Archives as Underwriters of Local Experience: a conversation between BCL & Christine Dewancker


Hope you’ve had a chance to check out the epic post Hiba made last week on our show, Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices), which just wrapped up at Modern Fuel in Kingston, Ontario. For some more background on the show, here’s a re-post of a conversation we had with Christine Dewancker, long-time friend and emerging artist who exhibited in the State of Flux space during the run of Archive Tendencies at Modern Fuel.

You should check out more on Modern Fuel  and more on Christine Dewancker and read the full PDF of the interview program!

And now, without further adieu…

A CONVERSATION: Christine Dewancker and Broken City Lab

CD: Maybe a good place to start is talking a little about your project in Kingston and walking through the process of what composes the work. What were the questions you started with in this project?

BCL: This exhibition, Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices), came out of an interest in looking at the idea of bureaucracy as a framing device for the experience of locality. We’ve often looked at the ideas of narratives that are felt and applied to the places where we live, and it seemed like the archive was both a repository and site of production for the narratives of a city. The archive and the practices that embed within the archives both official records and donated ephemera uniquely capture a sense of time and a sense of place. In looking at that idea of the archive as a central site for compiling and maybe even underwriting our collective understanding of a place, whether experienced first-hand or not, it seemed that there was also a way to imagine certain processes that could strain or adjust or disrupt the way an archive would ideally function and the things that would be kept within it. That sensibility is the starting point for all of the work.

CD: I would like to hear some of your thoughts about working through a process that is inherently collaborative; not only in the context of working within a collective, but in the cities and communities Broken City Lab works with. What are some of the concerns you face with the role of “artist(s)” in a “community”?

BCL: The concern that seems rather unshakable is around the imposition an artist might make on the community and the effects of that imposition that may be beyond the view the artist might have for a particular project. The severity of that imposition can be mitigated, slowly and gradually, by longer-term commitments. In situations wherein that timeframe is impossible or at least impractical, it becomes more challenging to negotiate the expectations we have as artists for the places in which we work and in turn, the expectations that are placed on us. While earlier on, we would try to recreate elements of our practice in other places, we’ve shifted towards trying to create projects that have entry-points that are not contingent on our long-term engagement with the places in which they’re located. This exhibition is a good example — while we visited the Kingston archives, and although we had considered trying to find ways to animate histories that seemed rather specific to the city (such as the penitentiary and the economies around it), we ultimately settled on trying to develop a set of works that could point towards a set of possibilities and implications embedded in the expressions of power found in both official and unofficial archival practices, while playing with a range of efforts to both earnestly “keep track of” and intentionally “lose sight of” a set of artifacts and ideas that are normally discarded, pushed aside, or otherwise forgotten.

CD: I do want to make a point to discuss the multiple hats the collective wears on any given project; these range anywhere from design consultant, community organizer, graphic designer, urban planner, social analyst to teacher to name a few. While moving fluidly between these ‘positions’ we’ll call them, you continue to keep a foot (or toe) in the art world in the ways you choose to approach and present your work. I would like to hear your thoughts on how this opens up possibilities for new ideas/social change/reform.

BCL: That fluidity is absolutely an ongoing point of interest, but it’s become more and more complicated as the things that we’ve articulated as a part of our practice become more legible and in turn more readily instrumentalized. On one hand, it allows for opportunities to look at the possibility for social change in new formations. It gives us an opportunity to partner on larger scale projects that can in turn have a larger (measured and/or measurable) impact, and those projects can draw resources into projects in really interesting ways. On the other hand, the multiplicity of these positions, or roles, or hats, can draw our work into arenas that are less interesting for us — the act of measurement for example. The relationship that we’re interested in maintaining with the art world is based on the belief in art as a site of continual and infinite possibility in articulating different ways to be in the world.

CD: What function does maintaining an artistic approach serve in your work that bridges so many disciplines? I really like a quote by Nato Thompson which is a little overstated but essentially what I am getting at with my question here: “…art is about the impossible-the impossible that is necessary because the pragmatic is failing.” I am pulling that quote by Thompson out of its original context which I’d like to do due diligence to here and discuss a little with you. The quote is from a conversation he had with artist Martha Rosler in which they were discussing the alignment of artists/ role of art within social movements. Mentioned specifically was the Occupy Movement and the deeply held belief in resistance and reform that the movement embodies- which is absolutely present in many of the practices of artists and collectives working today. I am curious how some of these ideas (art/activism, art as activism) resonate with you and the work of BCL.

BCL: The relationship between art and activism has been presented and imagined in more or less interesting configurations, though it would seem that the very thing that art can bring to something like activism (that is, a sense of infinite possibility) is the very thing that can get lost when activism is brought into art. Activism, at least in its general framing up until Occupy, seemed very interested in accomplishing something, even if that accomplishment was built on the refusal of something else. Art can offer the potential to not do anything, and yet its very existence can do something to us, it’s just not always measurable. This immeasurability, this sense of escape from perhaps a rather neoliberal tendency to have goals in the first place, is precisely what makes art so important.

CD: I’d like to shift the questions back to where you work out of primarily- Windsor Ontario. I remember you described the initial BCL meetings were held in your apartment and you functioned as an ad-hoc collective in 2008. Now you are operating out of a storefront space in downtown Windsor and supported by the Trillium Foundation. What this has enabled in your programming?

BCL: CIVIC SPACE was envisioned and funded a two-year project, and so the programming we’ve engaged at that storefront operates at a different scale than the work we’ve done in the past, insofar as it gives a sustained arc to the conversation we’re trying to cultivate. It gives us a larger meeting space than an apartment to be sure, but it also adds new layers of complexity to what it is we try to do. The programming itself occurs at various paces — monthly residencies or exhibitions, weekend-long events, day-long workshops — but because we know that there is an end-date, we’re interested in trying to keep the programming as responsive as we can. The very idea of thinking about any kind of sustained programming, however, is a much different conversation than we were having in 2008.

CD: In addition to your own projects, BCL initiates and is involved with a host of other activities; from artist residencies to workshops and an upcoming conference (second year running). This may seem like a broad question but I’d like to get at the position you see BCL occupying as both producer and facilitator within a city like Windsor. Can you describe how your role has changed (and is changing) within the cultural landscape of the city?

BCL: As we take on new projects, we seem to be continually moving towards these larger production or facilitation-based roles, and for the most part, it feels like an appropriate fit. Given the history of our practice, and in particular, its relationship to the context of Windsor, we’ve been able to find new avenues and partnerships to try to make a case for Windsor to consider a different relationship with art and artists. In particular, partnering with the Arts Council Windsor & Region and the City of Windsor for Neighbourhood Spaces, a residency which brings artists into community spaces across the Windsor-Essex area, or Mobile Frames, which in partnership with Media City, Common Ground, and SB Contemporary will bring internationally renowned filmmakers into Windsor for longer-term research and production residencies, feel like great examples of this idea of cultivating new and different relationships. Our role continues to change, and will change even more as CIVIC SPACE wraps up next spring, but projects like the ones mentioned above, which pull together new partnerships with the support the transformative resources from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, make our role feel a lot less important in making things like this happen, and that’s a really good thing.


Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices) at Modern Fuel


Since last spring, we’ve been building towards a new series of work for a show at Modern Fuel in Kingston, Ontario. The show, entitled, “Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices)” is a collection of installations that play with the notions of archiving and our relationship with it. We came up with 6 pieces that we wanted to create for this show — it all started at the Queen’s University Archives in Kingston, Ontario.


We were lucky enough to be given a tour by Jeremy Heil, a technical services archivist for Queen’s University. He shared with us an amazing amount of knowledge about the process of archiving, different types of archives, and the storing process for the archives.


Some of the storage units.


Justin engulfed by boxes and boxes of archives.


The trip to the archives sparked our minds and we started to research…a lot. Notes upon notes began to accumulate so we thought it would be best to take a break.


We decided to visit Modern Fuel and scope out the space and get an idea spatially of what we could create in the gallery. By the end of our short trip to Kingston, we had a good feeling about what we wanted to do and a set of 6 pieces that we wanted to make.


It became apparent from early on that we didn’t want the exhibition to challenge current modes of archiving, but instead articulate different ways we could be viewing arching on an individual and societal level.


Soon after, we started to accumulate the materials we needed. The first piece we started to build was “What Fails With Time?” — this is a text piece that is made out of salvaged wood.


Andy and I found an ad on Kijiji for free salvaged wood in Kingville. The textures and colours were so amazing, we grabbed as many pieces as we could. The wood used to be an old barn that was recently torn down.


More planks.


The second piece is “The Archive of Wishful Thinking”. This series of magnetic letters allows for participants to spell out things that they hope to remember, but is also constantly in flux because the next person can add on, erase, or re-write the statement.


We spray painted the letters gold so they would have a nice contrast against the black magnetic paint they would be sitting on.




Up close.


For another piece, we decided to cut out physical versions of the flagging system we use online when we want to remember a specific site or want to archive it as important to us.


Lots of cutting involved.


Staking and packing.


Our infamous jigjaw was brought back to work.




Makeshift clamps.


Cutting out the letters.


Cross-country collaborating with Justin on this one — a perforated booklet  filled with posters that are suggestive of things we should make an effort to remember…or not.






“Solid State Storage” is 3 banker boxes made from styrofoam and concrete. The original idea was to have them made of solid concrete but the weight would have made them almost impossible to haul all the way to Kingston. We decided to make the base from styrofoam so that some of the weight could be eliminated.


The cement adheres really well to styrofoam so this made applying the layers really easy.


Filled to the rim.


Packed and ready to go.


Alongside the banker boxes, we wanted to create an object that destroys records in a slow, gruelling manor, so we thought a humidifier hooked up to a filing cabinet would do just that.  We used the hand-held saw to cut out holes so the tubbing could connect the humidity directly to the filing cabinet.



First hole.


The saw melted the plastic right off.


The first hole made in the filing cabinet.


We decided to make one hole in the top and one along the side.


Side by side.


With everything packed and ready to go, we made our way up to Kingston and started a long week of install.




As we unloaded and starting to put things up, the space seemed overwhelmingly chaotic and reminded me a lot of what the space looked like from our exhibition in Halifax two years prior.


Building a shelf for the booklets.


Superglue is an amazing thing.


Hanging the magnetic panels.


First piece up.


Andy looking for the right letters.


Still searching.


In the future we will want to remember ________.


Final touch-ups and sanding for our banker boxes.


The secret cemented file.


“Make a Mark (Notating Importance)” is a grid of 175 flags cut out chip board that are suggestive of flagging or noting space or places that are important and should be archived. It’s the physical version of the digital flag system.




“Solid State Storage”


Cranking up the humidity.IMG_2437(1)

And it’s on!


Feeling the humidity come through.


Making sure it’s properly sealed.


Placing the “Authorization for Destruction of Records” applications on top.


What record would you want to destroy?


The files to be destroyed.


First record to be destroyed — one of my memories.


“For Unsafe Keeping (Time-Limited Archiving System)”


“Expressions of Power (A Ready-to-Distribute Set of Positions in Relation to Time)”


Ready for the opening.


Title wall.


Magnetic letters.


The director of Modern Fuel, Kevin Rodgers, fills out a file for destruction.


Conversations and concrete boxes.




In the next room over from the main exhibition space is Christine Dewancker’s show entitled “All You Ever Wanted”.


Christine Dewancker’s (above) practice examines the physical and psychological effects of the spaces we occupy: how constructed environments inform our experiences and relationships with one another, what produces public consciousness and how this is created and reproduced by our everyday activities. Her recent series ALL YOU EVER WANTED began with conversations with residents in the spring of 2013, in which discussions were carried out regarding sites of development and potential in Kingston neighbourhoods. The title phrase evokes subjective desires, and offers an optimistic gesture of totality. When placed in a physical environment, it proposes various readings of that space while also embodying an impossible idea that can never be fully realized.


Playing with memories.


Things we hope to remember.


I got to give a mini tour of the show and speak about the pieces and process we took to make each one.


Thank you to everyone at Modern Fuel for being so supportive and helping us make this happen.

“Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices) runs from October 19th – November 30th at Modern Fuel in Kingston, Ontario.


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We would like to acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices) Opens October 19th at Modern Fuel


Exhibition Runs from October 19th to November 30th at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, Kingston, Ontario

In case you were wondering what all the cement boxes, wooden flags, and the humidifier filing cabinet were for, we have an exhibition called Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices) coming up at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre in Kingston, Ontario. The exhibition opens October 19th, with an opening reception for Archival Tendencies and All You Ever Wanted by Christine Dewancker at 7pm. It features all new installation work based on concepts surrounding archival practices. If you’re nearby or are looking for something to do in the Kingston area, please come out and check out the exhibition.

Through a series of installations, sculptural works, and participatory projects, Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices) will demonstrate the ways in which we might reconsider our approach to the spaces, infrastructures, and bureaucracies around us. The exhibition examines the ways in which we document, share, and collectively remember these spaces within the frame of the archival practices, and use of follies as creative intervention. The works aim to explore the expressions of power through official and unofficial archival practices, and play with a range of archival tendencies and lossy practices. The exhibition will argue for a renewed effort and set of tactics to both earnestly “keep track of” and intentionally “lose sight of” a range of artifacts and ideas that are normally discarded, pushed aside, or otherwise forgotten.

Spirit of Windsor: An Outsider’s Guide by NICOLE LAVELLE & SARAH BAUGH Opens April 18 at 6:00pm


Image courtesy of Nicole & Sarah’s blog –

If you haven’t checked out our recent video of Nicole Lavelle and Sarah Baugh interviewing one another about their residency and project here in Windsor, then you’re missing out on all the interesting ideas and experiences framing their new project, Spirit of Windsor: An Outsider’s Guide.

This new project is quickly coming together (and officially launching here at CIVIC SPACE on Thursday, April 18th at 6pm), and you can check out more of their process in the meantime on their awesome project blog!

Please join us for a publication release party and a celebration of the city!

Spirit of Windsor: An Outsider’s Guide is a project from Portland-based artists Sarah Baugh and Nicole Lavelle. Arriving in Windsor with absolutely no previous knowledge of the place, the two spent one week investigating. They responded to their status as visitors to the city of Windsor by creating a guide based on walking, wandering and chance. The resulting publication is a cursory glimpse of this place, intended to act as a jumping-off point for locals and visitors alike.

Copies of the guide will be available, as well as refreshments and door prizes from local eateries and businesses. Select excerpts from the guide will be exhibited in the space.

When: Thursday, April 18, 6-8pm

Where: Civic Space, 411 Pelissier Street, Windsor ON

All are welcome!

Also on April 18th from 7:30pm to 9pm…

SB Contemporary Art is pleased to present a group exhibition titled, Survey featuring the work of four artists completing the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Windsor; Amanda Dudnik, Michael Marcon, Allen Matrosov, and Pearl Van Geest.

1-Day Project: “Find Something Worthwhile”

We had ordered these screen printing supplies in anticipation of using them for our upcoming Civic Maintenance project, but before we could embark on that large-scale production, we needed to test.

We got process colours cmyk and the basics for screen printing – photo emulsion and photo emulsion remover and two screens.

We haven’t screen printed since last year while we were at Martha Street Studio, and even then we had the luxury of some great technical assistance.

I haven’t shot a screen for a long time, so while the first test was a bit rough (see prints above), the second attempt on Thursday went a little better.

I ran a number of prints and then Rosina took over. Sara and Kevin also got in on the printing at one point!

She made a lot of prints.

Early days in screen printing tests — this detail in particular wasn’t our best work — but the imperfections were working for us.

We printed on a lot of different paper, pulling from magazines and old art periodicals.

Then, we pulled out the window wall that Kevin built a while ago and started to setup the prints as a grid.

I really liked some of the details and textures when things got messy.

Kevin and Rosina tackling the grid.

We ended up having to do some more prints to completely cover the window wall.

And then, the finishing touches of trimming and taping the edges.

And installed! We took down our video installation and Sam’s water-bottle planters to make way for this … sometimes we get impatient … but also, this will make it a lot easier to host the Walk-by Theatre on Mondays.

A closer look at some of the grid. This was an excellent way to spend the afternoon. And, all the better that it was the randomness of being in the space together that made it happen.

The (Nearly Complete) Letter Library Archive

When the Letter Library was up earlier this month at CIVIC SPACE, each participant had the option to borrow a disposable camera from us, photograph their letters, and bring the cameras back. Well, after developing nearly all the cameras (still a few more to come) here is the nearly complete archive of all the photos we received from the project.

Feel free to comment below if any of these photos are yours, and please link us to photos that aren’t up in this archive that you took yourself!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Letter Library and captioned the city.

Continue reading “The (Nearly Complete) Letter Library Archive”

Keeping Track of the Archives

Here it is, or at least, here’s part of the physical archive, the scannable stuff anyways, from 2008-2009. It’s been hanging out in my filing cabinet for a long time, but finally with the help of Miranda Fay during her off-hours, it’s been gradually scanned in page by page.

Archives are crucial for taking stock, for remembering, for understanding a history. Given the pace with which we work, it’s rare to find the time to actually reflect on what we’ve done. Usually, this happens, in a way, when compiling images for an artist talk or presentation, but inevitably, even that process is limited by what was created by a digital source already.

331 scans from about a year and a half of work, early stencils, poster designs, and lots of hand-written notes. I can’t wait to find the time to look at all of it. And now Miranda has started on the 2010 archive. It’s so awesome to know that there’s now another copy (even if it just a digital scan) of these things.

We seem to always talk about compiling this archive into something legible, now that it’s digital, maybe we’ll be that much more convinced to attempt that process … but I doubt it. The fallout from Save the City and SRSI alone are still on our plates, to go even further back than that seems daunting to say the least.

Meanwhile, we’re planning to meet Wednesday night, and I’m really looking forward to this. It will be one of the first times that we’ll have all been together for a while and not have to talk about some aspect of admin-type stuff. Though inevitably, that will be in the mix too. Above, I’m thinking on a post-it note.

Windsor Archives

a map of Windsor

I went to the Windsor Archives at the downtown Windsor Public Library with Lee Rodney’s Border Culture class on Thursday. The city’s archives are uninsured and sit in the basement, in the same room as the water main for the building, with some record books, maps, and architectural drawings un-boxed and unprotected, though most looked to be in acid-free (though certainly not water-proof) boxes.

The map above was one of the many articles from the archive we got to see, and I think it dates to sometime in the 1950s. Interestingly, there are these areas marked as abandoned, and it made me think back to our beginnings at a Google map that marked out, among many things, some of the abandoned properties (in particular, the abandoned big-box stores).

I’m curious as to why these areas were ever marked as abandoned, though unfortunately I didn’t note what kind of map this was. If anyone has any guesses, let me know.

So, the Windsor Archives are a really interesting place if you’ve never been, and the archivist that we met with seemed very eager to help with researching. With over 10,000 photos alone, on top of thousands upon thousands of other documents, I think it’s worth exploring further.

They also accept contributions.