editorial

81 - Being Thirty - Printemps / été - 2014
Sylvette Babin
Being Thirty

An anniversary usually affords us a moment to stop and look back at the road travelled since the beginning and to try to envision the road ahead. Such reflection is always undertaken from the position of the present — in light of what makes us who we are right now — but without glossing over past obstacles and challenges. And so, in 2014, how does a contemporary art magazine fit into a society in which arts and culture are rarely on the political agenda? Obviously, there is no answer to this rhetorical question, but if there were one, it would probably be the same as on our twenty-fifth anniversary, in 2009 (“Once a Killjoy, Always a Killjoy,” no. 67, Killjoy), our twentieth anniversary, in 2004 (“Persiste et signe,” no. 51, 20 ans d’engagement), and, probably, every anniversary before that. What is there to say? That despite the state’s historical commitment to funding the arts — which we must acknowledge, in Québec and Canada at least — the financial situation of artists and cultural organizations hasn’t improved much over the years. That despite the amazing abundance of art activities, despite remarkable expansion and apparent robustness, a great number of non-profit organizations in the prime of life, including magazines — and among them esse — are pessimistic about living into their later years. At this juncture, we worry about the future: we wonder if the next generation will have the energy and the financial means to carry the torch; we tell ourselves that artists will get tired of seeing creators’ rights shunted aside, and that soon we will have had enough of always asking for help from people in the same boat as us, and exhausting our human resources, freelancers, authors, and artists.

On our thirtieth anniversary, we must also think about what role we play in the arts and culture landscape, in light of new technologies and communications trends. What reach does a print publication featuring theoretical essays and critical analyses have at a time when digital platforms are taking over and reading habits are changing? Is this an era of information rather than research, an era of promotion rather than reflection? By making a virtue of short texts published quickly, blogs and web forums immerse us in the moment, and this develops behaviours and expectations among readers that are incompatible with print magazines. And at a time when many publishers are assessing the consequences of moving (fully or partially) to a digital platform, Canada Post has saddled them with a draconian increase in mailing costs — a brutal blow to -periodicals publishers. From now on, mailing a magazine in Canada will cost 80 percent of its newsstand price; mailing it abroad will cost more than 300 percent. This has a huge impact on an organization whose mandate is to increase the influence of art by publishing a wide range of authors and content and addressing an international readership (as long as they can read French or English).

Despite everything, this anniversary is also an opportunity to see how far our efforts have brought us. This makes us realize how important and many are those who have joined us in shaping this magazine over the years. When we add it all up — the hundreds of articles published, the thousands of works analyzed — we are proud to have helped bring so many authors and artists into the public eye. And when a reader, student, curator, or collector tells us about discovering new artists in our pages, about learning something new or finding unexpected facets of a work or an artist’s practice, we tell ourselves that it is worth it to persevere, to continue to fight (because sometimes, in fact, we have to battle) to highlight the importance of magazines in the art ecosystem.

Finally, for esse, being thirty means benefiting from a mixture of ardour and wisdom, taking advantage of our long experience to confirm our convictions, and continuing to blend elegance with a touch of irreverence. There’s no doubt that, thanks to the support of people who make our magazine their passion, esse at thirty still has many dreams and intends to find ways to bring them to fruition.

For this anniversary issue, we have departed from our usual thematic section to give carte blanche to a number of authors whose work we particularly appreciate. Our only guideline for them was to look at twenty-first-century works or practices that have particularly caught their eye. Of course, given our limited space, this was not an invitation to rank the best works of the past decade, as this still-young century has already seen a spectacular flourishing of art. But the need to make choices nevertheless led us to consider issues related to access to visibility and fame; hence, this issue starts with an interview with Alain Quemin, whose recent book Les Stars de l’art contemporain. Notoriété et consécration artistiques dans les arts visuels looks at how the ranking lists work.

The challenge presented to the authors was nevertheless a difficult one, in the sense that our invitation implicitly asked them to choose to write about certain artists, thus putting them involuntarily in the traditional position of modernist era art critic. And yet, when we read their essays, it is particularly interesting to observe the extent to which the voices and forms of writing on art today are plural, non-consensual, and — just like the practices that they describe — each relevant in its own way. Thus, you will find a widely diverse portrait of art and art criticism as practised in 2014 — an adventure in images and words, a brief but exciting voyage into the world of a dozen curators — offered in this issue celebrating esse’s thirtieth anniversary.

[Translated from the French by Käthe Roth]

80 - Renovation - Hiver - 2014
Sylvette Babin
Temporary Architectures for Ephemeral Construction Sites

Numerous works and artistic practices are linked with the field of renovation not only through the use of particular materials and tools, but also by having recourse to devices that emphasize site, (re)construction, or the process of project implementation. For this issue, we asked our authors the following questions: Do works that draw on renovation revive the key issues and challenges of the in-situ intervention at specific sites charged with history or a non-artistic vocation? Do they somehow strive to challenge the conception of the artwork as a finished object? Do these practices problematize a relationship with the past, a return to a former state, or the restoration of an initial situation? Or, on the contrary, do they convey the desire to transform and renew? And finally, do artists approach renovation as a means to lay emphasis on recycling and salvaging, or is their focus turned towards the consumption of the new, calling to mind the excesses of overconsumption in the process?

In response to these questions, our 80th issue brings together analyses of works by artists who, by occupying and transforming buildings condemned to demolition, or by elaborating ephemeral structures — functional or not, broach the subjects of social space, gentrification, and urban renewal policies. At the cost of excessive modernization, the last often ignore the contexts and inhabitants affected by their measures. This issue also brings to light interventions motivated by the playful desire to invest existing architectures by reactivating the stakes of in-situ art through hospitable and practicable works in which the public is invited to relax, circulate, or even climb. While some structures created by artists-renovators are based on traditional construction models, others constitute utopian proposals in anarchic forms and are integrated, like appendages, prostheses, or grafts, into existing architectures. In all cases, the introduction of constructions in the public realm, as well as the transformation or diversion of various spaces and buildings by obviously questioning their use value, draws attention to tensions deriving not only from the domains of carpentry, art, and architecture, but also from our social fabric and political concerns. Several pertinent examples serve to illustrate these reflections.

Far from limiting this exploration to installations composed of beams and frames, and thus avoiding the cliché of an issue devoted to “virile” matters,(1) the notion of renovation has also been adopted in works bringing into play materials that are, to say the least, rarely used in this context (ceramics, fabric, paper). In some cases, renovation was more a subject that artists explored through paintings, prints, and photographic works — all of which bear witness to various architectural or urban construction sites — as well as sculptures evoking the tools used in the construction domain. Thus, some of the works analyzed in the essays and presented in the portfolio have in common their temporary and ephemeral status, whereas other permanent works retain traces of the building sites that led to their creation.

[Translated from the French by Louise Ashcroft]

NOTES

(1) In this regard, apart from one or two exceptions, the artworks discussed here were produced by men. The articles, on the other hand, except for one, were written by women.

79 - Re-enactment - Automne - 2013
Sylvette Babin
Re pour « réplique »

This issue on the theme of re-enactment arose from the desire to cast a critical eye on the not-so-new but very current trends of restaging cult exhibitions or re-enacting historical events, on the one hand, and “reproducing” performances that have marked art history, on the other. Whereas in the art world re-enactments are frequently motivated by a reactualization or critical rereading of a social or political event, restagings of exhibitions or performances seem more oriented toward the valorisation of an artist’s work or of a significant moment in art history — toward an homage of sorts. Two quite distinct directions therefore emerged as this issue was put together.

The most eloquent cases of restagings of historical performances are certainly the renowned re-enactments of Marina Abramović. Although frequently motivated by the desire to uphold the memory of mythical works, the practice of re-enactment raises numerous questions concerning the resulting repetition, representation, and spectacularization — theatrical specificities initially questioned by the performers — and the inevitable decontextualization of the works and their reinterpretation by another artist. The latter aspect also serves to relaunch the debate around authorship and intellectual property, as Amelia Jones clearly emphasizes: “By redoing earlier works, the artist draws on the previous artist’s name to further her own career.” These re-enactments also give rise to the commodification — real or symbolic — of the traces of “new” performances, a phenomenon exacerbated when original archival material (sometimes missing or of questionable quality) is overshadowed by the highly polished documentation of the re-enacted works.

Providing deeper insight into the challenges and pitfalls of re-enactment, the critical analysis offered by Jones seemed sufficiently enlightening to be the sole text to examine the re-enactment of performance. In this issue, we have chosen to give precedence to writings on artistic re-enactments that revisit moments in history — moments of political, military, or judicial import. We also shine a light on the terminology used to distinguish the numerous manifestations of re-enactment from forms of replay, in which the critical impact usually associated with re-enactment tends to get lost. Referring to the ideas of philosopher R. G. Collingwood, Jacinto Lageira reminds us that re-enactment involves “re-thinking the ideas and conceptions of the past and, above all, reading them critically, making value judgments, and bringing forward historical proofs of what we are claiming.” To explain, he quotes Collingwood: “[The] object to be discovered is not the mere event, but the thought expressed in it.” It is exactly this perspective that the authors published here have chosen to present, by selecting re-enactments that, for the most part, (1) offer a critical — or even satirical — view of the events being re-enacted. Serving as a source for re-enactments, archival documents, whose contents are themselves often biased by subjective choices or the limits of documentation, are often revisited to either question their accuracy and restore their veracity, or to counter propagandist leanings, or to give them new meaning. The results are works of fiction that, despite being dependent on the events at their origin, undeniably acquire their own distinct identity. It therefore becomes interesting to examine the theme of re-enactment from the point of view of the French term réplique, (2) which, by force of its two-fold meaning of replica and retort (in response to uncertainties surrounding the original event), implicitly intersects with the various stances taken by the artists and authors published in this issue.

[Translated from the French by Louise Ashcroft]

NOTES

(1) The exceptions are the re-enactments of performances and the reconstructions of artworks, such as those by Adad Hannah, presented in this issue.

(2) Elitza Dulguerova, “L’expérience et son double, Notes sur la reconstruction d’expositions et la photographie,” Intermédialité, no. 15 (spring 2010): 53 — 71, www.erudit.org/revue/im/2010/v/n15/044674ar.html.

78 - Hybrid Dance - Printemps / été - 2013
Sylvette Babin

Hybrid Forms of Dance

Dance and the visual arts have a long history of common ground, which, through diverse fusions, has given rise to an array of interdisciplinary works drawing on their respective fields of expertise. Today, the profusion of interdisciplinary collaborations bears witness to a renewed interest in hybrid practices. In works born of such collaborations, at least those of interest to us here, it is not simply a question of adopting or investing in the usual presentation contexts of each discipline, by presenting choreographed works in a museum, for example, or by using works of art as decorative elements in a theatrical production. Rather, it is an opportunity for artists, dancers, and choreographers to reflect on different forms of collaboration that will open up new horizons for their practices. It is from this perspective that we wished to approach this issue, by examining contemporary dance and its encounters with the arts, with performance, with theatre, and even with circus arts and cabaret.

The role of new technologies in the domain of dance — several articles touch on this — certainly contributes to the mixing of genres, while the body, real or suggested, is called upon as much for its presence on stage as for its part in the construction of images. Yet if the digital arts have served to blur the boundaries between disciplines, there is still widespread interest in “traditional” forms, drawing on all but “rudimentary technology,” resulting in choreographic works in which the rapport with materiality and the object is an essential element. In this vein, the works that captured the attention of our authors reveal several commonalities, such as the desire to defy the codes and conventions of representation and spectacle, collaboration between practitioners and encounters with the public, human-machine interaction, and the relationship of the body with the object. The artists featured in these pages create spaces or situations in which the body is no longer the sole actor; images and both material and immaterial artistic forms (video, performance, installation, drawing...) also play a central role, superimposing “written forms” to offer decisively multidisciplinary works.

The thematic dossier and complementary sections in this issue on dance confirm the longstanding interest of esse in practices whose scope lies beyond that of the visual arts. Additional essays as well as exhibition and event reviews, including several briefs on the performing arts, also underline esse’s interest in broader multidisciplinary practices. Other articles in our regular review section document the participation of numerous Quebec artists and galleries in major New York art events this year, while another author reflects on sound art in his report on the second edition of the esse/OBORO residency.

[Translated from the French by Louise Ashcroft]

77 - Indignation - Hiver - 2013
Sylvette Babin

We, the outraged

They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare.
Slavoj Zizek, Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America

The Indignation issue was inspired by a question. In a global context dominated by financial crises, social inequalities, and various forms of repression and dictatorship, where more and more citizens are taking to the streets to express their anger, how do artists express their indignation? This question could have given rise to a commentary on the new faces of activism and engaged art, in the process reviving the debates between so-called polemic art and “art for art’s sake.” Yet more urgent seemed to be to remember that artists are first and foremost citizens. If certain individuals among them decide — occasionally or persistently — to express their indignation through their art, others choose to take political action and to participate in popular demonstrations. For this reason, rather than analyzing the aesthetic codes of engaged art, we preferred to contemplate the various motifs of indignation, as well as the strategies employed by artists and citizens to express their discontent.

Last spring, Quebec also entered into an unprecedented social crisis.  Initiated by the mobilization of students against the tuition fee hikes imposed by the ruling government, the strike transformed into a mass popular movement, now commonly referred to as the “Maple Spring.” The sheer scale of the demonstrations that ensued, as well as the involvement of various members of the artistic community in the debates, encouraged us to launch this issue with an analysis of this student crisis — notably through its visual signatures — and to make it the subject of our portfolio, thus lending a Quebec flush to parts of this issue (1).  But the causes of indignation on the international scene are clearly more varied and far-reaching, being closely linked with socio-economic and political situations that have diverse and often more dire consequences for each of the communities concerned. Consequently, the various scenarios examined in this issue, spotlighting indignation in Quebec, Canada, Russia, Syria, Greece, and China (the United States, Mexico, and the Middle East are also mentioned), must unquestionably each be read with close regard to their respective contexts.

Despite the differences between these events and circumstances and the forms of expression chosen to counter them, a few similarities and affinities remain. Mass popular uprising is the most blatant example of such. Humour (or rather irony and cynicism) is also widespread, notably in the students’ slogans, on the École de la Montagne Rouge posters, in the performances of Pussy Riot, and even in Ai Weiwei dancing Gangnam Style. There is also new-found hope in both society and democracy, as well as the conviction that, by speaking out and taking action, it is possible to bring about change. This issue, although very humble given the diversity and scope of indignation around the globe, sheds light on some examples of outrage expressed by artists and citizens alike. Among the outraged are also authors who, by choosing to analyze certain subjects, give voice to their own concerns: “If there is indeed a sign of hope in Alexis, if there is a desire to question the economic sense within our democracies, this hope cannot remain mere indignation. [...] And while indignation may seem to take precedence these days, it must not be transformed into resignation. It must thoughtfully transform itself into a fight for dignity.” (André-Louis Paré, p. 39)
“Consequently, for us, indignation marks but the stage of realization, the catalyst for the truly significant protest actions that ensued. Indignation called for action — ideally liberating action.” (Charron and St-Gelais, p. 6)

If we had to identify a final similarity between the ever-increasing number of outraged citizens in the world, it would have to be the spirit of solidarity that unites them, and which allows the voice of each individual to carry a little further and to extend the circle made up of those who are the raisers of global consciousness.

[Translated from the French by Louise Ashcroft]

Note
(1) The recurring presence of the now famous red square prompts us to consider its origins, which can be traced back to October 5, 2004, when members of the Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté (Collective for a poverty-free Quebec), in response to a proposed action plan to combat poverty and social exclusion (Bill 57), presented themselves at the Quebec National Assembly carrying a red square “as an expression of indignation against the manner with which the government has chosen to further marginalize people in the red.”

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