by Kari Cwynar
Assembling a 72-page magazine on a broad and lofty theme like “Time” is no easy feat and the issue could have gone in many directions – to be explored in future issues. For now, however, there is something satisfying and generative about taking such an open-ended word and seeing where it lands among a diverse group of writers, artists, curators and organizers at this particular moment.
Many commonalities emerged – for instance, the most tangible sub-theme in this issue is that of the archive. What do archives look like in 2018? Who is included and under which frameworks, rules and systems of classification? What might archives of the future look like? Maandeeq Mohamed’s essay on the ways in which black queer and trans art practices have (or have not) been archived imagines an archive that speaks to communities, stories and relationships historically excluded. Mohamed re-visits community gathering spots (the roti shop, for instance) and events from the 1980s, and these stories speak volumes to the artistic communities of that time, and to the ways in which black queer and trans artists have occupied public space and the space of the archive.
In a meandering, energetic interview, Jesse McKee and Brian McBay of the non-profit art space 221A in Vancouver speak with Sepake Angiama and Clare Butcher of documenta 14’s education team. It’s an unlikely pairing – the non-profit in Vancouver re-thinking institutional models and the role of art amidst the all-consuming gentrification of the city, next to one of the world’s most powerful international institutions. But it works. The interview begins from a question about the use of the library in art, education and activism and ultimately unfolds prescient questions around the ways in which we work today, how we inherent institutional histories and how we can find new ways to navigate them. The through line in the interview is one of reading, thinking and re-imagining together; how a dusty book or curriculum can spark collective actions.
In fact, most of the texts in this issue embrace this looking backwards to look forward. In an essay on a recent collaborative project by Postcommodity and Alex Waterman with Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective in Edmonton, Natasha Chaykowski untangles acts of memorializing through composition and sound (rather than in monuments of stone and bronze). In the project, Postcommodity, Waterman and Ociciwan created a new score and performance honouring the lives of Mary Cecil, Victoria Callihoo (née Belcourt and Eleanor (Helene) Thomas Garneau – three Indigenous women from what is now the province of Alberta. The score – which was performed collectively in Edmonton – adds to a set of scores by composer Robert Ashley in which he explored ways of marking history through music. Next to this, in an interview with Greta Hamilton, Vancouver-based artist Derya Akay speaks of developing a process-based sculpture and performance practice based, on one hand, in the ways that organic material and matter changes over its lifespan, and on the other, in the ways that Akay incorporates and thinks through traditional models of collective labour.
Several reviews in the issue also re-visit histories that are still being resolved today: in this section Karina Irvine writes on Kapwani Kiwanga’s Flowers for Africa, in which the ongoing process of decolonization is addressed via representations of the moments that independence was achieved in nine countries throughout the African continent; Kapwani chooses to evoke these histories through images of the floral arrangements present during these celebrations, complicating the notion (and temporality) of an official historical document; Lee Plested reviews the new Polygon Gallery (formerly Presentation House Gallery) in North Vancouver, elaborating on the role that photography and conceptualism has played in shaping Vancouver’s predominant artistic discourse; and D.J. Fraser looks at the evolution of artists’ engagement with AIDS and AIDS activism since the 1980s, through the lens of the programming for the most recent World AIDS Day in December.
This issue features a striking artist project by Rajni Perera, with an extended essay on her work by Negarra A. Kudumu. Perera’s paintings, from her Afrika Galaktika series, draw from, as the artist says “the visual languages of Indian miniaturist art, Blaxploitation and the images produced by the Hubble Deep Field Telescope.” Through the figure of Afrika Galaktika, Perera critiques sexualized representations of the ethnic female body predominant in Western cultures, ultimately suggesting new possibilities for a radical future.
By way of conclusion: I’ve been reflecting on how the subjects in this issue – the archive, the library, the memorial – have been discussed ad nauseam; these are the predominant institutions meant to mark time and preserve some kind of historical record. But they are presented here as institutions taken for granted. The writers and artists in the pages that follow ask us look again – to look at the gaps in these institutions, the histories and communities and artworks and visual languages that don’t fit within their rigid parameters; to continue raising these histories, to continue raising these histories, re-thinking them in ways that work in 2018.