Artists in Public Speaker Series: Contemporary Art Gallery of Vancouver Field House Studio

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You might already know that Danielle and I have moved to Vancouver. I’m taking up a position at Emily Carr University of Art and Design and Danielle embarks on her career as a lawyer as she starts her articles. We just got here, so I’m really excited to be able to start a conversation like this so quickly.

This conversation is part of a speaker series hosted by the Contemporary Art Gallery  at The Field House Studio. I hope that if you’re in town, you’ll join me for an open discussion on the limits and possibilities of locality, participation, and public engagement. I’ll offer some starting points on the ideas, people, and experiences that have shaped my way of framing those themes and then open it up to discussing where these issues might bring us next in education, art, and public life.

The Field House Studio is an off-site artist residency space and community hub organized by the Contemporary Art Gallery and supported by the Vancouver Park Board and the City of Vancouver. Running parallel to the residency program is an ongoing series of public events for all ages.This summer the CAG launches a new talks program inviting creative and cultural producers to share their theories, thoughts, and experiences of developing projects in the public realm.

Artists in Public Speaker Series:

Justin A. Langlois
Saturday, August 17, 4pm
Field House Studio at Burrard Marina

Langlois will discuss his work as co-founder and research director of Broken City Lab, an artist-led interdisciplinary creative research collective and non-profit organization working to explore locality, infrastructures and creative practice leading towards civic change. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Culture + Community at Emily Carr University of Art & Design.


Address: Field House Studio at Burrard Marina, 1655 Whyte Avenue, Vancouver

Flint Public Art Project – Call for Proposals

Silos and Grass

Flint Public Art Project – Flint, Michigan

Call for Proposals for Temporary Installations at Spring Grove Silos – Deadline: Wednesday, June 26th

Our friends over at Flint Public Art Project, an initiative which helps to organize engaging public events, workshops and temporary installations in the city of Flint, Michigan, are preparing to fund new site-based installations at the end of this summer. Flint Public Art Project aims to inspire Flint residents to reimagine their city, reclaim vacant and under-utilized areas, and use innovative methods to help influence Flint’s long-term city planning. It’s a very cool project and all the better that they’re continuing to open up opportunities to participate and collaborate. Here’s the latest:

Flint Public Art Project is currently seeking proposals for temporary installations incorporating two, 65-feet-tall concrete silos at Spring Grove, a restored wetlands and open space near downtown Flint. Two artists will receive up to $3,500 each for their projects, which will be installed August 1 and September 5. These installations will be part of Spring Grove Nights, a new summer program featuring music, dance, and theater performances as well the silo projects. These events will help residents and visitors re-imagine the site, establishing a public space unlike any other in the city and informing a long-range community plan to re-use the silos.
Submit a proposal by Wednesday, June 26. More information can be found here.

Signal To Noise (think old school rotary text board randomly looking for dictionary words)

I saw this in the Globe and Mail this morning and thought it was worth reposting here given how deep we’re into thinking about text in public spaces at the moment … seems like it would be a really fun installation to see in person! The project is called S/N (Signal to Noise) and can be found in Terminal 1 at Pearson Airport in Toronto. It’s part of this year’s Luminato Festival, one of the preeminent arts festivals in North America, having commissioned over 50 new works of art, and featured 6,500 artists from 35+ countries. Luminato launched in 2007 with a work by one of our favourites, Rafael Lozano Hemmer‘s Pulse Front: Relational Architecture 12.

As for S/N, here’s the project description…

The transformation of random letters into legible words is at the technocentric heart of S/N (Signal To Noise), created by the Belgian artists LAb[au]. The installation is constructed from an assortment of discarded technology and salvaged split-flaps, components from the information displays that predated LED monitors in public spaces like airports and train stations.

Arranged in a circular grid, the flaps randomly rotate until the system identifies a word. The flow of words creates an auto-poetic sequence, inviting viewers to interpret its meaning.

LAb[au] explores the theme of space and time constructs relative to information processes. Its three members – Manuel Abendroth, Jérôme Decock and Els Vermang – specialize in system art and are mainly active within the interactive, reactive and generative realm.

Tom Sachs: Space Program Mars

This one goes to out Rosina and Sara … a look at an incredible zine for an incredibly fun project sponsored by Creative Time, SPACE PROGRAM: MARS. Think DIY aesthetics, playful criticality, and really engaging performative works.

From the project description:

Artist Tom Sachs takes his SPACE PROGRAM to the next level with a four week mission to Mars that recasts the 55,000 square foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall as an immersive space odyssey with an installation of dynamic and meticulously crafted sculptures. Using his signature bricolage technique and simple materials that comprise the daily surrounds of his New York studio, Sachs engineers the component parts of the mission—exploratory vehicles, mission control, launch platforms, suiting stations, special effects, recreational amenities, and Mars landscape—exposing as much the process of their making as the complexities of the culture they reference.SPACE PROGRAM: MARS is a demonstration of all that is necessary for survival, scientific exploration, and colonization in extraterrestrial environs: from food delivery systems and entertainment to agriculture and human waste disposal. Sachs and his studio team of thirteen will man the installation, regularly demonstrating the myriad procedures, rituals, and tasks of their mission.

With the recent shuttering of NASA’s shuttle program and the shifting focus towards privatized space travel, SPACE PROGRAM: MARS takes on timely significance within Sachs’s work, which provokes reflection on the haves and have-nots, utopian follies and dystopian realities, while asking barbed questions of modern creativity that relate to conception, production, consumption, and circulation. SPACE PROGRAM: MARS is organized by Park Avenue Armory and Creative Time and is curated by Creative Time President and Artistic Director Anne Pasternak and Park Avenue Armory Consulting Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds.

REPOhistory: Lower Manhattan Sign Project

Stock Market Crashes by Jim Costanzo as part of REPOhistory’s Lower Manhattan Sign Project

I’m making my way through Gregory Sholette‘s epic Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture. Writing as a participating artist and now dark matter art archivist / dare I say historian of sorts, Sholette writes on an incredible number of projects that work at the edges of the art institution in every sense.

Many of the projects explicitly connect art + everyday life + politics and Sholette offers a generous overview of the practices that build the foundation of dark matter in the art world that art institutions and art superstars rely on for their continued existence.

One of the (many) projects that caught my eye (and on which I’ll be posting) is REPOhistory’s Lower Manhattan Sign Project, which curated these alternative history/information signs into a number of public spaces across New York City.

From the project description: “Placed in front of the New York Stock Exchange, this sign challenges the myths of the free market economy and that stockbrokers jumped out of windows along Wall Street after the 1929 stock market crash. The sign documents that government deregulation and fraud led to market crashes and depressions at the turn of the 20th century, the 1920 and the 1980s.”

In thinking about the projects we’ve done and have considered before, these alternative public demarcation projects continue to feel not only relevant, but necessary. REPOhistory’s project was installed in the early 90s — it’s strange that that is now a long time ago and that urgency seems like a form of nostalgia.

Lessons on Microfunding and Community Development from Robocop

The pitch was great, obviously; the rapped overview of the entire movie, an actual response from the mayor noting the city had no plans to create a Robocop statue, and eventually, an endorsement from the folks behind the Robocop movie.

They reached their $50,000 goal, so the statue is being built. And that’s incredible.

But, in all of this online commotion, which Loveland and Imagination Station are great at pulling together, there’s a lesson in how to approach big ideas. From the Kickstarter page for the Robocop Statue project:

When something like a RoboCop statue comes along and gets people psyched about collectively crowd funding something in Detroit, that energy needs to be encouraged, and ultimately it can be channeled into other efforts and a general awareness that things like this are possible (and in fact happen) here.

And, this, arguably, is going to be the foundation for something much larger. If someone had suggested five or six years ago that Detroit was going to become a haven for artists buying up property and thinking about things like community building, it might have sounded kind of absurd. This is, of course, not to suggest that Detroit wasn’t home to an incredible number of artists at that time, but rather, that it may not have made sense to draw all the dots between those projects and the things actually happening on the ground now.

There’s something about the small, the incremental, the gradual that really seems to be an appropriate response to the situations we face in our communities. There are no overnight solutions, and even if the Robocop statue was arguable an overnight success, I’m inclined to agree with the folks behind the project when they suggest that this statue can actually be the start of some much larger money and ideas being put into Detroit. If a city get puts on a national or even international map because of a strange, small initiative, one certainly has to pause about all the money dumped into larger and seemingly less effective multi-million dollar marketing regional campaigns, etc.

The lesson for anyone in a position of authority out there: just listen and allow creative people with great ideas do great things.

(originally via @phogtom & @djkero)

Power House Detroit: Artists as Community Leaders

I’ve written about Power House over in Detroit before. Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert of Design99 started this Hamtramck-based neighbourhood project a couple of years ago now. Able to take advantage of the radically declining real estate market, they bought up a house for $100 and have since been working in the neighbourhood on small and large scale projects that tackle the potential of art affecting change.

They’ve since been featured in exhibitions at the DIA‘s project space and at MOCAD, but the really interesting stuff is, of course, happening on the ground. Juxtapoz assisted Cope and Reichert in buying more foreclosed homes to be used as project spaces, Power House is now Power House Productions and a formal 501(c)(3) Non-Profit, and they’re thinking about doing things like creating a Neighborhood Bike Shop and Skate Parks and Bike Courses.

Model D‘s latest article on Power House Productions frames the work well:

They’ve been organizing block clubs with their neighbors where they’re tackling everyday concerns like garbage pickup and snow removal — not ruminating on notions of gentrification and art theory. They are knee deep in the notion and practice that art can fuel community development — and not necessarily just the community that typically “consumes” art.

So, art as social practice? Certainly, yes. This work will undoubtedly become a touchstone for writing around social practice, publicly-engaged practices, and contemporary art at the end of first decade of the 2000s. However, even framing the discussion around art is perhaps doing the project (and neighbourhood) an injustice. These artists are taking on the role (or is it responsibility) of being community leaders in the neighbourhood — artists as community leaders. Not artists performing the role of a community leader, not artists creating an exhibition on community leaders, not merely facilitating workshops on what it means to be a community leader, but really stepping into a role that raises a lot of questions and maybe, just maybe, does some real good.

And there are questions, of course. One has to wonder about what’s at stake when a real neighbourhood becomes an art project (and we have to look no further than the Heidelberg Project to see some of these implications), and one also has to keep a suspicious eye open around issues of gentrification, or the parachute effect of public art practices,  or even just the moral and ethical dilemma of spurring a kind of development in a place that didn’t necessarily ask for it.

For the moment though, I think we need to step outside of those issues and look at the project with some fresh curiosity. Perhaps aside from the 17-year-long Project Row Houses, there isn’t a readily available model to understand this kind of art practice, and I’m ready to start wondering about what a model of artists as community leaders/activators/instigators with a long-term investment can do to change a place. And of course I’m curious — that’s pretty much what I hope we’re doing here.

via Model D Media

The Lot in Detroit: A Traveling Public Art Exhibition & Model for Temporary Use Spaces

Back in 2009, Kathy Leisen, an artist living in Corktown, Detroit, started using a vacant lot next to her house as a public art venue. She called it The Lot. And there are big letters to demarcate the space. The Lot is now less a particular vacant lot than an idea for using many vacant lots. From The Lot‘s website:

The Lot is an open space. A venue for art, creative thinking and performance, the lot is a curatorial project […] the lot is a transient artspace partnering with friends, strangers, and organizations.

The lot uses empty city lots. Typically, this means hard clay earth, crab grass and other weeds, and unexpected debris. Manipulating the land is ok. Landscaping is ok. Bringing in outside materials is ok. For example, proposals so far have included: creating a cemetery, hut sounds (sounds emitted from a hut), arranging an archeological dig (ancient cheetos wrappers), making a gallery of inflatables, and holding african dance classes.

There’s a range of projects detailed on The Lot‘s website, but maybe the best part of it is just the idea of coming together in a new place and doing something. Local artists are paired with out of town artists for each exhibition. Leisen prepared the original lot by picking up chunks of concrete in her downtime. She got to know her neighbours, brings together friends and strangers, and she frames this activity around the following idea: “We live here for a reason.”

As of late, The Lot has become a traveling public art exhibition, a pop-up exhibition of sorts, taking on an increasingly helpful and critical approach to using space temporarily. Often this temporary use by artists allows for the venue to be left in better condition than when it was found. We know — after SRSI, those storefronts were in a lot better shape than when we first moved in.

And that seems like a pretty fair trade-off. Temporary use of space for free, as long as we somehow improve the space before we leave.

Maybe we should draft some sort of agreement to arm folks in this city with something formal looking so they can start approaching landlords. Free space for a limited time, we’ll repaint, clean, landscape, etc. And, I’ve suggested it before, but the lot next to the AGW would be an amazing community space, why don’t we activate it?

Let’s Colour Project


It’s called the Let’s Colour Project.

Ok, it’s an advertisement for a paint company, and  it strikes me as being a pretty bad idea (in a long-term perspective, I kind of cringe when I see brick buildings painted here in Windsor). Inevitably, a bit history is being completely lost by painting over these walls.

However, the video is stunning and if for a moment we can forget the parts of it that make this a possibly poor long-term choice,  it does get my imagination going thinking about how we could repaint blocks of concrete in this city.

Danielle pointed this out to me.

Reverse Graffiti in South Africa

We’ve tossed around the idea of engaging in some form of reverse graffiti in Windsor for quite a while now. I assume there must be a few Windsor buildings dirty enough for a nice contrast-heavy design. Any suggestions? I think the Hiram Walker storage facilities near Russel Woods are covered with a black residue, but the premises are private and probably inaccessible. Apparently there are no laws prohibiting reverse graffiti in this part of South Africa. I wonder if we have any? I’d like to find out!

Via: The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts