Thursday, September 22, 2016

Promoting a Critical Regionalism

The 2016 Latitude 53 Writer-in-residence Riva Symko (@anecdotia) invited me, along with two other authors from different parts of the country, to respond to Amy Zion and Cora Fisher’s Momus article, Regionalism Vs. Provincialism: Agitating Against Critical Neglect in Artworld Peripheries. Our responses can be found on the Latitude 53 blog, grouped under the tag critical dialogue on regionalism.

Possible Worlds producer meetup in Ottawa, Ontario, March 2015

I agreed to respond to the article, since, in addition to my peripheral status, I’ve been acutely aware for at least a decade of regionalism as an ongoing concern in contemporary Canadian art. I sensed it when I went to art school in London, Ontario, when I was working at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre in Kingston, and now in Ottawa I am often confronted with the issue from a national perspective. In each place I have witnessed regional and so-called “extra-regional” concerns come into conflict. Zion and Fisher’s far-ranging conversation touched on many aspects that are reflected in my own experience in the peripheries, including the lack of (local, let alone national or international) press coverage for contemporary art, smaller audiences for contemporary art and fewer artists making it. Since it would be difficult and not really desirable to bring a universal standard of criteria to bear on the judgement of art in a wide range of differing circumstances, as the article shows, the notion of the development of a critical regionalism based on a sense of place seems like one of the most promising approaches the authors endorse.

It’s not that the practice of critical regionalism is unheard of in marginal places; it’s more likely that it’s gone unnoticed. In the course of my response I give a few examples of what I consider to be critical regionalism, touching on the work of Theaster Gates, Jayce Salloum, the Embassy Cultural House in London, Ontario, and the Possible Worlds shop in Ottawa, with A Tribe Called Red and Hugh Le Caine also making appearances. Regarding the import of Zion and Fisher’s article, I’m less concerned finally with acts of judgment than with speech acts, or interventions into the way that history gets recorded. Critical regionalism registers and broadcasts the activities specific to a place while making a progressive connection to broader concerns so that its signal might get picked up elsewhere. Read the complete response here.

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