Lorna Brown We Talk

What follows is a sequence of excerpts that trace my search for the ways in which artist-run culture talks about itself. Reflecting upon the forms that writing and speech about art take and have taken, these passages reveal criticism (and self-criticism) as an important aspect of self-organization of the Vancouver art community.

“It was a beautiful morning and as mentioned I felt confident; there was smoke no flame. A small contained fire in the basement. The firemen already on the scene were standing in the gallery hosing the art off the walls. So postmodern, I thought to myself, is it a simulacrum of quotidian critic angst? (That’s how people talked in the eighties.)”

—Phillip McCrum, anecdote in Food for Thought, ed. Sarah Edmonds (Vancouver: Or Gallery, 2004)

“I understood intellectualization but I soon spoke in sentences which seemed suggestive and embarrassing.”

—David Sternbach, “A Question of Development,” Vancouver/San Francisco/New York Poetics Exchange, Kootenay School of Writing, Artspeak Gallery, and Or Gallery, Vancouver, August 17–19, 1990

“While there were important ideas and texts in the late 80s and early 90s, much of the writing was horribly self-conscious. And this wasn’t exclusive to the Or. Remember all the neologisms, brackets, slashes, and hyphens . . . ”

—Keith Wallace, “The Or and the Community: A Conversation with Keith Wallace and Glenn Alteen,” in Food for Thought, ed. Sarah Edmonds (Vancouver: Or Gallery, 2004)

“When language defines artistic production in mostly positive, professionalized terms, critical judgment tends to be withheld, thus diminishing the public’s encounter with polemical and epistemological issues related to art. As the publication of catalogues certainly filled a void in terms of local publishing on art, creative writing also emerged to fill in for the lack of art criticism. . . . The criticality and historically conscious nature of the writing of Vancouver poets is, in many ways, appropriately suited to the practices of Vancouver artists.”

—Marina Roy, “Adventures in Reading Landscape,” in Vancouver Art and Economies, ed. Melanie O’Brian (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press and Artspeak, 2007)

“That is, she is updated and self-authored, a tousled parody of the Lacanian woman who brims with speech but can’t be held by language. She struts right up to the surface of representation, re-configuring Raoul Ubac’s Portrait in a Mirror (1938). Without the solipsism of speechless narcissism, of vanity, there is no masochistic (that is, internalized) sacrifice to representation; instead, what is produced is an uncanny reversal of spectation. Presumably staring right at us, this she (so presently absent) gives no chance for the visitor’s peeping tom-like, scopophilic return. Rendered in good humor, the high-Gothics of the velvet drape, drippingly crimson. Since there is nothing natural about the accomplishment of femininity (maintained chiefly through masquerade) the slippage from human hair to the nap of velvet, from hand embroidery to the accelerated industriousness of the machine makes good commentary about the normative divisions between nature and artifice, about how the law functions to produce order at the cost of ‘nature’s wildness’. Fredric Jameson interprets the postmodern as that moment when capitalism penetrates into the unconscious and nature. What nature has been, and what allowances might be made for it in the future concerns, first of all, the possibilities for interpretation.”

—Kati Campbell, Under the Skin: Warren Murfitt, Kathy Slade, ed. Susan Edelstein (Vancouver: Artspeak, 1997)

“Ficto-criticism was meant to raise critical consciousness, it really was. Ficto-criticism meant exploring the conditions that brought it into being. The conditions in which ficto-criticism sprouted included at that time a modernist premise: criticism’s responsibility to artworks is to discuss them objectively. Hanky panky between critics and artists is irrelevant. It was almost as if the critic should appear most interested in writing about a stranger’s art for an audience of strangers (These strangers were somehow in the know.). According to the principles of ficto-criticism these Modernist assumptions discredit the influences between artist lovers, artist drinking buddies, artist fellow workers, artist curators, artist ex-’s, artist writers and artist audience. One of the tenets of ficto-criticism is that long term loyalties and tenderness are what preserve an art scene from functioning like a corporation. One of the conditions of fictocriticism was that loyalty and tenderness be shamelessly acknowledged.”

—Jeanne Randolph, “A Ficto-Criticism Monologue,” in Out of Psychoanalysis: Ficto-Criticism 2005 to 2011, ed. Kim Nguyen (Vancouver: Artspeak, 2012)

“In the mid-to-late 90s, we saw a backlash against women and people of colour, both in the art world and in society in general. It became terribly un-sexy to organize anything ‘feminist’ or politically ‘of-colour’, as it would be painted as didactic or just plain unfashionable. However, after September 11, 2001 many ‘humanist’ concerns resurfaced. Distrust in following a herd-like narcissistic capitalism, and the dot.com crash, put basic things back into perspective such as issues of social justice, anti-globalization, and learning to care for others in the world.”

—Laiwan, “Or as in For: A Conversation with Laiwan by Renée Gouin,” in Food for Thought (Vancouver: Or Gallery, 2004)

“For avant-garde communities that define themselves as oppositional, the constitutive outside demands they give up their ‘elitist’ status and seek a larger audience, charging that their discourse is secretive and elusive. The structure or discourse that can make sense of a community enacts expectations, which are often internalized, that mediate how this community can become (to use the dominant metaphors) ‘visible’ or to ‘make their voices heard.’ This, of course, may not be what this community set out to do. Not all communities measure their effectiveness by being visible to the cultural gaze of a dominant culture.”

—Jeff Derksen, “Kootenay School of Writing in the Expanded Field” (1997), in Annihilated Time: Poetry and Other Politics (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2009)

“Censorship; Masculinity in Art; Disintegration; Degrading; Pulp Fiction; Fascism; Situations of Power; Pedagogy; Symposium and Curriculum; Kurt Cobain; History of Jazz; Queer Culture; Photocopy Technique; AIDS awareness.”

—Repertoire keywords for Boo Magazine, no. 4 (1995), published by Or Gallery, Vancouver

“For the most part literary non-fiction is the only title category that applies to artist-run centres’ publishing activities.”

—Mariane Bourcheix-Laporte, “Study of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Book Publishing Support: Art Books Program & Study of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Support of Artist Run Centres’ Publishing Activities through the Writing and Publishing Section” (Montreal: Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference/Conférence des collectifs et des centres d’artistes autogérés, 2014)

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