A Word 03.26.2015

This week’s A Word is all about events that are happening this weekend: from a new exhibition at the BAM space to the 330 Design Group. You can listen to the show here.

Some housekeeping: the article I mentioned at the beginning of the show about city councillors is here. The shameful partisan squander of tax payer money that the aforementioned CPC candidate Donauer has no apparent issue with can be seen here…and I don’t really remember him ever being a big supporter of the gallery anyway.

This post is going up a bit earlier than usual, as it is a busy weekend: but this isn’t to nudge CFCR out of the way, and you can show your appreciation for the best radio station in the city by making sure you renew your membership (or buy one for the first time) during our upcoming Membership Drive. Whether you listen to the A Word, Tonight It’s Poetry, Civically Speaking or so many other great cultural focused shows that CFCR not only provides but actively promotes, it is time to show your love.

The A Word is entering its eighth year: and considering that the CBC is facing some unpleasant local cuts, just announced today, local voices speaking to relevant local issues are needed more than ever.

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Respective posters are below with all the information you need, but I’d like to also add a link that a friend sent to me, which is a wonderful piece by Jerry Saltz. You can read that here.

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A Word 19.03.2015 BAM Collective

This week’s episode of the A Word is a conversation between myself, Cynthia Blanchette and David Stonhouse. These two are part of the exciting and dynamic BAM Collective, and we talk about the current show that’s on display there as well as what they are and what they do, and what they hope to do.

You can listen to us here. The images directly below are posters from the current show (Cynthia mentions when the space will be open near the end of our conversation) and the next exhibition that will be in the BAM space. The reception for that is the 28th of March.

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Now, a few other things worth mentioning: you have until tomorrow to see the Winter Gala at the Mann Gallery. Its worth a day trip to Prince Albert, and while you’re there you can also check out an exhibition at the John V. Hicks Gallery, presented by IPAC, (the Indigenous Peoples Artist Collective). Solitaires/Solidaries is a group exhibition organized and toured by the Conseil Culturel Fransaskois (CCF) which “highlights the reality of the Fransaskois artist creating in a contemporary prairie setting. It juxtaposes the reality of the artist working in a solitary space with the experience of cultural and linguistic solidarity”. The exhibition features the work of 4 Fransaskois artist, Anne Brochu Lambert, Jean-Sébastien Gauthier, Liza Gareau Tosh and Michèle Mackasey.

I didn’t mention the Mann’s Wolf Back A Beer Campaign last week, so I mention it here: support this endeavour. Public art is important to defining and renewing a civic space. Emma Anderson’s curatorial / educational project on Wynona Mulcaster opens at the Mann on the 2nd of April: that will be an interesting piece of history that has relevant contemporary applications too.

To return to Saskatoon: the latest Toon’s Kitchen at paved is an excellent one. I have some thoughts about it here, at Ominocity. I’m hoping that I’ll continue to contribute pieces to that excellent site, as some events / exhibitions are here so briefly that it’s necessary to note them immediately (I’m still letting an idea regarding abstraction and the works of Lorenzo Dupuis, who’s currently at Art Placement, Tammi Campbell’s work at the Mendel and Robert Taite’s current exhibition at aka fester in my head….I find myself returning to the title of Dupuis’s exhibition – A New Grammar – when thinking of the language of abstraction….). It’s an important show in the Toon’s space as we don’t seem to be having a debate about immigration these days so much as we’re shouting slogans and unpleasant bile in the wake of the indentured servitude that was / is  the TFW program….

The next few episodes of the A Word will be returning to event listing format, but I do hope to talk to Allison Moore, whose exhibition Video Terrarium opened last week at paved, in the next while. It may be the first interview I’ll do with the A Word that is across the Atlantic….

Looking ahead: 330 Design Group will be hosting its annual open house later this month. I’ll mention more about that next week, but their poster is below.

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Stronger Than Stone : some thoughts and ideas

This is a piece you’ll find in the March / April 2015 CARFAC Newsletter about the Stronger Than Stone Conference in the Fall of 2015. There’s also a piece by David Garneau in that issue. CARFAC SK doesn’t put their newsletter online (though you can find copies in a variety of spaces, from Art Placement to SCYAP): so it seemed appropriate to make it available online at the A Word. At the above link for STS you can read participant biographies and other relevant information. This exhibition was also on display concurrent to STS, and at times factored into the conversations. ______________________________________________________________________________________________ Stronger Than Stone took place over four days in Calgary and Saskatoon, with a multiplicity of speaker and performers: it is sheer impossibility to give anything more than a taste of what happened over the two days at Wanuskewin, but many of the speakers raised issues that will resonate to a person in Saskatoon or Saskatchewan, as well as our larger national imaginary. Monuments have power not just physically, but in what they represent, as markers of ideology. They are material manifestations of ideas: and “ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?[i]

Wanuskewin was an ideal site, with its historical implications, a monument in itself: Rebecca Belmore, on the second day, spoke of recognizing the difference between monuments that are, and those that are “manufactured.” Ashok Mathur recounted the preceding Calgary days. He gave just a tease: how we “walk backwards into the future” within multiple “locals” here and elsewhere. He mentioned Jimmy Durham’s keynote address, reiterating how monuments in the Americas are testaments to colonial violence. Even something as superficially politically “neutral” as a dam invokes “economic plunder”, brushing against the current debate of resource extraction and Keystone. Mathur cited the overly simplistic binary of white / indigenous, affirming greater complexity in our “locals”: and then the speakers began.

Gregory Scofield’s use of language was evocative, with a tenderness and brutality. His words did “make sharp your teeth where I am most tender” in entrancing the room. Speaking of memories both personal and political, his words provided an aural match to WWOS: whether “punching bag woman” or “holding up the walls woman” or “all 69 years lost in a policeman’s report” being succinct and sad, but also with “she wore her blanket like perfume / she got raped here on this blanket / the man who did it was federally licensed” offering anger and indictment as well.

Sunday’s first panel was What the Land Remembers: Can it teach social history? There was an entertaining argument over the Cypress Hills: contested histories of place are more complex than the naïve settler / indigenous stereotype, as these sacred sites are important to Lakota and Cree. Adrian Stimson described territorialism as a colonial sentiment of “ownership” declaring instead that “we are all responsible for the land”. The land was spoken of as a library of stories, with “different perceptions of the same environment” – as you could look outside the window at Wanuskewin, and consider how to “approach the world in different ways and…expand the ways we come to know the world.” An amusing joke was that in the oral tradition of history, when confronted with people asking about spelling and capitalization, to dismiss it as a “white” problem, as writing invariably led to codification and control.

This led very well into the next panel: Mother tongues: How does language shape public space? where James (Sakej) Youngblood Henderson cited “language” as a space for a legal battle between a Eurocentric paradigm and a First Nations one, where language “creates a forest of words of deceit” (its refreshing to encounter lawyers like Henderson, who can “see the forest for the trees”…). Henderson elaborated how universities (and other institutions that more often manufacture alibis than foster change) have a methodological / entomological obsession that’s irrelevant in “Indigenous knowledge systems”. He lamented the “great amnesia” after the 1981 constitution regarding the recognition of Aboriginal rights, and how, again the importing and forced application of Eurocentric systems are not “integral” to the discussion, but more an enforcement of status quo (This was a recurring sentiment: that “monuments” that are “approved” already have a space “carved out for them”, and to attempt to “carve out” other spaces, or occupy pre existing ones, is “aberrant” or “criminal”).

Another point made by Marianne Nicholson and Paul Chaat Smith is that, unlike the Eurocentric tradition, there is, here, “a sacred language that has never been secularized.” Again, the site of Wanuskewin provided a subtle yet pervasive voice, as “you can learn more deeply from the spirits when the snow falls” echoed at the end of the first day, as we walked outside.

Rebecca Belmore began the second day with a performance blending some of her familiar tropes of endurance and action with ideas specific to Wanuskewin. The series of actions she performed outside intimately involved the land, and had a brutality and force that was reminiscent of The Indian Factory. Belmore’s work demonstrates how good performance art combines politics and presentation in an un-paralleled manner. The panel immediately following was appropriately titled Paper-Scissors-Stone. Propositions / Provocations for new forms of public.

Voices from the “floor” were also strong: Jeff Thomas (a respected figure whose interrogations of monuments is lively and ongoing) related an anecdote of being stopped by police while working in Brantford, a reminder of the danger of dissent. Luke Thompson posited that monuments should do something “real” – but perhaps, in Thomas’ experience, is they’re very “real” markers of power and exclusion. In the Paper panel Thompson was delightfully critical of “approved” monuments: specifically how their relation to history and memory is not just exaggerated but more about stifling disagreement or difference. Those whom are served by “approved” monuments are often blind to them, as they’re not the ones being spoken at, or spoken over.

The afternoon saw several animated conversations: from K.C. Adams talking about her Perception series that was in response to the comments made by a mayoral candidate in Winnipeg (succinctly demonstrating Winnipeg as Canada’s racism capital) to Ruth Cuthand’s jovial – but fierce – declaration that “I am not the Indian you’re looking for.” Perhaps the most relevant aspect of Ruth’s talk was her relating of her experiences being part of a jurying process for public art in Saskatoon that resulted in Tony Stallard’s excellent “Land of Berries.” Cuthand’s point was that the “settlers” on that jury (all very academic) wanted to exert inappropriate control over what words / language Stallard might choose to illuminate, from his consultations with local Aboriginal artists / activists.

Elwood Jimmy (on both of Monday’s panels) asserted how there is no “tool kit” and there shouldn’t ever be one for artistic initiatives within communities. The artists he worked with for the Dewdney Avenue Project (Terrance Houle, Edward Poitras, Rebecca Belmore) all approached the ongoing colonial presence in that neighborhood with its RCMP detachment in unique ways. This continued thoughts from earlier, where he spoke of Regina as the “most colonial of cities in Canada outside of Ottawa” and how during his time in Regina there were two serial killers focused on Aboriginal women (the current version of the racialized violence implicit to the “colonial project”).

This idea of contemporary responsiveness to colonial forms and frames was the basis of Adrian Stimson’s presentation regarding the collaborative work Spirit of Alliance. Installed last fall in Saskatoon’s Riverdale area, it’s alternately a subversive – or more accurate – response to the federal government’s interest in erecting monuments to the War of 1812. Spirit presents a moment that illustrates the variant groups that united to fight in 1812: its more about this Saskatoon, and how descendants of that “alliance” still live here, both Aboriginal and Settler. Stimson spoke of the extensive consultations with the White Cap Community, and the various stories encapsulated in Spirit (from references to the Treaty of Ghent to the use of petroglyphs, speaking to the multiple “locals” in Saskatoon).

Rebecca Belmore offered some fascinating thoughts regarding her work Trace, installed at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. She talked about working in “controversial spaces that you know are problematic” and the difficulty of making work that “lives well in that space that you also feel comfortable with, as an artist”. There is an understanding of the necessity for artists to put themselves in critical spaces to be relevant, but this also was a point that befitted the last few hours of Stronger than Stone: how shall we make monuments now?

Steve Loft, in his comments on the closing panel On The Road Ahead: Towards a Framework for Better, or Best, Practices, reframed the idea of monument to apply it to himself, with his histories and experiences bringing him to this moment built upon his lineage and past. The idea that “monument” must be a fluid term, to allow for old agendas and dogmas to be broken was well encapsulated by Steve’s personal example. But Candace Hopkins, in her powerful closing comments, chose to directly speak of what “the road ahead” might truly mean. I paraphrase liberally from her insightful and incisive declarations: In the road ahead, we will be free – a new problem, perhaps. In the road ahead, we will beware of official histories. We will beware of oily money. We will have the courage to speak public secrets to make them known. We will move from a place of resistance to a place of ownership. We will continue to take on the necessary and impossible tasks.

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[i] This is a sentiment from Joseph Stalin, which may be heavy handed but feels appropriate when confronted with some monuments and their ideological suffocation of dissent.

A Word 13.03.2015 Leah Taylor & Frank Pimental

This week’s episode of the A Word is primarily a conversation between curator Leah Taylor and myself about the exhibition of works at the Kenderdine Gallery on campus. Frank Pimental : Dunland’s Restaurant runs until the 17th of April. All the images below are from that series, with official credit being Frank Pimentel, Untitled (selection of work from the Dunlands Restaurant series), 1987, cibachrome on paper. Collection of the University of Saskatchewan.

You can listen to our conversation here.

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Several other things are happening tonight that I mentioned on air. A new exhibition opens at paved, both in the main gallery space as well as in the Toon’s Kitchen gallery. And BAM will have a reception tonight for their new show: their poster is below. Two of their members will be joining me for next week’s show.

One last thing to add: my article on Stronger Than Stone is now out in the current CARFAC SK Newsletter. You can pick that up at a variety of places (Art Placement, for example), but I’ve also put it online. It can be read here.

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A Word 07.03.2015

This week’s episode of the A Word is a conversation with artist Rowan Pantel, whose exhibition Cynefin has a opening reception at the SCC Affinity Gallery this Friday evening, and she does a talk Saturday. That exhibition is up right now, as it opened on the 27th, so you can check it out now. All the images below are her work.

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You can listen to our conversation, via telephone, here. The other event that Rowan mentioned, Our Four Walls,  that happens at the paved / aka event space has an event posting here with all you need to know.

Now, there’s a number of other things happening: Art Placement has a new show opening this Saturday with works by Lorenzo Dupuis, titled A NEW GRAMMAR. The reception for that is in the afternoon at 2 PM. Bonnie Conly has works both three dimensional and flat that just opened at the Frances Morrison Library Gallery space: that show is called Pick Up Sticks And Storybooks.

The Mendel will be having a talk this Sunday with their advertorial exhibition for Borders Crossings Magazine, called the Border Crossings Study Centre: that happens at 1 PM this Saturday. And, ahem, if you happen to find any issues of BlackFlash Magazine hidden in the stacks there, I have no idea how they came to be there.

Let us switch to speaking of a better magazine than BC, Kimiwan ‘zine: their event Hiatus Don’t Hate Us! happens at The Underground Café. The magazine is taking a break which saddens many of us who very much appreciated the quality of the artists and writers that the magazine featured. Their “poster” image is below.

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The next few episodes will also be interviews: and in light of that I want to add a few things here and now that are in the next few weeks, to make sure they’re not missed.

paved arts is continuing its excellent pattern of dynamism within the community: the conclusion to the three year CORE series will happen on March 20 and 21. This is CORE Series VI: Futures Past and you can read about it and purchase tickets (they always sell out) here. The latest in their documentary screening series (paved director Alex Rogalski came on the A Word a long time ago to talk about this series) will feature Monsoon on March 10 at paved. Read about it here. What I’m most excited about with upcoming programming at paved is the solo exhibition by Allison Moore: Video Terrarium opens on the 13th of March. She’s also doing a workshop on the Saturday following, the 14th. She was one of the artists in PsycheDADA in 2011.

paved’s artistic director David LaRiviere was also quoted in this article in the Star Phoenix in regards to the Understanding the Arts Ecology of Saskatchewan from the Artist’s Perspective survey that just came out this week. Amusingly, aka “artist run”, which doesn’t pay fees to emerging artists, linked this on their FB page: nice to see how they’re similar to the Harper Government™ in saying the opposite of what they do….You can read the report here.

And would it be an episode of the A Word without some mention of public art, in all its glory and grotesqueness? A Public Art Workshop for the Placemaker Program is happening March 13th. All the information you need is in the poster below.

And since we’re now talking about public art, the Mann Gallery has details on their Wolf Back A Beer Fundraiser: this happens Friday, April 10th, but advance tickets are on sale now. Support this worthy project, either through drinking (ahem) or through direct donations to the gallery. This is part of their Wolf Campaign. I was thinking the other day, while walking, just what a six foot tall version of that Fafard piece would be like, as I’ve stood next to a smaller one…and that thought ensures I’ll be mentioning this campaign at every opportunity.

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A Word 27.02.2015: The Mann Gallery

This week’s episode of the A Word is focused on the Mann Gallery in Prince Albert: there’s a few reasons for this. Firstly, they’ve just mounted their 39th annual Winter Gala exhibition, guest curated by Grant McConnell, and there’s some significant artists in that exhibition (Kathy Bradshaw, Anita Rocamora, Michel Boutin and Allan Clarke, to just name a few). With it being on the cusp of the 40th anniversary of that event that’s major to both the artistic and larger community of Prince Albert, it seemed a good time to sit down and talk to some of the staff there.

The A Word is, after all, the only visual arts themed radio show in the province: so it seemed appropriate to expand its horizons. Over the next while I’m looking to perhaps highlight significant work done by galleries in smaller urban centres like Swift Current, Estevan or perhaps Moose Jaw. Any feedback from my listeners on that is appreciated and you can hear this week’s show here.

I’d never been to one of the Winter Gala exhibitions, and was impressed by the diversity of the works. I praise this on air, as well as mentioning several artists who are new to me, and some that are more familiar. The registrar, April Sutherland, was also kind enough to walk me through their collection, and answer several of my questions. This variance and miscellany was refreshing: seeing works by Cate Francis and Michel Boutin as well as works that speak to the unique (and sometimes eccentric) nature of collecting was enjoyable.

Jesse Campbell is the relatively new Director / Curator there, continuing in the steps of Griff Baker and Brenda Barry, but also bringing her own experience and understanding to the space. She was generous enough to talk with me about some of the initiatives that are happening and some of the plans she – and her staff – have for the gallery. When we spoke, several ideas came up repeatedly: using the public engagement / investment model of the Mendel as an example of what the Mann Gallery can and should be, as well as focusing on relevant local art history as a means to define a current space. To use a familiar trope, this involves looking outside the gallery as well as within its collection: the Wolf Campaign encompasses this well.

It’s exciting to speak with someone who also has an art historical background, as notions of site and history – and how a public gallery functions within that, serving large groups that are disparate yet all relevant – are clear questions.

We spoke about an upcoming exhibition of the works of Andrée Felley-Martinson she’s curating, and how the Mann can be relevant on a variety of cultural levels, to a number of communities in Prince Albert. I was also able to talk to Emma Anderson, the curatorial intern who’s working on an upcoming exhibit of Wynona Mulcaster (April 2 to May 23). Mulcaster’s work should be familiar to you, if you live in Saskatoon: but what I’m truly looking forward to here, and this was a high point of my conversation with Emma, was that Mulcaster’s true legacy seems to be in art education. Considering the poverty and shambles we see in that space now, whether in the elementary / secondary school system or at the University of Saskatchewan, this is a timely focus. Frankly, I think I’ll be going back up to see that show: and I plan to be adding the Mann to my regular rounds of galleries and events I cover here, on the A Word. 

Now, a few things I mentioned on air that I wanted to elaborate on: Friday, April 10th is the fund raiser I mentioned for The Wolf Campaign. This is a significant undertaking not just as a means to expand the public profile of the gallery, but also as a groundbreaking achievement for public art in Prince Albert (it would be worth nothing how this initiative fits within the debates we’ve had over the last year in Saskatoon about public art).  The sculpture in question is familiar to me: I saw a smaller version at Darrell Bell recently.

The fundraiser is called Wolf Back A Beer – A Beer Tasting Event Fundraiser. More information will be upcoming at their web site, and there’s a variety of contact information there.

But I’d also mention that a few of the approaching shows  (Ruth Cuthand, Tim Moore and the previously mentioned Andrée Felley-Martinson retrospective) are more contemporary than you’ll see in other spaces in larger centres. 

The Winter Gala Exhibition runs until March 21. I’m also very curious to see how it manifests next year, for its 40th Anniversary, as its a major part of the cultural landscape in Prince Albert, and the energy and enthusiasm of the staff will undoubtably make it a noteworthy event.

 

Don’t shoot the messenger: aka and the exploitation of emerging artists

There was a recent complaint regarding my comments on air, on The A Word on CFCR, calling aka artist run a pimp for exploiting emerging artists with its “TBA” space, which I also prefer to call “The Unpaid Intern” space. I was accused of pursuing a “vendetta.” I’d like to take some time to clarify that, although I feel I made my point quite concisely on air. However, this is something that should be elaborated upson, so the larger community is aware of it, and this is an easy way to do so.

aka’s 2014 was not one of their best years: the early tone was set with a significant cut from one of their main funders, the Canada Council.

In response to this, aka decided to emulate paved art’s very popular – with artists but also funders – Toon’s Kitchen initiative. This is a worthy model: but aka missed the main thing that makes Toon’s focus on local artists – sometimes emerging, sometimes experienced – so worthy of praise and support. paved pays artist fees, and pays fees to any writers commissioned to respond to the work. This is not only appropriate for an artist run centre, but is an irrefutable part of its mandate and reason for being.

There was a time when artist fees were not paid, when major galleries would act as though the artists should thank them for the show. CARFAC fought for a pay scale that is still in usage: many ARCs literally shamed mainstream galleries into paying fees (and yes, there is an echo of that public shaming in what I’m doing here). Its sad to see that the fight isn’t just unfinished, but that natural allies, like aka, are choosing to exploit emerging and inexperienced artists, with (at best) delusional or (more likely) cynical arguments, claiming “exposure” and “experience”.

Those are common lines – or lies –  put out by organizations that are looking for a reason not to pay artists of any media (I’m sure you’ve seen that social media post about how to respond to a restaurant that wants you to play for exposure and experience, and how shamelessly exploitative the idea is shown to be when reversed).

It’s even more transparently false here, where the attendance aka gets in two months may match the Frances Morrison Library Gallery space for two weeks. You’ll get more exposure at Unreal City, or The Woods: and though none of these places pay fees, they are NOT artist run centres. They also allow work to be sold off the wall. Frankly, all three places have done a better job publicizing their exhibitions than aka has done with their TBA space.

Experience, considering that the ‘unpaid intern’ artists do their own vinyl and seem to have no installation support, is akin to how getting mugged and learning to be more wary is also “experience”. This is where my cynical re titling the space “Unpaid Intern” speaks to how this exploitation is something we see elsewhere, at magazines or businesses that want the benefits without any investment or respect for the intern. Remember the outrage that was the response to the governor of the Bank of Canada suggesting the unemployed millennial “volunteer” instead? Sadly, there’s more offenders of this variety in cultural spaces than corporate ones, these days.

Arguably, there has never been a harder time to be an emerging artist: whether its the debt load many carry out of their BFA or MFA, or that there are fewer and fewer jobs at less and less pay. There’s no real space in the city specifically dedicated to emerging artists, as in larger urban centres. The art school at the University of Saskatchewan rarely prepares its graduates for post degree action: most MFA students are unknown in the larger community, and the BFA program is poverty stricken in terms of larger community connections.

Traditionally, ARCs have been stepping stones: many have focused on the demographic of emerging artists, who are often seeking a community to continue making work and to exhibit it post university.

Exploiting a group that is inexperienced, and yet often very eager and excellent is despicable. To try and claim you’re assisting them, when your next door neighbour is paying them fees as well as supporting their exhibition both physically and media wise, when in fact you’re using them to make yourself look better to your funders, is reprehensible. Exploitation is defined as benefiting unfairly from the work of others, or to use a person in an unfair and selfish way. That is also, when combined with a focus to use the unaware, trusting and inexperienced, a very accurate definition of a pimp.

To call this a “vendetta” is willful misconstruing. I worked with students and emerging artists for nearly 15 years here, so seeing that they are respected and rewarded appropriately is important to me. During that time I worked with the Visual Arts Student Union to foster professional development, and make them aware of their options, as well as their rights. Perhaps a better question is why an artist run centre is not as concerned about this as I am.

I might also suggest attempting to shoot the messenger is neither an effective or positive approach. Nor is it merited.

After all, I’ve given significant coverage to several artists at aka this past year (Shanelle Papp, Joi Arcand, Shelley Niro, Felicia Gay, Mary Longman), and may continue to do so, if the work is deserving (its an active community, and some things are more worthy of coverage than others). I produced five radio shows this June / July alone to support Sounds Like IV: bluntly, without me, there would have been no media coverage of that worthy festival save a piece in VERB.

The Canada Council has cut aka twice in the last five years. The previous one was significant enough to mobilize the community to prevent a feared shutdown: despite the accusations of a “vendetta” on my part, I have no interest in seeing that. But I also have no interest in fostering the illusion that aka is a healthy, functional space which respects its mandate or fosters its role in this community.

War Rugs of Afghanistan at the Mendel

The Mendel often presents clusters of shows with amenable conceptual frameworks (Shaping Saskatchewan speaking to The Automatiste Revolution, or Sympathetic Magic troubling the nationalist images presented in A Vital Force: A Canadian Group of Painters). Currently, for the next to last exhibitions at the gallery, three shows revolve around a similar geopolitical concern. Although Deep Weather by Ursula Biemann, in the back gallery was recently in the Montreal Bienale, and Monique Martin & Cathryn Miller’s The Absolute Way of Things is appealing (especially Martin’s interventions outside the gallery, along the river), what dominates is Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan.

The works in the front gallery space are numerous (118 total), but there’s excellent guide sheets: there’s also a panel, explaining the recurring images of tanks, guns and various other military ordinance that speaks to how these rugs primarily date from 1979 and later. That marks the date of the Soviet invasion, an empire blundering onto the rock that sinks them…

There are sections with evocative titles: Maps of Identity, A Garden of Weapons, Crossfire and Looming Disaster. The works are anonymous, numbered, without names.

Considering the nomadic nature of the peoples whom produced these works – either due to the grueling civil war following Soviet withdrawal, or the resultant Taliban government or the latest round of invasion / occupations resulting in displacement to refugee camps (one rug has a camp name woven into it, several depict them) – this is unsurprising. Shauna McCabe, Director of the Textile Museum of Canada which originated the exhibition, was eloquent when speaking at the opening reception: for a weaver who’s lost their home, these rugs ARE Afghanistan.

The words of the didactic panel: “When the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Afghan weavers found their world turned upside down, the sky and the earth thick with weaponry. On their rugs flowers turned into cluster bombs, birds turned into airplanes. The disaster continued with ten years of brutal civil war. And it continues today as international forces battle in an ancient land that has exploded. Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan presents catastrophe turned into art”.

There are older pieces: some that date back to its time under British rule, and there’s also a work that in its pictoral composition seems to reference CNN’s split screen / scrolling text format. Near to the front entrance is a work that depicts the murder and castration – in an extremely minimal, but horrifying manner – of a past political leader. Many rugs act as accurate, if subjective records of a bloody and horrifying history. The Mujahideen were financed by the American Empire against the Soviet one, and birthed al – Qaeda, and the beat goes on…

Other rugs display the aforementioned tanks, aircraft and weapons in a manner that indicates intimate experience. An Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter, a Makarov automatic pistol, a Kalishnikov assault rifle, a BTR-60 PB armoured troop carrier: you don’t need to decode these metaphors, in fine art historical manner, like a dog symbolizing fidelity. One large rug depicts 473 different pieces of military ordinance. Or you could be like the moron who wandered in while I was there, commenting “wow, they must really like tanks”: sure, the same way Ruth Cuthand’s beaded works indicates how fond First Nations are of diseases….

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There’s portraits of Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was from the prophet Muhammad’s inner circle with a personal role played in the post prophet Sunni / Shi’a sectarian rift, or Amanullah Kahn, king of Afghanistan from 1919 to 1929 whose ideas regarding educating women, eschewing veils and polygamy made him more modern than some of the current GOP. And of course, with the Soviet offensive dominating the narrative, we have Ahmad Shah Massoud, a legend who fought against the USSR. His illustrious career as an insurgent and later Defense Minister in the first independent government didn’t forestall his assassination by al – Qaeda in 2001.T2008.1.48

 

Perhaps the reason why Battleground stands above the other exhibitions I’ve mentioned is because it occupies the same space as an exhibition from St. Thomas More more than a decade ago: Los Arpilleras of Chile, where “women whose husbands, sons, or brothers were killed or imprisoned by the government met each week…on the outskirts of Santiago, where they shared their burdens and stitched small but meaningful tapestries. Their handwork told the outside world of their hunger, fear, unemployment, housing shortages, and their missing men folk who are still referred to in Chile as the “disappeared” and “detained.” Arpilleras served to document and denounce oppression in a country where all normal channels of free expression were closed”. There’s a rawness to both Arpilleras and Battleground: a history of “empire” written by the invaded, whether under the Union Jack or “The War on Terror” or the current neo liberal dance (as in the Mendel exhibition Under a Petroliferous Moon several years ago) with all the same old steps.

This is where Ursula Biemann’s Deep Weather, juxtaposing the tar sands of Alberta with peoples and places in Bangladesh ravaged by climate change, with its whispered voice and gigantic projection fits (“And the acid wind hissing….populations among the coastal areas drown in their sleep”). I don’t consider this work to be art so much as a PSA brought to you by the Suzuki Foundation, perhaps: but the monumentality of the work and the manner in which it still has an intimacy, with the hushed voice and darkness, makes it an appealing act of social consciousness.

This is also where Miller & Martin’s interest in the “newly recognized loss of bee populations and the historical links between bees and humans”. There’s been a number of news stories of the decline of bees, the human causes and the impending backlash that will have on our own species: but I can’t help sense the same zealous march to destruction that the USSR did in 1979, before that all failed in 1989, in our willful ignorance of empire…

 

A Word 20.02.2015

So, let us deal with some business first: for the foreseeable future, the A Word will go online on Fridays, not Thursdays. You can still listen to the show on CFCR at 7 PM on Thursday evenings (whether at 90.5 FM or cfcr.ca), but the digital updates will happen the day after that.

Speaking of further delayed gratification, the new Planet S has “bumped” my article on War Rugs of Afghanistan. I may simply put it online, but you can check back here to see. At least this time there’s a few good articles regarding heritage spaces and our Mayor’s response to Maclean’s recent assertions regarding racism.

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This week’s radio show can be heard here. The article in the Globe & Mail I mention at the beginning can be read here.

I mention a variety of exhibitions, but in my ongoing tradition of forgetting to mention at least one thing: the call for submissions for the next manifestation of Sounds Like Audio Art Festival. This year a new organization is partnering: ED Video, while Holophon will still be involved. Don’t worry, audio artists: its not just aka “doing” this, but paved as well, so artist fees WILL be paid.

I’d like to take a moment as well to add another point: CARFAC National will be doing their AGM in Saskatoon this summer, and there will undoubtably be appropriate praise for their work regarding the Artist’s Resale Right. I’d like to use that as an example of how an organization like the Sask Arts Alliance is a joke: there are board members that are active apologists / silencers of dissent about their U of S employer in a Mark Buckingham style, to other board members whom advocate NOT paying artist fees to emerging artists. When you compare the workshops and other genuine community initiatives by CARFAC, this clearly exposes that SAA does NOT work for artists. I love the quote from Karl Beveridge on the linked (above) CARFAC page: “People think artists’ fees just happened but, no, in fact CARFAC fought for them.”

Next week’s show is going to be all about the Mann Gallery in Prince Albert: I visited there yesterday (a notable conversation, while on the winter highway, was about Dr. Zhivago) and will elaborate on how impressed I am at the vision and initiatives happening there.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day…

…and, as I’ve said on Twitter, I won’t be going to see Fifty Shades of Grey but will re read Georges Bataille’s L’histoire de l’oeil. I like my smut to be really pervery (it’s a word).

Amazingly enough, I may be doing it alone, but I am open to a reading date, ahem. But I have a tradition of making and sending Valentine’s cards every year. A friend talks about it here. So, in light of that, here’s this year’s version. Feel free to share and share alike and the image links to a larger version.

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