Monday, September 27, 2010

Between 2-4PM Saturday I attended a panel talk entitled Contemporary Archiving: Issues Around Contemporary Art Practice and Histories at Centre A.

The panel, part of the gallery’s Let’s Twist Again series, featured a Skyped-in Fern Bayer, a Toronto-based art historian and author of the upcoming General Idea catalogue raisonne; artist and curator Lorna Brown; and the Western Front’s Executive Director and former Guggenheim curator/archivist, Caitlin Jones.

Fern’s presentation on the General Idea archive (now at the National Gallery of Canada) was both concise and informative. Here we were treated to ethical questions, such as What happens when an artist wants to extract ephemera to sell through private galleries? in addition to issues around maintaining the logic of an artist's archive in relation to standard nomenclature.

In one instance, Fern mentioned how the NGC turned down the Ian Baxter&/N. E. Thing Co archive because of its “disorganization.” Had Fern been there I might have asked if such “disorganization” was indeed strategic, given the tendency of certain artists to invent and/or back-date work that never existed in the event of a potential sale.

Lorna Brown’s presentation concerned the Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the 60s online exhibition/catalogue/archive, a project which she co-organized and I contributed to. Like Fern, Lorna’s presentation was spot on, focused as much on the content of the site as how it functions.

Finally, Caitlin told us about two projects she worked on as a member of the Variable Media Network, one of which involved David Rokeby’s The Giver of Names (1991-), where the artist invites viewers to place an array of toys on a plinth, where they are then analyzed based on colour and form and a corresponding text is produced. But better than that, Caitlin related how Sydney curator Lizzie Muller recorded audience interactions with these toys and, in another room, played them back to the participants for further comment. (Now this is a work I would be interested in seeing!)

At the completion of Caitlin’s talk, Lorna returned to Fern with a question based on her and Caitlin's presentations. Fern’s response, however, was not to the question but to the quality of the audio feed, which was so faint she missed everything Lorna and Caitlin had said. Rather than summarize, Lorna, who is always quick on her feet, began to formulate a new question. Unfortunately by then my meter had expired and I was out the door.

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