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October 17, 2011 / gallerytpw

Lord of Influence

I recognize it’s been forever since I posted (and that I’ve said this before), but here goes trying again to get back on the blog track. So much to tell you, where to begin…

The most interesting story to come my way over the last few months comes by way of some Luminato Festival party gab. Okay busted, this was back in June but the story has really lingered with me. Hanging out at the Spoke Club (decorated for the occasion with all things corporate sponsorship, complete with Loreal products on romantically lit plexi-plinths and hyper-scented exit swag), I had the chance to chat a bit with Chris Lorway, then outgoing AD of Luminato (regrettable since this last fest was one of his more experimental visual arts programs). Lorway has joined the power team at Lord Cultural Resources , if you’re not familiar with Lord, you should be… they’re THE international go-to team for planning and management of heritage, culture and the arts. And, they’re Canadian. “Lord Cultural Resources is a global professional practice dedicated to creating cultural capital worldwide.” What does that mean? Well, my last conversation with Lorway enlightened me to just what kind of influence the people at Lord can have.

So here’s the story, keep in mind this is highly anecdotal and obviously lacking in detail — thus blog fodder and not a doctoral thesis or a work of journalism. I welcome someone from Lord correcting me on any misspoken words, but I think this is a pretty fascinating situation to consider together…

Lorway is one of the consultants on a new international cultural centre in Saudi Arabia. Initiated by the Saudi Aramco Oil Company (see PS below) to promote cultural development within the region, and seemingly to attract new corporate partners to the area. My understanding is that the centre will be for both performing and visual arts. Lord is consulting on everything from the design of the theatres (which is very particular in relation to the proximate seating of both the Royal family and the greater populace); to hooking up a star architectural firm to the project; to training locals in some of the technical aspects of running such a space.

What blew my mind was Lorway’s anecdote about a boardroom conversation in which the status of women performing in public in the region was discussed, because at this point, it is not acceptable for adult women to perform on stage. As I understand it Lord has been involved in discussions about how to build a cultural centre with an international reputation, bringing in international performers and artists of all kinds, including women. And thus the beginnings of a general plan was discussed… how to make it more acceptable to a general Saudi audience for women to be on stage? Well, apparently, pre-pubescent children are allowed to perform on stage, including girls. The long-term plan then, as I understood Lorway, is for the new cultural centre to be involved in developing a greater visibility – a star system if you will – for more female children performers. The idea being that if they are so beloved by a large public by the time they reach puberty people will not want to see them disappear from the public eye.

So there it is, again, anecdotal… but the implications of Lord consulting on a decades-long project of deep cultural shift shouldn’t be underestimated. On the one hand, maybe we should see this as a positive influence on a systemically inequitable environment. On the other hand, this particular affirmative action plan has the potential to become just another exploitation of women’s bodies for the trickle up purpose of corporate gain. Remember, this is an initiative developing out of an oil company’s interests to attract attention to the region. Is this the new, subtle cultural imperialism? Or is this the idealized “culture-in-action” actually playing out? I still haven’t fully parsed this out in my mind and obviously we need more concrete information… but would love to hear your thoughts and any redirection of the meta-thinking.

P.S. A little late added important info, as a friend just reminded me, Aramco Oil is state-owned, ie. run by the royal family. So let’s also consider the political agendas at stake in this cultural institution — balancing both how to appeal on a broad international level while maintaining respect within Islamist communities. Hmm… ‘bit tricky.

 

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October 10, 2011 / gallerytpw

Sorry, sorry…

I’ll spare you the long winded version of my apology for taking such an extended break from This is a Blog. Spring burnout turned into summer brain break, and summer to fall craziness.

In lieu of my own interesting apology, I offer instead artist Cory Arcangel‘s smart compilation Sorry I haven’t Posted — A new reblog he started which re-posts posts of people apologizing for not posting. Tag line: “Inspiring Apologies From Today’s World Wide Web”

Looking forward to getting back on track, thinking out loud with you…

April 15, 2011 / gallerytpw

Following Discontent

I know I know, I’ve been remiss in my blogging practice. Take it as a sign of all great things happening at the gallery and all great things means work overload. Just wanted to post this follow-up to the Images Festival forum “Exhibitions and its Discontents” which took place last week. Great turn out and lively discussion. The only thing that didn’t quite work was that the audience was primarily all small screen programmers/curators or artist/programmers, which in some sense means we were all preaching to the converted. There was some decent discussion but not much in the way of oppositional debate… would have been more interesting had the artists who send complaint letters shown up, or if the programmers from Hot Docs or TIFF had been there.

The team leading the discussion was kind enough to make notes in an attempt to keep the conversation alive and developing. I’ve pasted their notes here, but you should visit their blog and chime in with your comments if moved to do so:

Exhibition & its Discontents: We need your comments! Exhibition and Its Discontents Extended Mix!!

As promised, we want to keep this dialogue alive. Here are the talking points I proposed at the beginning of our fantastic meeting as well as some of the main topics from the notes. Feel free to riff off of what’s here, restate your points from the meeting or add comments to threads you remember from the discussion. We welcome any and all constructive voices. Remember the ground rules still apply: honesty is encouraged, gossip ok, slander not ok!

Preamble:

* Funders, Festivals, Distributors, Curators, Critics have all let down – how ever gently or not so gently – their fair share of artists. For an active artist, even one with a moderately successful ‘career,’  ‘rejection’ is a real part of our experience.

* So how do we as artists interpret this ‘rejection’  – is it useful? Can it be more that a personal dismissive? More than something we have to suppress in order to keep going?

* Conversely how do we as Funders, Jurors, Festival Directors, or Distributors, manage public responses to our decisions, how do we navigate negativity at that awkward party or potluck – how do we handle the confrontations and the angry letters?

* Are these just occupational hazards our friends in other dangerous jobs forgot to tell us about. Did we really think being funders, artists and arts administrators would be easy??

* What about trust, expertise, professionalism, conflicts of interest, transparency, respect?

* How do we and when do we choose between professional conduct or spontaneous combustion? Between a rightful challenge or a shit fit!

Main topics raised at the forum:

* Should ‘angry Letters’ should be visible and published? What if your angry letter is rejected?

* If you welcome feedback, will you get more carefully considered responses?

* Premiere policies – are they good/bad for artists? Good/bad for exhibitors? What if you are both?

* Could artists benefit from having a ‘festival strategy’?

* Nepotism: how is being tightly connected making some things (rejection) more difficult?

* How do political pressures play a role in the fragility of the cultural community?

* Open call vs. other models? Can we evolve it? Why don’t we trust it?

My ears are already burning! Looking forward to more discussion!

Sincerely,

Deirdre Logue, on behalf of the Images Festival and MANO. deirdrel@vtape.org

Hello Images Festival goers,

To continue the dialogue from our Exhibition and its Discontents Forum,  Images Festival and MANO are looking for your comments, insight and feedback.  Any comments sent to us may be posted on the Images Festival website under an anonymous author. If you are interested in disclosing yourself as the author, please let us know. If you absolutely do not want your comments published at all, please make this clear in your email. You can email either myself or Deirdre . We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Regards,

Sunny Fong, Images Festival Board, sunnydark33@gmail.com

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…

March 17, 2011 / gallerytpw

130 Artists Call for Guggenheim Boycott over Migrant Worker Exploitation

 

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, waiting for the news to go public while a committed group of engaged, international artists, curators and writers tried to lobby the Guggenheim directly. Failing that attempt, the news broke far and wide today. Below the full press release. For further information see the coalition blog (with petition and media links):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

130 Artists Call for Guggenheim Boycott over Migrant Worker Exploitation

(New York, March 17, 2011) A group of leading artists, curators, writers, and others launched a boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi today over the exploitation of foreign migrant workers building the museum on Saadiyat Island, the United Arab Emirates.

More than 130 international artists, curators, writers and others have signed a boycott to end all cooperation with the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and are demanding that the Guggenheim Foundation and its Abu Dhabi partner take immediate and meaningful steps to safeguard the rights of the workers constructing the new branch museum on Saadiyat Island. Some of the artists who have signed the appeal have also decided to boycott other Guggenheim locations around the world until this issue is resolved.

“Artists should not be asked to exhibit their work in buildings built on the backs of exploited workers,” said Walid Raad, one of the artists boycotting the Guggenheim. “Those working with bricks and mortar deserve the same kind of respect as those working with cameras and brushes.”

In two extensive reports on the UAE, Human Rights Watch has documented a cycle of abuse that leaves migrant workers deeply indebted, poorly paid, and unable to defend their rights or even quit their jobs. The UAE authorities responsible for developing Saadiyat Island have failed to tackle the root causes of abuse: unlawful recruiting fees, broken promises of wages, and a sponsorship system that gives employers virtually unlimited power over workers.

After mounting criticism, the Guggenheim finally made a public commitment in September 2010 to protect the rights of laborers constructing its new branch. However the institution and, its Abu Dhabi partner, the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) have still not taken sufficient steps to better the conditions of workers.

On March 10, 2011, TDIC announced that it “is broadening its existing independent monitoring programme” and that it had revised its Employment Practices Policy (EPP) to provide that  contractors “shall reimburse Employees for any Recruitment Fees paid by them, without deductions being imposed on their remuneration.” However, TDIC also stated that the monitor will examine only UAE and EPP violations, which of course exclude significant labor law and human rights protections guaranteed under international law. Furthermore, it has not indicated whether the monitor’s findings will be made public. With respect to the EPP statement that contractors will reimburse workers for fees, without enforcement mechanisms and a guarantee from TDIC and the Guggenheim, it remains nothing more than an unenforceable promise for which only workers bear the risk of loss.

“We support the building of cultural institutions on the Saadiyat Island but we feel that it is our responsibility to do what we can to ensure that the rights of workers are protected.” said Emily Jacir, a signatory.

The call followed an initiative by NYU faculty and students who are trying to secure similar protections for the construction workers who will be building the NYU Abu Dhabi campus, also on Saadiyat Island, known as the “Island of Happiness”.

Among those calling for the boycott are prominent artists Emily Jacir, Walid Raad, Yto Barrada, Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat, Akram Zaatari, Janet Cardiff, Willie Doherty, Hans Haacke, Thomas Hirschhorn, Alfredo Jaar, Barbara Kruger, Antonio Muntadas, Paul Pfeiffer, Rirkrit Tiravanija, to name a few.

For more information, contact:

In Sharjah, Walid Raad, Artist, +971508087430 or gulflabor@gmail.com

In Sharjah, Emily Jacir, Artist,  +971656377770 or  gulflabor@gmail.com

In New York,  Ayreen Anastas, Artist, +1 718 388-5437 or jobeuys@gmail.com

In New York, Rene Gabri, Artist,  +1 212 480-2099 renegabri@gmail.com

In New York, Andrew Ross, Writer, +1 917-596-645 or andrew.ross@nyu.edu

March 10, 2011 / gallerytpw

New Power Plant website

Well, congratulations to the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery on the launch of their new website! Personally, I feel like I’ve been waiting a good fifteen years for this. A first scan and I can say I’m confident I’ll be hanging out there regularly, now that they’ve got their lectures online, new critical content just for the web, and just all around easier-to-get-to information. First order of business… a re-listen of the May lecture by Thomas Hirschhorn, one of the meatiest, most engaging lectures I’d attended in quite sometime. Just the attention and rigor with which Hischhorn develops the lexicon for his methodology… fascinating stuff, and lots to debate with. That May lecture was a good deal more interesting than the lecture he gave a few weeks ago on his Power Plant installation, Das Auge, which opens to the public tonight. I wonder if this is because the May lecture focused on one of Hirschhorn’s public site works, The Bijlmer Spinoza-Festival (which coincidentaly included a presentation of Guillaume Desanges’ workshop Child’s Play, documentation of which showed at TPW last June). By contrast, Das Auge was made for the space of the gallery. At that lecture, not yet online, the conversation around Das Auge seemed to float at the level of aesthetics and design despite Hirschhorn’s attempts to shift the focus to the politics of representation… I’m wondering if his public site works are simply more complex and more insistent on different levels of engagement than the gallery work. Of course, I haven’t seen the Das Auge installation in person yet, so I’ll have to put my analysis on hold. Which reminds me, if you’d like to discuss it together, come out to the Power Plant on Sunday, May 1st, when I’ll be leading the Sunday Scene that day, and walking through the Hirschhorn show. I’ll remind you again later, it’s still a long way off.

March 6, 2011 / gallerytpw

Soliciting or diffusing engagement

 

Friday night I made the trek up to York University with the best of intentions, and as usual got to talking to my car companion, got distracted, missed my turn, got lost, and was sadly very late for this promising event…

Practice, Political Engagement, and Institutional Change was a panel organized by Deanna Bowen in conjunction with her work for the AGYU project The Centre for Incidental Activisms (CIA). Although I was regrettably late, I caught enough of the discussion to get my wheels turning… while not the focus of the panel, as usual, what sticks in my mind are questions about the role of institutions in the solicitation of critical engagement and critical inquiry.  One of the panelists was Michelle Jacques, a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario and someone I have huge respect for, and who I feel is underutilized in the public voice of the gallery. Jacques shared an interesting anecdote about a moment of critical potential when the AGO announced the Kara Walker commission for their 2009 reopening. The new work was to respond to representations of race in some of the AGO’s historical collection. Jacques shared that when the announcement was made the gallery received a joint complaint from a group of academics who took issue with the commission going to an African-American rather than an African-Canadian artist, arguing that the two cultural histories are not identical and why not privilege the Canadian perspective. At the panel, as I heard it, Jacques articulated that this was potentially a very interesting and important critical conversation to be had and one which she hoped would go public when the commission was complete and finally on display. Following this, Jacques expressed her disappointment that the issue never became public because the academics, the media, nor any other public pushed the issue.

My question is why didn’t the AGO take the opportunity to bring up the discussion to the public themselves? This is not solely an AGO issue, this is a common concern for institutions showing contemporary work from a variety of social and political contexts… Behind the scenes, plan for diffusion of critical attention rather than finding ways to make it a collective inquiry. Why don’t we become the leaders of critical conversation and the articulation of interesting questions rather than wait for the debate to be lobbed as a one sided critique. I truly believe that to engage each other critically does not mean that we are criticizing each other (ok, sometimes it does, but work with me here…). In this corporate-smile-age of “appreciative inquiry” (vs critical inquiry) are we washing over the difficult and tricky conversations, relegating the tough discussion to private moments in the coffee shop or the living room? Where else but our most important and visible cultural institutions will our public debates about the impacts and responsibilities of cultural practice occur? Who will take responsibility for leading us in discussion?