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.