Social Change and Labour: Editor's Foreword


The call for submissions on “Art and Social Movements” elicited numerous responses relating to labour—so much so, that the theme was revised, and the issue constructed so as to incorporate the contributors' concerns regarding this subject. The texts that comprise “Art, Social Movements and Labour” suggest that discussions of contemporary art practice and social change are apt to veer into conversations of work. The contributing writers and artists of this issue consider what it means to make art, to labour towards an end, and to have one’s practice do something.

Shannon Garden-Smith examines the paradox of un-productive labour in the work of Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens. In Ways Out from Inside, Garden-Smith suggests that the professionalization of the “artist,” combined with the persistent expectation to produce that is intrinsic to post-Fordist capitalism, hinders one’s ability to effect change beyond their sphere of expertise. Artists Ibghy and Lemmens attempt to labour un-productively—an undertaking fraught with impossibility. Garden-Smith writes that, through their efforts, the artists undertake the Sisyphean task of disengaging from the constraints of post-Fordist capitalism—the blurring of the home and the workplace, the personal and the professional; the fragmentation of time into units ripe with the potential for productivity, growth, and self-improvement; and the assignation of value to all people, objects, and actions.

Amber Berson carries on the theme of artistic labour in Not for Profit, wherein she describes a residency recently undertaken by artist Joshua Schwebel at The Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Germany. In the yet-to-be-exhibited work that he completed there, Schwebel used the entirety of his artist fee to compensate the unpaid interns whose labour which, although often rendered invisible, is integral to the operation of the centre. As per Berson, Schwebel’s intention is not to single out and villainize the Bethanien for profiting off of the aspirations of emerging arts professionals, but rather, to use that particular cultural centre as a means to raise for consideration the thousands of unpaid internships that are endemic to Canada’s arts sector. Berson supplements her examination of Schwebel’s work with her own experiences of unpaid labour in the arts—from internships held in her youth, to the very act of writing for this publication.

In William Morris Rolling in His Grave, artist Lexie Owen discusses how she explores value, labour, craft and form in her sculptural and social works, and in relation to her current artist residency in Burrard View Park in Vancouver, BC. As one of the thirteen successful applicants for the City of Vancouver’s Parks Board residencies, Owen will be stationed at the Burrard View Fieldhouse until 2017. There, she prepares to delve into the aforementioned themes in the context of a municipally contracted position. Privy to the value associated with her artistic labour, and aware of the political and economic factors that have culminated in the current veneration of artistic social practices, Owen thoughtfully considers how she will engage with the surrounding community.

Michael DiRisio reviews recent work by artist Dylan Miner, who turns away from portrayals of social movements common in mainstream media—clashes with the state, with the authorities, and with other exercises of power. Instead, Miner focuses on the quieter sides of anticapitalist and decolonial struggles, the discrete moments and private reflection integral to a movement’s development. Though rarely the subject of analysis, DiRisio emphasizes the small-scale interactions that occur amongst the individuals who constitute the complex networks of which social movements are composed. In Silence, Solidarity and the Spectacularization of Protest, DiRisio underlines that thought is as important as action; downtime as important as confrontation; and private contemplation as important as public demonstrations.

Jakub Markiewicz filmed and photographed the Kinder Morgan protests on Burnaby Mountain last year, until his arrest. He discusses his experience there in Among Giants, with an introduction by Pedro Bazán. Markiewicz’s navigation of this early stage of his career brings us back around to the label of the arts “professional”—how the professionalization of the arts has led to a perceived separation in oneself as an artist, and oneself as a citizen. Often times, artists are hesitant to push their work into the terrain of illegality for fear of jeopardizing their careers. As a result, a person might protest or engage in some form of activism as a citizen, in their spare time, and relegate making art to what they do in their studio, what they exhibit in galleries, what is added to their CV, and what they (may or may not) make an income from. For Markiewicz, there is less of a compartmentalizaiton of the self, less of separation between conceptions of himself as an "artist," and as a "citizen."