracted conversations about buying a photocopier, and notes on mundane upkeep tasks like replenishing the toilet paper supply —— pages and pages of these hand-written minutes are filed away in the KSW fonds at Simon Fraser University.
NS: After a few years, it became evident that operating funding would be difficult to obtain for a school, and so KSW members looked to their interdisciplinary ties in hopes of qualifying for parallel-gallery funding.4 That is part of what was happening, but certainly it was not the only motivation for what became Artspeak.
KH: Artspeak was associated with theory and academia —— it was this new thing for a bunch of cool young people to start talking about continental philosophers, poetry and language. That intellectual influence came partly from our teachers. We had Ian Wallace, who was very important that way. And when I went to SFU I studied very briefly with Jeff Wall and a lot of what he was using for the syllabus stayed after he had gone, too. A third year studio class would read and discuss Peter Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde or the Situationists, so stuff you weren’t really finding in art history surveys yet —— and he expected you to be able to talk about it.
IW: My semiotic period of the ‘70s was heavily influenced by my readings in language theory and literature, primarily poetry and major works of Renaissance and pre-modernist art history. As early as 1974, I was already describing my works as being postmodern, implying that they consciously repudiated and problematized the reigning precepts of so-called Greenbergian modernism in contemporary art theory.
Theory can have a certain artistic license, though. That was part of the attraction of Roland Barthes for artists who were coming to terms with a new language of representation. I never swallowed the ideas wholeheartedly; I was interpreting them in my own personal way.5
KR: Given Vancouver’s reputation as a hub of artistic experimentation, Ian Wallace’s appropriation of the gallery for a strange performance would not have been out of place at all.
Imagine this —— it’s the 16th of April, 1983. Midnight. The blinds rise on the storefront window of the Or Gallery in Vancouver’s east side. Through the frame of the window, passersby see a brightly lit interior space, Wallace seated at a table reading, hand on his forehead in thoughtful repose.
Wallace’s performance simply titled At Work 1983, appropriates the gallery as a stage for the representation of the working process. This is the studio as a mise-en-scène —— the set of a theatrical process of composing ideas and artworks. But here conventional artistic production is conflated with academic activity.6
CR: The artists and writers associated with Artspeak shared interests in literary theory, construction of meaning, difference, language, semiotics… these kinds of ideas came up all the time. It was all really organic in how these things came together.
BW: But also you could look at it this way: the idea of ART SPEAK, or the language and art connection, sounded at the time almost doctrinaire. In the early ‘80s you said, “What’s the kind of intelligent sophisticated art being made? It’s all image-text or it’s heavily backed up by textual documentation.” And that’s with the “Pictures” generation, and with the sort of schools of photography we associated with Vancouver. That was the way you appeared serious. Artspeak, by taking that on, took on that mantle of seriousness. There weren’t any fun Artspeak shows… well, there was Diane Borsato trying to touch everyone. That’s fun. That’s funny.
PC: I feel like that whole scene was only happening because of all that theory stuff, and people were really energized by it. It changed people’s minds. I was always skeptical. I could never really get it. I tried. I couldn’t read Jacques Lacan! When I asked people —— and I did really sincerely ask people —— nobody could explain it to me. Everybody was totally faking it with the theory in those days! It was like this schoolyard thing: people were passing around books like Hal and the Anti-aesthetic.
BW: Often what was being shared were the books people were reading on their own. People who were coalescing around these galleries considered themselves to have been miseducated. Usually they had a diploma from Emily Carr or a bachelor’s degree from one of the universities. They were re-educating themselves on their own dime and their own time.
SD: Between the talks, conversations and sharing books, it was in many ways a better education than the one I received in art school where there was not much respect for language. At Emily Carr in the early ‘80s, Roy Arden and I suggested that we read Walter Benjamin’s “Mechanical Reproduction” essay in the Photo Seminar, and there were anonymous letters from people saying things like, “We shouldn’t have to read this fascist nonsense,” that, “we’re visual artists, not critics; we don’t need words.” That class was more like group therapy at the time.
KH: With the series Artists/Writers/Talks, mostly it was the same people attending, over and over, poets and visual artists who were interested in each other’s work and willing to exchange ideas. They developed the sort of knowledge of each other where you could really argue something and not cause a fistfight.
CR: They were serious sessions going for hours. People coming from outside of Vancouver sometimes thought they were going to be giving one of those traditional artist talks —— they would just get jumped on!
BW: There was an idea of a certain polemical “smartness” that was associated with the gallery. The smartness of Artspeak was a way to distinguish themselves and associate themselves with a certain group of people and with a set of attitudes and positions that were exclusive. Not that it’s all venal, self-interested calculation. That’s not it at all. It’s more like, “How are we going to distinguish ourselves within the field as we understand it? Who do we want to associate with, and who do we want to explicitly not be associated with?”
PC: I was always in favour of hanging out with the artists, though I don’t think the artists were ever particularly literary. It was very short-lived. At the height of it, you could express it in a certain way: artists would actually go to readings. It was sort of something they took up.
RA: We were all interested in what postmodern practice could be. For me, it was simply intellectual camaraderie —— I wasn’t that convinced of Language Poetry. And I thought that literary and visual art problems were very different.
LB: With Artists/Writers/Talks, you were well aware that you were speaking to two different kinds of practitioners and talking about your work in relation to those distinct disciplines. There was a level of skepticism about how artists were using language. If we’re now in a post-disciplinary moment, that was not the case then. There was definitely some traveling to do between visual and textual language. While it was convivial, there were critical challenges to visual artists using text. Some people were trained in both disciplines, and trained quite well in both. It was valuable conversation because it wasn’t altogether seamless.
KH: In this atmosphere, new kinds of writing about art emerged. The art sometimes was used as a point of departure to discuss something else, or to create an entirely new work, in writing, parallel to art.
PC: That essay Bill Wood wrote back then —— “Skinjobs” —— that was a big inspiration to me. It’s a great essay —— he talks about some big group show in Ottawa, but basically uses Bladerunner. Great piece of writing. Yeah, that was like, “Oh, yeah, Jeez, I can use art writing as way of just saying what I have to say” —— in a more direct way than I’d allow myself with poetry. And I think it also made me a better poet. I think I became more precise about my language.
BW: Also, in the grand tradition of criticism by gangs, I was trying to represent my friends. The parallelism was a way of representing their work. Unlike whatever authority I might be considered to have now as an art historian, I didn’t have that then. Writing about what I knew best meant that it had to be a parallel text —— it wasn’t an attempt at metacriticism. This is work that was being presented for the first time and so a meta-critique of some kind seemed inappropriate. In some ways, I was following a very standard line, that artwork should appear with some kind of commentary, and the commentary in the first place should be complementary —— you can read that “complementary” either way: nice and complimenting or simply complementary in the sense that it goes together.
Audience Member: Who is your talk addressed to? Or, I guess, who are you complaining about? [audience laughter] And how did it come about and how does it relate to your practice?
ML: The paper I just shared with you, “Photography and Democracy,” comes out of some thoughts that I had in an earlier paper I published as “If The Price is Right,” in C. It’s an argument that came out of a conference on photography. I wanted to pick apart some strains of art over the last five or ten years, to understand how it was that the so-called appropriation artists or artists of re-photography in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s had become the paradigm of the critique of modernism. There are a number of critics who had interesting ideas, many coming out of October, and all this seems to have ultimately extended this idea that photography has a liberatory potential, to the point where it became wrapped into the reaction against painting, against modernism and against aura. I’m questioning why that investment, for many, in photographic practices is so absolute.
Audience Member: In terms of feminism, how do you position yourself? I guess I’m asking how you see femininity and masculinity, because it's right there in your work, in Burning. Do you see that as something you’re trying to deconstruct?
ML: An antidotal aspect of this work is my response to the notion of the “new man” —— Vogue talks about it incessantly: the “new man” is the man who’s post-feminist… you know, all this kind of bullshit you read about in Vogue. Well, if you read Vogue! [audience laughter, indistinct joking from crowd] Bill, who kind of pointed something out to me, which I guess I hadn’t really thought about yet, is that the notion of a sexualized male, or the notion of an eroticized male body cannot exist under the regime of representation —— that the notion of the eroticized body in representation relies incessantly, over and over again, on the idea of difference. So, therefore the only body that can be eroticized in the regime of representation is the woman’s body, because it’s the invisibility of the male body’s power that refuses its sexualization. These images then depend on the woman’s configuration, on the history of the representation of the woman’s body, and the idea of the “new man” is that it’s just this cropping that’s the problem, this invisibility. Of course, it’s more complicated than that.
Audience Member: The “new man” has evolved a theory to have it both ways! [audience laughter] So, the risk of assuming a feminist discourse is that, in some ways, you could be attempting to sidestep confronting oppression by simply siding with oppressed.
ML: What I think you’re saying, is that these critical men, in some sense, like, continue in their search for what they really want, right? That feminism is just another kind of, like …a new weapon… they can take up, or something to hide behind.
Audience Member: It’s something that… well, for a man to assume that position, is again, to shore up that authority through the act of deconstruction.
ML: I think you’re right. But it’s an inevitable problem. It’s not just an obstacle, but an inevitable problem that we negotiate constantly. This is something I took up with a friend of mine recently: how does he position himself in relationship to his own body, given that, his work has consistently involved an interrogation of the male gaze on the represented woman’s body? His response was, “I’m just trying to see what it’s like to be a man. I’m deconstructing what it’s like to be a man.”
Audience Member: What I see here in this piece is the construction of the female, or the feminine, and the construction of the “new man” in response to that, and that “new man” kind of becomes her now. So, now his head is thrown back in that sexualized posture, in that position or pose that has been supplied throughout history by men. Perhaps this “new man” or the theorist may have to start thinking about how he sees, how he always imagines the other… how he sees her with her head thrown back… how he reasserts authority.
ML: I don’t know if it’s possible to imagine a relationship without authority. Authority in some sense is part of any relationship, and it’s just how you’re going to, in some sense, complicate that authority. The problem with the “new man” is that it presupposes that there no longer is authority, that things are equal.
Audience Member: But he is in authority, still, because he is now affecting her, doubly, in this situation.
Audience Member: It’s about authority overall…
Audience Member: Hardly… because most of the women in these pictures are constructed by the idea of…
[[[ at this point, people are talking over one another, heatedly, so the conversation becomes indistinct with several overlapping voices ]]]
Audience Member: The men are taking it, for that construction!
Audience Member: The same thing with the women, too, though, when seizing authority and power.
ML: Well, I think you’re right. I think that’s the problem with imagining a relationship of non-authority. I mean, it’s precisely the “new man”… you know, kind of what I just said, the “new man” imagines itself to be no longer possessed with that authority, that it’s part of the democratic or egalitarian exchange. And, as you like to point out, that’s the sham of it all. But I think that’s what I’m probably getting up to …is that the sham makes it more powerful, makes the new man even more authoritarian.
I’m trying to remember a quote… when Derrida’s, in an interview, talking about, you know, when things are neuter, you can be damn sure that it’s, you know, the male, it’s the male it’s the masculine. In a sense, you know, like, um… [ pause ] I’m really not sure. You know, this work… I’m really not sure of its finality. I’m not really sure of how it will finally fit into that question of authority. I don’t think it’s closed off… completely… the work. I think it still… it poses the problem. Even if, you know, the argument could be made that, well, you know… it could use some refinement.
[[[[[[[[[[[[ long pause ]]]]]]]]]]]]]
Audience Member: It’s not just your work, it’s also beyond it. I guess I’m thinking of your position as an artist, and the kind of art system that still largely does not pay a lot of attention to… validating women artists on a certain level.
Audience Member: I think you’re right… I very… maybe naïvely… I look very, um, uh, what’s the word? [pause] …uncomplicated, to believe that… the problem of sexuality is the problem that, um… or, not of sexuality… the problem of the kind of sexual authority that you’re talking about, is a problem for men and not necessarily a problem for women. I mean, I’m sure many women object to the fact there are shows called Art and Feminism, or Feminism and Art, because somehow that makes it a woman’s problem, you know, and “we’ll just give them a show because we’ll get good marks for feminism…”
Audience Member: So, now feminism… it’s part of the problem?
ML: But as a male artist, who’s not a feminist, but who has found feminism very, very important, um… I feel that what I have to do is produce work which somehow deals with that very problem: that I’m not a feminist, but feminism is very…
Audience Member: [interrupting] When you say, you’re not a feminist, what is it about feminists? Or what’s the problem with feminism?
ML: Um… [long pause] I guess I’m trying to avoid the kind of glib generalization… It’s a crucial strategy when you, as an individual decide to self-fashion yourself as a particular political entity and being involved in this particular set of ideas. Going the other way, one of the strategies that some women take in order to get in the mainstream, in “the big boy’s league,” is to insist on being called an “artist” and not a “feminist artist.” I know of a woman artist who now refuses to be in shows about feminism because she feels that marginalizes her art. And, on the other hand, I don’t think it’s a strategy for me to call myself a feminist, because it somehow suggests things are now okay.
Audience Member: It’s sort of an implicit resolution.
ML: Yeah, yeah. It means I’m on your side, if I say that. And it’s not a matter of sides. Precisely feminism zeroed in on that complication, in that sense.
Precisely because women are not occupying positions in the representational apparatus, it gives that position a certain quote unquote “marginality”, whereas for men, it’s already there… I mean… “we men” already have… that kind of authority. So, I think it’s a strategic move by certain people to call themselves feminists. But presumably, feminists are not saying that it’s a label that they want to have for all time. At different times in their lives, or for future generations, a different strategy may be necessary.
The notion of the collectivity is one that’s always going to be kind of an arbitrary, symbolic thing. In a sense, women have taken symbolic initiative, by calling themselves feminists, because they… they’re… articulating, presumably, that this is an important moment of collectivity which is in excess of any… at some points… of any disagreement of that collectivity… when things fell apart is when they said, “We have to recognize every single difference, and that has to happen before we can call ourselves feminists.”
Audience Member: Did you appropriate the text as well?
ML: Well, I wrote it myself, but, obviously… but that’s not the, um, point, that it’s written… but, um… [pause] well. Okay, on a practical level, what kind of practical thoughts had to happen on how to build this work? I had a series of works that preceded this, and I had increasingly moved away, or at least —— some would say I hadn’t —— I felt that I’d moved away from a dogmatic relationship between the image and the text where the text had a job to sort of explain the image. [audience laughter] Increasingly more —— this is your fault —— [gesturing towards someone in the audience; more laughter] …things took on increasingly more nuanced forms, so the last series of photos had… more to do with, um… kind of… [pause] …so, what I tried to do is not to use text.—— recorded artist talk, Artspeak archive (transcript excerpt)
AB: It’s the feeling of resentment I used to have when I would see young, bronzed Adonises. And I thought, “Well, I’ve been cheated.” [laughs]
RK: [laughs] Oh, Alvin, I have this lovely picture of you, sitting on Malibu Beach in one of those awning chairs. You’ve got one of these huge umbrellas sort of pulled down low, so that your head is not visible. And you’re looking seaward, and it’s a beautiful blue day, and there’s this incredible beach of bronzed men, doing their thing.
RK: Well, I had my form of that… It had two conditions that define it. One of them was that I wasn’t, for a number of years, aware of how tall I was. I was referred to, mostly, as being short —— but I could see, if I moved among the Japanese, that I wasn’t short. I was, in fact, taller than most. And when I was younger, I had a predilection for very tall girls. Which was an absolutely hopeless kind of thing to have eating away in you, you know? You’d look at these lovely women and you’d stand beside them at one point and find that you had to look up like this. And you thought, “Oh, my god, they’re tall.” And that there’s a part of you that was totally fascinated by them.
RK: Victor said something to me, when I was in Toronto; we’d toked up and we were sitting there and he, with just a lovely audacity, turns to me and says, “Jesus, Roy, it just doesn’t get any easier, you know?”
He says, “I thought, you know, as I got older, and became more self-assured, and had my shit together, it’d get easier.” “No.” He says, “Every time I try to make it with somebody, I’m scared shitless.”
AB: Oh, yes, but that goes back to his own internal self. Because, actually, he’s closer to the bronzed Adonis than us.
GG: Combined. [laughs]
RK: Therefore, if we’re not anything like a bronzed Adonis, to use your lovely…
AB: But one thing I’ve come to realize is that even the beautiful people often are totally lacking self-assurance. I remember reading in Fear of Flying, Erica Jong was saying, maybe as a hint to men, “No matter how beautiful a girl is, no matter how charming, how graceful, underneath it all, she thinks she’s ugly because she thinks cunts are ugly.”
RK: Wow, that’s far out. That’s really far out because the only poet who has publicly said that is Denise Levertov.
GG: I remember that poem.
RK: You remember that poem?
GG: Yeah, at UBC. “You say our cunts are ugly, like the dark caves of the moon.”
RK: Oh, yes. Oh. Oh, boy. I thought to myself, “That’s really a lovely audacity.” To be able to take that thing that is theirs in a deeply subconscious way, and fix on it, and put it down and say, “This is what has been said.”—— Roy Kiyooka, audio transcript excerpt, audio cassette tape from the Roy Kiyooka fonds, Simon Fraser University
SD: With Link Fantasy, the main thing was somewhat based on this idea of Lulu, the opera by Alban Berg based on the story by Wedekind, which was something I’d been toying with for a long time. We took an approach that was different than the other collaborations in Behind the Sign. The overall exhibition idea suggested the artist would make an image and the writer would make a text, then put the two together, which is what happened in most cases. But Deanna Ferguson and I decided to make a bookwork that was all text and to incorporate themes we’d both agreed upon, with writing from each of us. Deanna’s a really great poet, but she left all that behind, and sort of exited the art and writing communities.
MB: Sure, there were exits and secessions… In one example, declaring themselves “Barscheit Nation,” Lisa Robertson, Christine Stewart and Catriona Strang inaugurated their own frontiers in a loud, brazen experiment in political secession from the patriarchy. Part poetics, part social theory, Barscheit Nation modelled its structure almost entirely after a machine. Its logic was primarily technical, its vision, brutally forthright, cold, determined —— in other words, “self-evident.” …both the language and format of this work recalls some of the most excessive strands of modernist, misogynist writing and thought. The celebration of the machine as a source of kinetic energy and social wonder seems more consistent with the writings of Wyndham Lewis or F.T. Marinetti than the literature of feminism. Rather than evoking ideas of unlimited progress and the promise of technological advancement, however, the Barscheit “machine” is one of “enchantments” only. Here typical masculinist clichés about the machine and technological rationalism are effectively re-appropriated for Barscheit’s own “anarcho-feminist” project. The fact that language intrinsically carries gendered messages has never seemed more explicit. Where older feminist strategies in literature and criticism traditionally employed intense psychologisms, combating masculinist emphases on materialism and empirical reason with a re-directed focus towards interior states of being, Barscheit Nation engaged a more deliberate constructivism. The language of Barscheit Nation, suitable to their collective stance as “Giantesses,” remained pure exaggeration. …they not only challenged the misogynist derivations of high modernism, but the equally problematic search by conventional women writings for an essentially feminist language or mode of thought. The political and cultural movements of the modern patriarchy continue to celebrate the machine as a paradigm of efficiency and control and these are precisely the qualities BN seek to exploit in their own poetics.7
LR: When you’re a young woman, when basically you’re just being eroticized by everybody around you, because that’s your function as a young woman, to be the cultural Eros that can’t be anywhere else, and that’s all that people really want you to be, and you’ll come to an event and look sexy, or say something sexy …you know you’ve got to be something different.8
JR: Of course language was also important to feminist visual artists. I remember how that semiotic moment corresponded with a feminist moment and the extreme problematization of making an image of a woman. We would agonize over that and now it’s kind of funny… Maybe we were perceiving something in the image and feeling it in a way where if you let yourself keep feeling it, you’d go kind of crazy.
PC: Language was important in so many ways. We were getting this new kind of conversation through second wave feminism. There was this sense that if there ever was a boys’ club, it didn’t survive those days really well.
JR: But it wasn’t just about women, it was some of the best theory at the time. The sense of feminism that got lost in the ‘90s was the idea that it was about subalterns linking up. The important thing wasn’t so much about “empowerment” —– I kind of hate empowerment. I understand that attraction, but the romance of empowerment of the ‘90s just doesn’t cut it for me. It’s much more meaningful to have an experience that seeds a kernel of empathy or understanding.
LB: My way of thinking around art in relation to feminism was that it needed to be as complex as the body of scholarship and activism that it came from. Feminism is fundamentally interdisciplinary. It takes place in all disciplines, whether it’s sociology or history or literature or law. So, the introduction of writing was a way to complicate the image in an interesting way.
SW: In the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s, around when Behind the Sign was happening, Allyson Clay, Jin-Me Yoon and other people were making strong feminist statements in art, about painting being a male thing. Allyson was really into that for a while, positioning her work against this notion that painting itself is a patriarchal act full of masculine sexualized metaphor.
BW: Having been involved in that period, I tried to work out what I thought was so surprising. Socialism, feminism and semiotics all seemed to go together and to be inseparable. That hadn’t been bureacratized at that time; it hadn’t been fully academicized or instituted. But it was very important that those things were not separable. That’s certainly what unraveled through the ‘90s —— not just here, but everywhere. If that time period really was a block, you could say that the idea of identity politics was what started that, because it depended not so much on one’s opinions or one’s commitment, as it did on one’s ideological position vis-à-vis oppression.
SW: Certainly identity politics was at its height in the ‘80s. There was one show done by Paul Wong called “Yellow Peril” and Laiwan did a show at the Pitt Gallery, of lesbian women of colour, and the artists were anonymous to protect their identities within their own cultures and communities. Men could only see the exhibition during certain times. That’s kind of an extreme example. You wouldn’t see that today. That was the cultural conversation of the mid-to-late ‘80s.
LW: We were an anonymous collective of queer women of colour, we were two-spirit women and lesbians and bisexuals. There was a visual art component, there was a zine component, and there was a performance component. The collective didn’t last long, but we were doing crazy little things together, drawings, exquisite corpse writings, erotica… it was all very much DIY. We’d photocopy some things and pass them around to each other. Then, Dana Claxton invited us to do a show at the Pitt and we called it “Making Out: Women on the Verge of Revolution in the Mango Swamps of Enchantment.” I think it was part of Queer City, but I can’t remember.9
LB: People were approaching their disciplines from their political viewpoints, as feminists. Rather than saying, “I’m a feminist artist”, like it’s a subset of the category ‘art’, they’d say, “My interest in issues around representation comes from a political viewpoint.”
RL: I think there’s kind of an inverse position between art and politics, where what we strive for in politics is the opposite of what we should strive for in art. There’s a strange mirror inversion so that in the workplace, in institutions, gender becomes a political struggle. You have to fight in all kinds of situations. Whereas in art, like in an artwork, gender becomes something else. In art it’s more of an idea rather than an actual focus of politics. It becomes an abstraction.
PC: Everybody got schooled in a way —— and to a degree maybe not. Maybe everything’s the same as it ever was. Feminism’s a little under-rated now; it was such a strong aspect of the way the dynamic was working. The people that I grew up with as a teenager in a small town were very much one way about those things and then there was this whole different world. There had been a kind of comradely guy-ship, and that was being really affected. You had to be very un-re-constructed to not feel a bit threatened by it… not threatened, but you really had to think.
BW: In a wild overstatement, you could say that time around 1983 was kind of a ‘68 moment, not to say it was a grande fête. It’s more that the failures of the protest movements have power and implications —— as they did in Paris ‘68 —— for people to theorize and to start doing analysis of situations and why there was that blockage of interests, how easily the major mainstream unions could be bought out, what happened to radicalism and radicalization, and so on. It has implications for these forms of feminism that were more bureaucratic in nature than interventionist —— not that that work wasn’t necessary.
PC: But things have gotten way too polite now. People have got to own their bullshit!
LB: Well, the most valid feminist positions are adamantly anti-censorship. If I disagree with someone, it doesn’t mean I am denying them their right to speak. I just disagree with them.
MR: But even so, unconscious mechanisms persist that continue to make women feel slightly less secure than many men when it comes to speaking up with confidence, taking risks and showing their work. Women need to be able to be tough in debates and discussions and not back down. Men still occupy the “default” position. This is a big issue.
LB: The other problem is that gender politics are certainly associated with loss, and loss is painful. Perhaps it’s the loss of an idealized notion of an art world that didn’t exist anyway, a lost innocence. There is pain in realizing that everything is not equal, even in this field that likes to imagine itself as a meritocracy, or a place apart, operating under different rules.
PC: So much of the work reflected how our social structure was working. The most literal manifestation in some ways was Behind the Sign.
RA: When I think of Behind the Sign and think back on Through, a collaborative work I did with Jeff Derksen for that show, I realize something. It’s an okay work, but it made me realize that collaboration wasn’t possible for me. I’m alienated from the text to some degree, because it’s not what I would have done exactly. There’s nothing wrong with the text, it’s just not what I would’ve done. In fact, I wouldn’t make a text piece because I’m a visual artist. I’ve made many works that picture texts, but they are always pictures of texts —— not texts.
SW: Some of us started questioning a certain kind of emphasis on language. When it came to writing “Signing Off” for Behind the Sign, I wanted to say something like, “Think about this: everyone styles themselves as a progressive Marxist of some sort, yet there’s a very strong Marxist critique of post-structuralism.” It seemed to me that post-structuralism was the foundation of Language Poetry and also a certain kind of art criticism. My concern was that in the "critical" atmosphere of deconstruction and the “death of the author,” lyric poetry based on narrative bourgeois values like love or relationships… all this had to go out the window because of the theories around how we’re constructed subjects rather than agents within the system. My objection to that position —— one that most people considered a radical position in poetry and art —— is that it didn’t provide for the agency necessary to provoke social change. I found all that in the writing of Perry Anderson and Sebastiano Timpanaro, in a text Kevin Davies had shared. Timpanaro’s fundamental objection to Lévi-Strauss or Foucault is that they see an erasure of the acting subject who is necessary to activate social change, leaving just systems and distributions of power. The truth lies in between, of course.
What gets me is
the robots are doing
my job, but I don’t get
some extrapolated node
of expansion-contraction gets
my money, which I need
for time travel.10
NS: I will continue my thoughts ensuing from your seemingly innocent question regarding my childhood recollections of playing doctor. While it is obvious that most people attempt such games, the banality of this fact left me at first to gloss over what seemed to be a mere childhood rite. Nevertheless, in daring me to recollect my youthful past, I closed my eyes, as you did, and returned to a time when playing doctor was not just a set of so many clinical procedures. Our games employed medicine’s modern miracles as an alibi for exploring our bodies and emerging sexuality with little consequence. Yet, if the true nature of our games were discovered we would be punished for breaking every taboo that moral authority set before us. Many a child indulged in the titillation of swearing secrecy. Moreover, in this ritual as theatrical and dramatic romance, another set of rules remained latent in our play. What could be more thrilling than being saved from the brink of death by some scientific-God cum knight-errant —— making a swift shift into the deadly world of patriarchal gender relations? (We should discuss this matter more soon.)11
Audience Member: So, don’t you want to make a good painting?
AC: Yeah, well, I make paintings to the best of my ability, and what’s a good painting? For me, it’s the conflict that’s interesting. Painting is prone to being about the end product instead of the process. Also, I’m thinking about intervening in the male world of abstraction, rupturing its authority by finding different ways to make paintings for myself, and for making painting critically.
Audience Member: Well, what do you hope to achieve? You might expose it? But aren’t you also inhabiting it? Is it something worth inhabiting? Can geometric abstraction be developed further?
AC: I think so —— I see it as a territory not deconstructed yet.
Audience Member: I don’t understand what you hope to deconstruct, you know, once you’ve entered this male territory. You can’t re-write it.
AC: You can’t paint unless you enter a male tradition. That history was overriding a personal desire for me.
Audience Member: But I have a feeling that in Canada that particular conflict has already been resolved because I read this show as non-gender specific, at least at first glance, I mean before reading the text part. Why abstraction?
AC: Because it represented for me this untouched aura of male visual language, and this notion of universality that goes along with abstraction. I was interested in working with the impossibility of that kind of utopia because I feel so excluded.—— recorded artist talk, Artspeak archive (transcript excerpt)
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RK: Saturday, June the twenty-sixth. Rained. A light. So few drizzles. When at last… A real drench after three intense weeks of silences. Summer, hot summer silences. That’s the first sky I can see sitting here, turned towards Powell Street. That silver sliver. That silver sliver of sky I can see beguiles me.
I’ve come toward that thin sliver of silver sky since I’ve been here, above the Pacific Bakery on Powell Street. If I close my eyes and try to visualize what the cover of all, all the lattices of summer might be… If I close my eyes and try to do this, I feel a hiss of words way down, down in the pit of my stomach, rising there. Rising up… is it through the larynx? The hissing of them says all those, those, all those lattices of summer tears are nothing, nothing more than that thin silver sliver of sky you see, you can see, sitting with your head turned towards the street.
Driven by that thin, thin slit of silver sky, I’ve started doing things again. I’m doing it at this moment, this very moment. Can you hear all those lovely silver slits of sky? Can you hear them?
Saturday. Saturday, June the twenty-sixth. The first rain in three weeks.
—— Roy Kiyooka, audio transcript excerpt, audio cassette tape from the Roy Kiyooka fonds, Simon Fraser University
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CR: As much as Artspeak and Kootenay School of Writing loved being together, it was too difficult to convince funders. They said, “Either you get funding through the literary programs or the visual arts one.”
KH: After a couple of years, the people who were most responsible for KSW just didn’t see the point, and said, “We’re running all these courses so that we can do something more interesting, but we’re not doing much of the ‘more interesting.’” At the end of Artspeak’s first year, KSW basically said, “We’re going to toss it in for now. Instead of doing all these courses, we’re going to concentrate on doing a few really cool things.”
CR: The gallery was started in 1986, right during Expo, right around the time when rents were going up. But when we went out on our own to find a space, we got lucky with 311 West Hastings —— it was about 300 bucks a month, so it was quite manageable. And the location was a good fit —— Spartacus Books was in the same building, then Stan Douglas got the studio next to us… eventually the Or moved in across the road.
KH: It was still a struggle. We had two successful project grants for publication which helped a little bit. But it also produced this weird inequity where you could pay some artists, but didn’t have enough to pay others.
CR: It was really important to give artists as much as possible and we would pay for as much as we could. In the early days of Artspeak, some exhibitions had a glossy catalogue, but most weren’t well funded. And as much as possible I’d skim a reasonable amount away to pay for everything else. The first funding we were able to get was project money. I would apply for a Canada Council grant for a show. We would get money to do a catalogue and to do a proper show; I would put money in the budget to pay me as the curator, but then that money that was supposed to pay me is what we used to run the gallery for a few months.
LB: Cate was super smart in how she set up Artspeak. She put together a really good board, but she had huge autonomy in terms of how she operated the space. When you compare it to centres that started at the same time, she had a very strong and direct notion of the kind of work she wanted to show. She also recognized early on that publications are a critical part of artists developing a career and developing their work. She was successful in raising money to do both exhibitions and publications. I’m not saying it was easy street —— it was low pay and a real struggle.
PC: It’s worse now in some ways. In Vancouver, it’s become really expensive. I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it, because we had all this privilege that we took for granted. At the time, I never thought this would be interesting. I thought this is what things were going to be like. Things have just gotten folded up. It’s getting harder to imagine some of those things happening now. Also, the set of classes of people involved in the art world in those days was more varied. Back in the ‘70s, there was much more mobility —– people came up from the working class; people came from the interior and from different parts of BC. That was happening much more than it does now —– it felt much easier for people to manoeuvre and to figure things out and to live.
SD: Back then we could say anything we wanted because we didn’t have any obligation to anyone except to ourselves. The thing about Artspeak now is that it’s very much an institution of the sort I was critical of in Vancouver Anthology. Artist-run centres have been disciplined by federal and provincial funding structures to behave like proper institutions —– and at a certain point all institutions become more interested in reproducing themselves than in pursuing the core objectives upon which they were founded. I remember when the Canada Council began demanding that artist-run centres draft five-year plans to get funding. There was a lot of hand-wringing with people asking themselves, “Should we accept this kind of funding? It will change who we are.” They did, and it did.
MT: The first steps of any new institution are always about the potential of its mandate. Over time the room fills in, and every now and then there is a sorting, with new categories that strain to be legible —– but ideally within the terms of that mandate. Less often a shift occurs and the mandate becomes specific, and in its specificity certain aspects —– those that insist on being open to outcome —– fall away.
JR: Institutions are kind of masking something —— it’s Walter Benjamin’s theory, the idea that every act of civilization is also an act of barbarism —— I’ve paraphrased it wrong, but the sensibility is right: there’s always something that’s killed; there’s always the corpse somewhere inside the institution, and there’s something else as well, something living.
LB: Sometimes we were on two or three boards at the same time. It had to do with the scale of the community at that time and the interest in setting up non-profit societies. There were a few people in town with experience in whipping together a constitution and a mandate and so forth. It seemed like one of those things that you just did.
JR: Then there’s academia… It could be too many years spent at the university, but if the institution is an organism, it’s a very weird, odd organism. At the university, there’s no prohibition against shaping ourselves to what funders want. We’re kind of desperate to catch the eye of somebody at the upper level administration who controls the money and who happens to like circles, say —— and we say, “Okay, great, we’re doing circles.” We have a bit of pride and try to do it not too horribly, but it’s just this crazy, exhausting model. Every institution has its own self-preservation as a goal, but at the same time it’s sucking all the participants’ drives.
SW: There’s also this ongoing weird weight of the past that just gets heavier over time. For example, I’m on a committee —— it’s only met twice —— to figure out what to do with the Western Front’s enormous media archive. Every performance, every poetry reading, had been audio taped or video taped since 1973. The stock is old. The electronic signals are fragile and fugitive. What do you do with it? A huge chunk of energy at the Front has to go into the museumification of itself, which was intended from the outset. That’s why everything was documented.
LM: Clint Burnham presented a video clip from the Western Front archive: Fred Wah 1974 in the Luxe Theatre, talking about being back in Vancouver and about pictograms that baffled researchers. He’s drinking a beer with an awkwardness that comes with a bit of discomfort at having all eyes and ears directed towards him. The camera work is a comedy… at first the operator couldn’t seem to decide whether to place attention on Wah or on the projected pictograms that he presents as the visuals to go with his spoken word. It's an odd sensation watching an event that had taken place nearly 40 years earlier, the recorded image taking possibly the exact spot where Wah might have stood.
SW: As part of the archival work, the Front invited people into the archives to do presentations. In one example Michael Turner had found bits of three readings from the ‘70s. He screened them and talked about them. And of course this event was being recorded. Twenty years hence this will be part of the archive, and part of the issue. It will just get more and more layered. You wonder if the past won’t clog up the gears so much that the future won’t be able to come into being.
JR: There’s that desire to do something, and then you kill it in doing it. But then if you do happen to kill it, you could choose to deal with the corpse lying around.
PC: Access, Or and Artspeak have effectively become part of the state apparatus. They’ve been there so long that any relationship to the initial impulse of a place like the Western Front or the Or Gallery is so far back in the past that it’s a little Soviet in a way. It was the era of the artist-run centre, and there was the idea that this art had a virtue attached to it. You get that with the writing, too; all of sudden people started talking about it as if it were socially important. I was very interested in saying, “No, I want to try to preserve Bohemia if we can and stay on the margins” —— I was much more interested in that world. That choice is gone.
BW: I don’t think anything remains very close to its origins over 20 or 25 years. Also consider that a show at the Or or Artspeak is second level now; it’s no longer an entry-level showing out of art school. Also, in a way, my idea about an oligarchy at the Western Front that I’d talked about in “This is Free Money?” may exist now among the local curatoriat.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was a local circuit including the Or, Artspeak, the Contemporary Art Gallery, Western Front and the Vancouver Art Gallery. Most artists of credit made it around to all of them, usually at group shows in the latter two, usually within a few years, and that started them on a local career. Then they showed at some place in the East, then some place internationally, and that’s how an art career went. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more. And there’s been the rise of a small local commercial market with Catriona Jeffries, Monte Clark and Equinox, along with further international ties. So, that’s remarkably different.
JR: When it comes to institutions, I think the key is figuring out what are good conditions for the thing you want to do instead of just trying to work in the conditions that currently exist. I have some kind of resentment against the topic of this conference, “Institutions by Artists” and against the insidious ways that the exciting energies of feminism and some types of politics and avant-garde poetics got funneled into certain channels over the years. It seems necessary, but it also takes its toll. It takes its toll on the people who agreed to play those roles of managers and it takes its toll on the people who don’t feel like participating in that at all. It’s very hard to create an institution or an entity that’s multiple enough.
LW: Looking back, I don’t think I envisioned OR as an institution in any way —— it was a creative experiment that had its own energy that I was following. My motivations were naïve and innocent, but not in any negative or anti-intellectual way. I was simply following energy and looking for places where creative energy could be found and built.
EB: Another problem with a 30-year old organization that has funding is that it has to be governed and it has to make things happen. In a way, the kind of loosely structured artist spaces that young people always do —— the kind that have no money, but they throw parties and they install art… Those are labours of love out of youthful energy and a desire to experiment with art. Artist-run centres need to have administrative roles. I don’t know whether that’s very interesting. I feel like that’s boring. Maybe artist-run centres are boring!
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AF: Scandalous? Sure. [laughing] Bring it on. The collapse of language and art is all over the place right now, and I do believe it’s a resurgence of the creative in language again —— particularly art language, because it gets so stale and so boring.
EB: There have been many kinds of art language —— think of the poets who’ve turned to writing about art. I’ve encountered this idea that a bunch of poets realized they could write art criticism and they had more freedom. I’ve heard many people say it, that they had more freedom writing about art than they felt they had within the strictures of a kind of poetry and criticism around literature that they felt stifled by. I’m fairly certain that attests to something that art is good at, a kind of freedom.
PC: I figured writing about art was something that poets had historically done. It was how you earned your keep in a way. I could create this seriousness just by publishing reviews; right away the art world took me way more seriously than the poetry world did.
MT: The conversation in the visual arts has always been an interesting one, perhaps the most expansive of all the arts. The audience I think about when writing fiction is one whose eyes are visual art eyes, as opposed to literary eyes. If I think of a literary audience when writing a review or an art essay, I think more in terms of technique, form more than content. If I could extend the “dumb like a painter” adage to literary writers, I would.
AF: But also, we’re trapped in language. It’s a very Derridean idea, but our entire world, how we understand the world, is dedicated to the categorization of words and objects and ideas. Everything we do, we express through language, whether it’s verbal, natural or gestural. I see that all as language. I don’t know how we get outside of that.
ST: For both artists and critics, theory’s influence caused culture to be reconceived as a system of signs for decoding (and contesting) rather than the cultivation of sensibility to be developed through contact with a tradition of great art. The operations of artists and critics became functionally similar: to research, analyze, and critique the way that ideology operates through images.12
EB: I resist that. I resist the idea that you would just assign signifiers and signifieds to all of the parts of an artwork in order to understand its meaning. We all know that language is more complicated than that. I really privilege experience, so whether looking at a colour is a language or not doesn’t really matter to me. A wavelength goes into your body and you have a sensation that informs your life. That’s ground level for me. I resist the idea that language is the fundamental human thing. I’ve had experiences that are not ideologically composed. That’s why I became an artist. With art, I felt like through the occasional experiences that are not ideologically composed, there are possibilities of an escape or an out that leads to something else. That’s what everyone wants anyway by critiquing ideology —– to find something else.
RK: Basically what it comes down to is this: the syntax of colour, which is what painting is about, can’t really be accessed through language, not really. Theoretically it can be talked about, but the experience of painting and the use of colour is much closer to the experience of reading poetry, rather than writing it, because the language has to be performed. That’s what you do when you paint, except the medium of your performance is colour —— and I don’t mean colour towards a representational end… No amount of study of language gives anybody an access to that. For me it doesn’t overlap, and it’s quite clear to me why, because whereas writers certainly with frequency write about painting and about painters, I see the writer being given ostensibly a subject matter around which he can create an articulation. But paint as paint, or colour as colour …it has to be seamless, it is silent, it has no language of a linguistic sort by which you can define its parameters. Quantities and qualities are entirely measured through the eye.13
BW: A dominant idea circulating in the ‘80s is that photographic, cinematic and televisual images do not come without text of some sort attached. This idea was attached particularly to mechanically-made images. That’s why painting was abjured. It may have had a very strong textual support, but painting itself is not considered linguistically-based, whether that’s true or not. You can’t linguicize painting the way you can photography, by relating it to those textual supports that exist within media culture. As much as I buy the idea that there aren’t images without text and language attached to them in some way, I now more and more buy into what Michael Baxandall said: pictures are pictures, words are words —— you can’t convert one directly into the other. It just doesn’t work that way.
AF: Situating criticality is tricky. I guess I’d place it in the value in being uncomfortable. If an idea of an artwork or someone’s opinion actually upsets or discomforts me, I know there’s something there. And language can affect us in that way, for better or for worse. When discomfort does happen, that’s when you need to dig in deeper. So, for me, to be critical is to be honest, and to be honest is perhaps to be uncomfortable sometimes.
EB: I locate criticality in awareness, in trying to be aware of what’s going on. Being aware of what’s going on is a great critical faculty to have. Being in touch with your inner life —— enabling the way your mind works —— is as important as watching what’s going on around you, and watching what other people do. Indulging in the incredible complexities of being free is critical. The best art helps me to experience that kind of awareness and freedom.
SW: Experience is one thing, but in the academy, you’d have to be dense not to notice that theory is what’s required in order to get people away from common sense and what they came to school with! It’s absolutely required in order to take things apart. But when people first encounter it, I notice that in order to find their bearings, they use it as a moral guide, “This is good and this is bad, or this is acceptable and this is not acceptable.” In order to negotiate your way through it, you do that. You don’t make a critical inquiry at every stage. You know what the consensus is and you follow it. You know what will happen if you don’t. There are theoretical regimes in the academy. I don’t say this very often, because this is the right-wing ignorant anti-academic critique of the academy —— but of course we do this. It’s the way the academy moves along. Those theoretical tropes change; they’re constantly being challenged. But back in the ‘80s, certain theoretical tropes were extremely strong and almost unquestioned in certain circles.
ST: With regard to criticality, it’s worth pointing out that the “critical” aspect of critical theory has two primary sources. One is the deconstructive method of post-structuralism that conceives of all fixed meaning as a form of ideological oppression (specifically, the fixing of meaning in binary terms like white/black and man/woman that privilege one term at the other’s expense), to be combatted by decentering meaning and embracing slippage and fluidity. The other source derives from the cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt School and the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, which focus on how class power is bolstered and enforced by its coding in cultural and artistic forms.23
RL: Here’s another trap —— if I set up a set of criteria and a theoretical structure, am I then compelled to follow it? Consider an artist that sets up a system in their work —— it’s a common habit from the ‘60s onwards: you set up a system and just follow it. That was a way to engage in activity and then the work pulls you along and it seems to go in its own direction. Sounds like a good policy. But at a certain point, you have to say, “Well, this is what I think.”
The critic or the artist who is enslaved to their system is enacting a neurosis of labour in our society. There’s the boss giving the orders, and there’s the worker who carries them out. Many artists have internalized those roles. They set up the set of instructions and then they dutifully go and follow the instructions. So, they’re both boss and worker. And in no way does that hellish situation stay engaging. Of course, modern art is supposed to be about negating that particular kind of torment we all live through. So, say I have a critical system, why do I have to follow it?
EB: Well, another thing about theoretical systems is that the experience that you have, in your inner life, when you go about the world —– I don’t feel it matches up very well with theoretical discourse. Those are radically different ways of being in the world. I like philosophy and theory —— they do certain things really well; other things they’re not capable of. With theory, it’s tempting to feel elevated, and it’s a paradox with an academic theory-based approach to the world. It’s tempting to feel like you have an objective view of the situation: “Oh, I can see how ideology is functioning in this situation,” for example. I think Jacques Rancière said it best, but you get the idea.
ST: By around 2000, the post-‘68 French theory that had been introduced in the late ‘70s and ‘80s was fully absorbed into the academic mainstream. Postmodernism had ceased to be a contested term and was more-or-less thoroughly naturalized. It had become commonplace for our current era to be referred to as neither modern nor postmodern, but “contemporary.” As such, much of the new philosophy that emerged, especially after September 11, 2001, explicitly or implicitly broke with the orthodoxy of deconstructionist postmodernism: Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek, for example, championed a return to Marxism (and even full-blown Communism) while Jacques Rancière rose to artworld popularity with a notion of “aesthetic politics” that, while vague enough to lend itself to diverse use, offered a reorientation of the increasingly exhausted rhetoric of “criticality” in art.14
MR: Criticality is not about being able to explain a work away through language. Criticality and critique work through medium, form and ideas gelling in unexpected ways; it’s through the potential of trial-and-error, experimenting through knowledge, and new forms of assemblage. Sometimes you don’t know until you hit upon it, through experience. Criticality comes into play when one’s work reflects that it is of its time. Why work in this manner now, with these materials in this way? What is at stake, and what makes this work feel important to contemporary viewers? This only seems possible once one has learned what, culturally, has come before.
EB: Looking back is important, but something was revealed to me when I went to the Pacific Standard Time show in LA. It had one exhibition called “Under the Big Black Sun” —— it was huge and loosely overlapped the years that artist-run centres started in Canada, so 1974 to 1981. The Geffen Museum was full of conceptual-ish art works and there was about as much reading as there was art work in the show. So much of the art was text, with so many little vitrines filled with postcards and letters. I was bored out of my skull at times, thinking, “Oh my God, I’m not getting any energy here; all I’m seeing are the leftovers from a period that had energy.”
There are all these attempts to make art and life the same thing. There were artists who felt like they were leading some kind of critical artistic lifestyle, so much so, that the actual art works as objects or things, especially around conceptual art, were left aside for the sake of these other sorts of experiences. At certain moments in those histories, I imagine being there was probably exciting. But what’s left over are correspondences between artists or little postcards or manifestos. The worst stuff is really didactic work that has text and a picture, and you jump back and forth between reading and looking. And the looking part is kind of underwhelming. Those are the worst-case scenarios.
MR: As for writing about art, that can become another sort of trap. The text I wrote for Vancouver Art & Economies became a lot of pressure to write something good, especially after the success of so many of the essays in Vancouver Anthology. Many people felt very comfortable retreading established ground, writing about established artists. There were a few of us who were broaching artists who weren’t getting as much attention, and it was so new and out of context from the other stuff that is acknowledged so regularly in the Vancouver art scene that it made for a strange publication. Sometimes sequels really feel like sequels… I felt like I was part of a bureaucracy, part of an already-institutionalized space.
PC: The last text I wrote for a catalogue was about Heather Passmore’s work, the drawings that she did on the correspondence she’d received from galleries… all these letters where she’s getting turned down for shows. It made me realize that while it’s hard in many ways to be a writer, it’s so hard to be an artist with all that rejection and people taking a real tone with you. There was one letter that really caught my attention —— nobody ever talked to me like that as a poet! They wouldn’t dare! All power switched hands from the content producers to the curators.
RL: I remember walking across the campus on a rainy day with Scott Watson, talking about the melancholy garden [laughs], and he informed me that he was going to do a show of young Vancouver artists (which became 6: New Vancouver Modern in 1998.) And he said, “Well, I just thought I’d pick up some friends… hang around with Patrik [Anderssen] and…” [laughing] At first I thought that’s not such a good idea! And then I thought to myself, why not? It’s a legitimate critical strategy. Matthew Higgs, a renowned international curator, is quite open about it: “I show people who are my friends.” What other criteria is there? Well, I’d argue that you have to have some other criteria.
SW: One of the reasons Vancouver is so prominent is because of books like Vancouver Art & Economies. Vancouver’s hunger to know its own history and to talk about its art means that the scene is always enlivened by discussion, research, and argument.
MR: By the time Vancouver Art & Economies came along, in 2006, I felt that Vancouver had already been institutionalized enough, that it was really hard to escape this grid of who’s legitimate and who’s not. “Why do I have the right to speak here?” I wondered, and I began to feel like a bit of a fraud! The whole process began to feel like a trap. I kept asking myself, “Okay, who are the people who can address these issues and who are the people who can add something different to the conversation?” I felt that the people who added something different were perhaps not “players” in the same way. It created this really weird rift, and everyone felt it —— Vancouver’s art scene is like that.
EB: Sure, there’s a tension between what community is and what art is. Everyone wants a community whether they go to church or whether they go to art openings. Artist-run centres have a history of emphasizing community over art, partly because the discourse didn’t want to believe that art was something with a capital letter. They wanted to believe that it was a manifestation of material forces, which is fine. But I don’t think that covers all the bases. The result is there has been a lot of great community around art through artist-run centres, and every now and then an artist who’s really good is able to flourish within that system.
AF: Community hasn’t worked in the same way for text. I think text has largely been very subservient to art. Text isn’t seen as its own form; it’s seen as a secondary supplement to uphold and protect a certain idea, a certain value of art. There is no value placed in the writing itself, let alone the writer. A lot of great artists in this city are great writers. But they don’t write much. It’s a lot of work, but there’s no value attached to it here. Why would they write?
ST: We can hope that our writing can mean something in a way we can’t anticipate —— that it can bring a new audience into being. Writing should make a form of knowing available by making people interested in it. It’s our own responsibility to produce a context for the work we want to see.15
JR: It’s strange, in interviews, you talk for a period of time, and then there are a few seconds in which you can’t remember what you said during them. So it was almost embarrassing to hear that part, when I said something about an expectation in Vancouver that artists articulate what they are up to. I thought, “Does that sound really rigid?”
But I would probably still say the same thing, which is that in Vancouver artists have been expected to know how to talk about their work. Although I can also see why there’s resistance to that. When I was in school and was studying with Jeff Wall or Kaja Silverman, and various other artists and theorists, what was interesting to me was to experience art’s transformation… its expansion into signification. That really unlocked artworks and cinema for me. But it also seemed really fun.
Years later when I went to do my MFA in America, that approach was not as appreciated. That was when I realized that I had been really indoctrinated into a Vancouver style. I hadn’t questioned the rigidities of a value system around… I don’t know if it was conceptualism… or a kind of rationalism, or proposition making. So I did learn a lot. But on the other hand I also retained a suspicion of artists who didn’t want to talk about their work. It seems they don’t want to risk limiting the artwork’s potential to signify in any way. My suspicion is they more or less wanted their work to be very promiscuous market objects and thought that by talking about it they would “close it down.”
I am more sympathetic to the fact that artists also avoid talking about their work because they don’t know how to do it. It’s super uncomfortable, you feel false. It’s not that you are shutting down the meaning of the work because you talked about it. You are shutting down the meaning of the work because people are going to take you as an authority. And as, quite literally, the old-style “Author.” That’s why I find it interesting to think about the convention of the artist talk, and how it functions. …it functions to cathect or join the artist back to the artwork. You say, “I made this. I did this, then I did this, I can talk about it," but in fact the fabulous thing about the artwork is how alienated it often is from you after you make it. I think this was in fact the larger topic I was addressing when I made that statement for the video.
A few years ago the Belgian artists Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys came to Vancouver. They gave a talk about parallel realities, and did not mention their work once. It was pretty inspiring. Isabelle Pauwels has also done these type of performative talks. I have done a couple as well and they are really taxing, but they are their own, really interesting genre.16
MR: When it comes to writing about art, I understand that through writing, you can have a voice. If you’re not willing to create a community through writing, then you might be overlooked.
TM: Awhile back I had described what I’d called a community of text. Artists from Vancouver had fashioned a highly developed discourse where the city becomes a staging ground for charting the international flow of populations, capital and information. I thought that theoretical and narrative texts about community are in practice a manifestation of community; so, when it came to studying the discursive production of Vancouver artists since the 1970s, I decided to study the practical generation of a diffuse community manifested in text, one that defines itself in relation to radical pop, minimal and conceptual art practices of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, yet one that also understands itself as a particularly administered and institutionalized continuation of those projects. Further, given this bureaucracy of the avant-garde felt internationally as well as in a very specific way locally, there’s been an attendant character of irony and doubt in the larger formulation of this continued activity.17
EB: Richard Tuttle came to town and made an artwork and he called it Theory as a joke on Vancouver basically, and he said art comes first, that theory doesn’t make art. Theory might make something that looks like art, but art is the thing that’s actually capable of engendering a theory.
LM: I think this is one of the problems of a critic or a curator coming to an artwork with a theory already in mind, with the temptation there to take the artwork as illustrative of the theory of the moment, as opposed to being a little more open to possibilities. And, yes, there's been art going the other way with the tendencies feeding into each other; theory-driven art became associated with most of the artist-run centres.
EB: Younger artists in Vancouver don’t even go to artist-run centres any more. They make their own artist-run centres that don’t have any money and are not rarefied. It’s really cool. It’s kind of sad for some of the artist-run centres that are getting out of touch in a way. But, you know, that will change, too.
MB2: The term Artist Run Centre (ARC) is a complicated one. To me, it brings to mind bureaucracy, committees, paperwork, applications and a much older generation of Vancouver artists. From my understanding, there are a limited number of ARCs in Vancouver that are able to receive funding, and those spots have been filled for a really, really long time. We don’t refer to ourselves as an Artist Run Centre, since it seems to have a pretty rigid, official definition according to the city and the arts-funding organizations. However, we are often referred to as being a part of an “artist-run culture” in the city, which seems a bit more fitting.18
AF: There’s room for something to happen. Take Artspeak, for instance. Distance is the most interesting thing about Artspeak at this point. I love that it came from a poetry centre, with language as part of its mandate. But it’s more interesting to resist the temptation to just keep going back to the glory days, those few years in the beginning that no one knew what they were doing, but they were just doing it. It’s impossible to uphold; institutions are growing up or they’re going to have to pay. Artspeak is interesting in that way, in having to find new ways of making language an entry point into work.
EB: Well, I agree that things are changing. Much of Vancouver’s art history seems to hinge on the fervor of artists who threw away their paint brushes to pursue other supposedly critical media and activities. Now it’s not necessarily fruitful to say “the dominance of conceptual art” or “photoconceptualism”. That’s not the case anymore. It’s changing rapidly. Back when I wrote my Postscript text for Artspeak, I felt the need for a more polemical tone to fight back a bit to find a place for the sensual.
AF: Here’s where we might agree on the “sensual” somewhat. Back when I was blogging with a focus on the prairies, I realized that there was something to this idea of a sense of place, a very Leopardian idea of how we understand the world, like we’re going to get outside of language somehow. What is our environment? How does that affect what we see, how we move and what we make?
JZ: I felt that the memorable… the memory-making physical and spiritual world had been denuded from so much art that emerges from Vancouver.
LM: In many ways “memory-making” is not what it once was. In the late ‘60s artists like Dan Graham located the conditions of visibility for art in publishing, and in magazines specifically; today those conditions have exploded exponentially, laterally and cross-referentially so that we can access images and text for any art, or in some cases access the art itself, any time, anywhere. So, the physical substrate is no longer a physical space, or the physical supports of the traditional art mediums, but our systems and devices for viewing, reading and indexing this material. Once the physical supports for art are removed to that distance, or even liquidated, what’s left? Where’s the focal point of critique? There’s also much resistance to that recurring tendency towards some sort of dematerialization, but such moves risk being retrograde or nostalgic.
IW: One of the most significant and influential conceptual artists working today, Dan Graham is happy to invoke critical thinkers like Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin, architectural history, and psychoanalytic theory when discussing the genre-blurring art he’s been making since the 1970s. The 75-year-old artist will, however, just as quickly deny that they have anything to do with his art —— or even, in some cases, that he’s actually read them.19
SL: Unlike the writings of Dan Graham or Robert Smithson, Jeff Wall’s tend to have a rather conventional art-historical character. Smithson’s and Graham’s texts are an integral part of their work and sabotage discursiveness by luring the reader into a Borgesian labyrinth of language, as Wall himself once remarked.20
MB3: What’s the difference between an MFA and MA?
PB: It means that I wrote a longer thesis.
MB3: And you get one less letter.
PB: Yeah exactly.
MB3: Can you describe the life and work of a curator as opposed to an artist?
PB: I did this program in curatorial practice —— it had lots of practical components to it, but generally it was more like the theory of exhibitions and thinking about the construction of exhibitions and the language of exhibitions as opposed to the language of art… thinking about how different objects relate to the politics or discursive frameworks and the politics of display. I was already interested in the organization of information.
I think the difference between a curator and an artist is minimal. Since I’m independent and I have no affiliations, I operate more as an artist with a daily practice, getting invited to different exhibitions as an artist, but working curatorially even when I’m not doing the exhibition. I just did a show in the San Francisco Pavilion for the Shanghai Biennial. I was there last week showing a video that was a lecture that I’ve given a number of times that I would normally consider to operate more as an art practice. It’s a long project that I’ve done different writings about and I’ve had different people perform the lecture or versions of the lecture remotely and I’ve also given the lecture in Vienna and San Francisco and I intend to do it in New York and in the Netherlands.
MB3: Other people gave your lecture?
PB: Yeah. I just kind of farm it out and they can manipulate it the way that they want to. I do these lectures that are certainly more artist-oriented than putting on an exhibition. But it is a form of display and exhibition because it’s contextualizing information spatially and temporally.
MB3: What does contextualized information look like?
PB: It depends. Especially in these lectures where it’s like a PowerPoint presentation, think about old art history classes were they would put a simple juxtaposition and put two slides up and you talk about them forever.
But I like to think about other kinds of contextualization… Marcel Broodthaers and even Aby Warburg, some of these kind of strange anthropological collectors who would contextualize their information in a really specific way. Someone like Aby Warburg, he would create these kind of alternative libraries, rather than follow certain academic hierarchies, he would create his own relationships between them often with all these different kinds of images that, being placed in proximity to each other, were able to create relationships that weren’t necessarily based on constrained taxonomies. I think that stuff is really interesting.
MB3: What’s a constrained taxonomy?
PB: There are these very rigid disciplinary genres and distinctions. In contrast, think of moving through and creating other relationships between things that are not based on some sort of unifying presence. Or like maybe a unifying premise that is able to bring in things that would otherwise not be coming together —— discordant things that can be building and creating constellations, essentially. I think that’s how curators and art historians and artists in general operate by creating constellations between things…
MB3: …offering new associations.
PB: I think that nowadays in relationship to information, it’s more a matter of an asterism. Asterism is like a non-canonical astrology. It’s like seeing a collection of stars and saying, “that’s a constellation” but it’s not.
MB3: And that’s a good thing?
PB: Well seeing order in chaos…
MB3: By non-canonical you mean only grouping unfamous things together. But getting stuff from far out.
PB: Like creating relationships between these things that are maybe not following rigid, already-expected structures.
MB3: Like serving kimchi with a ham sandwich.
PB: Yeah. Why the fuck not? And I think that’s really important. I had a teacher once in curatorial practice and he was talking about that, for every exhibition, there should be a black dog in the exhibition. He was Larry Rinder who runs the Berkeley Art Museum now, and he had worked for the Whitney. His work looks at different topics by building a theme and giving all these different examples that would expand and contrast and contest those themes.
MB3: Sounds like fun.
PB: Exactly. And I think that’s the point of curating in a lot of ways. But he was always talking about having a black dog in your show, something that shouldn’t be there, and like a parasite in the system, it creates another system that opens the system or closes the system. It’s a dissonant note. It’s like an awkward minor 7th; it’s like a form of jazz. I went to San Francisco after I left Canada and there just happened to be all these major names in curating at the time. Jens Hoffman, Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Larry Rinder, Kate Fowle, Magali Arriola… it was just lots of activity. I was pretty different than most of my class: when they looked at cultural administrators and curators or organizers, they looked at their power positions and ways of operating and were like, “I want that job.” Coming from a hyper-critical school like Emily Carr, mine was more of a “know the enemy” and trying to learn this very specific kind of language that really is a meta-language, of being able to describe and articulate, and a sort of contesting which you couldn’t otherwise do.
MB3: I read some of your text A Productive Irritant : Parasitical Inhabitations in Contemporary Art —— I found it dry and hard to get through. I came away from it feeling like it itself was a parasite devouring my time. Was that on purpose?
PB: Oh yeah, of course. Over-interpretation is a form of practice that I’ve used a number of times and it can be quite useful in a Wikipedia world where we become aware of how all these things can interconnect. The overdoing it produces forms of knowledge where you become aware that it catalyzes all this stuff.
MB3: Who is aware?
PB: The reader. Or you become aware of the interconnectedness or arbitrariness or ramifications of information.
MB3: Sounds like kind of Relativist.
PB: No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a politics of information where there’s so much information that it’s really charting certain routes through that kind of information.
MB3: In the text itself or in life?
PB: Just in general. If you look at the footnotes, that’s where we dropped a lot of the really crazy shit. Which may or may not have appeared in the final text. The footnote is a form of parasitism as well. Or this paratext that defers this kind of safe one-to-one relationship of information.
MB3: A lot of artists have had fun with footnotes. Like Nabokov’s Pale Fire.
PB: I did a footnotes thing for a friend’s project where he had me write the footnotes for his article and I wrote five times more than the article itself.
MB3: David Foster Wallace. He was big on footnotes.
PB: Totally. And John Barth. Like, half his book would be footnotes. That was always funny.
PB: Marx had some beautiful footnotes. He would have these weird diatribes and that’s where a lot of his poetry would happen.
MB3: Which is kind of what you’re saying. A lot of the “crazy shit” that you guys dropped came out in the footnotes. Almost like it’s the back alley.
PB: Exactly. And that’s the strategy of the parasite. It’s taking a certain system and finding the places where the system drops off.
MB3: It’s good old-fashioned subversion.
PB: Yeah. Or détournement.
MB3: Something your hole project reminded me of, and this is a little crass, but when I lived in South Korea a Korean guy and I were chatting and we realized that we had both slept with the same girl and he said that that meant we were hole brothers.
PB: That’s great. That’s beautiful. I had this whole part of the early version of this hole text that uses a real Feminist critique and deploys a way of thinking about the portable hole as some sort of misogynist fantasy and being able to penetrate anything.
MB3: A pocket pussy…
PB: Yeah. Or like a glory hole or something and all of a sudden you have this space where interactions can happen that otherwise wouldn’t. Or your relationship with this person is based on your going through the similar threshold.
MB3: That’s a really nice way to put it.
PB: Like walking through the same door.
MB3: And just to offset my misogynistic tones to that statement about ‘hole brothers’, she was a teacher. She was a knowledgeable teacher.
PB: Well, I guess it’s a form of pedagogy, like constellations, a point where things interconnect.
—— Excerpt from an interview published in Decoy Magazine21
RL: Well, when we go to art school, we always hear about commodification, but in the world of economics and business there’s a more precise idea: commoditization. A commodity is a product so cheap that profit is very low. So, wheat, for example —— take a single grain and it’s just a fraction of a penny. You can make money, but not much. The value comes in with design —— add recipes, technology, labour and you make something out of it.
All the traditional skills of art are commoditized. If you want an artist who can draw like Michelangelo, you can find one, because they’re everywhere. The turn to a more conceptual practice in the 20th century is a direct response to that commoditization. In other words, the turn towards a practice that is more about conception than execution is a response to commoditization of skill. In our times, conceptual practices have become commoditized and there’s a lesson there. If you read Thomas Friedman or someone like that who thinks our economy will be saved if we just stick to high-value-added activities like design and creative arts and so on —— it’s not going to happen. Art shows us. We’ll all become commoditized.
For every artist with a good idea, there’s a hundred more with an idea just as good. This is why young artists are paranoid and anxious about their social standing, because they know that the selection of who’s going to be in the history books is arbitrary. Because there are so many artists all as good as them. So, who gets chosen? That doubt and paranoia and fashion-consciousness —— that’s the condition in the global artworld.
JC: In writing, in art criticism, I see this doubt coming down to “criticism vs. critique” —— that’s the rift at the centre of this notion of the “crisis of criticism” that has lead to so many discussions such as the 2009 Fillip project Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism. As another example, to mark its 20th anniversary in 2011, the Berlin-based journal Texte Zur Kunst put on a conference to address “the fundamental question of the relationship between art criticism and social critique,” and publisher Isabelle Graw proposed a “rethinking of methodology” at a time when “art critics and art historians tend to opt for an eclectic mix of methods without ever reflecting them explicitly.”22
ST: It’s tempting to assert that criticism’s decline has been accompanied by theory’s ascent —— that the most influential writing on art today (influential, that is, in terms of being broadly read by people interested in art and having an impact on curatorial programmes and an effect on artistic production) is neither art criticism nor art history, but art theory. One of the most prominent platforms for art theory in recent years has been e-flux journal (which is, notably, readable online and ad-free thanks to the funds it collects via its announcement service), with Boris Groys and Hito Steyerl among its most representative and regular authors. In neither of the latter theorists’ e-flux articles, however, does one often encounter detailed or opinionated accounts of recent art production. Rather, their output offers more wide-angled cultural criticism, often focused on the relationships between technology and the history of avant-garde art, delivered in stylish, edgy prose that occasionally borders on satire or sci-fi hyperbole (both writers also have an appreciable sense of humor). This art theory, while not exactly art history or art criticism, is, furthermore, a bit different from what is typically connoted by the term “theory” in general.24
The question of what is “theory” is more complicated than it may initially appear to be, in part because “theory” is a catch-all euphemism that’s been stretched beyond legibility by loose usage: “theory,” “French theory,” “postmodern theory,” and “post-structuralism” are often used interchangeably, as if they denoted a single, unitary entity —— they don’t. A variety of heterodox thinkers did emerge in France in the late 1960s, particularly following the tumult of the May ’68 student uprisings. Much of this work attempted to either continue the project of radical politics within academia or to move past the orthodox lines of thought (party-line Communism and establishment philosophy, for example) that were deemed inadequate to the post-’68 situation. However, it was really the belated translation and reception of these texts in English-language humanities departments that made French theory into a canon. The artworld played no small part in this development: Roland Barthes’s essay “The Death of the Author” had its first publication in the short-lived, American avant-garde art magazine Aspen in 1967, only appearing in a French journal the following year. The timeliness of this import was, however, an exception. It took until the second half of the 1970s for theory to really penetrate Anglophone universities and art schools.25
MF: A way through this impasse is to be found in letting go of deduction as the way to come to terms with an art object. At some point I discovered that a process of induction is more appropriate to art. In re-imagining the art object as sharing the same ontological properties as the riddle, the most precise methods for writing about or writing around the art object: to elicit, to unlock, to induce its essential obscurity with essential obscurity. It is criticism by asking questions, and being satisfied with more questions in response, a simultaneous reading/writing movement.
SR: What does it mean to not mean anything? Where does meaning come from? During a visit to Vancouver in late 1999, Andrea Fraser was asked about the visitor reaction during the Museum Highlights performance. She drew attention to the differences between those visitors “in the know” versus those that had stumbled upon her tour unaware, and indicated the anxiety that manifested between the two positions. An anxiety she also felt in her awareness that she was actively alienating one group to the purpose of the talk. While the visitor is aware that it is Jane Castleton who addresses them, at no time can the visitor clearly separate Andrea Fraser from Jane Castleton. Through the textual manipulations, the visitor is forced to reconstruct a contesting identity.26
PB2: Andrea Fraser’s work is able to trigger a social mechanism, a sort of machine infernale whose operation causes the hidden truth of social reality to reveal itself27, as in Official Welcome, for example.
AF2: Official Welcome was about performing a field of possible positions that artists occupy within the art world. I started my research with certain positions in mind and with different kinds of artists who would fall into each category, such as the theoretically informed political artist, the society artist, the AbEx guy who really did struggle and then bought into the whole humanistic postwar ideology, or the bad girl. They’re very identifiable positions that we could occupy as artists in 2001, and there were certain discourses and relationships that went along with each position. That’s how I approached Official Welcome. Also, I started to think about the profound ambivalence that’s haunted so much twentieth-century art and particularly avante-garde traditions —— the kind of love-hate relationship that artists have with art, its institutions, and the people who support them, which may be the core of institutional critique on some level.
The way that I develop this kind of performance —— and I’ve done a few performances like this with these different positions that were researched and structured, although this is the most complicated one —— is to start with the language. By the time I get the script done, the performance is almost fixed. The voices, the attitudes, and the affect are all there, and it’s very hard for me to change it.
Since Official Welcome, I’ve been trying to move beyond a set of strategies that I feel that I inherited, and also participated in and developed, in the 1980s that have defined much of what we consider to be critical art practice and that ultimately derive from Brecht.
There’s very little that we think of as critical art practice that does not in some way operate through strategies of appropriation, distanciation, reframing, displacement, or estrangement. In the past few years especially —— although this has been a development that’s been evolving for the past ten years for me —— I’ve come to think that rather than being part of the solution, those strategies are often part of the problem. That is, through those strategies, we in the art field often end up distancing what, in fact, are very immediate, material, lived investments in what we do.
…negation has a different meaning in psychoanalysis, where it is a defense mechanism. It’s a way in which we say “no” in order to disown or to deny something, but anything that we’re thinking about or that we’re engaged enough with to make a work about is not something that’s over there. It’s something that’s already inside us and that we’re deeply invested in on some level. By calling it critique, or by using these strategies of distancing or estrangement, we can deflect something that’s actually inside us and put it over there, saying, “That’s not me. That’s not what we’re doing. That’s not what we like.” That’s what we want to deny.
That’s my problem with Official Welcome now. Even though Official Welcome was very much part of my process of rethinking those strategies when I performed it, the work is about the ambivalence and bad faith that haunts the various positions in the arts.28
MS: The whole discursive field is so much about deferral now. There’s constant deferral of arriving at showing something. It seems like it’s the exercise of a kind of survival or something, like just perpetuating yourself. The longer you cannot arrive at the conclusion or presentation the better because it keeps something going. It’s almost like the foil of all this fuzziness and all this dematerialization, just through constant talk, would be an incredibly concrete and abstract object. They kind of have to work against each other. They’re not set in a binary opposition, but they kind of fold into each other. It’s like theatre. It’s kind of like there’s a theatre of the curators discussing the meanings of these things, spinning ever more elaborate webs of meaning and contests of meaning. There’s a real parallel between the rise of the curator and the rise of these discursive events.29
IR: There are slippages that currently exist between notions of ‘knowledge production,’ ‘research,’ ‘education,’ ‘open-ended production,’ and ‘self-organized pedagogies,’ particularly as each of these approaches seem to have converged into a set of parameters for some renewed facet of production. Although quite different in their genesis, methodology, and protocols, it appears that some perceived proximity to ‘knowledge economies’ has rendered all of these terms part and parcel of a certain liberalizing shift within the world of contemporary art practices. But I wonder if these initiatives are in danger of being cut off from their original impetus and threaten to harden into a recognizable ‘style.’ As the art world became the site of extensive talking, which entailed certain new modes of gathering and increased access to knowledge, I wonder whether we put any value on what was actually being said.30
AF2: It is increasingly difficult for me to imagine that I have much to contribute to panel discussions. This has to do with my deepening sense of alienation from the art field, which may be reaching a terminal phase. The fact is that I haven’t been able to bring myself to read art publications for a number of years now… There’s an ever-widening gap between the material conditions of art and its symbolic systems: between what the vast majority of artworks are today (socially and economically) and what artists, curators, critics, and historians say that artworks —— especially their own work or work they support —— do and mean.31
CG: Many of the younger artists I knew enjoyed whatever years they spent under the formal tutelage of credentialed elders. Very few, though, had found their operational armature in academic theory. This wasn’t just a trend among visual artists —— in the age of Wikipedia, the ability to manipulate specialized vocabularies and esoteric knowledge was commanding less and less authority across the board, from Marxism to indie music. The easy diffusion of information was having ripple effects across publishing, art, and the avant-garde. This was clear to many students, but not always to their professors, who understandably continued to ply the methods and methodologies that had helped them get tenure. As a result, many artschool grads were coming of age at a time when what felt most oppressive wasn’t consumer capitalism: It was the institutional codes and guild vocabularies in which they had been trained.32
PV: There are certain ideal characteristics needed to make a career today. The first is articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible. Contact can be superficial, but since this applies to most human interaction nowadays, this won’t really be noticed. It’s important to be able to talk up your own capacities as much as you can —— you know a lot of people, you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt and you recently completed a major project. Later, people will find out that this was mostly hot air, but the fact that they were initially fooled is down to another personality trait: you can lie convincingly and feel little guilt. That’s why you never take responsibility for your own behaviour. On top of all this, you are flexible and impulsive, always on the lookout for new stimuli and challenges. In practice, this leads to risky behaviour, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces.33
LM: The failures of the past have piled so high, that it’s more than a bit daunting to imagine promising anything at all these days. Digital technologies allow us to rapidly iterate through possibilities, and to generate seemingly endless options. Is there any way we can harness that power? Or are such tools already doomed by the forces that shaped them in the first place? Capital thrives on iteration, but could we imagine other models using iteration or extending from the potentials locked within its modes of multiplication?
LR: The neo-liberal economy has put financial and institutional survival at the foreground of nearly every intellectual’s life. And as women we are conditioned to serve others. We can’t let this exigency obscure the parallel need to be improductive, to locate value otherwise. I am more and more Epicurean as time passes. (I’m referring to the school of philosophy as examined living, not the popular myth of gourmandise.) We need to form communities that help us live outside the general economy, to cultivate resistant paths of thought. I’m interested in exploring the notion of a feminist solitude… and in experimenting with time.34
Hannah Arendt cites the ‘lathe biosas,’ live in hiding, one of the tenets of the Epicurean School of Athens. An alternate translation of Epicurus’s term is ‘live unknown;’ in either case, for the Epicurean, the thoughtful retreat from the exigencies of a public life is to be preferred to an immersion in the propagandistic deisms and extremist propulsions of the market, mass representation, warfare and state-sanctioned religion.35
AF2: For me, the most important moment in the performance is the moment in which I’m actually speaking as myself: I’m standing there saying, “Here I am. This is what matters to me about being here.” That becomes a moment of, I wouldn’t say redemption exactly, but something beyond the scorched earth.36
IP: I find that language, a bit like music, can often be double-edged. It can allow you to forget yourself, because your words suddenly don’t matter anymore. They hit your brain in a way that is almost physical, like with music, and you forget. They don’t put you in your place or frame you anymore, because you are just reacting to sounds. That only lasts for so long. You’ll never really be in it, and at the same time, you are already always pulling back from it. Then there’s the realization of how much work it is to believe in my words or anyone else’s.37
LR: The law we witness in and through language is the law of destabilization, flux. Neither coded control, nor indetermination prevail; they alternate. Rupture or detour is the felicity of reading; all text is divergence.38
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RK: …the things that are intonated, you know?
TR: Yeah, yeah.
Hinted at, you know, um… All that kind of stuff. And I think, uh… I think to hear your own voice means working through all that, consciously or unconsciously. You know, it’s an interesting experience. It just…
TR: It must have an equal amount of distortion.
RK: Yes. That’s right.
TR: [clears throat] Right. [pause] You see, though, there’s, um, this [pause] playback in the mind of a conversation.
RK: [overlapping] Yeah, yeah.
[Long pause, footsteps in the background. Deep inhalations. Trudi coughs, clears throat.]
RK: Anyhow, I wanted to hear about your trip.
TR: Oh, yeah. [laughs]
RK: That’s what I really wanted to hear about.
TR: Come on.
TR: Which trip? [exhale][laughs]
RK: The one that you and [indistinct] made. [pause] To that… That trip.
TR: [groans] It’s too soon.
RK: [overlaps] You haven’t been speaking about it?
TR: Too soon!
RK: Is it too soon? Is it?
[[[[[[[[ long pause ]]]]]]]]
RK: Do you want sugar, or do you want it just black?
TR: Black is fine.
RK: Okay. It’s instant.
TR: [big exhale] I’m ready for it. [laughs] Thank you.
RK: Hey, I think this is the first time I’ve ever made coffee for you. You’ve made coffee for me hundreds of times.
TR: That’s right, Roy.
RK: [laughs] See? Things are changing, Trudi.
TR: [laughs] Yeah.
RK: Things are changing.
TR: Oh, they are! It is a time of change.
RK: In every sense.
TR: [overlaps] It is, it is.
RK: [overlaps] I see it all over the place, in everybody’s lives. [gasps]
TR: Isn’t it incredible?
RK: [gasps] Aw, [gasp] it’s devastating. [stuttering] It, it, it… makes me tremble sometimes.
TR: Oh, it’s wonderful!
RK: Yeah, sure it is.
TR: Everybody needs trembling.
RK: Yes. Oh, yes. Because the shape of whatever these changes are about is not a given. It’s a breaking out, it’s…
TR: Well, that’s what’s exciting.
RK: Yeah, right. Yeah. I agree. [pause] I agree.
TR: ‘Cause there was so much given… All these years. [clears throat] There was so much [pause, big exhale] …such a holding pattern.
RK: Yeah, yeah, holding patterns. Yeah. Yeah. True. True. Yeah. [chuckles] Oh, that’s really a nice thought, actually. I can see how that’s about myself. Sure.
TR: [big exhale] I think the trembles, you know… it’s with us.
RK: [overlaps] Forever. Yeah.
TR: Forever, you know.
RK: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I agree. Yeah. Sure. [inhales deeply] [pause] [drumming on table] mmm. Unbelievable… I’ve been into *everything* [bag rustles]
TR: Everything. [pause] Uh… I think I have my drug.
RK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So do I.
TR: What is it? [laughs]
RK: [chuckles] Anything I can get my hands on. [laughs]
TR: Oh, you have your limits.
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Definitely. In EVERYTHING. I keep finding out, over and over again. Sure.
--- Roy Kiyooka, audio transcript excerpt, audio cassette tape from the Roy Kiyooka fonds, Simon Fraser University
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Talk: a postscript to some recorded conversations about art and text started with a series of interviews questioning a pivotal point for art and text in Vancouver and became something more in the process —— it turned into a way of re-thinking art history by questioning just what language in and around art does. Talk lays out many possible positions and nuanced views of the site of intersection, reflecting back on the '70s through the '90s, but always with a concern for the present and a nod to the future.
The dialogue in Talk is based on recorded interviews and email correspondence taking place over a year beginning early 2012, along with other collected research such as archival recordings and current publications. Bearing in mind that the acts of recording, transcription and editing are far from neutral, I decided to embrace an often-glossed-over aspect of this kind of documentary work: that fact and fiction are inevitably interwoven to make up any history.
While a process of selection and editing is integral to all phases of research, much of the “listening between the lines” is lost in transcription along with loads of cut material. The “documentary” text begins to feel like a fiction that involves translating the casualness of fleeting speech into articulate concrete statements that perhaps are given more focus than the speaker would want. This is one of the peculiarities of interview transcriptions —— the odd sensation in revisiting recorded speech when one might wonder, “Did I actually say that? Is that really me?” and “What did I even mean by that?”
To some degree, it’s the estrangement effect as much as what is said that could be of some interest in Talk, where it can be pondered, “What if I did say that?” The interview dialogue becomes a way to consider speech as if it were under glass, so to speak, but not as an artifact laying its meaning bare, more as an object that reveals something and evokes a new set of possibilities at each turn.
Continue Reading ❯❯ “Transmission Lines”[❮❮❮]
1. Dan Graham and Cliff Lauson, “Dan Graham & Cliff Lauson: Vancouver from the Outside In: Part Two”, Fillip 9, Winter 2009. [❮]
2. Grace Glueck, “Art View; AN AMBITIOUS SHOWING OF MODERN ART; COLOGNE, West Germany”, The New York Times, August 9, 1981. [❮]
3. Michael Barnholden and Andrew Klobucar, Writing Class: The Kootenay School of Writing Anthology, New Star Books, 1999. [❮]
4. Nancy Shaw, “Expanded Consciousness and Company Types: Collaboration Since Intermedia and the N.E. Thing Company”, Vancouver Anthology, ed. Stan Douglas, Talon Books and the Or Gallery, 2011 . [❮]
5. Ian Wallace and Stan Douglas, “Interview: Ian Wallace on Cinema”, Ian Wallace: At the Intersection of Painting and Photography, Black Dog Publishing and the Vancouver Art Gallery, 2012. [❮]
6. Kathleen Ritter, “Focus: Ian Wallace at Work”, Ian Wallace: At the Intersection of Painting and Photography, Black Dog Publishing and the Vancouver Art Gallery, 2012. [❮]
7. Barnholden and Klobucar, Writing Class: The Kootenay School of Writing Anthology. [❮]
8. Pauline Bunting, “On Lisa Robertson: A "foundering"”, TCR Blog, The Capilano Review, Fall 2011. [❮]
9. Laiwan, Archer Pechawis, Paul Wong, and Christine Stoddard, “Art and Identity Politics: Vancouver in the 1990s: A conversation with Laiwan, Archer Pechawis and Paul Wong”, recorded on February 6 2012 at Grunt Gallery, conversation moderated by Christine Stoddard, Grunt Gallery archives. [❮]
10. Kevin Davies, Joshua Clover, “Poet’s Sampler: Kevin Davies,” Boston Review: A Political and Literary Forum, May 1, 2007. [❮]
11. Nancy Shaw, “Letter to Lady M,” Let’s Play Doctor: Undoing the ruse of clinical objectivity and its pathological placement of the feminine, Artspeak, 1993. [❮]
12. Saelan Twerdy, “A Theory of Everything: on the State of Theory and Crtiticism (Part I)” and “A Theory of Everything: on the State of Theory and Crtiticism (Part II)”, Momus: A Return to Art Criticism, October 30, 2014. [❮]
13. Roy Kiyooka and Roy Miki, “Interface: Roy Kiyooka’s Writing — A Commentary/Interview” Roy Kiyooka, exhibition catalogue, ed. William Wood, Artspeak Gallery and Or Gallery, 1991. [❮]
14. Saelan Twerdy, “A Theory of Everything: on the State of Theory and Crtiticism (Part I)” and “A Theory of Everything: on the State of Theory and Crtiticism (Part II)”, Momus: A Return to Art Criticism, October 30, 2014. [❮]
15. Ibid. [❮]
16. Judy Radul and Mitch Speed, “Judy Radul interviewed by Mitch Speed”, Setup, Issue II, Spring, 2012. [❮]
17. Trevor Mahovsky, “Placed Upon the Horizon, Casting Shadows”, Paper delivered at apexart, May 31, 2000. [❮]
18. Sunset Terrace (Maya Beaudry) and Scott Parsons, “Sunset Terrace: INTERVIEW BY SCOTT PARSONS”, The Editorial Magazine, 2014. [❮]
19. Ian Wallace, “Q&A: Conceptual Artist Dan Graham on How to Use His Radical “Pavilion” on the Met’s Rooftop”, Artspace, June 27, 2014. [❮]
20. Sven Lütticken, “The Story of Art According to Jeff Wall”, Secret Publicity, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture/Fonds BKVB, Amsterdam, 2006. [❮]
21. Matthew Alexander Post and Miguel Burr, “New Conversations: Talking in Circles with Post Brothers”, 2012, Decoy Magazine. [❮]
22. J.J. Charlesworth, “Criticism v Critique”, J.J. Charlesworth Blog, 2011. [❮]
23. Saelan Twerdy, “A Theory of Everything: on the State of Theory and Crtiticism (Part I)” and “A Theory of Everything: on the State of Theory and Crtiticism (Part II)”, Momus: A Return to Art Criticism, October 30, 2014. [❮]
24. Ibid. [❮]
25. Ibid. [❮]
26. Sadira Rodrigues, “Institutional Critique Versus Institutionalized Critique: The Politics of Andrea Fraser’s Performances”, thirdspace: a journal of feminist theory & culture, volume 1, issue 2, March 2002. [❮]
27. Pierre Bourdieu, as quoted by The MIT Press, Pierre Bourdieu’s Foreward, Museum Highlights: The Writings of Andrea Fraser. [❮]
28. Andrea Fraser and Patricia Maloney. “Interview with Andrea Fraser, Part I”, Bad at Sports, October 8, 2012. [❮]
29. Monika Szewczyk, Show and Tell: The Politics of Silence and the Power of Discourse, video produced by the Master of Fine Art Program of the Piet Zwart Institute, 2010. [❮]
30. Irit Rogroff, based on text as quoted by Tom Holert, in “Art in the Knowledge-based Polis”, e-flux, [❮]
31. Andrea Fraser, “SPEAKING OF THE SOCIAL WORLD...”, Texte zur Kunst, ISSUE NO. 81 / MARCH 2011: “WHERE DO YOU STAND, COLLEAGUE ?” [❮]
32. Christopher Glazek, as quoted by Saelan Twerdy, “A Theory of Everything: on the State of Theory and Crtiticism (Part II)”, Momus: A Return to Art Criticism, October 30, 2014. [❮]
33. Paul Verhaeghe: “Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us”, Guardian, September 29, 2014. [❮]
34. Lisa Robertson and Brecken Hancock, “An Interview with Lisa Robertson”, CWILA Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, 2014. [❮]
35. Lisa Robertson, Nilling, BookThug, 2012. [❮]
36. Andrea Fraser and Patricial Maloney. “Interview with Andrea Fraser, Part I”, Bad at Sports, October 8, 2012. [❮]
37. Isabelle Pauwels and Alison Collins, “Variations on a Theme: An interview with Isabelle Pauwels”, Movable Facture, exhibition catalogue, VIVO, 2012. [❮]
38. Lisa Robertson, Nilling, BookThug, 2012. [❮]
Talk: a postscript to some recorded conversations about art and text is based on the following sources:
RA = Roy Arden: Email interview, 2012. Roy Arden first became known for his photographic work, and since 2005 has also created notable video, collage, sculpture and digital- and painting-based pieces. Arden graduated from Emily Carr College of Art and Design in 1982 and holds a MFA from the University of British Columbia. Arden came to prominence with representations of Vancouver’s urban environment, investigations evoking the interplay of modernity, history and everyday life. He has also worked with archives and their presentation; his 2007 project The World as Will and Representation —— Archive compiled more than 27,000 images online. In 2007, Arden was the subject of a major mid-career survey at the Vancouver Art Gallery. [Biography adapted from a text at the Canadian Art website.] [❮]
AB = Alvin Balkind: Transcripts and recordings from the Roy Kiyooka archive, Simon Fraser University (Recording date, 1975). Alvin Balkind was an art critic and curator. He played a key role in the development of the avant-garde art scene in Vancouver. Founded in 1954, Balkind’s New Design Gallery became a locus of creativity presenting live theatre, visual art, films, concerts, lectures, and poetry readings. His time as curator at the Fine Arts Gallery at University of British Columbia (1962 to 1973) coincided with the growing awareness in Vancouver of the currents in international art —— an awareness Balkind fostered by inviting a number of influential contemporary artists to Vancouver. Balkind’s innovative programming and focus on contemporary art gave the gallery an international reputation. Balkind was chief curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery from 1975 to 1978. He became an independent curator subsequent to his tenure at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Balkind was head of the visual arts studio at The Banff School of Fine Arts from 1985 to 1987 and was the recipient of the first Vancouver Institute for Visual Art Award in 1992, given to an artist or an art worker who has made a lasting contribution to the art scene in British Columbia. [Biography adapted from a text at the Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the Sixties website.] [❮]
EB = Eli Bornowsky: Transcript from a recorded interview, 2013, studio visit. Eli Bornowsky received his BFA in Visual Arts from the Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver (2005) and is an MFA candidate at Bard College, New York. In 2007 his paintings were shown in the group exhibition Gasoline Rainbows at the Contemporary Art Gallery and he began working with the Blanket Gallery with solo exhibitions in 2007, 2008 and 2011. In 2009 his work was included in the exhibition Enacting Abstraction at the Vancouver Art Gallery and in 2010 he exhibited Walking Square Cylinder Plane, a solo exhibition at the Western Front. His critical texts have appeared in Fillip Review, C Magazine, Pyramid Power and artist catalogues. The label Rundownsun has released a limited edition cassette of his experimental audio projects. He has curated exhibitions for the Or Gallery including, Making Real (2008), After Finitude (2012), and the ongoing Clamour and Toll, a series of experimental music and performance. He currently resides in Vancouver. [❮]
PB2 = Pierre Bourdieu: Excerpt from Pierre Bourdieu’s Foreword from Museum Highlights, as quoted by The MIT Press. Pierre Bourdieu was a sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher, and renowned public intellectual. Bourdieu’s 1979 book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste became influential in theories and histories of art, particularly his arguments related to the concept that judgments of taste are related to social position, and are themselves acts of social positioning. [❮]
LB = Lorna Brown: Transcript from a recorded interview, 2012, studio visit. Lorna Brown works between studio practice, curation, and writing to explore interests in social phenomena such as boredom, administrative structures and systems, and the dynamics of public spaces. Recent exhibitions include The Chatter of Culture, Artspeak, Vancouver; Threshold (cont.) at the Koerner Library at UBC, and AdmIndex, commissioned by the Audain Gallery at SFU Woodwards. Recent independent curatorial and editorial projects include Group Search: art in the library and Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the Sixties, an online digital archive. Brown was the Director/Curator of Artspeak Gallery from 1999 to 2004. [❮]
MB = Michael Barnholden: Andrew Klobucar and Michael Barnholden, Introduction to Writing Class: The Kootenay School of Writing Anthology, New Star Books, 1999. Michael Barnholden is a writer whose books include Circumstances Alter Photographs; Street Stories: One Hundred Years of Homelessness, and Reading the Riot Act. He was editor of Writing Class: the KSW Anthology. He is the publisher of LINEbooks, and managing editor of West Coast Line. He teaches English at Emily Carr and the Native Education College. Andrew Klobucar is originally from Vancouver, and now resides in the New York area. He works in social media and literature, publishing both critical and creative work in different digital formats. He is Assistant Professor at NJIT, Department of Humanities. He was co-wrote the introduction for Writing Class: the KSW Anthology. [❮]
MB2 = Maya Beaudry: “Sunset Terrace: INTERVIEW BY SCOTT PARSONS”, The Editorial Magazine, 2014. Maya Beaudry is a Vancouver-based artist who holds a BFA in sculpture from Emily Carr University of Art and Design. In 2013 she founded Sunset Terrace, a shared studio and exhibition space in East Vancouver. Her work with the space is in constant dialogue with her studio practice, both of which employ the affective qualities of disparate materials to explore the psychological implications of interior spaces. She is the recipient of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art CD Howe Scholarship, and has shown her work in Vancouver, Montreal and Berlin. [❮]
MB3 = Miguel Burr, “New Conversations: Talking in Circles with Post Brothers”, interview by Miguel Burr, 2012, Miguel Burr is a Vancouver-based writer. He is author of Humanoid, a sci-fi novel set in the year 8007 ‘AM’ in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. In a future where Judaism and Islam have merged and taken control of the entire planet, the two main characters, Hubresh and Vladesh, are ‘sub-social irregulars’ who live in the Heatley Block. One day they discover a hidden vault of outlawed chemicals, and their story takes off from there. [Biography adapted from the Carnegie Community Centre "News from the Library" website] [❮]
JC = J.J. Charlesworth: Texts from the author’s blog: “Criticism v Critique” and “Subjects v Objects”, 2011 and 2014. J.J. Charlesworth has been writing about contemporary art since he left Goldsmiths College London in 1996, where he studied art. He now writes regularly on contemporary art for numerous publications, including ArtReview magazine, where he works as associate editor. He is tutor in painting at the Royal College of Art, and is currently researching a doctoral thesis on British art criticism in the 1970s. [❮]
AC = Allyson Clay: Transcript from a recorded talk, 1988, Artspeak Gallery. Allyson Clay is a Vancouver-based artist. She holds a BFA from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and a MFA from University of British Columbia. Her work is held in numerous public collections. Clay is a Professor at the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia. [❮]
PC = Peter Culley: Transcripts from a recorded interview, 2012. Peter Culley was a poet and art critic who lived in Nanaimo for most of his life. A self-described Kootenay School of Writing hang–around in the 1980s, his books include Hammertown, The Age of Briggs and Stratton, and Parkway. [❮]
KD = Kevin Davies: Poem published in: Joshua Clover, “Poet’s Sampler: Kevin Davies”, Boston Review: A Political and Literary Forum, May 1, 2007. Kevin Davies is an American poet born in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. In the 1980s he was active in the Vancouver poetry community and the Kootenay School of Writing collective. His books of poems include The Golden Age of Paraphernalia, Comp., and Pause Button. He lives in Brooklyn and works as an editor. [❮]
JD = Jeff Derksen: Email exchange, 2013. Jeff Derksen is a cultural critic and poet who teaches at Simon Fraser University. His writing on art and culture has appeared in numerous publications. He is the author of Annihilated Time: Poetry and Other Politics and After Euphoria: art / space / neoliberalism. Derksen was a research fellow at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics, CUNY Graduate Centre, New York, and is a founding member of the Kootenay School of Writing. Under the name Urban Subjects, he collaborates with Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber on curatorial projects and visual research. [❮]
SD = Stan Douglas: Transcript from a recorded interview, 2012, studio visit. Stan Douglas is an artist who lives and works in Vancouver. Douglas graduated from Emily Carr College of Art in 1982 and began showing nationwide soon after. In the early 1990s, Douglas rose to international prominence, showing extensively worldwide. Through the 1990s and 2000s, Douglas built a rigorous, acclaimed practice through photography and projection-based work, examining the legacy of modernism and the nature of historical and social narratives. References to or re-enactments of films and political incidents are common in Douglas’s work, as well as sites of failed utopianism from Detroit to Berlin to Havana. [Biography adapted from a text at the Canadian Art website.] [❮]
AF = Amy Fung: Transcript from a recorded interview, 2013, bar at the Sylvia Hotel, Vancouver. Amy Fung is a roaming cultural commentator, arts writer, and events/exhibition organizer. She holds a MA in English Literature and Film Studies from the University of Alberta with a focus on Deleuzian film theory and 20th century poetics and creative non fiction. As of 2014, Fung has been appointed Artistic Director for Images Festival. [❮]
AF2 = Andrea Fraser: Andrea Fraser with Alexander Alberro, ed., Museum Highlights, The MIT Press, 2007. Also, Andrea Fraser, “SPEAKING OF THE SOCIAL WORLD...”, Texte zur Kunst, ISSUE NO. 81 / MARCH 2011 “WHERE DO YOU STAND, COLLEAGUE ?”. Also, “L’1%, c’est moi” and “Interview with Andrea Fraser, Part I”, by Bad at Sports, October 8, 2012. Also, see Andrea Fraser in conversation with Chris Dercon, Tate Modern. Andrea Fraser is a New York-based performance artist, mainly known for her work in the area of institutional critique. She is currently a member of the Art Department faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles. [❮]
MF = Maria Fusco: Adapted from my notes and other text associated with a talk delivered by Maria Fusco at the forum Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism, 2009. Maria Fusco is a Belfast born writer, lecturer, art critic, and events organiser. She was the inaugural Writer-in-Residence at Whitechapel Gallery, London, and also the inaugural Critic-in-Residence at the Kadist Art Foundation, Paris. She is Director of Art Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and the founding editor of The Happy Hypocrite, a journal for and about experimental art writing. [❮]
GG = Gerry Gilbert: Transcripts and recordings from the Roy Kiyooka archive, Simon Fraser University (Recording date, 1975). Gerry Gilbert emerged as a significant poet and visual artist in Vancouver in the early 1960s. Gilbert founded and edited his own long-running poetry magazine, "B.C. Monthly" and hosted a weekly radio broadcast radiofreerainforest. He has published many volumes of poetry including Lease, Year of the Rush, Azure Blues and From Next Spring. [❮]
CG = Christopher Glazek: As quoted by Saelan Twerdy in “A Theory of Everything: on the State of Theory and Crtiticism (Part II)”, Momus: A Return to Art Criticism, October 30, 2014. Christopher Glazek is the executive editor of Genius.com, and recently authored the story “The Art World’s Patron Satan” published by The New York Times. He is former senior editor at n+1. [❮]
DG = Dan Graham: “Dan Graham & Cliff Lauson: Vancouver from the Outside In: Part Two”, Fillip 9, 2009. Dan Graham is a New York-based artist, video maker, writer, curator, art and music critic, and a key figure of Conceptual Art. [❮]
GK = Grace Glueck: “Art View; AN AMBITIOUS SHOWING OF MODERN ART; COLOGNE, West Germany,” The New York Times, August 9, 1981. Grace Glueck is an American Arts journalist and was the art news editor of The New York Times in the 1980s. [❮]
KH = Keith Higgins: Transcript from a recorded interview, 2012, Publication Studio, Vancouver. Keith Higgins is an artist, business owner, and veteran manager of artist-run organizations in Vancouver. He spearheaded the successful revival of the venerable Helen Pitt Gallery which had closed in 2009, re-launching it as UNIT/PITT Projects. He is co-proprietor of Publication Studio Vancouver, a publisher and bookbinder recently selected as one of nine publishers in the “focus on Canada” at the 2014 London Art Book Fair. [❮]
RK = Roy Kiyooka: Transcripts and recordings from the Roy Kiyooka archive (provided by Deanna Fong, doctoral candidate, English Department, Simon Fraser University). Additional material came from an interview with Roy Kiyooka by Roy Miki published in the exhibition catalogue, Roy Kiyooka, ed. William Wood, Artspeak Gallery and Or Gallery, 1991. Roy Kiyooka was a multi-disciplinary artist —— a painter, sculptor, teacher, poet, musician, filmmaker, and photographer. When Kiyooka arrived in Vancouver in 1959 he was already one of Canada’s most respected abstract painters. His modernist stance at the time inspired a generation of Vancouver painters to reach beyond regionalism. In the sixties and seventies Kiyooka began to write and publish poetry and produce photographic works. As Kiyooka eventually rejected the Greenbergian modernist aesthetic that informed his paintings he increasingly took up performance, photography, film and music. He saw the position of the artist as being in opposition to the institutions of art. [Biography adapted from a text at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery website.] [❮]
LW = Laiwan: Email interview, 2012, and “Art and Identity Politics: Vancouver in the 1990s: A conversation with Laiwan, Archer Pechawis and Paul Wong” recorded on February 6 2012 at grunt gallery, conversation moderated by Christine Stoddard, Grunt Gallery archives. Laiwan is a Vancouver-based artist and writer recognized for her interdisciplinary practice based in poetics and philosophy. Born in Zimbabwe of Chinese parents, she immigrated to Canada in 1977 to leave the war in Rhodesia. In 1983 she founded the OR Gallery at 1729 Franklin Street in Vancouver. She was artist-in-residence / programmer during its first year. In 1988 she initiated the First Vancouver Lesbian Film Festival in collaboration with the Lesbian Network, the Vancouver East Cinema, the Pacific Cinematheque and the National Film Board of Canada. She continues to exhibit in various group and solo shows, curates projects in the US, Canada and Zimbabwe, and is an activist in gay and feminist community organizing. Her creative writing has been published in numerous journals and in collections; she also writes about art. Laiwan teaches in the MFA Interdisciplinary Arts Program at Goddard College in Washington State, USA. [❮]
ML = Mark Lewis: Transcript from a recorded talk, 1988, Artspeak Gallery. Mark Lewis is an artist based in London, UK. As a photographer and filmmaker, he emerged on the Toronto art scene in the 1980s after attending London’s Harrow College of Art and the Polytechnic of Central London, where he studied with artist and writer Victor Burgin and worked with film theorist Laura Mulvey. Beginning as a photographer and creator of politically charged public installation works, Lewis became more involved in filmmaking after a move to Vancouver in 1989. In 2009, Lewis represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. Lewis is co-editorial director of Afterall, which produces a journal and books on contemporary art. [Biography adapted from a text at the Canadian Art website.] [❮]
RL = Robert Linsley: Transcript from a recording of a lecture delivered by Robert Linsley, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 2010. Robert Linsley is an artist who currently lives in Kitchener, Ontario; he lived for many years in Vancouver, where he exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery, Artspeak, Presentation House, and the Catriona Jeffries Gallery. Linsley is currently finishing two books: a history of art in British Columbia from colonial times to the present and an account of his recent Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) sponsored research. [❮]
SL = Sven Lütticken: “The Story of Art According to Jeff Wall”, Secret Publicity, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture/Fonds BKVB, Amsterdam. Sven Lütticken is an Amsterdam-based art critic and historian who studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam and the Freie Universität, Berlin. In 2004, he was granted the Prize for Art Criticism of the BKVB fund, Amsterdam. Lütticken teaches at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and is editor for the Witte Raaf. He publishes regularly in (inter)national art magazines and contributes to catalogues and exhibitions as writer or guest curator. [❮]
TM = Trevor Mahovsky: "Placed Upon the Horizon, Casting Shadows", Paper delivered at apexart, May 31, 2000. Trevor Mahovsky is an artist and part of a collaborative duo: Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky have exhibited their work in Canada, USA and Japan. They were nominated for the Sobey Art Award in 2009. Born in Winnipeg and Calgary, respectively, both artists have MFA degrees from the University of British Columbia, where they met in 1996. [❮]
LM = Lisa Marshall: Interview questions and editorial commentary. Also, “An Evidence Horizon”, Fillip 13, Spring 2011. Lisa Marshall lives and works in Vancouver. She holds a Master’s degree in Art History from the University of British Columbia where her research focused on relationships between the fields of art and design over the course of the 20th century. Her writing has been published in Fillip and Canadian Art. Marshall was recently Co-Editor of In The Wake of the Komagata Maru: Transpacific Migration, Race and Contemporary Art, the 2015 publication of the Surrey Art Gallery’s exhibition Ruptures in Arrival and the symposium Disfiguring Identity. She is a grateful recipient of several awards including grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the British Columbia Arts Council. [❮]
IP = Isabelle Pauwels: Interview with Alison Collins published in the exhibition catalogue for Movable Facture, VIVO, 2012. Isabelle Pauwels lives and works in New Westminster. Working primarily with video, film and installation, she layers narratives in a manner that disrupts viewer expectations. Whether she is drawing from experimental cinema, reality television, documentary films or online talk shows, Pauwels juxtaposes the idea of a factual or objective record with artificial fabrications such as fiction or storytelling. Pauwels received her BFA from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Since her first solo exhibition at Vancouver’s Or Gallery in 2001, she has exhibited her work nationally and internationally including at the Volker Bradke in Dusseldorf, Western Front, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Power Plant. Pauwels was shortlisted for the 2013 Sobey Art Award. [Biography adapted from a text at the Canadian Art website] [❮]
PB = Post Brothers (Matthew Alexander Post): "New Conversations: Talking in Circles with Post Brothers", interview by Miguel Burr, 2012, Decoy Magazine. Post Brothers is a critical enterprise that includes Matthew Post, an independent curator and writer often working from elevators in Oakland, Antwerp, and Berlin. Post Brothers received an MA in Curatorial Practice from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco; and a BFA from Emily Carr Institute, Vancouver. He has curated exhibitions and presented lectures and projects in Poland, Mexico, Canada, the United States, Germany, Austria, Lithuania, Belgium, The Netherlands, and China, where he contributed a video and an unrealized screenplay in the 9th Shanghai Biennale. His essays and articles have been published in numerous publications and exhibition catalogues. [Biography adapted from a text at the Post Brothers website.] [❮]
JR = Judy Radul: Transcript from a recorded interview, 2013, Gene coffee shop. Additional material from an interview published in Setup, “Judy Radul interviewed by Mitch Speed”, Setup, Issue II, Spring, 2012. Judy Radul is an artist based in Vancouver whose interdisciplinary practice has recently focused on video installation but also includes sculpture, photography, performance and mixed media installations. She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally, and her creative writing and essays have appeared in a variety of publications since 1991. In 2000 she received her MFA in visual and media arts from Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson. Radul is currently chair of the graduate program at the School for the Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. [❮]
CR = Cate Rimmer: Transcript from a recorded interview, 2012, café, Granville Island. Cate Rimmer is a curator at the Charles H. Scott Gallery where she has curated numerous group and solo exhibitions. She was the founding Director/Curator of Artspeak Gallery, Director of Truck Gallery and was a Curator in Residence at the Saidye Bronfman Centre in Montreal. Rimmer has published reviews, articles and catalogue texts. She received a diploma in Curatorial Studies from Emily Carr and graduated with a MLitt (with distinction) in Museum and Gallery Studies from the University of St Andrews, Scotland. [❮]
KR = Kathleen Ritter: “Focus: Ian Wallace at Work”, Ian Wallace: At the Intersection of Painting and Photography, Black Dog Publishing and the Vancouver Art Gallery, 2012. Kathleen Ritter is an artist based in Vancouver and Paris. In addition Ritter has organized exhibitions in Canada and abroad. From 2007 to 2012, she was the Associate Curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Her writing has appeared in ESSE, Prefix Photo, and Fillip as well as in numerous catalogues. [❮]
LR = Lisa Robertson: “An Interview with Lisa Robertson”, by Brecken Hancock, CWILA Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, 2014. Also, Pauline Bunting, “On Lisa Robertson: A “foundering””, TCR Blog, The Capilano Review, Fall 2011. And, Lisa Robertson, Nilling, BookThug, 2012. Lisa Robertson is a poet who lived for many years in Vancouver, where she studied at Simon Fraser University, ran an independent bookstore, and was a collective member of the Kootenay School of Writing, a writer-run center for writing, publishing, and scholarship. While in Vancouver, Robertson was also involved in Artspeak Gallery. She is known for working in book-length projects, with subject matter including political themes, such as gender and nation, as well as the problems of form and genre. Her works explore literary forms such as the pastoral, epic, and weather forecast. Robertson has taught at the University of California-San Diego, Capilano College, Dartington College of Art, the California College of Art, and the University of Cambridge. She holds no degrees and has no academic affiliation, and supports herself through freelance writing on art, architecture, astrology, interior design, and food. She currently lives in France. [Biography adapted from a text at the Poetry Foundation website.] [❮]
SR = Sadira Rodrigues: “Institutional Critique Versus Institutionalized Critique: The Politics of Andrea Fraser’s Performances”, thirdspace: a journal of feminist theory & culture, volume 1 issue 2 (March 2002). Sadira Rodrigues has worked in a variety of roles as a curator, writer, educator, facilitator, public programmer, and arts administrator. Positions have included Curator at the Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asia Art, Manager of Arts Programs with 2010 Legacies Now, Diversity Facilitator with the Canada Council for the Arts and Public Programs Coordinator at the Vancouver Art Gallery. She has kept an active writing practice, organised conferences and cultural events, lectured, and participated on numerous society boards. [❮]
IR = Irit Rogroff based on text as quoted by Tom Holert, in “Art in the Knowledge-based Polis” published in e-flux. Irit Rogroff is Professor of Visual Culture at Goldsmiths, University of London in the department of Visual Cultures, which she founded in 2002. She is also a writer and curator and has written and co-written a number of seminal texts. [❮]
MR = Marina Roy: Transcript from a recorded interview, 2013, along with an email exchange, 2014. Marina Roy is a Vancouver-based artist who works across a variety of media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, animation and video. She has exhibited her work across Canada, as well as in Europe and the United States. Also a prolific writer, Roy’s book Sign After the X was published by Arsenal Pulp Press and Artspeak in 2001, and is now an art.net collaboration with David Clark and Graham Meisner, www.signafterthex.net. Marina Roy is an assistant professor of visual arts in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia. In the spring of 2010 she won the VIVA Award, BC’s largest visual art award. [❮]
TR = Trudy Rubenfeld: Transcripts and recordings from the Roy Kiyooka archive, Simon Fraser University (Recording date: 1982). Trudi Rubenfeld is a Vancouver-based artist and poet. Her work was included in the Nova Gallery opening exhibition Opening, December 7, 1976 - January 10, 1977, in Vancouver. [❮]
MS = Monika Szewczyk: Transcript from a recorded interview in Show and Tell: The Politics of Silence and the Power of Discourse, video produced by the Master of Fine Art Program of the Piet Zwart Institute, 2010. Also, “Art of Conversation, Part II”, e-flux, June, 2009. Monika Szewczyk is a writer, curator, and educator. Beginning in 2008, she was head of publications at Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art and a tutor at the Piet Zwart Institute, both in Rotterdam. In 2012 Szewczyk became Visual Arts Program Curator at Logan Center for the Arts at University of Chicago. She has contributed essays to numerous catalogues as well as journals. [❮]
NS = Nancy Shaw: “Expanded Consciousness and Company Types: Collaboration Since Intermedia and the N.E. Thing Company”, Vancouver Anthology, ed. Stan Douglas, Talon Books and the Or Gallery, 2011 . Also, Nancy Shaw, “Letter to Lady M,” Let’s Play Doctor: Undoing the ruse of clinical objectivity and its pathological placement of the feminine, Artspeak, 1993. Nancy Shaw was an award-winning poet, scholar, art critic, and curator. Author of Affordable Tedium (1991), and Scoptocratic (1992), Shaw frequently collaborated with poet Catriona Strang. They co-authored Busted (2001) and Cold Trip (2006). Shaw received a Doctorate of Philosophy in Communications from McGill University in 2000 and held a post-doctoral fellowship at New York University. During the 1980s in Vancouver, she was at the centre of interdisciplinary collaborations, and she contributed in formative ways to the Or Gallery, the Kootenay School of Writing, and Artspeak Gallery. Shaw taught at McGill University, Rutgers, Simon Fraser University, and Capilano College. [Biography adapted from a text at the Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the Sixties website.] [❮]
MT = Michael Turner: Email interview, 2013. Michael Turner is a writer of fiction, criticism, and song based in Vancouver. His books include Hard Core Logo (1993), The Pornographer’s Poem (1999) and 8x10 (2009). He has contributed catalogue essays and written anthologies for numerous publications and has collaborated with artists and curators on numerous projects. He has also curated exhibitions. [❮]
ST = Saelan Twerdy: “A Theory of Everything: on the State of Theory and Crtiticism (Part I)” and “A Theory of Everything: on the State of Theory and Crtiticism (Part II)”, Momus: A Return to Art Criticism, October 30, 2014. Saelan Twerdy is a doctoral student in Art History at McGill University. His research looks at connections between conceptual art and the emergent field of post-internet art through the frameworks of immaterial labour theory, systems and network theory, and the notion of a dematerialized object. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, Border Crossings, C magazine, and other venues. [❮]
PV = Paul Verhaeghe: “Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us”, Guardian, September 29, 2014. Verhaeghe delivered a talk at the Western Front in Vancouver in 2014. Paul Verhaeghe, PhD, is senior professor at Ghent University and holds the chair of the department for psychoanalysis and counselling psychology. He has published eight books, with five translated into English. His most recent, What About Me? The struggle for identity in a market-based society, is published by Scribe, launched by Lisa Appignanesi at the Freud Museum October 2014. [Biography adapted from a text at the Guardian website] [❮]
IW = Ian Wallace: Ian Wallace: At the Intersection of Painting and Photography, Black Dog Publishing and the Vancouver Art Gallery, 2012. Also, “Q&A: Conceptual Artist Dan Graham on How to Use His Radical “Pavilion” on the Met’s Rooftop”, Artspace, June 27, 2014. Ian Wallace is a Canadian artist, living and working in Vancouver, British Columbia. Wallace has been an influential figure in the development of an internationally acknowledged photographic and conceptual art practice in Vancouver since 1965. He taught Art History at the University of British Columbia from 1967 to 1970, and then at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design) from 1972 to 1998, where he taught a contemporary art course titled Art Now that was one of the earliest to introduce the art of the recent past into the art history curriculum. As a professor, he has had a significant role in shaping the contemporary art scene. Through his emphasis on the importance of a knowledge of art history, his support for visiting artist programs, and his progressive courses that examined the common history of various media including film, photography, and painting, Wallace influenced a generation of artists emerging from the Vancouver scene. Ian Wallace was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in December 2012. [❮]
SW = Scott Watson: Transcript from a recorded interview, 2012, seminar room, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and a statement in the Vancouver Sun as quoted by Arsenal Pulp Press. Scott Watson is director/curator of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery and professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [❮]
BW = William Wood: Transcript from a recorded interview, 2012, bar at the Arts Club. William Wood is a contemporary art historian and critic. He is working on a history of contemporary art and Vancouver in the twenty-first century. [❮]
JZ = Jerry Zaslove Based on paraphrasing by Robert Linsley, transcript from a recording of a lecture delivered by Robert Linsley, 2010, University of British Columbia. Jerry Zaslove is Professor Emeritus, Humanities and English and Director Emeritus, Institute for the Humanities, Simon Fraser University. He is a teacher and writer who studied Comparative Literature at Western Reserve University and the University of Washington. Since 1965 he has taught Literature, Humanities, and the Social History of Art at SFU in Burnaby and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. [❮]
Charts from a study of the 2007 publication Vancouver Art & Economies, conducted as part of my research:
The following table demonstrates an exercise of re-gendering a text using an excerpt from “New Conversations: Talking in Circles with Post Brothers”, 2012, Decoy Magazine.
B I think that nowadays in relationship to information, it’s more a matter of an asterism. Asterism is like a non-canonical astrology. It’s like seeing a collection of stars and saying, “that’s a constellation” but it’s not.
A And that’s a good thing?
B Well seeing order in chaos…
A By non-canonical you mean only grouping unfamous things together. But getting stuff from far out.
B Like creating relationships between these things that are maybe not following rigid, already-expected structures.
A Like serving kimchi with a ham sandwich.
B Yeah. Why the fuck not? And I think that’s really important. I had a teacher once in curatorial practice and he was talking about that, for every exhibition, there should be a black dog in the exhibition. He was Larry Rinder who runs the Berkeley Art Museum now, and he had worked for the Whitney. His work looks at different topics by building a theme and giving all these different examples that would expand and contrast and contest those themes.
A Sounds like fun.
B Exactly. And I think that’s the point of curating in a lot of ways. But he was always talking about having a black dog in your show, something that shouldn’t be there, and like a parasite in the system, it creates another system that opens the system or closes the system. It’s a dissonant note. It’s like an awkward minor 7th; it’s like a form of jazz. I went to San Francisco after I left Canada and there just happened to be all these major names in curating at the time. Jens Hoffman, Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Larry Rinder, Kate Fowle, Magali Arriola… it was just lots of activity. I was pretty different than most of my class: when they looked at cultural administrators and curators or organizers, they looked at their power positions and ways of operating and were like, “I want that job.” Coming from a hyper-critical school like Emily Carr, mine was more of a “know the enemy” and trying to learn this very specific kind of language that really is a meta-language, of being able to describe and articulate, and a sort of contesting which you couldn’t otherwise do.
A I read some of your text A Productive Irritant: Parasitical Inhabitations in Contemporary Art —— I found it dry and hard to get through. I came away from it feeling like it itself was a parasite devouring my time. Was that on purpose?
B Oh yeah, of course. Over-interpretation is a form of practice that I’ve used a number of times and it can be quite useful in a Wikipedia world where we become aware of how all these things can interconnect. The overdoing it produces forms of knowledge where you become aware that it catalyzes all this stuff.
A Who is aware?
B The reader. Or you become aware of the interconnectedness or arbitrariness or ramifications of information.
A Sounds like kind of Relativist.
B No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a politics of information where there’s so much information that it’s really charting certain routes through that kind of information.
A In the text itself or in life?
B Just in general. If you look at the footnotes, that’s where we dropped a lot of the really crazy shit. Which may or may not have appeared in the final text. The footnote is a form of parasitism as well. Or this paratext that defers this kind of safe one-to-one relationship of information.
A A lot of artists have had fun with footnotes. Like Nabokov’s Pale Fire.
B I did a footnotes thing for a friend’s project where he had me write the footnotes for his article and I wrote five times more than the article itself.
A David Foster Wallace. He was big on footnotes.
B Totally. And John Barth. Like, half his book would be footnotes. That was always funny.
B Marx had some beautiful footnotes. He would have these weird diatribes and that’s where a lot of his poetry would happen.
A Which is kind of what you’re saying. A lot of the “crazy shit” that you guys dropped came out in the footnotes. Almost like it’s the back alley.
B Exactly. And that’s the strategy of the parasite. It’s taking a certain system and finding the places where the system drops off.
A It’s good old-fashioned subversion.
B Yeah. Or détournement.
Adam Something your hole project reminded me of, and this is a little crass, but when I lived in South Korea a Korean guy and I were chatting and we realized that we had both slept with the same girl and he said that that meant we were hole brothers.
Bob That’s great. That’s beautiful. I had this whole part of the early version of this hole text that uses a real Feminist critique and deploys a way of thinking about the portable hole as some sort of misogynist fantasy and being able to penetrate anything.
Adam A pocket pussy…
Bob Yeah. Or like a glory hole or something and all of a sudden you have this space where interactions can happen that otherwise wouldn’t. Or your relationship with this person is based on your going through the similar threshold.
Adam That’s a really nice way to put it.
Bob Like walking through the same door.
Adam And just to offset my misogynistic tones to that statement about ‘hole brothers’, she was a teacher. She was a knowledgeable teacher.
Bob Well, I guess it’s a form of pedagogy, like constellations, a point where things interconnect.
Anna Something your pole project reminded me of, and this is a little crass, but when I lived in South Korea a Korean gal and I were chatting and we realized that we had both slept with the same boy and she said that that meant we were pole sisters.
Beth That’s great. That’s beautiful. I had this whole part of the early version of this pole text that uses a real Masculinist critique and deploys a way of thinking about the portable pole as some sort of misandrist fantasy and being able to pitch a tent anywhere.
Anna A pocket penis…
Beth Yeah. Or like a glory pole or something and all of a sudden you have this space where interactions can happen that otherwise wouldn’t. Or your relationship with this person is based on your climbing a similar pole or sheltering under the shared pole space.
Anna That’s a really nice way to put it.
Beth Like huddling under the same umbrella.
Anna And just to offset my misandrist tones to that statement about ‘pole sisters’, he was a teacher. He was a knowledgeable teacher.
Beth Well, I guess it’s a form of pedagogy, like constellations, a point where things interconnect.
Thank you to all the interview participants for generously giving their time and their voices to contribute to this project. Special thanks to Sharon Kahanoff for several energetic rounds of editorial help, for which I am immensely grateful. Many thanks also to Kim Nguyen and Peter Gazendam at Artspeak, and also a big thank you to Deanna Fong at Simon Fraser University for bringing insights into possibilities for live performance and re-enactment; for access to her work on the Roy Kiyooka recordings; and for permission to use her photograph of a mini cassette from the Roy Kiyooka fonds. Finally, thanks to all those pulled into the text above through published works and archival fonds.