Institutions by Artists Session Four

Institutional Time: Facts & Fictions

Often located in remote areas or outside the programmatic spectrum of mainstream artistic and academic institutions, many artist-run initiatives adopt pedagogical practices into their production and presentation, offering unconventional formats and less formal contexts than offered by either gallery or academic settings. On a smaller and more intimate scale, such initiatives foster the creation of alternative educational models, enable marginalized audiences access to information, and encourage the invention of new and atypical forms of knowledge. This session examines the pedagogical projects artist-run organizations around the world have set in place, among them, kitchen table knowledge production, “webs of matronage,” and detournements to the “notso-secret game of suburban one-upmanship.”

Session Summary

Written by Michelle Hadbavny, SFU Contemporary Arts student

Artist Skeena Reece started off the session without warning by introducing her brother and her baby to the audience. The room settled down as the artist stood barefoot in the middle of the room with a microphone in hand. Her performance began as she attempted to change out of her skirt and into jeans, which post-baby no longer fit. Changing back into her skirt, she began to eat “carbs” and asked for assistance from an audience member to hold the mic and/or feed her baby. Reece then placed the mic on the table and walked to the side of the cinema. The session had begun and the moderator, Magnolia Pauker, introduced the speakers.

During the Apisuks’ presentation, the film A Bad Girls Film, produced by Empowered Films, was screened. The work resulted from research accomplished through the Concrete House initiative. Female sex workers participated in the creation of the film, from its production to the performance. In the film, we see the police enter a brothel and arrest the working women. The story then focuses on one particular woman, who is jailed and forced to work in a clothing manufacture. She plans an escape, returns to her previous work, and is happily reunited with her family. The film questions authority and promotes sex workers’ freedom of choice. Advocating the rights and health of these women is at the core of Concrete House’s mandate. The initiative uses art as a means of creating awareness and, notably, has been broadcasting “bad girls radio” for the past 27 years.

Jakobsen’s presentation recounted the story of the Copenhagen Free University (CFU). CFU was started in 2001 from the decision: “this is a university,” which led to Jakobsen turning his private life into a pedagogical institution. Jakobsen argued that, instead of placing oneself in relation to power, self-institutionalization is a means of reclaiming power. He also critiqued the institution for being a vehicle for consumerism, stating that universities are disconnected from the everyday and that students have become consumers.

Accompanied by her son, Skeena Reece addressed the audience through performances interspersed between the presentations. The artist’s monologues referenced the everyday. She told the audience: “I’m judging you,” and she repeatedly asked for help stating: “I don’t need help – but I do.”

The third presenters spoke of their initiative, the Feminist Art Gallery (FAG), operating from a 300-square-foot converted garage in Toronto. During their presentation, Logue and Mitchell showed images the FAG’s past projects. “Can’t Compete” and “Won’t Compete” are some of the gallery’s slogans, essentially stating “why would we want to be winners in a hierarchal structure?” Logue and Mitchell mentioned that they feel a gap exists between their gallery and the public, and their goals include closing this gap and building lasting connections with the community. The FAG hosts and funds shows, advocates for its community and publishes texts. The initiative is entirely funded through private individual donations. In closing, Logue and Mitchell stated that, as long as the community wants the FAG, they “will keep doing it”.

Before the final presentation, Reece came back to the mic and discussed her feelings about her photograph having been used to advertize Beat Nation, an exhibition held at the Vancouver Art Gallery in which the artist was featured. Reece mentioned that she felt her photograph had been displayed outside the gallery because, on it, she was in “Indian make-up”.

The final presenters, Rogers and Patterson, discussed the Arbour Lake Sghool, an initiative they established in Calgary. They attempted to use “up to five different forms of technology” during their presentation, including a sandwich maker. During the presentation, a third member of the initiative was live on Skype, and talked about the experience of making art in a suburb. After graduating from art school, members of the Arbour Lake Sghool moved into a small house and began using their front lawn as a space to produce art. Their first project consisted of the 24-hour reenactment of a WWI battle with water-balloons. Another project they undertook got them in trouble with the city. Essentially consisting in the planting of wheat in their yard in order to grow beer and produce a “how to make beer” video, this project contravened city bylaws stating that one’s yard must be maintained and remain below a certain height. Luckily, choosing to contest the city’s legislation gave the group enough time to complete the project. Session 4 was concluding when the presenters asked conference attendees to look under their seats for prizes, which included shirts and grilled cheese sandwiches, which were made in front of the audience.


Chumpon Apisuk and Chantawipa Apisuk
Concrete House
Jakob Jakobsen
Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell
Feminist Art Gallery (FAG)
Skeena Reece
Scott Rogers and Justin Patterson
Arbour Lake Sghool


Magnolia Pauker