“The China Town Foray, Intervention and photographs, 2008 – 2010
I invited the Mycological Association of Toronto (an amateur mushroom hunting club) to go on a mycological foray in “Chinatown” or, the Chinese supermarkets and medicinal shops in Markham, Toronto. With field guides and magnifying glasses, we debated Latin species names and toured the suburban marketplace in the same manner that we would research and identify Ontario fungi in the forest or field.
Special thanks for the work and expertise of Alan Gan, and the participating members of the Mycological Society of Toronto.
The event took place in various locations in Markham, Toronto, in the summer of 2008. In 2010, the urban forage was repeated in New York City, with the collaboration of the New York Mycological Society. Special thanks to guest mycologists Paul Sadowski and Gary Lincoff.
AGYU, Terrestrial / Celestial and Walking Studio, curated by Emelie Chhangur , Spring 2012, Toronto
Articule Gallery, Terrestrial/Celestial, Presented as part of Mois de la Photo, curated by Anne-Marie Ninacs, Fall 2011, Montreal, Canada
Umami Festival Performance, The New York Foray, Urban foraging events with the New York Mycological Society. Curated by Yael Raviv, Spring 2010, New York City
Mercer Union, The Chinatown Foray, Solo exhibition, main space, Fall 2009, Toronto” (credit)
“Deep beneath the surface of the city, a tangled ribbon of corridors runs throughout 40 blocks of downtown Chicago. This meandering passage appears to have grown up organically as if it were an animal’s burrow or a donkey’s path. Its route is illogical: the corridors exist outside of known space, and its hidden entrances lead to mysterious destinations. What is this place? It is the Chicago Pedway, an intricate non-system of pedestrian tunnels built to separate the citizens of the city from the dangers and foul weather encountered on the street.
On the Trail of a Disorderly Future was an interdisciplinary project consisting of a walking tour of Chicago’s Pedway, ephemera given and sold to tour participants as souvenirs, and a book for a “self-guided” tour of the Chicago Pedway. The project told a story across 36 points-of-interest, weaving together mythic and historical tales to tell the story of urban development, utopian impulses, and fears of the city from the Renaissance until now.
Details: Active from 2009-2013 | performance (90-minute walking tour), ephemera (postcards, map, website), book” (credit)
“Catherine D’Ignazio ran the entire evacuation route system in Boston and attempted to measure the distance in human breath. The project also involves a podcast and a sculptural installation of the archive of tens of thousands of breaths .
The project is an attempt to measure our post-9/11 collective fear in the individual breaths that it takes to traverse these new geographies of insecurity.
The $827,500 Boston emergency evacuation system was installed in 2006 to demonstrate the city’s preparedness for evacuating people in snowstorms, hurricanes, infrastructure failures, fires and/or terrorist attacks.
It takes 154,000 breaths to evacuate Boston consists of:
Medium: custom-made table, 26 jars, 26 speaker components, wire, 13 CD players
I created a sculptural & audio archive of the collection of breaths. There are 26 jars on a custom-made table which correspond to the 26 runs it took to cover the evacuation routes. Each jar size corresponds to the number of breaths from that run. The speaker inside the jar plays the breaths collected from that run. (Better documentation coming soon)
This piece is on view in Experimental Geography, a traveling show curated by Nato Thompson and produced by ICI.
“Social intervention performance” is how Chinese artist Han Bing (b. in 1974 in Jiangsu, lives in Beijing) describes his Walking the Cabbage series, which he discusses with the New York Times linked video. [credit]
“From Ginza to Times Square, from Tiananmen to the Champs-Elysées, Han Bing and his cabbage have traveled the world. Through his photographic series, Han Bing asks viewers to stop and consider: What do we hurtle towards? And at what cost?
Walking the Cabbage in Tiananmen (2000) features an androgynous figure walking a cabbage in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Nothing unusual about that, his easy pose and arm akimbo seems to suggest. The artist behind the work – and in front of the camera – is Chinese artist Han Bing. Han specializes in photography and site-specific performance art in which some of his performances span nearly a decade and cross continental divisions. Walking the Cabbage in Tiananmen is part of one such series of performative photographs. Han produced the Walking the Cabbage series over a period of eight years, from 2000 to 2008.
Walking the Cabbage in Tiananmen is one of the earliest photographs from the series; the journey continues with Han Bing walking the cabbage in the Houhai district of Beijing, Han Bing walking the cabbage in a subway carriage of Beijing (2004), Han Bing cradling his cabbage in Jiangsu Province (2005), Han Bing walking the cabbage in Miami Beach, USA and Chinatown (2007). Han Bing walks and walks, posing with his cabbage as if oblivious to the gawking crowds and ever-present camera.
According to the artist, his intention in making art is for “people to see how much of our daily lives are routines that we’ve blindly absorbed.” And in this work, Han does just that through his subtle manipulation of hackneyed imagery which raises important questions about contemporary Chinese social norms.
Walking the Cabbage in Tiananmen is a particularly ambitious undertaking. In it, Han takes on one of the most iconic of symbols of China – the Forbidden City. To the everyday Chinese, the Forbidden City is a symbol of imperial power; this frontal view from Tiananmen Square is also a place of great historical significance in modern China. Here on the first of October 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China, reportedly declaring that “The Chinese People have Stood Up.”
Today, the site’s political and historical significance is overshadowed by its new identity as the necessary photo-op for seemingly every tourist who passes through Beijing. In this sense, Han Bing’s photo is so obvious as to be banal.
But all is not as it seems, for the composition demands viewers to ask questions. What is the artist doing with a cabbage in the midst of Tiananmen Square? And here lies the creative brilliance of the composition. Han ignores a half-century of art history discourse as he seemingly fails to realize that his is an age where iconography has become decidedly passé; this series of works employ ordinary symbols to create meaning.
The Cabbage is a particular favorite in Han’s oeuvre. According to Han’s website, the Chinese Cabbage is “…a quintessentially Chinese symbol of sustenance and comfort for poor Chinese turned upside down. If a full stock of cabbage for the winter was once a symbol of material well-being in China, nowadays the nouveau riche have cast aside modest (monotonous) cabbage in favor of ostentatious gluttony in fancy restaurants where waste signifies status…Yet, for the poor and struggling, the realities of cabbage as a subsistence bottom line have not changed—what’s changed is the value structure that dictates what—and who—is valuable or worthless in Chinese society.”
Omit the cabbage and the picture becomes almost ordinary as the requisite tourist picture in front of Tiananmen.
Knowing the iconographic significance of this site, Han Bing plays with the imagery through his composition. From the low-angle view of the camera, Han Bing dominates the composition; he literally stands head and shoulder above Tiananmen’s great wall.
This striking view point lends a monumentality to Han and his cabbage that the camera emphasizes by focusing on the foreground and blurring the background. This viewpoint brings to mind the imagery of old Communist posters depicting the exuberant triumph of the proletariat. And if one so chooses, one could read into the picture a political statement.
With his casual stance, Han lulls the viewer into forgetting the meticulous framing of the image; he sneakily causes us to forget what is missing from this iconic view — the framed portrait of Chairman Mao. But the image could just be another tourist photo, where the tourist in his eagerness to show friends that he’s made it to Tiananmen, inadvertently blocks out the nation’s most famous face. Make of that what you will, the image suggests.
Perhaps politics is indeed a distraction. Although Chinese art in the West is often viewed politically, with Ai Weiwei being the poster child of political criticism, Han’s works seek instead to confront the problems faced by ordinary Chinese people in the march towards modernization and urbanization. In this image, Tiananmen Square becomes a mere backdrop for Han and his cabbage, a suitable starting point for his photographic series and his critique of contemporary Chinese values.
Placing the focal point on Han and his cabbage on a leash, Han seeks to address ‘the way our everyday practices serve to constitute ‘normalcy’ and our identities are often constituted by the act of claiming objects as our possessions’. The modest cabbage on a leash “offers a visual interrogation of contemporary social values.” Once a symbol of well-being and a full stomach, it has now been discarded for bigger, better, more expensive, more impressive and more frivolous thrills. And those will, in turn, be cast off for something better.” [credit]
“Walking the Dog is a large series of black and white photographs of individuals standing outside with their dogs. While the locations depicted in the photographs vary from street pavements and country lanes to parks and gardens, all the images in this series share consistent formal characteristics: in each case the single owner stands full-length in the centre of the image facing the camera with the dog at their feet, and no other human or animal can be seen within the tightly framed square shot.
The photographs were taken by the British conceptual artist Keith Arnatt (1930-2008) around his home in Tintern, Monmouthshire, between 1976 and 1979. During this three-year period Arnatt took over two hundred such pictures while walking in the area. Getting an individual to pose with their pet and to look directly at the camera proved to be a challenge, and so the artist devised a plan that involved calling out the name of the dog just as he was about to hit the release button. However, Arnatt recalled in 1993 that when he called out the name of the pet the owner would often turn away from the camera and check to see if their dog was behaving ‘correctly’. In many instances the owner would laugh, or the dog would look at the owner and become disinterested.
While the photographs on their own might not be so revealing, the consistency and repetition across the series – of poses, expressions and behavioural traits – testifies to the self-conscious ways in which different people choose to represent themselves in front of a camera. As Arnatt explained in a discussion of this body of work: ‘what interested me about photographs was the oddity of photographs that caught expression – things that people were doing while they were being photographed.’ (‘Oral History of British Photography: Arnatt, Keith (3 of 5)’, accessed 14 March 2014). By producing an artwork that mimicked in its scale and apparent neutrality the appearance of a sociological study, the ‘oddity’ of the photographs – exaggerated by the similar ways in which they are cropped and by the criteria by which they were selected – could be revealed, and thus serve to undermine the notion that photographs are objective documents of reality.
Seriality and repetition are key characteristics of minimal and conceptual art of the early 1970s and Walking the Dog can be seen as an example of a conceptual artwork that takes as its subject a social landscape particular to Britain. The sociological and national aspects of the series bear comparison to the early twentieth-century German photographer August Sander’s compendium of portraits of people from all walks of German life (see, for example, The Notary 1924, Tate AL00147), while the way in which Arnatt’s work registers a skepticism towards traditional forms of documentary and photojournalist practice aligns it with the work of Diane Arbus (1923–1971) and Martin Parr (born 1952), whose artistic projects critically address the framing of subjectivity by the medium of photography. Arnatt’s work often contains elements of subtle humour (see, for example, Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self 1969–72, Tate T07647) and with this in mind Walking the Dog may be seen to invite reflection on the familiar but farcical theory that dog owners resemble their pets.
The group of Walking the Dog works in the Tate collection (Tate T13047–T13086) were selected by the artist to be exhibited as a part of his solo exhibition at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London in 1979. Earlier, a smaller group of twenty-eight prints from the series was exhibited at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 1977. A larger selection of fifty images from the series was published in book form in 1979 with an introductory text by the jazz singer and writer George Melly (1926–2007).
George Melly, Walking the Dog, photographs by Keith Arnatt, London 1979.
Keith Arnatt, Rubbish and Recollections, exhibition catalogue, Photographers’ Gallery, London 1989, pp.4–5.
‘Oral History of British Photography: Arnatt, Keith (3 of 5)’, 14 April 1993, audio recording, http://sounds.bl.uk/Arts-literature-and-performance/Art-photography-and-architecture/021M-C0459X0036XX-0300V0, accessed 14 March 2014.
— Sylvie Simonds, March 2014. Revised by Andrew Wilson, February and July 2019″ [credit]
“A series of found object assemblages, each comprising objects collected during a single walk departing from and returning to home. Exhibited in Written In Time curated by Catherine Benz at Delmar Gallery, Ashfield, January-February 2016.” [credit]
“On walking: in mid-2014, I adopted a dog and I started walking. We would walk for at least an hour a day, and she was quick to sniff out scraps of food: half-eaten kebabs, chicken bones, that sort of thing. So, I would scan the ground, trying to spot hazards before she did, and quickly I started to notice other things. Bright coils of wire from electrical repairs; stray nuts and washers; the translucent green of expired whipper snipper cords. Handwritten notes,
packaging moulds and small weights from the rims of car tyres nestled into the crooks of gutters.
Collecting and using found objects was already part of my artistic practice, but the act of walking changed and focused this. A walk came to be told through the haul of items I could hold in my hand or fit in my pockets. Human movement, traced and told through human discards.”
By making life more interesting for others, we may indirectly help to alleviate the human condition. We up your aesthetic quality of life, we up your creativity. We celebrate the ordinary.
—N.E. Thing Company
“To change life-style,” “to change society,” these phrases mean nothing if there is no production of an appropriated space.
Throughout their collaboration (1966–1978), Iain and Ingrid Baxter utilized the N.E. Thing Company—their incorporated business and artistic moniker—as a vehicle through which to investigate artistic, domestic and corporate systems in relation to their everyday life. Like typical West Coast and Canadian artists, the Baxters made landscapes, though theirs were expanded to include the sites of work and leisure, and urban and suburban spaces. They were uninterested in painting pictures of Canadian wilderness as a hostile, unexplored territory full of myth, mystery or awe-striking grandeur—all that is other to the obvious and banal spaces of the everyday. Instead the Company’s landscapes investigated how information technologies, corporate relations and institutions such as the art world and the nuclear family interact to redefine “landscape” as a product of human interest, an element of subjectivity and charted its relationship to forms of identity and national positioning. NETCO’s reversals, reflections, inflatables, mappings, punnings, and measurements, disrupted unidimensional, unidirectional hegemonic annexations of space. The Company actively appropriated and transformed these spaces to allow for creative possibilities and critical potential. At the same time as the Baxters’ landscapes attempt to map out a coherent picture of fragmented realms, in a move that is characteristic of the contradictions explored in their work, these landscapes stake out a social topography in the emerging, geo-politically peripheral city of Vancouver in the late sixties.
Although the Baxters were contemporaries of the Situationists (who were among the first to incorporate Henri Lefebvre’s analysis of everyday life into their practice), it is necessary to distinguish NETCO from its French counterparts. Lefebvre and the Situationists saw everyday life as a site of revolutionary potential to be liberated through aggressive reversals and combative tactics of negation—a space from which to undermine the corporate state through dialectical analysis of and critical intervention in consumer society that revealed the stakes capital has in maintaining a separation between the realms of work and leisure, the political and the everyday. Although the Baxters attempted to integrate the spheres of work and leisure, they aimed to open potential spaces of creativity within existing economic and political constraints by breaking down habitually assumed modes of perception in order to up the quality of life—a life that took account of family, business, and art activities. The Baxters proposed an agency that was expansive, inclusive and celebratory in place of the Situationist’s disruptive and radically motivated interventions. They playfully questioned their roles as entrepreneurs, artists, educators, parents and spouses, collapsing and infecting systemic boundaries in order to reinvestigate the elusive and taken-for-granted. …
As urban and corporate explorers, the Baxters set out on many sightseeing expeditions. In Circular Walk Inside the Arctic Circle Around Inuvik, NWT (1969) the Company presidents wore pedometers to scientifically mark the seven km or 10,314 steps travelled around the circumference of Inuvik. … The Arctic work, as well as other landscape pieces, were accompanied by standard road and geographical maps that the Baxters marked with instructions and drawings. In doing so they transformed official maps from representations of regulated and unidimensional space into dynamic and contingent space. By inflecting mapmaking practice with their actual experience of and activities in Inuvik, the Baxters transformed abstract and instrumentalizing concepts into the realm of the everyday, disrupting the objectivity of the rationalized grid that presupposes a homogeneous subject, and a static space that ignores time and history.” [credit]
“Influenced by business studies and the theories of Marshall McLuhan, N.E. Thing Co. Ltd., and its treatment of art as “Sensitivity Information, ” has left a lasting impression on Conceptualism in Canada and abroad. Founded by Iain and Ingrid Baxter in 1966 and dissolved in 1978, N.E. Thing Co. began in a blur of short-lived corporate monikers. …
… the Baxters first used the alias N.E. Thing Co. in 1967. Following the company’s formal incorporation in 1969, they named themselves co-presidents in 1970. In this way, it was equally through the form of their practice—as co-presidents of a corporate structure—that made NETCO an instructive example in collaborative artmaking. However, as Marie Fleming suggested in her survey of the Baxters’ early work in 1982, it is difficult “to assess clearly the nature and development of the collaboration and to distinguish the individual contributions of Iain and Ingrid Baxter to work produced under the various rubrics. The issue has become sensitive since their separation in 1978.”2
By making use of technologies previously reserved for businesses – such as the telex and telecopier—the Baxters capitalized on their relatively peripheral situation.”
2N.E. Thing Co. (Vancouver: self-published, 1978), not paged.
epoxy paints, wooden box, 8.9×6.2in / 22.7×15.8cm
collected materials from street in Busan, South Korea, which was disappearing due to development
Situationists’ maps combined objective with subjective. This idiosyncratic map is based on the movements of a single individual studying at the school of political science. A triangle emerges — the vertices are the residence, the university and the home of a piano teacher.