Beyond the Spectacle: Contradiction, Uncertainty, and Imagination

July 6, 2018

(Banner image: Chto Delat, Monument to the Century of Revolutions, 2017, installation at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche. Photo credit: Dmitry Vilensky.)

Over the past couple weeks (months… years…) I have found it impossible to escape a constant barrage of images. Children in cages, violent civil unrest, collapsing economies and societies, and the metastasizing of brash and unchecked fundamentalist thoughts and actions. From the polar ends of current political discourse, we hear cries for revolution. Some of these calls to arms are long-overdue, others are nonsensical, driven by fear and ignorance.

In a series of essays commissioned on the occasion of the 2017 Creative Time Summit in Toronto, ArtsEverywhere editor-in-chief Shawn Van Sluys asked four Canadian thinkers to reflect on the interplay between homelands and revolution, with a suggestion of this general truth: “that our home is a revolving planet, and that homelands are the sites of revolution.” The essay series Of Homelands and Revolution engages with issues of de/colonization and the degradation of Indigenous people, values, and ways of life. It points to the idea that it is not only the well-being of the disenfranchised and displaced at stake, but existing human rights frameworks long established to protect the earth’s most vulnerable populations and resources.

How are we to embody this shared “home,” when those in power willingly deny and obfuscate issues like climate change? In response, we see artists enraged, mocking the powers that be and organizing towards solutions that do not rely on the state apparatus. Niki Singleton’s piece “Climate Denier” marks an artistic response to this kind of obfuscation and wide opposition to honestly addressing major issues.

Artists calling for the censorship of other artists highlight the ways in which institutions are rejecting the opportunity to frame these controversies as meaningful public debates. In the online roundtable Art, Freedom, and the Politics of Social Justice, the National Coalition Against Censorship has invited international artists, curators, and thinkers to weigh in on the question of who speaks (or can speak) for whom.

And while these difficult conversations require strategic thought and empathy to avoid polarization, curator Hou Hanru provides a succinct warning: “all complexity, contradiction, uncertainty, imagination, and enigma—or all that renders ART meaningful, beautiful, and powerful, and also ‘useful’” is being reduced and “even erased in favor of the spectacular and hence the speculative.”

Climate Denier

Niki Singleton, New York City, United States 

*Press on the image to zoom and navigate. I woke up one morning in May, surrounded by the leafless trees of a brown wintery-looking New England countryside that wouldn’t experience spring for another year. Temperatures reached 85 degrees that day, while...

Of Homelands and Revolution

Shawn Van Sluys, Guelph, Canada 
Aylan Couchie, Nipissing First Nation & Toronto, Canada 
Kimberly Mair, Lethbridge, Canada 
Kenneth Hayes, Sudbury, Canada 
Erin Silver, Vancouver, Canada 

Art, Freedom, and the Politics of Social Justice

Sam Durant, Los Angeles, United States 
Noelle Garcia, Chicago, United States 
Hou Hanru, Rome, Italy, Paris, France and San Francisco, United States 
Oleg Mavromatti, Bulgaria / New York 
Alan Michelson, New York, United States 
National Coalition Against Censorship, New York, United States 
Karyn Olivier, Philadelphia, United States 
Vanessa Place, Los Angeles and New York, United States 
Boryana Rossa, Syracuse, United States 
Dexter Wimberly, New York City, United States 

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