Anti-Institutional Rehearsal: Editor's Foreword
The texts that comprise issue 3 are concerned with resisting institutional constraints, refusing the institutional agenda, and organizing alternatives to pre-existing institutional models. A domestic space turned social; a school that seeks to dismantle itself; educational activities that subvert hidden curricula; and the deliberate refashioning of history via unconventional archival practices are examined in turn.
While it could be argued that artist-run centres are not as accessible as they perhaps once were, education paradigms not as relevant as one would hope, and exhibition practices not as thought-provoking as sometimes given credit for, it isn’t easy to construct feasible alternatives that would better align with our changing needs and desires. But, supposing that institutional governance, like metropolitan governance, requires “a total mobilisation that neutralises the political and existential valences that emerge from cooperation and from communal … life,” then alternatives are needed . New paradigms of relating and organising outside of traditional structures are necessary in order to bypass the impediments frequently encountered in institutions. Gains are continuously co-opted, and the solutions to yesterday’s problems have likely become a part of the contemporary dilemma.
When constructing alternatives, how do we resist the eventual desire to imitate traditional institutional structures? How do we avoid subscribing to markers of “success” based on normative expectations of growth and reach? If, as Universidad Nómada suggests, May 1968 was “a historical fork in the road that left a trail of new political creations in a great many different parts of the world” , will the mobilizations and uprisings of the past several years produce a trajectory of new creations that will, in time, more greatly inform art practices and organising? And how long until that new trajectory becomes the norm?
Gabriel Saloman recounts the Strathcona Art Gallery (STAG), a project undertaken in collaboration with Aja Rose Bond, in Vancouver, BC, on unceded Coast Salish Territory. Simultaneously functioning as an art project and a social space, the STAG represented an alternative to increasingly regulated and controlled so-called “public” space. Rather than attempt to “reclaim” public space, Saloman and Bond utilized the domestic for expanded purposes. Closing Doors: Reflections on Contemporary Art, Social Space and the Domestic provides a history of the STAG, and offers suggestions antithetical to the tenets of larger institutions—create with and for small demographics; avoid relationships based on capitalist exchange; and do not succumb to the temptations of self-promotion.
Justin A. Langlois’ text, Vacant Positions: Institutional Drag and Institutional Form, considers the institution in relation to The School for Eventual Vacancy, “an art school that has no interest in the current models of the art school,” and which “operates as an ongoing exploration of education as creative practice and political subjectivity” . The School provides a time and place for its participants (many of whom are current or former post-secondary art students) to rehearse other ways of exchanging knowledge, and to unlearn some of the less-than-desirable ways of relating to one another that have been acquired in the post-secondary environment. The underlying mission of The School for Eventual Vacancy is to make itself irrelevant; for its participants to disperse once they can consensually agree that the school has become unnecessary. In such a scenario, people do not fight to keep an institution alive for the sake of keeping it alive, or out of some imagined obligation to its forebearers. If it cannot state its relevance, then it is abandoned.
Stephanie Springgay offers an analysis of two projects facilitated by artists Hannah Jickling and Helen Reed in collaboration with a group of elementary school students. These projects—which involve chocolate, garbage, and failure—are a part of the larger research-creation project, The Pedagogical Impulse, which sits at the “intersections between social practice, knowledge production, pedagogy, and school” . Though the works do not involve the explicit creation of an institutional alternative, they do, however, involve nonconformity with the expectations of the school and its curricular agenda. In Working with Children as Pedagogies of Refusal, Springgay suggests that this is achieved through negative affects and acts of refusal which stunt the desires of the institution, and open up spaces in which other pedagogical possibilities can be imagined.
Johanna Plant Donnelly expands the notion of “institution” to include the concept of history itself, in Rethinking Future Narratives: Artist-Run Centre Archives and Institutions of History. Plant Donnelly questions the choices made over what to include and exclude from an artist-run centre’s archives. She suggests that if records pertaining to staff, meetings, and behind the scenes operations were made accessible to the public, it would have significant implications for challenging the “great artist” narratives coming out of larger, mainstream galleries and museums. If, as Plant Donnelly suggests, an “inaccessible record is largely the same thing as a non-existent [one],” then the exclusion of these records renders invisible the range of contributors who collectively make a centre’s operation possible, and this perhaps marks a lost attempt by artist-run centres to establish radically different identities from other arts institutions.