The Artist, The Good Neighbour


Theaster Gates is an artist, an activist, a community instigator and organizer, a repairman, a homeowner, and a believer in the importance of a neighbourhood. His art practice, which sits somewhere between and amongst all of those titles all at once has led to him buying an old candy store in Chicago’s South Side and beginning to renovate it into a home and a cultural anchor.


At the corner of 69th and Dorchester, Gates’ home / workspace became a hub for neighbourhood activity. He says that, “As the neighbors grew more interested, I decided to allow them to assist, when possible and have given classes, workshops, public dinners and even exhibitions in the space. Dorchester has been an informal lab for social and community experiment.”

His decision to stay and work in his city has become a catalyst for other activity, and a reason for other people to stay as well. So, I can’t help but feel that we probably need to find even more ways to turn the BCL HQ into a hub of even more activity before something else in the balance collapses and we lose the space. Maybe we need to have weekly sleepovers?

[via Art21]

Carol Goodden & Gordon Matta-Clark’s Food


Carol Goodden and Gordon Matta-Clark opened up Food in New York in the early 1970s on the corner of Prince and Wooster. The restaurant, essentially the first in SoHo, was run by artists and served mostly artists, with the cooking itself becoming a performance of sorts. This transition of the space from a failed Puerto Rican restaurant to Food’s occupation to an alternative space that functioned as and questioned art and the potential in economic models based on something other than profit growth.

Established as a kind of “perpetual dinner party”, the restaurant as an idea was the art, alongside the actual dishes served up, the design, and the performance of cooking. Conceptually that’s important, but what’s really becomes interesting is the idea to open a place that wasn’t founded on profit, and indeed collapsed in some ways because of that. However, certainly that’s not the point.

Creating an idea with a sunset date, or with an acceptance of failure from the start, allows for a focus on the things beyond regular concerns. In the case of Food, artists stood in as guest chefs, inedible food was served, a hub of activity was created, and whether or not it succeeded, and indeed eve the tools with which one could measure the success or lack thereof, became irrelevant.

So, what if the next idea you have came along with a self-imposed sunset date? How would you work differently? What would become a priority and what would fade into the background? Tom’s recent post on the not-for-profit restaurant in Windsor, Namaste, invites similar questions and provides some encouraging answers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also quickly mention Matta-Clark’s significant architectural interventions, again something deserving of its own post, eventually. His “building cuts” works in some ways paralleled the thinking behind an initiative like Food, in the case of these large-scale architectural works though, the question became, what if walls didn’t matter?

Pop-Up Book Academy


In an amazingly good interview, Daniel Fuller over at Art21‘s blog discusses projects, ideas, and philosophies of social / dialogical / relational art practice with Sam Gould of Red76.

Red76 has been organizing workshops, lectures and public dialogues in “non-hierarchical” settings since 2000, most recently working on the Pop-Up Book Academy, a school which materializes behind the mask of a temporary used book store. The school utilizes the printed form as a means of investigating social politics and its histories past and present. Much of their work has been involved in working with art spaces focused on alterative pedagogy.

Gould charts a brief history of this type of art practice, attributing the social practice and relational aesthetics trajectories that emerged in late 90s and into the 2000s to difficult economic times and political conditions (that is, the transition into Bush’s presidency). He also tackles the big question, “How is this art?” by attributing the classification of this type of practice as art in the art world (and that art world being defined by museums and galleries) to a kind of laziness by the artists working within it, which is to say that while some of the work presented in this context of social practice isn’t necessarily best suited for presentation in a gallery, it becomes a type of necessity to allow it to do just that.

In reflecting on the nature of this practice, often enacted through discussions, lectures, workshops, artist talks, seminars, Gould notes that critiques and arguments of their practice often fall into two categories: efficacy (activists), or sincerity (artists). These in particular seem to be somewhat familiar questions.

And, I had to include my favourite line of the whole interview: “You don’t need an object to make it [art]. Art is the space which we define for questioning. Objects, or the lack thereof, are placeholders for ideas and propositions.”

Again, it’s a great interview and I’ve only barely skimmed the surface in my quick recap here. It’s definitely worth reading if you’re even remotely interested in the intersection of art and activism.

[via Art21]

Lucy Howe’s Wilt

Wilt by Lucy Howe

As part of the Green Corridor‘s Open Corridor festival, Windsor’s Lucy Howe installed a series of wilted road signs, entitled Wilt. The signs themselves reiterate the bend, or wilt, in its respective sign pole and simultaneously comments on some of the many issues surrounding this stretch of road, and the kilometer or so to its north. The signs were originally installed as pictured above, but shortly after their installation, a City of Windsor truck came by to take them down.

Thankfully, the signs were recovered before being carted away and are now installed on the Northeast corner of Huron Church and College.

Howe’s work has an incredibly fun way of intervening with infrastructure and the everyday. All of the work is amazingly labour intensive, but so expertly pulled off that it can make you continually guess at its sincerity in the best way possible. If you’ve been to the AGW lately, you would have seen her work—a drooping chair and melting wall on the second floor as part of the Biennial.

Howe has another work in her archives that I’m hoping she’ll work on again, if the right place can be found. The work involves reshaping a chain link fence’s form and function, how could I not be in love?

Fritz Haeg: Edible Estates

Fritz Haeg- Edible Estates

Frtiz Haeg is a difficult person to write about. That is, he has had some considerable press coverage over the last few years, much of which from the major TV networks casts him in a kind of strange “green” light, and whether he’s described as an artist, architect, gardener, or designer, Fritz Haeg (in practice) seems to dodge all of these titles. He’s not nearly as eloquent as Natalie Jerimijenko (though her Ooz Inc. project and his Animal Estates project are fairly similar), yet he does craft some very exciting language around being a catalyst for community activity, and so while I’ve seen his work in a number of places over the last year or so, I thought it was finally time to post it.

The project that seemed most appropriate to note is his Edible Estates, an ongoing collection of front-yard or community gardens across the US, where he basically directs the tearing up of suburban grass farms to replace them with vegetables and native plants. The image above is from Maplewood, New Jersey.

I’ve seen a few front yards in Windsor and Essex County without grass, but I’d be interested to know where they are specifically, or if there are others hidden throughout the area. Maybe instead of one community garden in Sandwich, we should be pushing for the transformation of all the front yards on a block to be one, big connected garden? Yes, we should.