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Steffanie Ling
2017 Critic's Picks
December 13, 2017

Amie Siegel’s Quarry opened at the Audain Gallery in January and one of my nagging regrets was missing the opportunity to generate a review or lengthier engagement with this work. Siegel’s film follows the hewing of marble from a quarry in Vermont to a showroom for backsplashes, sinks, and countertops for luxury residential suites in Manhattan. Siegel’s clinical lens relies on the images to speak to resource extraction and surplus value schemes beyond it. At times the lens’ objectivity risks flattering the manicured spaces she wants to critique, but its coldness doesn’t reign over the film completely. There is a certain quality in Siegel’s editing which generates humour just by virtue of simply showing things as they are. When a mechanical arm wrestles with moving a slab of marble, I see a slapstick last stand between machine and mineral. When the film cuts to a perfectly edged row of cloth-bound Modern Library Classics to mark the transition from site of labour to zone of exorbitant wealth, it was an edit that carried comedic timing. Siegel’s work, which was originally commissioned by Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin for the 2015 exhibition The Housing Question, has particular resonance being exhibited at what curator Amy Kazymerchyk acknowledges is a contemporary art gallery within a university housed inside a real estate development named after a mining company (The Goldcorp Centre for the Arts). So while including it on this list doesn’t satisfy me or do it as much justice as I would have liked a year ago, Quarry is still on my mind as Vancouver’s own housing question continues to loom over cultural institutions in this city.

Participants preparing for audio recordings at Stanley Park as part of N.O.P.E. fellow Yu Su's Fieldwork Session #1, October 15, 2017 (photo: Sungpil Yoon)

This and many other pertinent questions are being grappled with by N.O.P.E (Notes on Permanent Education) - a collective education experiment established and facilitated by Vincent Tao, the librarian at Pollyanna Library (a research infrastructure and public reading room operating out of 221A). N.O.P.E’s fellows this semester - documentary radio journalist Josh Gabert-Doyon and composer Yu Su - extended their research processes to the public by conducting workshops, communal cataloguing, and community presentations. Yu Su led participants on field recording sessions at Stanley Park and the much beloved Aberdeen Mall. Her speculative sound archive initiative addresses the lack of attention and absence of practice for the public documentation of urban aural environments. Gabert-Doyon’s research positioned the contested Woodward’s Development as a historical and ongoing site of class struggle in Vancouver. He invited artists Brit Bachmann, Gabi Dao, and Byron Peters to commune and share research in their capacity as artists and individuals invested in unpacking art’s role in gentrification processes. Gabert-Doyon’s project, coined the W.W.A.S (Woodward’s Anti-Developer Society), has over the past few months culled fragments from civic archives, activist histories, commercial ephemera, and redacted emails to reveal, among other discoveries, reactionary exchanges between city planners demonstrating unabashed poor bashing and NIMBYISM. Recently, at the Vancouver Tenants Union Convention, W.W.A.S presented a “mid-term report” and introduced their findings to a community of organizers and renters. Through these activities, the fellows generate materials for the currently rather sparse shelves in Pollyanna Library’s collection. The empty space suggests that there is much work to be done, but the burgeoning collection is evidence that they are doing it.

Undertaking alternative or unofficial field work is the ongoing concern of artists, because what they do, framed as art, can potentially find ways to circumvent the rules and regulations of the dominant discourses it interrogates. Over the course of three days this past summer at the Western Front, film scholars and editors Leo Goldsmith and Rachael Rakes presented English filmmaker Peter WatkinsThe Journey - a 14-hour film from 1987 projected in 16mm. The film was shot on several continents between 1982 and 1985 as it undertook a global survey of perspectives on the nuclear arms race from individuals, families, and communities impacted by its presence in their local economies and natural environments. The film showed at TIFF in 1987 and was partially funded by the NFB, but it has rarely been publicly accessed or screened since. This is not necessarily because of its duration. Watkins edited the overall film into 45-minute sections with the hope that it could become a teaching tool for building consciousness. He wanted to exchange perspectives on nuclear military armament on the scale of all humanity, rather than privilege its effects in the American or European context. At the time, because of the film’s partisanship against nuclear armament, it was suppressed by prevailing conservative attitudes in media studies and the broader education system’s preference for neutrality. In June, it was a bit of a hard sell to invite rain-wearied Vancouverites to sit in the dark and contemplate a durational non-narrative film set against the anxious backdrop of nuclear armament. As film events go, it was the equivalent of a comet that takes all weekend to traverse the sky, barely noticed, yet more indelible than that.

Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She is an editor of Charcuterie and co-curator at VIVO Media Arts Centre. Her books are Nascar (Blank Cheque, 2016) and Cuts of Thin Meat (Spare Room, 2015). She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.



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