New video: Artist Roundtable (A.RT) on New Economies

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Last May, as part of the second Disruptive Imaginings gathering in Vancouver, Simon Fraser University hosted an Artist Roundtable (A.RT) on the theme of New Economies.

The A.RT brought together a diverse group of panellists who have provocative ideas about art, economy, and transformative change. Set within a staged 1983 corporate boardroom, the A.RT started off with a presentation by artist Marilou Lemmens about her collaborative, multidisciplinary practice with Richard Ibghy. She presented artistic projects that explore the ways in which the economic system pervades nearly every facet of our daily lives. In response, panellists from various fields engaged in lively discussion, digging deeply into the issues at the heart of the duo’s practice. The panellists drew on their experiences in the realms of art and culture, activism and citizenship, and sustainability and radical urbanism as they shared stories, debated ideas, and challenged each other and the audience with thought-provoking questions.

About the panellists:

Community organizer, writer, and activist Matt Hern teaches at UBC and is known for his work in radical urbanism, community development, and alternative forms of education. He is founder of the Purple Thistle Centre, Car-Free Vancouver Day, and Groundswell: Grassroots Economic Alternatives.

Cédric Jamet is former Project Manager at the Montreal Urban Ecology Centre and a Curator at Cities for People, now pursuing a degree in Human Systems Intervention at Concordia. His work explores the relationship between the urban imaginary, active citizenship, and the co-creation of sustainable cities. He has worked on many citizen engagement projects including coordinating 100in1 Day in Montreal.

Artist and cultural producer Todd Lester has dedicated his career to supporting and enabling socially engaged artists around the world. He is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and founder of both freeDimensional and Lanchonete.org.

You can watch the full video here - and if you want to know more about new economies, read the recent Report on New Economies by CCEDNET and One Earth here.

Mapping Montréal’s wild greenspaces

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Have you ever been moving through a familiar urban environment in Montreal, only to be surprised by a piece of land you’ve never really noticed before? Perhaps upon closer examination, you find faint footfalls in the snow, or a dirt path crossing the space. You might see native grasses flourishing, or a colourful yarn-bomb wrapped around a tree. A rustle in the shrubs might indicate a rabbit or squirrel foraging for food. Most of all, you probably notice the silence – a feeling of removal from the adjacent bustle of city life. Wild City Mapping is a new initiative started by a collective of “artists, green space enthusiasts and geeks”.

Wild City Mapping

Photo courtesy of Wild City Mapping

Their aim is to document Montreal’s wild greenspaces through the eyes of the communities that use them, and to propagate similar mapping activities in other cities by providing a replicable model using open-source programs like MapBox, as well as highly detailed, hand-drawn maps like the one below (for more on la cartographie éphémère, see here).

Wild City Mapping_map

Cartographie éphémère in Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie (photo courtesy of Dominique Ferraton)

Wild City Mapping’s approach to documenting and adding stories to terrains vagues in Montreal strikes a chord with our views on cultivating resilient and livable cities. Firstly, infusing urban spaces with personal stories can change the ways in which we understand space beyond their development value. It also illumines possibilities to use these spaces in ways outside of sanctioned activities (such as transportation or commerce) which is important to urban resilience. One element of resilience, particularly in cities, is adaptability: when spaces are flexible, they can be adopted by different people and for different uses. If we can agree that undefined spaces are resilient by nature of being open to anything, then perhaps this kind of work can be placed in a broader recognition of the value in maintaining fluidity in spaces as the urban context changes over time. In fact, one of the key components of Wild City Mapping is a temporal dimension to show the physical changes in wild greenspaces, as well as documenting activities within these spaces.

Parc des Gorilles

Map of le Parc des Gorilles in the "Mile Ex" neighbourhood: coloured icons denote different years and activities

Given the dominant narrative of growth and economic development in Montreal, there is something almost subversive about deliberately preserving spaces in an unplanned state. Wild City Mapping brings up big questions, like: How do we explain the urban realm, outside of the current growth- and development-centred discourse? How can we plan spaces outside of this discourse, and develop narratives around differently-planned spaces? How can we better understand and thus develop value systems for those complex, sometimes disorienting “spaces left over after planning”?

Verdun 2

Pathways in Verdun (photo courtesy of Wild City Mapping)

While Wild City Mapping’s work is fairly unique in Montreal, one can draw links to international work in a similar vein. For example, Lara Almarcegui, a Spanish artist who creates large-scale installations that often involve reconceptualising elements of the built environment, also questions the way in which we care for space. Her Portscapes installations along Rotterdam’s post-industrial harbour is salient for this discussion. Rather than creating an installation which would impose built structures onto these environments to alter their meaning, she created an inventory of fallow grounds and negotiated with city council to preserve these spaces as they were. The idea of “un-designed” spaces is foreign in planning, as they may be associated with abandonment or lack of care – and yet there are choices and actions behind this freedom. It is valuable for those involved in city building to consider how consciously “unbuilding” can contribute to healthy, livable, and resilient cities.

Leave it alone

Le champ des possibles: "For me, the most important aspect of this space is that it is NOT manicured, controlled, landscaped....LEAVE IT ALONE!!!" (Photo courtesy of Wild City Mapping)

Click here to read about the Wild City Mapping team and collaborators. If you’d like to know more about the process of mapping wild greenspaces, dive into stories from founding members Maia Iotzova, Igor Rončević, and Dominique Ferraton. Do you know a wild green space in Montreal? Share it with Wild City Mapping. And, look out for Part Two of this series: an interview with Dominique Ferraton and Maia Iotzova.

EXHIBITION ANATOMY

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by cheyanne turions

Dear Carolee: Carolee Schneemann in Letters
Organized by Kunstverein Toronto
G Gallery
27 November 2014–10 January 2015

CAROLEE SCHNEEMANN

Since the late 1950s, the life of Carolee Schneemann (1939–) has been expressed through her artistic practice, first with the medium of paint and then through the medium of her often nude body, though she has utilized objects, printed matter, moving images and the often nude bodies of others as well. Wikipedia suggests that Schneemann is a “first-generation feminist artist,” despite the fact that surely feminist artists have existed as long as there has been art. However, the claim does mark an intrusion into a cannon where recognition of Schneemann’s work continues to position her at a remove from the male artists she worked with and near, such as Stan Brakhage, Allan Kaprow and Claus Oldenburg. Her first major solo show was not until 1996, when the New Museum mounted a retrospective of her work. When her practice is invoked, two works are often cited: Meat Joy, a 1964 film documenting a cast of eight in the throes of an erotic rite involving raw meat, wet paint and rope; and Interior Scroll, a 1975 performance that culminated in Schneemann reading aloud from a script she was simultaneously withdrawing from her vagina.

WORK

For decades, alongside her embodiment through artistic practice, Schneemann has compulsively engaged in what she terms work: correspondence. Positioning correspondence as labour (and artistic practice as living) inverts a common work/life distribution where the maintenance of relationships is a thing of pleasure. However, Schneemann has been methodical in the construction of a written record of her life, saving copies of letters written and received. In Los Angeles, the Getty Research Institute holds an archive of these intimate documents, a selection from which form the foundation of the exhibition Dear Carolee: Carolee Schneemann in Letters. Additional materials were drawn from the Clara Thomas Archives at York University, where the papers of Schneemann’s first husband, James Tenney, are held. Addressed to and signed by an array of prominent artists in the international avant garde, the letters map relations of friendship and love, collaboration and critique. Even without knowing the work of Schneemann, this exhibition makes palpable the development of a mind through its encounter with others. Of course, any archive must be approached as partial and any image constructed of Schneemann through the materials of Dear Carolee must be measured against an imagination of what has been excluded. Was the labour of some correspondence too intimate to bear including in the archive? How does voice translate through time, across readers? What was deemed irrelevant or indispensable by the exhibition’s curators?

SPACE

Exhibition making, like writing, is the effect of composition and editing; every gesture is deliberate. Extending the analogy of exhibition making to architecture, both organize space with regard to aesthetic effect. As an epistolary retrospective, Dear Carolee had a double obligation: to negotiate engagement through space and with a concern for readerly stamina.

Letter

Inventive tactics included a series of original letters displayed at eye level in glass frames jutting at 90 degree angles from a long wall, allowing a viewer to step into the space of each letter, read through, and examine its recto and verso for the clues of the life the letter-as-object is living.

Plinths

Another tactic transformed the medium of the letters from paper into light, projecting a selection as slides, their scale becoming grand as they were beamed across the room. The plinths holding the projectors were staggered by height and within the space of the room, so that the projected letters were not perfectly aligned. The effect was a sense of envelopment, as if the reader were inside a ramshackle desk drawer full of correspondence. Standard methods of display were also used, such as a set of vitrines that cast the gaze of the viewer downward on a small collection of objects and ephemera from Schneemann’s life, such as a VHS copy of her film Fuses (1965) and a rare copy of her artist’s edition ABCWe Print EverythingIn the Cards (1977/1992). A few framed photographs and posters hung flush against the walls, the kind of presentation familiar to anyone who has been to a gallery before.

CÉZANNE

Cézanne, She was a Great Painter is a collection of letters, essays, and conceptual writings that were first published in 1974, and again in 1975, and again in 1976, and again as part of Dear Carolee, which compliments the exhibition and allows for an extended engagement of Schneemann’s work through book form. What is obvious in Cézanne as read in 2015 is the longstanding and mostly unchanged refusal that women must bear toward patriarchal forms of knowledge if they are to author the roles they play. As a girl, Schneemann knew she was an artist. Sensing something sinister she could not yet name, she did not ask if the great artists whose names she was learning belonged women and instead authored her own hero: “I decided a painter named ‘Cézanne’ would be my mascot; I would assume Cézanne was unquestionably a woman—after all the ‘anne’ in it was feminine. Were the bathers I studied in reproduction so awkward because painted by a woman? But ‘she’ was famous and respected. If Cézanne could do it, I could do it.” Today, “Schneemann” on the lips and tongues of female artists who need not invent predecessors is Schneemann’s sweet revenge.

ISTORY

Language is not neutral; the “his” in “history” is no coincidence. Attentive to the ways that language shapes its subjects, Schneemann has long practiced a rejection of the masculine assumptions of English, either through neologism or substitution. Schneemann prefers the term “art istory,” without the “h,” to counteract the “he” it implies, and in most cases “people” can do for “human.”

Through her letters, it becomes obvious that the complexity of her artistic production is steeped in an engagement with feminist politics, seeking a fundamental re-ordering of how value accrues in the work of women. In her early career, she was surrounded by men whose fame was ascendent. Though an integral part of the New York City art scene of the 1960s, the radical intentions behind her own work and the influence she had on the artistic production of her peers did not lead to recognition or material stability. In her letters, Schneemann repeatedly tells of experiences where “men [helped] me to sustain what I had but not to enlarge it in scope or enjoin them in their world…I WAS PERMITTED TO BE AN IMAGE/BUT NOT AN IMAGE-MAKER CREATING HER OWN SELF-IMAGE.”

This schism, between history and istory, between image and image-maker, is the result of what Schneemann diagnoses as the mixed inculturation women receive of OF COURSE YOU CAN/DON’T YOU DARE. This is the consequence of society adopting a rhetoric of equality without enacting the reciprocal systemic shifts required to make good on it. If the recent recognition of her work is understood as a consequence of changing standards of taste, where, say, depictions of desire from a feminine perspective are legible, it should not be confused with the triumph of social redress. Writing in 1974, imagining the year 2000, Schneemann predicted this: “In the year 2,000 books and courses will only be called ‘Man and His Image,’ ‘Man and His Symbols,’ ‘Art History of Man,’ to probe the source of disease and mania which compelled patriarchal man to attribute to himself and his masculine forebears every invention and artifact by which civilization was formed for over four millennia.” Writing from beyond the future that Schneemann anticipated, I shudder to say we are somehow not there yet.

(All quotes taken from the 2014 edition of Cézanne, She was a Great Painter except where otherwise indicated.)

Installation shots by Joseph Devitt Tremblay

Resilience Theory, From the Sciences to the Arts

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by cheyanne turions

 

While resilience is a quality that can be ascribed to the toughest amongst us, resilience theory is slightly different, an idea that comes from the sciences to describe a system’s capacity to respond to change while maintaining core functions. Unsurprisingly, the character trait and the systems model share something in common—that ability to withstand forces and emerge recognizable on the other side of things. An elastic band is resilient to the extent that it can assume its original shape after being coiled and pulled taught. A person is resilient in their capacity to love again after heartbreak. And the woods are resilient to the extent that they can recuperate from forest fires.

In the parlance of ecology, a basin is stable state defined by a unique set of processes and structures. The ability to absorb disturbances, man made or otherwise, describes the system’s thresholds, those limits beyond which a previously stable state collapses and a new order asserts itself. While this kind of paradigm shift may seem exciting from the perspective of personal or intellectual development, in the case of ecology, these regime shifts can have profound impacts on human populations that have developed infrastructures that depend upon reliable inputs and outputs from the environment. This is to be blatantly anthropocentric; these regime shifts affect all living beings alike, bacteria, bugs, birds and babies. When an ecological system is able to “absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks,” it is said to be resilient [1]. The thing about basins, is that they can be more or less agreeable in supporting certain kinds of life cycles and life forms, human life included. So, from an ecological perspective, sustainability has come to mean environmental management practices that maintain ecosystems in states agreeable to human needs and desires.

It takes little imagination to understand that our demands are enormous: not only is the quality of life exceptional for many people living today, but the human population continues to increase at a nearly exponential rate. While quality of life and population size have been served by ecological practices designed to return maximum yields (think  of the use of fertilizers to increase crop harvest or the drainage of wetlands to repurpose rich soils for agricultural uses), the carrying capacity of our planet can accommodate only so much. And ecological systems are complex beyond our capacity to manage them completely. Thresholds loom. If the basins we know now are to remain feasible, something’s got to give. Either our relationship to the environment has to change, or the environment itself will change, reaching local and global thresholds that will redefine the ecological basins we exist in.

As a scientific study, resilience theory is intimately connected to the idea of sustainability. The goal is to shift extraction and consumption practices in a way that fosters resilient ecosystems so that environmental disturbances can be absorbed and basic human needs met while, in the long-term, continuing to operate within desirable basins. When thresholds are acknowledged, the hope is that action can be taken to avoid regime shifts, thus maintaining quality of life for future generations.

Ecologist C. S. Holling began theorizing resilience in the early 1970s, and since his articulation was first offered, the idea has slowly been percolating from the sciences through to the social sciences, “expanding beyond ecology to reflect systems of thinking in fields such as economics and political science. And, as more and more people move into densely populated cities, using massive amounts of water, energy, and other resources, the need to combine these disciplines to consider the resilience of urban ecosystems and cities is of paramount importance” [2]. The four themes of Cities for People—arts, governance, economy and the built environment—examine interrelated aspects of civic life, seeking out opportunities to develop resilience for the ecological and cultural well-being of the diverse and intimately situated populations of cities today.

Resilience theory is applicable to the arts to the extent that artists and audience are part of an ecosystem, drawing on its resources, re-writing its shape, eager to define its behaviour. These interactions operate in mutually defining directions.

The practices of artists can be shaped by concerns for resilience, such as when the materials used in the mounting of exhibitions are recycled into the raw materials of object-making. Think of all that wood used to build false walls repurposed as used lumber instead of waste. New York City’s Materials for the Arts  is a effective example of this.

The practices of artists can shape the means of living resiliently, such as when ecological concerns or pubic interest motivate creativity. For instance, in 2010 Emily Carr University launched an electric vehicle project that focused on “sustainable regional design” in the development of a prototype that addresses the desire for private transportation and a slightly lighter ecological footprint than traditional gas-powered cars [3]. Operating within the arts, the project had little concern for patents or market return, and instead championed new models of design and collaboration [4].

Resilience theory can also be used as a way of describing the arts. What defines the basins we are currently in? What thresholds loom? What might a regime change entail? One might consider the current situation of government support for culture in Canada as one basin the arts currently occupies, and the threat of austerity politics as a seemingly inevitable threshold. Regime change could mean many things: an art world more closely tied to market forces, or perhaps an abundance of public-private partnerships, or maybe even an older style of patronage.

In my role as part of Cities for People, I will be thinking through the practices of artists to consider what they can tell us about resilience theory. In tandem, I will consider what resilience theory can tell us about art. My investigations will depart from a core series of projects organized by Musagetes, curators of the Art and Society arm of Cities for People, but I will be listening for resonances elsewhere too, from speaking with others concerned with culture and livability to studying exhibitions.

In constructing a claim that the works of revolutionary artists have foreshadowed major discoveries in science, surgeon and author Leonard Shlain delineates and weaves between art and physics: “The artist employs image and metaphor; the physicist uses number and equation. Art encompasses an imaginative realm of aesthetic qualities; physics exists in a world of crisply circumscribed mathematical relationships between quantifiable properties. Traditionally, art has created illusions meant to elicit emotion; physics has been an exact science that made sense...While their methods differ radically, artists and physicists share the desire to investigate the ways the interlocking pieces of reality fit together” [5]. If I take Shlain seriously, then it is through the careful analysis of the practices of artists that insights into the science of resilience will be gained. Let’s see what happens.

 

[1] Walker, Brian, C. S. Holling, Stephen R. Carpenter, and Ann Kinzig. “Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social-ecological Systems.” Ecology and Society 9, no. 2. (2004), http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art5/.

[2] Kateman, Brian. “Ecological and Urban Resilience.” state of the planet, (2011), http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/10/12/ecological-and-urban-resilience/.

[3] Wadsworth, Rebecca. “Emily Carr University Students Launch Electric Vehicle Project.” Media release, (2008), http://www.ecuad.ca/sites/www.ecuad.ca/files/pages/release1/Electric%20Vehicle%20Launch.pdf.

[4] Vancouver Courier. “Emily Carr students fuse talents for electric car.” Canada.com, (2009), http://www.canada.com/vancouvercourier/news/story.html?id=f33cc6be-44c8-4e57-8bf0-51ff4fe289ac. Here, project lead Bartosz Bos speaks about the desire to have the ideas further developed by others, evincing a concern for collaboration and a lack of concern for patents and other restrictive market measures.

[5] Shlain, Leonard, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light ( New York: Perennial, 2001), pages15-16.