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…