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March 25, 2011 / gallerytpw

Exhibition and Its Discontents

Busy times installing at the gallery, preparing for the Images Festival and our presentation of Lindsay Seers. I wanted to draw attention to a somewhat subtle but provocative advertisement in the Images Festival Catalogue… announcing an open forum on April 7th called Exhibition and It’s Discontents. Amongst other things, the event seems in part conceived as a space to air and debate both institutional and individual perspectives on film festival premiere policy and submission processes.  Looks to me as if the event propositions programmers to talk publically about our expectations in relating to each other within the ecology of the Toronto art scene. Specifically in the culture of the Toronto media arts and film festival world, the internal and external pressure to always present the “premiere” of a work has created a less than healthy environment for both programmers and artists. Rather than a community of programmers in conversation with each other, are we growing a community of programmers and curators keeping ideas to themselves in order to beat each other to the punch? What is the relationship between programmers at the larger presentation venues like Hot Docs and TIFF to those at smaller festivals like Images or Real Asian? We all shake our heads in agreement that we should work together, but ultimately, are we competing for audiences, or more awkwardly, competing for artists?  What does it mean to screen a work (SHOCK!) twice in two venues in one city? It’s practically unheard of, certainly not an applauded gesture. (Speaking of which, stay tuned for more info on the TPW May 28th discursive screening of Renzo Martens’ Episode III – so NOT a Toronto premiere, having shown a few times here for Hot Docs in 2009. But a lot of people missed it and the discussion provoked by the controversial work is as pertinent now, if not more so, than ever.)

On another level, the forum advertisement sneaks in what appears to be an anonymous letter excerpt, written to Images Festival, chastising the institution for having an annual open call for submissions – arguing that the gesture is simply an empty signifier to placate artists and funders’ desire to view programming as a “democratic” process. I’m sure these will be unpopular thoughts, and I’m still working it out, but I can’t help but respond to the misguided nature of this artist’s complaint. I don’t know a single decent programmer who considers their open call a gesture to the so called democratic. Rather, generally we have an open call to make sure that artists have some kind of access to us in which a demand is made to look at their work. I view it as research, not a competition. I tell young artists in particular that they should submit to open calls as a way to have programmers and curators look at the evolution of their work from year to year. It’s not for nothing… I’ve shown artists recently that I remember seeing in submissions 6 years ago, and it’s fantastic to have that sense of the development of someone’s practice year to year. If I see something that doesn’t fit for current conversations at TPW but that I think another gallery or festival would be interested in, I make those connections for people.  Sometimes I’m working on a project and I’ll recall a work from an open call review from years ago. Without an open call, and an extra week in every week, how would I have access to work that is not already in the mainstream? Reject letters are hard, sure, but the work gets viewed and thought about, and I don’t think that can ever be a bad thing. Maybe we just need to write better “rejection” letters? Maybe we need to propose open calls more explicitly as research without telos.

Anyway, let’s meet at the forum on April 7th and discuss…

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  1. robertlendrum / Mar 25 2011 3:30 pm

    Kim, I appreciate your comments about the open call submission process being an access point for programmers and curators to see new work, and for that process to be an ongoing one that may result in an artist being shown down the road as their work develops. As an emerging artist, I definitely submitted my really early work far and wide before being shown. Some of those rejections led to opportunities in the same spaces years later. I also always considered that my work was, at the very least, being viewed by people interested in contemporary art and that one of these people might remember the work later on.

    As for premieres, for artists without distribution, I wonder if it’s a matter of finding the right audience? I’ve never had this happen, but if an artist gets into two festivals, say Images and Hotdocs, are they asked to choose one over the other? Do these festivals have similar audiences? Can these festivals find ways to crossover and co-present?

  2. Anonymous / Mar 25 2011 7:15 pm

    As an emerging artist, submitting work and being rejected is a tough process. However, rejection is a part of life. It makes you better. It challenges you to do your best. If you compare this to job applications, at least you get a letter of rejection. Most often, your work/resume just floats into the abyss never to be seen or discussed again.

    I think the real issue might be curators that stick to a certain vision or accept only certain kinds of works. I’m not sure about the Images Festival but I’ve seen this before. It’s important for those who accept those submission to keep an open mind and look towards innovative work.

    No system is perfect. It sounds trite but I think you just have to believe in your art and stick to it. Many of the greats were laughed out of the salon back in the day. Make your art because you love to do it. Not because you want accolades.

    Then again, love doesn’t put food on the table, now does it?

  3. scott miller berry / Mar 28 2011 10:20 pm

    hi kim,
    thanks so much for posting info on the forum and sharing your thoughts on these issues.
    i agree that there is SO much unspoken competition and backbiting and a real lack of dialogue about the environment we’re all working in and the pressures of more more new new new.

    FIRST off — the forum on 7 April is truly that, an Open Forum, no panel of experts. so please folks if you are interested in these issues, come to listen and/or participate, i hope its a lively discussion!

    one example of art world competitive silliness: images programmed work by Joana Hadjithomas + Khalil Joreige at A Space in 2009. Later that year they had an exhibition at the Bina Gallery in Montreal. The press release for the Bina show led with “First major exhibition in Canada” = WHAT? Okay. A true pissing contest. I had to laugh, if it wasn’t so emblematic of the problems facing contemporary art curation.

    robert: at images we don’t have a premiere policy, but this year we lost many films to Hot Docs because they do. the filmmaker must choose. i feel forcing the filmmaker (or their distributor, etc) to decide does the artist and the audience a true disservice. what is wrong with a film being seen in different contexts with multiple audiences. its the MARKET for these films which dictates that films which are “premiered” at festivals with industry sections (HD,TIFF, etc) must toe the line. so the festival is capitulating to the industry and the filmmaker is either stuck in the middle or at the mercy of their agent/s. we love co-presenting with lots of festivals, but the festivals who insist on enforcing selfish premiere policies care about satisfying their supporters first and foremost.

    this guarantees that strong works are seen ONCE in each city / region / country / continent —
    how unfortunate.

    as for the call for submissions, many MANY solid works don’t get programmed for a lot of reasons. at images each program is curated, so not everything fits curatorially. sometimes longer works can’t fit literally into limited slots. but we program a good # from our call each year that we would never have seen otherwise. AND submissions do contribute to an awareness of many artists.

    hope to see you on the 7th!

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