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.


Rodrigo Marti on his Artistic Practice and Working at CIVIC Space

Just last month our friend Rodrigo Marti put together a project here at CIVIC Space, the substantially titled, “THANKSGIVING * DIA DE ACCION DE GRACIA * FOR THE LOVE OF GOD * POR EL AMOR DE DIOS * CLOTHING SWAP * MERCADO TRUEQUE DE ROPA“. Near the end of Rodrigo’s stay in Windsor, he sat down with Dennis Hunkler of ArtWindsor, which is a fairly new web-only Windsor arts resource put together by Arturo Herrera. It features, among other things, interviews with Windsor artists, most of whom are just starting their careers in the arts and are speculating as to what will happen. It’s an interesting twist on conventional artist interviews and in the best cases, helps to capture a time of unlimited possibility.

After chatting with Dennis earlier in the setup of his show, Rodrigo sat down again and discussed the issues surrounding the kind of work he does, the misconceptions that often arise, and how he intended the work to function.

To learn more about Rodrigo’s work, please visit here.

Neighbourhood Spaces Interview with STAG Executive Director John Elliott

Next in the Neighbourhood Spaces (NS) mini-doc series is an interview with John Elliott, Executive Director of Sandwich Teen Action Group (STAG) in Windsor, ON. In this video, John talks about his organization, the importance of face-to-face communication, and community partnerships. STAG is a community-based charitable organization in the west end of Windsor, providing programs and support for at-risk youth. A former school, STAG offers an ideal location for the Centre, which will function as a music classroom, drop-in space and practice area for Neighbourhood Spaces (NS) artist-in-residence Kenneth MacLeod (Windsor).

Throughout his 6 week residency, Kenneth will oversee the project and offer free music instruction and workshops to neighbourhood youth ages 13-20. After the residency, Kenneth aims to continue the centre, creating a permanent space for youth to develop and expand their musical skills and abilities in Windsor.

He will also be at the Windsor Youth Centre (WYC), a drop-in Centre for homeless and at-risk youth ages 13-20 located in Wyandotte Town Centre. Every Wednesday he can be found jamming, teaching and learning with youth at the Centre.

Visit the NS Blog for more updates:

NS is a collaborative partnership between the Arts Council – Windsor & RegionBroken City Lab and The City of Windsor (“the Collaborative”). This program is made possible through the generous financial support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Hi, 5 with Kirsten McCrea

About the Hi, 5 Interview Series

Hi, 5 (5 Questions) is a web-only interview series which presents five questions to artists, activists, and creative thinkers alike.  The project acts as an educational device which allows us to gain insight into the narratives that define successful individuals.  We are interested in the motivations behind ambitious ideas and how these individuals chart personal change in relation to their surroundings.

About Kirsten McCrea

Kirsten McCrea is a Canadian artist whose work explores issues of cultural memory, looking at pop vs. underground culture, the media, and popular mythologies. Known for her bright colours and figurative subject-matter, Kirsten is quickly establishing herself as a prominent emerging Canadian artist. Primarily a painter, she is also the founder and editor of Papirmasse, an affordable art subscription that sends a monthly print to hundreds of people around the world every month.

Her paintings have been exhibited nationally and her work has been reviewed by The Walrus, Chatelaine, and The Montreal Gazette, amongst others. She has illustrated for the Polaris Music Prize & the Under Pressure Graffiti festival, and her patterned drawings can be found on notebooks and apparel in stores across the country. When not working on her own she collaborates with the art collective Cease and the drawing initiative En Masse, whose work was recently shown in the form of a massive installation in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Montreal. QC.

Kirsten McCrea - Ampersand, ink on paper, 2012

Kirsten McCrea

If you had to describe your current self to a 16-year-old you, what would you say? 

Your parents and everyone you know are going to lie to you and say that nobody can really be an artist as their job. They won’t do it out of malice, but out of love and concern for your future. But you know what? They’ll all be wrong. You CAN be an artist full-time, and you will be. Also, in two years when you decide to grow dreadlocks – don’t. Just don’t. It’s not going to work out.

Could you describe an evolution in your work or way of thinking?

I feel like I have gone back and forth between conceptualism and aestheticism quite a bit. At one point I was a huge theory nerd, then I got really disenchanted with theory and fell in love with street art, which at its core is populist and just viscerally appealing (or sometimes viscerally enraging, depending on your take. Either way – it’s goal is to elicit an emotional reaction). Now I’m cozying up to concept again and am coming to appreciate art with big ideas behind it. But I still love aesthetics, and want to find a way in my practice to make work that is nice to look at but still makes you think. I think that it took a long time to realize that I could do both.

Are there any people who have been instrumental in the development of your way of thinking and viewing the world?

David Choe completely blew my mind wide open when I was 18. I was visiting Montreal (still living in Edmonton at the time, a city that is pretty isolated and not exactly a hotbed of radical anything) and found his book Bruised Fruit in (of all places) an Urban Outfitters. Having grown up in a city that has the highest number of chain stores per capita, I honestly thought that if something was in one bookstore it meant that it was in every single other bookstore. Sad, I know. It turns out that that book was a very limited run (and there were certainly no copies in Edmonton!), but my best friend tracked it down for me and even got him to sign it. Talk about the best birthday present ever! My copy is tattered because I have looked at it so much, and even though I’m not a huge fan of Choe’s work anymore (the sexism kills it for me), it was through him that I discovered Juxtapoz and an entire community of artists on the internet who became some of my biggest influences. I had never seen lowbrow before and discovering it was maybe the most exciting feeling of my life. It felt like I had finally found my home.

How do your political beliefs inform or fuel your work as an artist?

I am a very political person. I used to be very involved in activism, but now art takes all of my time (living in Montreal also made me complacent – it’s so good there compared to right-wing Alberta). Nonetheless, I think that my political beliefs are always present in my work. I try to really consider when I make an image what unconscious ideas are influencing it and how it will be perceived. Particularly in portraiture, I think that it is very easy for artists to fall into the trap of regurgitating the language of advertising. We see ads literally all day long – how can they not dictate your ideas about how a person should be portrayed and what kind of person should be portrayed?

I am currently working on a follow-up to my 2008 series Hot Topic, which is 60 paintings of feminist icons. In Hot Topic Redux I’ll paint another 20. Stay tuned to my website ( because I’ll be launching a site in the next month or so where I take viewer suggestions about which feminist icons should be painted next.

I also run Papirmasse, an affordable art subscription that sends a monthly print to people around the world for only $5 a month. I really think that people should not be shut out of the art world because of income, so I’m doing my part to make art more accessible and help it circulate through the world. People are afraid to have an opinion about art – they think they need an Art History degree to say whether they like something or not! With Papirmasse I always say – it’s yours now, it’s coming into your home. There’s no expert. YOU are the expert. You decide if you like it or not. And at 5 dollars don’t be too precious about it. If you like a part of it then cut it up and frame it. Make art work for you. Have a dialogue with it. The conversation doesn’t have to be a one-way street.

What do you feel a city should be or do for its inhabitants?

This is an interesting question for me at this time in my life, as I am transitioning from Montreal to Toronto (6 years after leaving my hometown of Edmonton). Toronto seems like a cool place with a really active populace who is interested in improving their city, but I have a sneaking suspicion that in some ways it won’t be able to match Montreal. The reason I love Montreal so much (and what enticed me away from Edmonton) is that it is a very actively lived-in city. The population seems to move through and interact with the space in a much more engaged way than, say, Edmonton, where you rarely see anyone out in the street and only see car after car.

This happens because of bike lanes, beautiful public parks, great public transportation, and lots of lots of free shows, festivals, and events. Montreal routinely shuts down entire busy streets for days (or even months!) at a time so that they can become pedestrian walkways. I think that they value the citizen more than cars or commerce. This seems counterintuitive because obviously citizens in a sense *are* cars and commerce. But it shows a different way of thinking about how we interact with our environments, and it shows that basic day-to-day experience is valued more than getting people to and from work fast. Does shutting down St. Catherines street for 4 months every summer make economic sense? Maybe not, in the traditional sense. But it has turned the Village into a thriving neighbourhood, and nothing really beats walking down a street full of people strung with lanterns and bustling energy. Those kinds of moments are what people who visit the city remember about Montreal, and it’s what makes me sad to leave it. I think that in North America there is a tendency to value making money as the most important factor in city-based decision-making, and what makes Montreal special is that it values happiness, culture, and human experience more.

I also think that a city should leave art (aka graffiti) up outside. Urban environments aren’t supposed to be clean showrooms. Cities are slates for multiple expressions, and street art ads to the feeling of being in a vibrant space that is alive.

Kirsten McCrea

Hi, 5 with Luci Everett

About the Hi, 5 Interview Series

Hi, 5 (5 Questions) is a web-only interview series which presents five questions to artists, activists, and creative thinkers alike.  The project acts as an educational device which allows us to gain insight into the narratives that define successful individuals.  We are interested in the motivations behind ambitious ideas and how these individuals chart personal change in relation to their surroundings.

About Luci Everett

Luci Everett is a graphic designer and illustrator living in Melbourne, Australia. She does a lot of paper cutting, painting and scanning.

Luci Everett - Alfalfabet (2012)

Luci Everett 

If you had to describe your current self to a 16-year-old you, what would you say?

Relationships and friendships are much easier now. It’s not going to be sudden, but gradually you’ve become much more confident and comfortable with yourself. You pursued graphic design and have a lot of fun. Every year gets better.

Could you describe an evolution in your work or way of thinking?

I think I’ve developed a more discerning eye over the last few years. I have a slightly more practical approach to creative ideas than I did when I was studying design at university – I guess that comes with working on real projects. That said, I’m driven inspiration-wise in pretty much the same way I always have been; I absorb a lot of visual information and that will always inform my work quite intuitively if I’m passionate about it.

Are there any people who have been instrumental in the development of your way of thinking and viewing the world?

No one in particular, although I think a couple of my high school art teachers and uni lecturers were pretty influential in nourishing my inclinations to approach or respond to the world creatively. Of course it’s unavoidable that my parents play a big part in how I view the world.

How do your political beliefs inform or fuel your work as an artist?

My political beliefs are quite separate from my artwork. My love and absorption in aesthetics comes from a different place to my connection and interaction with society. I’m not sure whether that’s a good or bad thing, it’s just the way it feels.

What do you feel a city should be or do for its inhabitants?

It should be a place which nurtures community, with the collective wellbeing of people and environment (equally) is always considered.

Luci Everett

Hi, 5 with Sandy Noble

About the Hi, 5 Interview Series

Hi, 5 (5 Questions) is a web-only interview series which presents five questions to artists, activists, and creative thinkers alike.  The project acts as an educational device which allows us to gain insight into the narratives that define successful individuals.  We are interested in the motivations behind ambitious ideas and how these individuals chart personal change in relation to their surroundings.

About Sandy Noble

Sandy Noble is a maker, a designer and a programmer. Sandy’s website is called Up To Much. Not home-spun exactly, but conceptually simple pieces, usually with some kind of particular conceit that makes them look more complex than they are, or complex, but with an elegant appearance: a series of elaborations on a basic concept.

Sandy Noble - Polargraph Machine

Sandy Noble

February 22/2012

If you had to describe your current self to a 16-year-old you, what would you say?

Just like you, but all the the things that made you a bit odd then, are the things that make me valuable now.

Could you describe an evolution in your work or way of thinking?

I’m very attached to how things work, rather than what they look like, or probably even what they do.  When I was a kid I made lots of plastic models, and enjoyed making some much more than others.  Some kits assembled beautifully, with lots of sub-assemblies, tabs, interlocking pieces.  Others left much more up to the builder’s skill to judge where a part should be stuck.  I never painted them – that’s the boring bit – where’s the fun?

I’m still very technically-focused, and working on projects where I am the designer and also the implementer suits that focus, it’s absolutely appropriate.  But it can be a handicap in the ideation phase of a project so I needed to learn to know when to switch it off. Learning about the stagey, iterative nature of the design process taught me when I should be thinking technically and when I should be thinking free-form.

I’m not very good at the free-form stuff, that’s the problem, and it’s partly a skills issue – I just never got very good at sketching fast, representation.  Everything I do I tend to want to boil it down to a series of diagrams, and just hold the gestalt of it in my head.  This skills problem really does flavour what I get around to doing – if it’s hard to express, it just doesn’t get done, or at least, it doesn’t get put down on paper.  It just floats around in my head until it crystalizes enough to be diagrammed, and that’s unfortunately a good way to lose inspiration, and can be discouraging when I look in my sketchbook and see the same old thing page after page, rather than all the amazing ideas I think I’m having but can’t express very clearly.

Generally my work is very tools-led.  I like using the tools much more than I like having the finished object.  Design is nice because design itself is a great big tool that can be used to make anything. So I made a desk once, and it works great as a desk, but my favourite thing about it is the work I did designing it.

So my art is entirely a product of the machine – the machine is the real piece of work, the drawings that come from it are only the proofs.  The polargraph machine is interesting too because it’s very very technical.  It’s programmed with a certain behaviour, and that’s where I see the art in it, that’s where the magic is.  Which is nice, because as a professional software developer, it’s the exact same art that I use during my day job.

Are there any people who have been instrumental in the development of your way of thinking and viewing the world?

Other than my immediate family, very few.  My mom and dad are very practical people who would be happy to fix and make things from scratch.  They tell me “I’ll show you how, then you can do it yourself” and in many cases this the result of being tired of endlessly doing stuff for other people, but in other cases it is a genuine wish to share something they find marvelous and engaging.  Their house has a gate at the back with this carved wooden handle on the back, just a plain one, functional.  And it’d been carved and polished up and sat there every day for forty years.  I remember being amazed and proud when only fairly recently I realized my dad had made it from a block of wood rather than just buying one from a shop.  It was clearly the product of some love, some enjoyment of the process. Because actually it was pretty unnecessary in that place.  I was horrified when they threw that door away to get a new one, handle and all, all replaced by off-the-shelf hardware.  They are very unsentimental like that.

I suppose I am too, which is why I don’t like things which are purely decorative.  Even if a photograph or a painting looks beautiful, I’m more interested in knowing what technical aspects create that feeling, or how it was made than just letting it wash over me, and if I don’t know that, I can’t really decide if I like it or not.

How do your political beliefs inform or fuel your work as an artist?

I feel that if people take from others, they should give to others. And, paying forward rather than paying back.  People would like me to claim that I invented the polargraph machine, or that I am a trail blazer of some sort for using 3d printing in jewellry, and are a little dismayed when I tell them these things are just the most recent development of very commonplace technology – there is no high-tech here, no genius, no special insight, only the will to experiment for it’s own sake, and the will to publicly invest in something.  That in itself, like art, is quite attractive and will get people’s attention.

So even though I’m a little wary of just giving all my hard work away, I realize I must because I owe it.  This is especially true in areas with a strong community, learning aspect, that is, open source software and hardware, and the people who made that possible.  It feels very wrong to take something that is free, bottle it and try to sell it back.

What do you feel a city should be or do for its inhabitants?

A city should be present enough to lead people into a community, but get out of the way enough to allow people to shape it, splinter it, build individual identities within it.  Easier said than done.

Up to Much (Sandy Noble)

Simon Rabyniuk on the division of practice and real life

movement (time spent) Maps : part III - 1 by Cara Spooner

This is part of an ongoing set of one-question emails sent to people we know, or would like to get to know, about things that interest us and inform our collective practice. They’ll be featured on the site weekly, usually on Fridays. These questions are more about unfolding ideas than about the people we’re asking, but we do ask those kinds of questions too.

We’re pleased to continue this project with a question for SRSI and Homework alumnus and one half of the Department of Unusual Certainties, a Toronto-based research and design collective, Simon Rabyniuk.

Where does practice end and real life begin?

There is no division between practice and life. My first reading of this question situates it as something about the experience of the individual, and because of the context I’m receiving it in, something about the experience of the individual artist. Although I think it becomes a more interesting question dealt with in broader terms.

What is practice? For an individual a practice is a personal commitment to an action (i.e. the practice of active listening). I would propose that a fundamental quality of a practice is a conscious intent expressed through the process of trial, reflection, and learning; while routine may be part of one’s practice, intent keeps it from becoming route behaviour. For an artist I would propose that commitment be understood as a lifestyle of exploration in the production of material or embodied relationships. I would also propose that there is a distinction between the singular and plural use of the term. An individual can have many personal practices, while they have a professional practice.

movement (time spent) Maps : part III 5 – by Cara Spooner


What is real life? Life is form changing through time. Enacted on a sensing being, this change in form becomes a sequence of experiences. Organized as memories these sequences form a narrative and a sense of identity. This definition fails to articulate the social character of a human’ life. Somehow ‘real life’ is different then that. Real life is nested in the colloquial, the work/leisure/boredom cycle, desire, and responsibilities. A day in one’s real life is bisected into what you sell, and what you keep for yourself.

Real life somehow refers to artists having jobs beyond their practice as an artist. The question “Where does practice end and real life begin?” perhaps asks if when an artist’s time is not going towards making things do their practice and real life become separate things within them? Again, I would propose they do not. There are many prominent examples of artists who use their art practice to reflect on and respond to the experience of their present situation. Two examples that may represent a spectrum of approaches are Michelle Allard and Adrian Piper. Allard explores the formal constructive properties of the office supplies she uses in her day job. Piper explores the reaction raced/classed bodies produce in social spaces. One’s experience, including their real life, becomes a source to parse through in ones practice as an artist.

Simon Rabyniuk is a Toronto-based visual artist and member of Department of Unusual Certainties. His work often draws upon performance, video, drawing, and sculpture to explore cities and their systems.

He has presented work across Canada including as part of Hammering Away, Workers Arts and Heritage Centre (Hamilton), Meet us on the Commons, Art Gallery of Mississauga, 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art (Toronto), the Harbourfront Centre’s Hatch Emerging Performance Series, at Ryerson University’s Modernity Unbound Symposium, and as part of Broken City Labs’ Storefront Residency for Social Innovation(Windsor). In 2011 he recieved support from the Ontario Arts Council through their Emerging Artist Grant .

Cara Spooner has been involved in performance related projects as a dancer, choreographer, designer and curator. She has presented work at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, XPACE Cultural Centre, The Harbourfront Centre’s HATCH Emerging Performance Project, Pleasure Dome, The Mississauga Art Gallery, The Festival of New Dance, Badass Dance Fun and Stromereien 11.

Hi, 5 with Alex Asher Daniel

About the Hi, 5 Interview Series

Hi, 5 (5 Questions) is a web-only interview series which presents five questions to artists, activists, and creative thinkers alike. The project acts as an educational device which allows us to gain insight into the narratives that define successful individuals. We are interested in the motivations behind ambitious ideas and how change has been affected by those with the passion for progress in their practice.

About Alex Asher Daniel

Alex Asher Daniel is an American painter residing in New York City. Alex has a show of portraits coming up in March 2012 at the National Black Theatre in Harlem.

Alex Asher Daniel - London Head Number 11

Alex Asher Daniel

February 1st/2012

If you had to describe your current self to a 16-year-old you, what would you say?

I still feel 16 at times, just with more battle scars. In many ways I am trying to reach back and find where I was as a child. There is a pure love of art and music when you are young, really letting it embrace you, an enchantment. I want the feeling again of loving a band and their music, before you actually met them and it ruined everything.

Could you describe an evolution in your work or way of thinking?

The work can not help but evolve if it is coming from a truthful place, because you yourself are ever changing. Even when I have made a point to work in a uniform series- each time I begin a new painting I feel as though I have never painted before. I have found myself consistently drawn to certain subject matter, but the approach to how I paint it is always changing. In my early work I was inspired by the figure, but I was intrigued by the shape of letters, numbers and blocks of colour. I incorporated that into my work, and it came across very graphic and two-dimensional. Today, I still explore the human body, but I am searching for meaning within the unseen space around my subject- it makes for a much more multidimensional experience.

Are there any people who have been instrumental in the development of your way of thinking and viewing the world?

That’s a big question. Off the top of my head… Of course, a great influence early on were my parents and their sensitivity for the arts and music, and their awareness of the human dynamic. The places I grew up in my youth, and the communities that surrounded me, especially the bay area and it’s social and spiritual consciousness.

The poet, Michael McClure, who was my English teacher in college, encouraged me to continue my studies in mysticism and the esoteric, both of which have been great influences on my work. There was a book I read when I was younger, an analysis of John Coltrane’s music by Bill Cole, which was a great inspiration at the time. My friendship with Caetano Veloso, who has such a beautiful heart, inspired me to have a more delicate approach to being. Around the time I first arrived in New York City, I met the designer Bill Katz. Bill let me use his studio, which is where I did my first series of portraits, so that was an important time for me. He also introduced me to my favorite scotch. There are so many more… but I will spare you.

How do your political beliefs inform or fuel your work as an artist?

I grew up in an environment surrounded by activism, and I feel that when done intelligently, the arts are the most powerful means of expression and education. I, however, am drawn to more ethereal explorations, so at times I was concerned with whether I should speak out more in my work, but then I realized that our works’ existence alone is revolutionary.

What do you feel a city should be or do for its inhabitants?

A city does nothing for its inhabitants but exist as a blank canvas for what you can manifest. Participate.

Rodrigo Martí on field work and alterity

Barricade Sculpture workshop courtesy of

This is part of an ongoing set of one-question emails sent to people we know, or would like to get to know, about things that interest us and inform our collective practice. They’ll be featured on the site weekly, usually on Fridays. These questions are more about unfolding ideas than about the people we’re asking, but we do ask those kinds of questions too.

We’re pleased to continue this project with a question for a dear friend and exceptionally generous artist, Rodrigo Martí.

What service or disservice can artistic practices do to our ideas and understandings of economies, politics, and everyday life?

Google Docs mushroom by RM

freaking out on field work
rumminations of battles won, lost and those yet resolved.

We were still green behind the ears having just begun a demanding graduate program a week prior. Directed by an invited artist and a curator, we were set to start our first group project. The four month endeavor would consider the responsibility of cultural institutions to their surrounding communities.

The steps were simple enough. Step one; mapping out community-based organizations that aligned with our political motivations, we were then to make contact and initiate a working relationship. There lay the snag in our step. A few of us began to squirm in our seats over the rush to start working in the field. It just so happened that the loudest dissenters were those of us (myself included) who had formal arts school backgrounds. We the squirmers, argued for the necessity of proper preparation which for us meant having more time, doing more reading, and engaging in more in-depth debate around the nature of field work before ACTUALLY getting ‘out there’. The response by the teachers was unequivocal: they insisted we cool our nerves and act on our dedication to the goals of our intended partnerships. Our commitment was an indication of our readiness to begin doing the inevitably dirty and unpredictable work in the field, period.

It occurred to me several months later and after the completion of the project that there was a significant pedagogical, even epistemological position being advocated by our teachers’ insistence on getting dirty rather than rooting ourselves in scholastic insight. Obviously – being in a graduate program – reading would definitely happen at some point. What’s clear to me now is that our hesitation marked a pedagogical and cultural bias we had picked up involving the nature and process of research and ‘good’ cultural production. This caused those of us generally more comfortable in the academic setting to fall back on academia as a preparatory safety bubble to postpone the insecurities felt in getting ‘out there’, potentially making things worse, or making fools of ourselves.


An echo resonated in my mind from the first gander at Broke City Lab’s question, I’d heard it before somewhere. Preoccupation with the value of our work as cultural practitioners working in the field has come from cynics arguing against its relevance and ethics, by practitioners recognition of the issue as a hurdle to surpass or an ongoing anxiety; it is most definitely in the rumblings of my own thoughts. While the complexity ingrained in the questions of service or ‘doing good’ offers an enormous area to consider, my focus here is on the initial anxiety and its ensuing self-doubts. There is an inherent self-doubt in the questioning of doing good vs. doing bad. Doubt has proven to be constructive to our modern modes of production and in our resultant identities, and though it is fruitful in many instances, it can be detrimental. This doubt’s genesis lies in existential self-questioning rather than a skeptical look at the structural, disciplinary or historical questions. It is my hope to warn against the creeping in of self-doubt as an excuse to work within one’s comfort zones while meandering some of its causes.

I’m in the midst of reading Grant Kester’s second book, The One and the Many, in which he considers the nature of collaborative art in today’s global contemporary art scene. There are two comments he makes that are particularly relevant and succinct. While framing the pressing ethical implications of artists opening up to alterity, Kester points out that there is “no art practice that avoids all forms of co-option, compromise, or complicity.”(1) While this statement can easily be considered a truism, it is also too easy to project insurmountable expectations and build pristine glass palaces around our intentions, especially when embarking towards new territory in our practices. While this projection can be the ‘spirit’ or ideal of your work, lacking a distinction between the image and the necessarily blemished path it must travel to become realized has easily resulted in frustrated efforts and unnecessary hesitation in my experience. This same disparity can lead to prematurely asking: ’is working in the field really worth it?’ without ever dedicating oneself to completing the necessary work. While I have had the fortune to work with, learn from and aspire to the work of several artists who have realized massive, successful projects extending to years of dedicated ground work, fundraising, stranddling of disciplinary and class lines etc.. It is John Cage’s suggestion to help restart an artist’s blocked practice: start anywhere, that trumps lofty intentions to the daily adherence to get through the daily hurdles and road blocks on the path of completing any effort.

The second Kester reference is framed by a larger cultural observation he makes, noting the growth of collaborative practices in recent years and commenting that these practices consider “extended interaction and shared labor..(as well as) participatory practice itself… as a form of creative praxis”(2). I agree with considering collaboratively working in the field as its own space of creative development, sustenance and learning. It has its own particular forms of engagement, not only in the inevitable clashes of working in alterity or the inevitability of the thumb of random, unforeseen or unavoidable disturbances finding their way into our pretty, schematic images of our work. Collaborative endeavors as a form of venturing and working with radically different elements in our practice are a particular artistic form and medium in and of itself. It is from this understanding that my grad school profs founded their advice to chill out and get out into the freakin’ field.

Stress, anxiety and freaking out are inevitable and helpful reaction that help push us to thoroughly prepare for an uncertain task. In a sense as public practitioners, we’re asking for it.

So, what can artistic practices do to our ideas and understanding? ANYTHING! No matter if its devoted gaze is fixed on politics, economics, everyday life or any other framing of time, system of value or discipline. But when considering what we do, and particularly what is being done today in the incipient institutional framing of public practice, I’d begin by underlying the need for not only an articulation of the nature of the ethical value of our labor, but also for the necessity to maintain a productive mix of morale support and productive critical commentary or (to add an avant-garde-y splash) ‘rigueur’. Before beginning our first year project, artist and theorist Suzanne Lacy unambiguously proclaimed to my cohort that ‘us public practitioners need to do double the work’. More reason for finding and sharing techniques to sustain individual determination and promote the freakiness one gains from the proximity and dirtiness of being ‘out there’.


1 – Kester, H. Grant. The One and The Many: Contemporary Art in a Global Context.(Duke University Press 2011) 2.

2 – Kester, H. Grant. The One and The Many: Contemporary Art in a Global Context.(Duke University Press 2011) 9.

Rodrigo Marti is a Mexican-Canadian artist who’s social and conceptual practice has lead to an increased involvement in sociopolitical concerns. Recent projects have worked with issues of access in public education, student activism and gang intervention with particular interest in public speech, myth and freedom of expression. Rodrigo completed his Master’s of Fine Arts in Public Practice at Otis College of Art and Design in May of 2011. He is based in Toronto, Canada and on

Steve Lambert on Utopia

Steve Lambert "I WILL TALK WITH ANYONE…", courtesy of

This is part of an ongoing set of one-question emails sent to people we know, or would like to get to know, about things that interest us and inform our collective practice. They’ll be featured on the site weekly, usually on Fridays. These questions are more about unfolding ideas than about the people we’re asking, but we do ask those kinds of questions too.

We’re pleased to continue this project with a question for one of our most favourite artists, Steve Lambert.

How might you write an if-then-else statement to describe the notion of utopia in your practice?

IF the world is not what we desire

THEN deal with reality as it has been constructed for us

ELSE make it ourselves

Steve Lambert’s father, a former Franciscan monk, and mother, an ex-Dominican nun, imbued the values of dedication, study, poverty, and service to others – qualities which prepared him for life as an artist.

Lambert made international news after the 2008 US election with The New York Times “Special Edition,” a replica of the “paper of record” announcing the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other good news. He has collaborated with groups from the Yes Men to theGraffiti Research Lab and Greenpeace. He is also the founder of the Center for Artistic Activism, the Anti-Advertising Agency, Add-Art (a Firefox add-on that replaces online advertising with art) and SelfControl (which blocks grownups from distracting websites so they can get work done).

Steve’s projects and art works have won awards from Prix Ars Electronica, Rhizome/The New Museum, the Creative Work Fund, Adbusters Media Foundation, the California Arts Council, and others. His work has been shown at galleries, art spaces, and museums nationally and internationally, appeared in over fourteen books, four documentary films, and in the collections of The Sheldon Museum, the Progressive Insurance Company, and The United States Library of Congress. Lambert has discussed his work live on NPR, the BBC, and CNN, and been reported on internationally in outlets including Associated Press, the New York Times, the Guardian, Harper’s Magazine, The Believer, Good, Dwell, ARTnews, Punk Planet, and Newsweek.

He was a Senior Fellow at New York’s Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology from 2006-2010, developed and leads workshops for Creative Capital Foundation, and is faculty at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Steve is a perpetual autodidact with (if it matters) advanced degrees from an reputable art school and respected state university. He dropped out of high school in 1993.