When I first began thinking about how to run a looking group, I had always hoped to do a session on images that were not really photographs: scenes produced by a camera, but rarely reproduced or circulated and instead largely known through textual and verbal descriptions or anecdotes. That interest arose, in part, from Ariella Azoulay’s generative suggestion that the event of photography can take place even when no photograph is made. Just the presence or possibility of a camera can change the relationship between the viewer, subject and photographer, even if no image is produced (a possibility that some of the folks in the Toronto Photography Seminar have also been thinking through in our Photographic Situation project).
I could never figure out exactly how to get at this question in looking group, but thankfully my too-smart colleagues cheyanne turions and Jacob Korczynski invited me to think about it out loud with them in a new hybrid/super discussion group that is set to take place at Prefix ICA in December. Bringing together three existing discussion group formats—an out-loud reading group, an out-loud looking group and an international, thematic reading group that also examines and generates artists’ projects—Not Reading Nor Looking is an attempt at thinking about what happens when images move from photographs to texts, and back again.
Not Reading Nor Looking After the Internet
Thursday, 12 December 2013
Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art (401 Richmond Street West, Suite 124)
In conjunction with the Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, this salon will feature a selection of texts compiled by Gabrielle Moser and Jacob Korczynski.
For the last year Gabrielle Moser has been hosting a series of events titled No Looking After the Internet that invites participants to look at a photograph (or series of photographs) they are unfamiliar with, and “read” the image out-loud together. For the past few years, Jacob Korcynski has been hosting reading groups around Toronto based on the research thematics of If I Can’t Dance (IICD), including extended research around reading/feeling and appropriation/dedication. What No Reading, No Looking and IICD share is an interest in how we construct understanding based on encounter, be it with text or images. For this iteration of Not Looking Nor Reading, Moser and Korcynski have selected texts that approach images through language, using prose to conjure scenes in the minds of readers that are already mediated, as representations rather than reality.
For this meeting, texts will include selections from Sergio González Rodríguez’s The Femicide Machine and Gauri Gill’s 1984.
Gabrielle Moser is a writer and independent curator. She regularly contributes to Artforum.com, and her writing has appeared in venues including ARTnews, Canadian Art, Fillip, n paradoxa, and Photography & Culture. She has curated exhibitions for Access Gallery, Gallery TPW, the Leona Drive Project and Vtape. Moser is a PhD candidate in art history and visual culture at York University and a member of the Toronto Photography Seminar.
Jacob Korczynski is an independent curator currently based in Toronto, where he leads the satellite reading group of If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution. He has curated projects for the Dunlop Art Gallery, SAW Gallery, Vtape, Gallery TPW and the Art Gallery of York University amongst others, and his writing has appeared in Prefix Photo, Ciel Variable, Border Crossings, C Magazine and Fillip. A former member of the Pleasure Dome collective, he was also the co-curator of Print Generation and From Instructions, the 22nd and 23rd editions of the Images Festival.
“The effects of the ‘digital revolution’ have been analysed for the most part in terms of their effects on individual consumers, rather than from the perspective of the pressures exerted on those charged with their production” (Harry Sanderson, “Human Resolution,” Mute, April 2013)
I’m feeling really lucky to have been able to participate in a series of conversations around digital images, labour and surveillance as part of Harry Sanderson’s “Unified Fabric” project at Arcadia_Missa over the past month, including watching Ge Jin’s fascinating documentary about gold farmers in World of Warcraft last night as the closing event for the exhibition.
This way of talking about what is being called “digital labour” in a panel being convened at the Historical Materialism conference happening at UCL later this week—of thinking about the embodied effects of supposedly immaterial, networked digital information economies on real human bodies—seems new to me, and potentially generative. As someone pointed out in a conversation after the film screening last night, it’s a discussion that seems obviously influenced by Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s The Soul at Work, which I’m somewhat familiar with, but in my experience so far, Bifo’s work is most often used to analyze the experiences of the user/consumer, or the middle-class-creative-class’s precarious affective and intellectual labour, rather than that of the physical working-class labourer (as Sanderson points out so eloquently in his essay). As part of what seems to now be a never-ending interest of mine in thinking about how conditions of labour are made to appear and disappear in contemporary art, it seems vital to think about why this dimension of labour within contemporary image-making has so far been obscured in critical discourse (or at least the critical discourse I’m familiar with—maybe this conversation’s been happening a long time in contemporary art and I’ve been looking in the wrong places?).
Is there a similar conversation about digital labour happening in the art context in Canada, and I’ve just missed it? If not, how can we start one? (cheyanne turions, I’m looking at you).
I’m taking No Looking After the Internet on the road this month, hosting a special edition at London’s Arcadia_Missa gallery in conjunction with Harry Sanderson’s “Unified Fabric” project. Part installation, part render farm, part curated exhibition, Sanderson has brought together videos by Hito Steyerl, Clunie Reid, Melika Ngombe Kolongo and Daniella Russo, Maja Cule, Takeshi Shiomitsu—as well as a new work by Sanderson himself—that consider the human and material impact of digital image-making networks. Visually representing the labour practices of contemporary art is obviously something that’s been on my mind lately, as it has been for Sanderson, who wrote a compelling account of the material effects of supposedly immaterial digital processes in his great essay “Human Resolution” earlier this year. I’m excited to put an image (or series of images) into conversation with his project and to take the title of the looking group seriously, thinking out-loud about what it means to be a spectator within the conditions wrought by online image technologies.
(Big thanks are already due to Harry Sanderson, who has been a brilliant and engaging collaborator, and to Arcadia_Missa founders Rozsa Farkas and Tom Clark for their generosity in inviting me to field test the looking group in London. All three of them recently gave an interview on the project that’s worth a look.)
Harry Sanderson’s “Unified Fabric”
Tuesday, October 22
(Unit 6, Bellenden Road Business Centre, SE15 4RF)
No Looking After the Internet is a monthly “looking group” that invites participants to look at an image (or a series of images) they are unfamiliar with, and “read” the image out-loud together. Chosen in relation to an exhibition, an artist’s body of work, or an ongoing research project, the looking group focuses on how we engage with images that present a challenge to practices of looking. If these images ask the viewer to occupy the uneasy position of the witness or voyeur, No Looking offers the space and time to look at them in detail: to return to these scenes in another context where we can look at them slowly and unpack our responses to the image.
Premised on the idea that we don’t always trust our interpretive abilities as viewers, the aim of No Looking is to examine what makes the practice of looking difficult. How does a slower form of looking allow us to be self-reflexive about our role as spectators? How do we look at these images differently when we interpret them with a community of others?
No Looking is an ongoing project based out of Toronto’s Gallery TPW and takes its name and inspiration from No Reading After the Internet, an out-loud reading and discussion group that meets regularly in Toronto and Vancouver (http://noreadingaftertheinternet.wordpress.com/).
In dialogue with Harry Sanderson’s exhibition “Unified Fabric,” the October meeting of No Looking will examine images that attempt to visualize the labour conditions of digital image-making. While Sanderson’s project brings together works by several other artists in the context of a self-built render farm—a super computer comparable to those typically used for rendering Hollywood animations—to interrogate the material realities of digital technology, looking group will hone in on the complicated relationship between images and bodies. How do digital image technologies, often conceived of as immaterial and disembodied, impact our physical practices of producing and viewing images? Why is it so difficult to represent the conditions of labour that sustain these digital image-making practices? And what do digital images of distant subjects ask from us as spectators?
Last month marked the publication of Fillip 18, featuring a specially edited section that seeks to extend the conversations about representing the conditions of labour in contemporary art that began last year with an exhibition I curated for Access Gallery, “Always Working.” While the artists in the show tended towards strategies of over-identification in their works, making their labour obvious or even ridiculous, the discussions that took place during the opening of the exhibition took another tack, thinking about why we often look outside the spaces of art to represent or critique the conditions of labour. Those conversations made me realize (particularly through the astute observations of Alexander Muir), that the question I was really asking through the exhibition was not about how art and everyday life might be more closely entangled through the conditions of labout, but rather why there is a block, or some kind of allergy, to representing the financial and labour conditions of art as a sphere of work: both in critical writing about art, and in art itself.
Part of my proposal to Access had been to extend and expand on the conversations started by the exhibition through a publication after the show closed, and, though the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the generosity of Kristina Lee Podesva and Jeff Khonsary—the editor and publisher of Fillip, respectively—I was able to use a section of the current issue of the magazine to try to tackle some of these questions. The result is the (rather uncreatively titled) special section of Fillip 18 “Always Working,” which includes two commissioned projects:
1) an essay by Sven Lütticken’s that looks at a history of attempts at making a film version of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, including Allan Sekula and Noël Burch’s 2010 film, The Forgotten Space, and more recently, Harun Farocki and Antje Ehmann’s Labour in a Single Shot: a series of workshops where the two filmmakers challenge younger image producers to capture the contemporary conditions of labout in a single filmic take (Lütticken also writes about how these film projects ultimately circulate as commodities, as DVDs that change hands and are watched on laptops by art producers around the world);
2) a project by the artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian that charts three moments of recognizing the function of her work in the globally dispersed systems of artistic labour, from installing an exhibition at the Sharjah Biennial, to a discussion with her collaborator Uwe Schwarzer, who manufactures artworks for other artists, and through her negotiations with Casco to install an interactive version of an artwork that was originally intended as a refusal to comply with the conditions of overwork in the commercial gallery system.
Some invitations are just too wonderfully strange to pass up. That was the case when, last month, Casey Hinton invited me to participate in the July edition of Art Spin as their first writer-in-residence as part of her new Rickshaw Residency program. The idea was to hop into Chris Litt‘s bicycle rickshaw, pen and notebook (though I also briefly considered bringing my laptop) in hand, and to accompany the tour of contemporary art exhibitions and installations, and to try to do some writing along the way.
It was my first time doing an Art Spin tour, and even though I initially worried I’d feel out of place and awkward (especially because I’m an avid cycler and would have loved to be pedaling alongside everyone), it was a fascinating evening that at one point saw me trying to take notes in a darkened screening room by the light of a glow stick necklace.
This week, I tried to write about the whole experience for Canadian Art online, which proved trickier than I thought. I can’t wait to see what the next resident gets up to on the August 29th tour, which you should all attend if you’re free that night. It’s a great way to say goodbye to the summer in Toronto.
For the first time this month, No Looking After the Internet is being held off-site at the CLGA, in tandem with the exhibitions “Gay Premises: Radical Voices in the Archives, 1973-1983 at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives,” and its counterpart of collaborative interventions, “TAG TEAM.” Collaborating with other folks as co-facilitators is one of my favourite things about No Looking, and in this case I’m extra excited to borrow the smarts of the two CLGA show curators, Karen Stanworth and Erin Silver.
I’m also curious to see how the context of the community-based archive, rather than the artist-run-centre contemporary art gallery, changes the discussion about the photographs we’re looking at. I have a hunch that what we want from photographs in an archive—even when presented in a critical format that invites disruptions into the chronological or bibliographical organization that normally drives archival ordering and storage—is a bit different from what we want from them in the gallery. I’m looking forward to thinking about this out loud with folks this week.
No Looking After the Internet is a monthly “looking group” that invites participants to look at a photograph (or series of photographs) they are unfamiliar with, and “read” the image out-loud together. Chosen in relation to an exhibition, an artist’s body of work, or an ongoing research project, the looking group will focus on difficult images that present a challenge to practices of looking. If these images ask the viewer to occupy the position of the witness, No Looking offers the space and time to look at these photographs in detail: to return to these difficult scenes in another context where we can look at them slowly and unpack our responses to the image.
Premised on the idea that we don’t always trust our interpretive abilities as viewers, the aim of No Looking is to examine the differences between witnessing and looking. How does a slower form of looking allow us to be self-reflexive about our role as spectators? How do we look at these images differently when we interpret them with a community of others?
No Looking takes its inspiration and name from No Reading After the Internet, an out-loud reading and discussion group facilitated by cheyanne turions and Alexander Muir that meets regularly in Toronto and Vancouver (http://noreadingaftertheinternet.wordpress.com/).
Gay Premises: Radical Voices in the Archives, 1973-1983
co-facilitated with Erin Silver and Karen Stanworth
Tuesday, July 23, 7:30 pm
Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives
(34 Isabella St.)
In dialogue with the exhibition Gay Premises: Radical Voices in the Archives, 1973-1983 at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, and its counterpart of collaborative interventions, TAG TEAM, this month’s looking group will examine images included in the Photograph Wall: a key component of the exhibition. Incorporating photographs from the hundreds of images in the CLGA that were produced for The Body Politic, a Toronto-based gay newspaper that was a dominant voice in the body politics of the LGBTQ+ communities in Canada in the 1970s, the Photograph Wall mimics a photo editor’s wall and encourages viewers to respond to, label and narrativize the archives’ photographic holdings. While the CLGA has made significant efforts to identify the individuals, places, and events depicted in these images, the Photograph Wall hopes to further identify elements in the unknown photographs by asking gallery visitors to “write” on the wall or to contribute their own text or images.
Focusing on the images included in the Photo Wall, the July meeting of No Looking aims to interrogate what we—as viewers—want from photographs of the past and to question the kinds of narratives we try to make from them when they withhold easy answers. How does the anonymity of the subjects of these photographs, and their “out-of-placeness” in the archives, trouble our viewing experience? What are the difficulties and pleasures we encounter by “not knowing” about the context in which these photographs were produced? And how might the space of the gallery exhibition open up new interpretive possibilities for these archival documents?
This edition of No Looking is organized in collaboration with Erin Silver’s project, TAG TEAM: Gay Premises. Promoting intergenerational dialogue and, in particular, calling on an emerging generation of queer artists, activists, curators, and historians to engage in processes of “activating” the archive towards its continued preservation, the idea of archives “passing the torch” here might be transformed into a playful, experimental, and collaborative endeavour, conceived along the lines of “tag”: “tag, you’re it,” “tag teams,” as well as “tag” and “tagging” as references to digital processes for organizing information. TAG TEAM: Gay Premises provides an artistic vantage point for thinking about Canada’s gay liberation history and the 40-year history of the CLGA.
As the CLGA notes about the exhibition:
Gay Premises: Radical Voices in the Archives, 1973-1983 looks at the ways in which The Body Politic (TBP), a Toronto-based gay newspaper (1971-1987), became a dominant voice in the body politics of the LGBTQ+ communities in Canada. On the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA), the exhibition has been envisioned as a way to think about the significance of the radical politics that shaped the archive’s origin and affects its future. In providing ways to engage with the political bodies that participated in the ‘gay’ liberation movement, the project seeks to broaden and complicate the record by retrieving traces of the diverse queer populations that were active across Canada. The premise of the exhibition is that a diversity of men and women participated in the Gay Liberation Front, Women’s lib, feminists, Socialists, activists and writers came together, argued, raised collective consciousness and chose separate paths. Their writing, photographs, songs and protest rallies were the many voices of collective action. Sometimes fierce, other times collaborative, these young people radicalized their peers and effected generational change.
Erin Silver completed a PhD in Art History and Gender & Women’s Studies at McGill University in 2013, focusing on histories of North American feminist and queer art production, as framed by feminist and queer alternative art institutions and spaces from 1970 to 2012. Silver has curated several exhibitions, including Coming through the Fog: les rencontres de Matthieu Brouillard et de Donigan Cumming, at the FOFA Gallery, in 2012, and is currently working on an exhibition of queer immersive and intermedia practices, to open in 2014. Silver has taught Art History at Concordia University, OCAD University, and the University of Guelph. Her writing has been published in C Magazine, Ciel Variable, Fuse Magazine, and No More Potlucks.
Karen Stanworth is an associate professor, joint-appointed to the faculties of Fine Arts and Education at York University in Toronto, Canada. She has just completed a manuscript on visual culture in Canada, entitled Visibly Canadian: Imagining Identities in Canada, 1820-1910, which examines the imaging and imagining of social identities through art and popular visual practices in Ontario. Karen has recently returned to curatorial work with her project: Gay Premises: Radical Voices in the Archives, 1973-1983, at the Canadian and Lesbian Gay Archives, June – Sept 2013. This is the second of a three-part curatorial exploration of the archives. Last year, she curated Public Sins/Private Desires: Tracing lesbian lives in the archives, 1950-1980, summer 2012. Next year’s exhibition focuses on queer migration to Canada in the 1980 and 90s, and videos of “home.”
Sometimes the most challenging writing assignments are also the most satisfying. Last month, Elizabeth Zvonar opened an exhibition of new works (created over the past two years) at Toronto’s Daniel Faria Gallery: a body of work that brings together sculpture, collage and even a Duchamp-inspired readymade to create strange surrogates for the human body. It was one of the first opportunities I’ve had to see Zvonar’s work in person (after following it for many years online and through press releases) and I was intrigued by her subtle use of textures and source material, including casts of her own body parts.
But writing about this provocative, seemingly intuitive work—which I did for this month’s Artforum.com Critics’ Pick for Toronto—proved difficult, especially in the limited space afforded by the website’s format. One of the things I especially enjoyed about Zvonar’s exhibition is the tactile, bodily engagement it encourages in the viewer, over a series of separate but interrelated works in photo collage, porcelain and found objects. For instance, in the main room, the form of elbow and knee joints that features promimently in a large-scale collage titled The Spectre, The Serpent, The Ghost, The Thing is echoed in a series of small-scale porcelain casts of the artist’s elbow, tipped with gold paint and lined up to form a Clusterfuck of strange forms beneath her other large-scale collage work, Blind Love. It’s this recurrence of familiar forms, made strange, that both draws the viewer in and also keeps us moving throughout the space, forcing a kind of interrupted viewing that mimics the figures Zvonar makes through her inventive recombination of materials.
Chuffed is a strange Britishism I usually avoid, but in this case it seems entirely appropriate: as part of the “Coming to Encounter” curatorial residency I’ve been engaged in at Gallery TPW R&D over the past year, I commissioned my colleague Alison Cooley to write a critical response to the monthly series of looking groups I’ve been organizing, No Looking After the Internet. Today, her post, which reflects on the first three meetings of the group, went up.
I don’t often get to commission texts from other authors, and in this case it feels humbling to have someone as sharp as Alison being so generous with her feedback and observations. I especially value the way that she has deftly brought together the different power dynamics at play in the group, as well as the viewer’s tendency to fall back on curatorial or artistic authority when the process of looking becomes uncomfortable. As she writes,
Discussions have been by turns halting, enthusiastic, tender, and confrontational. The group dynamics have continually changed between participants, mediated by voices of curatorial and artistic authority. As each meeting has examined a particular set of images related to a concurrent exhibition or project, each encounter with the image has also become an encounter with a curatorial or artistic vision for that image. In our attempts to address and thoughtfully read the images, curatorial hints have been both valuable and impeding, always at risk of distracting us from the task of understanding the space we occupy in relation to the image, and instead giving away factual or historical information, emphasizing curatorial decision-making, or privileging the artist or curator’s set of conjectures.
No Looking still feels very much like a work-in-progress, and I’m grateful for the “regulars” like Alison who have been coming down to the gallery to think (and look) out-loud with me.
Last month, when I had the opportunity to travel to Halifax for C magazine‘s symposium on art criticism, I also had the pleasure of joining a half-day tour of most of Halifax’s galleries, organized by Visual Arts Nova Scotia. It was a great chance to see some of the university galleries that are a bit further afield than I would normally get to if I traveled to the city on my own, and I’d been looking forward to the chance to see the traveling retrospective of the work of David Askevold which had returned “home” for its final stop at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS).Curated by David Diviney and co-organized with the National Gallery of Canada, the overview of Askevold’s work underscores the artist’s collaborative approach to making conceptual art, a theme I tried to draw out in a review I wrote of the show for Artforum.com. While the stereotypes of conceptual art from the 1960s are always (to my mind, anyways) that of the solitary, overly intellectual male artist, working with a dry set of constrictions to produce an autonomous work, Askevold’s body of work offers a portrait of a generous and generative peer who often worked with his students and fellow artists to create ambitious, sometimes downright goofy, works. This collaborative zeal is perhaps epitomized by his most famous work, the “Projects Class” at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) that started in 1969 and invited international conceptual artists to send instructions for the completion of artworks to NSCAD students, which they would execute together; but it also appears in the exhibition through his ongoing photo-based projects with Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler.
To me, Askevold is an art world household name, but I’ve realized since visiting the show, and telling almost everyone I meet about the works that I hadn’t known about until this exhibition, that he is not as well known as many of his contemporaries that worked in the United States throughout the 1960s and 70s, at the height of conceptual art production in North America. Part of me wonders if this is just about geography—the artist’s decision to stay in Halifax rather than working from the “centres” of Toronto, Vancouver, New York or Los Angeles—and another part is curious about whether this is also motivated by Askevold’s long-time affiliation with pedagogical practices: it seems telling, for instance, that he is best known for the work he developed as a teacher at NSCAD, work that is difficult to define as an autonomous work of art, separate from the work of teaching (often stereotypically associated with affective labour and “women’s work”). The AGNS exhibition—and incredibly thorough catalogue that was produced to accompany it—will hopefully help to remedy this and give Askevold the (posthumous) recognition he deserves.
“David Askevold: Once Upon a Time in the East” continues at the AGNS until June 23.