Wednesday, March 21, 2012

We were a week into our first-year anthropology course when our professor gave us our first example of something that was happening now, not 10,000 years ago: the Quebec government’s reorientation of the Le Grande watershed towards the creation of hydro-electric power, a project (the James Bay Project, as it is known) that began in 1974 and continues to this day.

The example was raised in the context of the James Bay Cree, who were cruelly displaced by this extraordinary – and financially profitable -- mega-project. I was reminded of the JBP some fifteen years later, during the 1995 Quebec referendum, when citizens were told by Parti Quebecois economist Jacques Parizeau that Quebec sovereignty would be underwritten by hydro-electric exports, most notably to Massachusetts.

Below are the supporters of MASS MoCA’s upcoming “Oh, Canada” exhibition:

Lead Sponsors: 
Canada Council for the Arts, 
TD Bank Group

Major Sponsor: 
W.L.S. Spencer Foundation

Contributing Sponsor: 
Francis J. Greenburger and Time Equities, Inc.

Associate Sponsor: 
Consulate General of Canada

Additional Support by 
Manulife Financial, Scott and Ellen Hand, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Qu├ębec Government Office in Boston.

While I am not surprised to see the Canada Council for the Arts as a supporter, their co-“Lead Sponsor” status suggests that their capital investment should be larger than that of MASS MoCA board member Suzy Wadsworth’s Spencer Foundation (“Major Sponsor”) and real estate developer (and Dan Brown literary agent) Francis Greenberger’s Time Equities (“Contributing Sponsor”). That the Canada Council is on par with co-“Lead Sponsor” TD Bank also seems odd, given TD’s enormous assets and reputation for hearty contributions to the arts. Which leads me to wonder: How much is the Canada Council contributing towards this exhibition, compared to, say, their commitment to Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Geoffrey Farmer, Brian Jungen and Gareth Moore, all of whom are participating in this June's Documenta 13? Or is the Canada Council a “Lead Sponsor” not for its monetary contribution but for the cultural capital only it can provide?

But it is the last supporter that is most revealing – the Quebec Government Office in Boston. Seems to me an exhibition like “Oh, Canada” might well have been generated by such an office, given the importance of Quebec hydro-electric power exports to Massachusetts and, as I mentioned in Sunday’s post, the role of the symbolic in political economic relations. Could it be that the elevation of the Canada Council to co-”Lead Sponsor” is a cover for lobby groups like the Quebec Government Office in Boston, that the latter’s “Additional Support” role be inverse to their instigation of an exhibition that, the more I look at it, seems in service of something other than the art it purports to celebrate? What are the ambitions of the Quebec Government Office in Boston, or those of real estate developer Francis Greenberger? Is TD Bank Greenberger’s bank? We know TD was instrumental in the half-billion dollar banking consortium that financed the James Bay Project in 1978, but what are they up to now?

Art exhibitions, like scientific experiments or business plans, are no longer about objects under study but a series of trajectories; no longer an object but a field. Which is why we need to take a closer look at this exhibition, from those underwriting it to the rationale of its curator. Because as it stands, "Oh, Canada" is not about Canadian artists in Massachusetts but something more insidious. After all, the Quebec Government would not have an office in Boston if not for the James Bay Project -- a project built on the backs of the James Bay Cree.

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