I’ve already expressed certain grievances with c. 1983 Part 1.
Part 1 felt like it was the fourth show I saw that month with Ian Wallace (in retrospect it was only the third show).
Part 1 read like a caricature of Vancouver’s reputation.
Part 2 starts to complicate things a slight touch.
The canonization of this era has emerged to be the real question underlying curator Helga Pakasaar’s initiative. Placing Ian Wallace across the room from Kati Campbell, Laiwan adjacent to Christos Dikeakos, Vikky Alexander next to Mark Lewis. The exhibition provokes a consideration of who and maybe why some have skyrocketed into international success while others have become an obscured memory.
The panel discussion with Campbell, Don Gill, Cheryl Sourkes, and Cate Rimmer was an oral history project in the making. There are very few official records for when and where such spaces as N(on)commercial thrived, the early days of Artspeak, the web of connections spurting forth from Intermedia, Kaja Silverman’s stint at SFU, the influence of 90s film theory to Vancouver’s critical art discourse, and the general presence of where galleries and like-minded businesses were in relation to each other are all unmapped histories that Vancouver is just now 30 years later starting to chart out.
The timing of this is crucial, as one audience remark (from a gentlemen with a walking cane) said it is quite preposterous none of this has been written down as those who remember will soon be dead. The room was full of “survivors” as it would appear with only a few faces under forty. Pakasaar noted that more exhibitions about this era are needed and that more should be made with focus on different years in this era.
My mind went blank right around then. A sudden sense of exhaustion overwhelmed me for all those artists of my generation and those coming up after us. If current galleries are going to be preoccupied with remembering the past that they never bothered to record, how will the present, forced to thrive underground, be charted and remembered?
Like a vicious cycle, those who founded the bulk of Vancouver’s artist run centres did so because they did not have a space to show. The impression given was collaborative idealism mixed with youthful energy (or stupidity as they now concede). The tireless and passionate wrote project grants and lived off welfare. Rimmer waitressed while she ran Artspeak. Gill drove city buses for half the year so he could spend the other half processing his knowledge of the city. Beer sales and parties paid the rent.
This all sounds too familiar as the same thing lives on — only, this middle category of the established artist run centre has emerged since then to both distract and dilute. Sourkes said it best when she plainly stated the obvious: emerging artists today have no interest in artist run centres. They see them as another establishment, but a lesser one. Artist Run Centres are an impulse of the past.
So, the model has aged into securing space and broadening their international reputation. Everyone wants space. It’s all anyone can talk about. But everyone wants it for cheap and they want to be paid well to run it. The professionalization of artist run culture has taken the forefront of motivations. I am not against anyone making a dollar in what they do, but I do have to question what it is they are actually doing?
A survey of those ARCs founded in the 80s and still going appear to be more interested in securing long term leases than providing platforms to local artists. As a result, there are dozens of tiny pop up spaces running out of studios and apartments, but there is an apathy in these spaces and in the works that are almost unconsciously anti-professional in a jaded ironic sort of way.
My grievance with exhibitions like c.1983 are not against the works, artists, or curators. I quite like the exhibition for its gendered consideration of an era mostly known as a boys’ club. However, I realize after listening to this support group disguised as a panel discussion that my frustration at these exhibitions is the space they take up in the present consciousness. I have watched the most creative and brilliant minds give up because they find it demeaning to have to reiterate the discourse and legacies that came before them. There is honoring the past, and then there’s just a return of the same. And if this oral history lesson has taught me anything, it’s that a bit of youthful stupidity might still be the best way to get things done.