Category Archives: Power Dynamics

Maraa Collective, The Olfactory Chambers of Ward No. 88 (2014)

an agenda

Credit: Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts

Maraa Collective (2008-)

This walk took place in Bangalore, India in October of 2014, and used the format of a tourism walk to critically examine the processing of waste and the caste system. The walking route followed the same route as the street sweepers and waste sorters. In India, the Dalits caste has been traditionally responsible for clearing excrement.

This work may remind some of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ work in which she shook the hand of every sanitation worker in New York City, shining a light on their labor and demonstrating respect for their work.

CreditL

Public Studio, The New Field (2017)

August 1-September 27, 2017: The Walk

In the New Field, Public Studio walked the entirety of the 900km Bruce Trail while actively exploring the question: What does decolonization look like?

Along the trail, Public Studio invited by artists, activists, scientists, writers, curators, philosophers, and youth groups to join them and activate the footpath as a way of sharing knowledge across a diverse public. Indigenous writer and “geomythologist” Lenore Keeshig lead Public Studio across the unceded territory of the Chippewas of the Nawash; artist and theatre director Ange Loft lead a tour that included theatre warm-up exercises and a discussion of land acknowledgments; Geologist and director of the Bruce Trail Conservancy Beth Gilhespy chronicled land formations, activist and artist Syrus Marcus Ware led thirty five kids on a botanical drawing walk; multidisciplinary artist Diane Borsato brought art students, a western botanist and a traditional Indigenous medicine woman into dialogue; and writer and critic Amish Morell’s graduate students walked, read poetry and reimagined the land at a reconstructed Iroquoian village archaeological site.

September 28 -30, 2017
The Creative Time Summit: Of Homelands and Revolutions
Stage Design & Closing Ceremony

On September 30, 2017 a public choir demanded the end to extraction and colonial destruction, to war and displacement driven by economic greed. On this day we demanded the earth be re-centered together with people and that the Canadian government include the Rights of Nature into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Public Studio together with Hiba Abdallah created the set for Creative Time Summit and with collaborators Ange Loft and Terri-Lynne Williams-Davidson staged the performance of the Rights of Nature, a document based on Haida ideology demanding that nature be inscribed in Canada’s constitution.

Check out the Rights of Nature publication here.” (credit)

“Public Studio is the collective art practice of filmmaker Elle Flanders and architect Tamira Sawatzky. Public Studio creates large-scale public art works, lens-based works, films, and immersive installations. Grounded in the personal, social, and political implications of landscape, Public Studio’s multidisciplinary practice engages themes of political dissent, war and militarization, and ecology and urbanization, through the activation of site. Public Studio often works in collaboration with other artists.” (credit)

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Most Serene Republics (2007)

Hock E Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds, (Cheyenne/Arapaho, 1954-)

This work was a temporary memorial for Native Americans who died in Italy as part of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show in the late nineteenth century, and was installed at the Venice Biennale in 2007. It consisted of a series of 16 outdoor signs to remember and honor their loss, 8 outdoor signs that serve as commentary, several signs in the water-taxis encouraging repatriation of the Native people’s bodies from Europe to the U.S., as well as a large billboard at the Venice airport that stated ‘welcome to the spectacle, welcome to the show’ as a faux welcoming sign, which was visible as people walked through the airport check point. These Lakota warriors were formerly imprisoned in the U.S. and were given the choice to remain in prison, or go perform in Europe, which was not much of a choice.

Jeremy Deller, Battle of Orgreave (2001)

“In 1998 I saw an advert for an open commission for Artangel. For years I had had this idea to re-enact this confrontation that I had witnessed as a young person on TV, of striking miners being chased up a hill and pursued through a village. It has since become an iconic image of the 1984 strike – having the quality of a war scene rather than a labour dispute. I received the commission, which I couldn’t believe, because I actually didn’t think it was possible to do this. After two years’ research, the re-enactment finally happened, with about eight-hundred historical re-enactors and two-hundred former miners who had been part of the original conflict. Basically, I was asking the re-enactors to participate in the staging of a battle that occurred within living memory, alongside veterans of the campaign. I’ve always described it as digging up a corpse and giving it a proper post-mortem, or as a thousand-person crime re-enactment.” (credit)

Alex Villar, Temporary Occupations (2001)

man jumping fences and fitting into narrow passages

Alex Villar, Temporary Occupations, 2001, USA, miniDV, colour, silent, 4 min. excerpt of 6 min.

“Drawing from interdisciplinary theoretical sources and employing video-performance, installation and photography, I have developed a practice that concentrates on matters of social space. My interventions are done primarily in public spaces. They consist in positioning the body of the performer in situations where the codes that regulate everyday activity can be made explicit. The body is made to conform to the limitations of claustrophobic spaces, therefore accentuating arbitrary boundaries and possibly subverting them. A sense of absurdity permeates the work, counterpoising irrational behaviour to the instrumental logic of the city’s design.
Theoretical references cover the extensive work done on the problematic of space, especially the works of Foucault and de Certeau, which describe panopticon and heterotopic spaces as well as the potentialities for everyday re-writings of urban space. Aesthetic traditions foregrounding my work go from the sixties and seventies performative-based sculpture and installations by Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark and Cildo Meirelles, to the urban strategies of the Situationists and the anarchitecture of Gordon Matta-Clark. Like the in-between activities it seeks to investigate, my work lives between various fields: part nomadic architecture, part intangible sculpture and part performance without spectacle.

Temporary Occupations from alex villar on Vimeo.

Temporary Occupations depicts a person running on the sidewalk in New York while ignoring the city’s spatial codes and therefore resisting their effects upon the organization of everyday experience. The clips in the video register situations of temporary invasion and occupation of private spaces located in a public setting. The action simply articulates the continuity of these spaces with the remaining areas from which they were extricated, drawing attention to, and possibly subverting, the boundaries that demarcate them.
This piece is part of a long-term investigation and articulation of potential spaces of dissent in the urban landscape, which has often taken the form of an exploration of negative spaces in architecture.” (credit)

ACT UP, Crash the Market (1997)

“Formed in New York City in 1987, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (more commonly known as ACT UP) brought widespread attention to the AIDS epidemic and helped make significant advances in AIDS research.

ACT UP’s first-ever demonstration in 1987 — as well as three others in 1988, 1989, and 1997 — took place on Wall Street, the world’s leading financial center, and targeted pharmaceutical companies that were profiteering from the epidemic.” (credit)

While not all ACT UP actions included walking and marching, their 10th anniversary demonstration did:

newspaper from 1997

Newspaper advertisement for a 10th anniversary march organized by ACT UP. The ad appeared in the Village Voice, March 25, 1997 issue, and features a black and white photograph taken by Robert D. Farber in 1990 called “Fight AIDS.” The photograph features several men holding a banner that says “Fight AIDS!” on the roof of a building.

Tenth Anniversary of the 1987 Demonstration
On March 24, 1997, the ten-year anniversary of ACT UP’s first demonstration, the group returned to Wall Street. The action, called “Crash the Market,” again protested the profiteering of pharmaceutical companies, but also cutbacks in Medicaid funding. ACT UP chapters from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Oberlin, Ohio, brought over 500 activists, who gathered at 7:30 a.m. by the fountain in City Hall Park. They then marched south to Wall Street, chanting “We die — they make money” and “Wall Street trades on people with AIDS!” Demands for Congressional hearings on the price of AIDS drugs were also made. Protesters rushed the doors of the Stock Exchange or sat down in the streets. During the demonstration, 73 people (mostly women) were arrested for acts of civil disobedience.” (credit)

Joseph Beuys, Ausfegen (Sweeping Up) (1972)

two people sweeping street

Joseph Beuys, Ausfegen (Sweeping Up) (1972)

“On May 1, 1972, after the Labor Day demonstrations, artist Joseph Beuys was sweeping up the Karl-Marx-Platz in West Berlin together with two foreign students. This action took place at a time when Beuys had become politicized after the events of 1968 and had first founded the “Deutsche Studentenpartei (German Student Party)” in 1971, then the “Organisation für Direkte Demokratie durch Volksabstimmung (Organization for Direct Democracy Through Plebiscites).” In 1972, he was also expelled from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Since then, Beuys was performing political and ecological actions and interventions, in addition to the more elaborate art performances.

The cleaning squad from May 1, 1972 only requires a small gesture to make plain what Beuys meant by his extended concept of art. He refers to social differences and to a problem of leftist politics: Those who had to clean up after the Labour Day celebrations and demonstrations were the “guest workers.” Yet, the unions had never done much  for the foreign workers who were paid low wages. On the other hand, throughout the 1970s the political Left kept mentioning international solidarity between the lower classes. In this respect, the group of three also achieved some considerable social clearing work. It is no coincidence that the two students and Beuys swept up not only on May 1, but also at Karl-Marx-Platz. While Beuys subscribed to Marx’s analysis of the economic relations, he had a different conception of alienation. Beuys shared the view that every form of capital is a form of slavery, but he saw actions as a way out. Moreover, to him every person was a subject and not an object of history. Hence, picking up the broom is a step towards Beuys’s ideal of self determination. via” (credit)

Han Bing, Walking the Cabbage (2000-09)

“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.

cabbage on wheels

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]

Ana Mendieta, Silueta Series (1973-78)

“The “Siluetas” comprise more than 200 earth-body works that saw the artist burn, carve, and mold her silhouette into the landscapes of Iowa and Mexico. The sculptures made tangible Mendieta’s belief of the earth as goddess, rooted in Afro-Cuban Santería and the indigenous Taíno practices of her homeland. Exiled from Cuba at a young age, Mendieta said that she was “overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature).” Seeking a way to, in her words, “return to the maternal source,” she used her body to commune with sand, ice, and mud, among other natural media, as a way to “become one with the earth.”

Yet these works resist easy categorization in form or theme. The “Siluetas” are not self-portraits or performance pieces, except perhaps to the few who witnessed them. Each piece was subsumed by the earth, meaning photographs are the only remaining traces. Similarly, the thematic complexity of Mendieta’s life and these sculptures resist collapsing into neat categories of nation, diaspora, race, or gender. By using the body as both an image and medium, these aspects of identity are complicated. Mendieta’s earthworks occupy a liminal space between presence and absence, balancing the inevitable politicization of the self while searching for meaning in older, sacred traditions. …

The “Siluetas” were an ongoing, ritualistic relationship between Mendieta and the land. I read each work as a spell, a fragment of an ongoing incantation that was not “the final stage of a ritual but a way and a means of asserting my emotional ties with nature,” as Mendieta once said. She wanted to send “an image made out of smoke into the atmosphere,” so that each work was designed to disappear, to be reclaimed by the force she revered in an effort to come closer to it.” [credit]

“Spanning performance, sculpture, film, and drawing, Ana Mendieta‘s work revolves around the body, nature, and the spiritual connections between them. A Cuban exile, Mendieta came to the United States in 1961, leaving much of her family behind—a traumatic cultural separation that had a huge impact on her art. Her earliest performances, made while studying at the University of Iowa, involved manipulations to her body, often in violent contexts, such as restaged rape or murder scenes. In 1973 she began to visit pre-Columbian sites in Mexico to learn more about native Central American and Caribbean religions. During this time the natural landscape took on increasing importance in her work, invoking a spirit of renewal inspired by nature and the archetype of the feminine.

By fusing her interests in Afro-Cuban ritual and the pantheistic Santeria religion with contemporary practices such as earthworks, body art, and performance art, she maintained ties with her Cuban heritage. Her Silueta (Silhouette) series (begun in 1973) used a typology of abstracted feminine forms, through which she hoped to access an “omnipresent female force.”¹ Working in Iowa and Mexico, she carved and shaped her figure into the earth, with arms overhead to represent the merger of earth and sky; floating in water to symbolize the minimal space between land and sea; or with arms raised and legs together to signify a wandering soul. These bodily traces were fashioned from a variety of materials, including flowers, tree branches, moss, gunpowder, and fire, occasionally combined with animals’ hearts or handprints that she branded directly into the ground.By 1978 the Siluetas gave way to ancient goddess forms carved into rock, shaped from sand, or incised in clay beds. Mendieta created one group of these works, the Esculturas Rupestres or Rupestrian Sculptures, when she returned to Cuba in 1981. Working in naturally formed limestone grottos in a national park outside Havana where indigenous peoples once lived, she carved and painted abstract figures she named after goddesses from the Taíno and Ciboney cultures. Mendieta meant for these sculptures to be discovered by future visitors to the park, but with erosion and the area’s changing uses, many were ultimately destroyed. While several of these works have been rediscovered, for most viewers the Rupestrian Sculptures, like the Siluetas before them, live on through Mendieta’s films and photographs, haunting documents of the artist’s attempts to seek out, in her words, that “one universal energy which runs through everything: from insect to man, from man to spectre, from spectre to plant, from plant to galaxy.”²

Nat Trotman

1. Ana Mendieta, quoted in Petra Barreras del Rio and John Perrault, Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective, exh. cat. (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988), p. 10.

2. Ana Mendieta, “A Selection of Statements and Notes,” Sulfur (Ypsilanti, Mich.) no. 22 (1988), p. 70.” [credit]

N.E. Thing Co., Circular Walk inside Arctic Circle, Around Inuvik, N.W.T. (1969)

grid of photos of a walk

Circular Walk inside Arctic Circle, Around Inuvik, N.W.T., 1969 silver prints, ink, paper, foil seal, offset lithograph on paper; 44 x 44 cm Collection of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia. Gift of Iain Baxter & and Ingrid Baxter, 1995 [credit]

“The concept of everydayness does not therefore designate a system, but rather a denominator common to existing systems including judicial, contractual, pedagogical, fiscal, and police systems. Banality? Why should the study of the banal itself be banal? Are not the surreal, the extraordinary, the surprising, even the magical, also part of the real? Why wouldn’t the concept of everydayness reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary?
—Henri Lefebvre

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.
—Henri Lefebvre

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.[1] 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.

[credit]