Spring 2011 Newsletter
Out There, The Periphery as Centre

Aesthetics of Collaboration

Humberto Vélez

13 April – 26 June 2011

Opening Reception: Wednesday, April 13, 6 – 9 pm

Let’s open our imagination for a moment and picture how we might relate to a place through a dream we share with the people who live there.

Let’s imagine real images to show the world what really moves us—though we create them together through fictitious situations. Let’s truly participate in the reality of our place through the imaginary frameworks of art projects.

And through these frameworks, let’s propose real encounters that have the power to redefine the meaning and purpose of art and its institutions.

While we are dreaming, let us also re-imagine the ethics of current modes of artistic production in order to understand its relationship to people and/or places that are not on the contemporary art “map.” Let’s propose something new to the art world’s systems of inclusion and exclusion. Let’s also reconsider aesthetics, because, in the real world, your view of what’s beautiful may not be the same as mine, or someone else’s.

Let’s open up the possibilities of the discourses of beauty and art to alternative, hybrid forms of expression and diverse cultural circuits. And let’s storm the institutions with our new collective power to imagine that art can have a real purpose and also a new, expanded territory.

This idea of prefabricated art that has no respect for people is what I’m fighting against and where I disagree with institutions that already have an idea of what they want me to make. This is against art itself. It’s a very contemporary problem that we have to face:  it’s about ethics and art.”

Humberto Vélez (December 2009)

Vélez’s (1965, Panama) multi-faceted participatory performance practice actively explores the generative possibilities of working in collaboration with different groups of people who are brought together especially for each project and location. In places across the world, he has collaborated with boxers, hip-hop musicians, Indigenous peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, synchronized swimmers, spoken word artists, marching bands, body-builders, amongst many others. Over the past decade, these collaborations have resulted in orchestrated, large-scale performative actions as diverse as beauty contests with llamas, amateur boxing matches with youth, concerts with popular poets, and bodybuilding competitions transcending divisions of gender and class.

Collaboration is not an end in itself for Vélez, however. It is an operative strategy integral to questioning the purpose and function of art and aesthetics today—by opening them up to diverse cultural input as well as to non-artists. Vélez’s projects develop what he calls the collaborators’ “capacity to produce aesthetics.” They propose— through an extended period of development and final performance—different concepts of culture, power, and ethics that counter mainstream institutions. Indeed, these collaborative performances are forms of resistance to the status quo and to Western concepts of what art should be. They re-picture the world by imagining new associations and forms of belonging, often for those that do not “belong” within society’s norms—or within the contemporary art world. The performances appropriate other “social” forms of organization such as parades, sports, or regattas, and script them otherwise (as stories of migration, identity, race, and class), in order then to reinsert them into the exclusionary symbolic institutions of art museums or other public spaces. Vélez doesn’t show us something different; he opens our eyes to why we keep seeing things the same way.

Could there be another function for art today than we commonly think?

Vélez’s work questions the ethics around collaboration (how we work together) and participation (who gets to participate and why) by making both integral to the process of art making. He makes them the subject not the style of a way of working, believing that the ethical issue of collaboration is not to represent politics but to be a form of it. His work proposes a new aesthetic, formed through collaboration with people outside the art frame.

As such, his collaborative performances differ from many current participatory practices in Europe and the United States in that they are based on human relations, not institutional interests. His are not top-down “community art” projects. They do, however, have a pedagogical imperative: they are intended to transform the structures the artist lives and works in, not the people he collaborates with.

There are no hierarchies within Vélez’s projects. Participants help each other to tell their stories; together, they shape them into concrete forms and actions for others to see and experience. As Caribbean spoken word artist and playwright Sonia Hughes puts it, “When he [Vélez] engages with his collaborators in his participative works, he walks alongside them and largely they accept him as they are rarely of the majority or with power due to their race and/or class and recognize that he is also an rara avis [rare bird]. He feels they have something to say, he also has something to say, he’d like to know how each of them could strengthen each other’s statements.”

Never a performer in his own work, neither is Vélez the subject of his performances. Rather, he’s a catalyst for other people’s stories and ideas, playing a role more akin to a conductor of an orchestra or a director of a film. He has learned from his early experiences as a lawyer (working for unions and campesinos in the rural provinces of Panama) and then through his documentary film studies at the Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV San Antonio de los Baños in Havana, Cuba. He knows through experience what it means to bring real influences into the art world, not just theory.

Could there be another role for artists today than we commonly think?

Here are a few examples of Vélez’s projects that permit multiple, and sometimes seemingly contradictory, points of view, popular traditions, and cultural contexts to coincide, in the process creating new aesthetic traditions that infiltrate the social fabric of our culture and seep into our art institutions.

At the Tate Modern, London, in a performance called The Fight (2007), Humberto brought together amateur boxers from boxing clubs located in the surrounding South London neighbourhood, paraded them to the Tate accompanied by musicians, to fight exhibition matches inside the Turbine Hall interspersed with fight-themed hip-hop music and dance performances. The Fight profiled local individuals and activities not considered worthy of this world-renowned cultural space, while also re-connecting the boxing clubs to their historical association with worker unions of South London’s past.

For the Pompidou Centre, Paris, in a performance called Le Plongeon (2010), Humberto worked “off-site” with synchronized swimmers, water polo players, and dancers to create an “aquatic cabaret” hovering in the Seine in the Piscine Josephine Baker. Le Plongeon also featured a present day “chorus” of spoken word poets, who spoke about the disenfranchisement of suburban youth from the ideals of Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité. Through its location, the performance also celebrated Baker’s contribution to the cultural fabric of Paris’ past.

Right here at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in an “art ceremony” called The Awakening taking place May 14 in the Walker Court, Humberto is working with artists Rebecca Baird and Phillip Cote (members of the Tecumseh Collective First Nations Community Organization), Elder Garry Sault and individuals from the Mississaugas of the New Credit, and Dan “pkdanno” Iaboni and members of Toronto’s urban runners (parkours) club, The Monkey Vault. The Awakening takes its cue from Métis leader Louis Riel’s famous quotation, “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

Happening in the streets, Vélez’s performances do not generally lend themselves to the conventional gallery setting. Yet, in Humberto Vélez: Aesthetics of Collaboration, the AGYU has brought together the first exhibition of the artist’s performance works from the last decade. Reflecting the radical nature of his work, the exhibition is intended to provoke as much as the works themselves.

To view a collection of Vélez’s past work is to look at an alternative mapping of the world’s cities told through the dreams, aspirations, and new forms of belonging forged by people living there. Thus, the exhibition tells the stories of places as diverse as London and Valparaíso, Paris and Cuenca, Panama City and Liverpool, Manchester and Toronto.

In the exhibition, each of these stories takes shape through different forms of media documentation. Original performance documentation, which has been re-edited into mini-films that unfold cinematically, narrates the “action” of the performance itself. For each performance, iconic moments are represented in photographs, accompanied moreover by portraits of individual performers. Videos and photographs are framed by artifacts, such as banners created for some of the performances, showing the pride and work that each performance elicited from its participants. All together, they are testaments of the new aesthetic possibilities manifested as the result of performative actions. Photographs of the procession of Irish bag-pipers, African drummers, young refugees, and asylum seekers marching together through the streets of Liverpool (The Welcoming, 2006), or the Indigenous peoples of the surrounding area of Cuenca, Ecuador, proudly entering the front doors of the official museum alongside their llamas and alpacas (La Mas Bella, 2009), “picture” a new reality for the places participants are from.

At the AGYU, we understand that Vélez is more interested to see how art changes the institution than how the institution changes artworks. He knows that the history of institutions has been to “absorb” new forms of practice while discounting their politics. For Vélez, this is not “progress,” it is just moving things along. Vélez, however, is willing to play the institution’s game in order to move things along, knowing that these performances have real effects on the institutions that commission them. Velez’s exhibition is a way to bring Humberto’s work inside the agyu with the knowledge that it will change the nature of our institutional practice. By changing the “rules of the game,” we can govern the way we participate in the world.

Art empowers. Sometimes it has a real use. It can make you feel better about yourself—and isn’t that the meaning of art, really? Sometimes we forget what the meaning of art is. It’s not the academic meaning, it’s what it means to people, no? It’s to make you feel better, or more intelligent, or understand things, or give you a position in life, all that. My work is a way for me to communicate this, to connect art to the real, that is, having it mean something to other people, not only to the artist but to the people outside the art world.


THE AWAKENING

A performance by Humberto Vélez

Saturday, May 14, 4:30 pm

Art Gallery of Ontario, Walker Court

Commissioned by the AGYU and three years in the making, The Awakening is the culmination of a sustained relationship between Humberto and the people of Toronto and the surrounding area. This performance is the artist’s first project in North America. The project has developed over a series of three AGYU residencies in 2009, 2010, and 2011. The Awakening brings together artists Rebecca Baird and Philip Cote (Tecumseh Collective First Nations Community Organization), Dan “pkdanno” Iaboni and Toronto parkours (The Monkey Vault), Elder Garry Sault and members from the Mississaugas of the New Credit Reserve, as well as a host of First Nations musicians and dancers, in an “art-ceremony” celebrating Canada’s cultural past, present, and future in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Walker Court on May 14 at 4:30 pm. Admission to the AGO for this performance is free.

This performance is generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council: Aboriginal Art Projects, Canada Council for the Arts: Artists and Community Collaboration Grant, the Hal Jackman Foundation, and the Ontario Arts Council: Investment Fund

Aesthetics of Collaboration: A talk by Humberto Vélez

Sunday, April 17, 2 pm, AGYU, Free

Free bus departing from OCAD (100 McCaul St.), 1 pm

Internationally renowned artist Humberto Vélez speaks about his past projects and how they formulate new aesthetic possibilities for contemporary art through collaboration with non-art participants. The talk is moderated by Guillermina Buzio and is presented in conjunction with the Latin American Speaker Series. A curator/artist collaborative tour of the exhibition Aesthetics of Collaboration at the AGYU, will also be offered to interested guests. The free bus returns to OCAD at 5 pm.

Get on the Performance Bus with Jon Sasaki!

Are We There Yet?

Going to the AGYU? All the way out there? Yeah, we’re out there. Far out there. Not only has our innovative Performance Bus provided artists with 45 minutes of uninterrupted quality time with their art community, but it has also offered captive audiences a free, fun-filled ride where distance is no longer an obstacle but an artistic strategy! And a marketing tool … driven by artists! Artist and prankster Jon Sasaki hosts this edition of The Performance Bus, which departs OCAD (100 McCaul St.) at 6 pm sharp on April 13th en route to Humberto Vélez’ exhibition opening, and asks, jokingly, “Are We There Yet?”

Working in the vein of “romantic conceptualism,” Toronto-based Jon Sasaki utilizes primarily performance-for-video, objects, installations, and interventions in work that mixes humour and pathos, often with gently antagonistic results. Recent solo exhibitions include 126 (Galway, Ireland), Centre Clark (Montreal), Access (Vancouver) and The Doris McCarthy Gallery (a touring exhibition and forthcoming catalogue). Jon was an active member of the Instant Coffee art collective between 2002 and 2007. He is represented by Jessica Bradley Art + Projects.

Audio Out

AGYU’s Audio Out Series continues with Humberto Vélez’s La Carrera (The Race). This project, originally conceived as a radio performance for the 7th Panama Biennale in 2005, is the commentary of an imaginary horse race, developed from a script created by Vélez and performed by the sports broadcaster Arquímedes Fernández, Vélez’s stepfather.

La Carrera parodies the seriousness with which Panamanians regard equestrian races. The horses are ironically named with terms that categorize and polarize social classes in Panama. It’s a close race between the economic, social, and racial conditions/perceptions deeply embedded in society, personified by Miss Panama, Negro de Mierda, Visa Americana, AIDS, Papa Rico, Extranjera, One Dollar, Oligarchy, and I have a Dream.

AGYU Vitrines

Earlier this January, maintenance workers discovered traces of an unknown substance in a variety of locations across Canada’s largest university campus. After examination by several chemists and biologists, the thick, stringy red material was brought to the attention of entomologists, who are now positing that the substance is in fact the proteinaceous silk of an as-yet undetermined – and possibly extremely large – insect that likely created the cobweb-like structures. York University administration is remaining tight-lipped on the subject, though they have conceded that the bulk of the findings seem to be concentrated in the Accolade East building. Curran Folkers is on the case, writing on the findings of Jennie Suddick’s webbed work in the AGYU Vitrines.

A graduate of OCADU and York University, Jennie Suddick is the artist-in-residence at Open Studio, Toronto and recently returned from Bee-line to Berlin: The Woodn’t Bees Artist in Residency Program in Berlin.

AGYU + Images Festival

It is no secret that AGYU loves The Images Festival. This year, we wanted to contribute to more than just a single program by extending our financial support to the creative curatorial work of the programming team. Images is innovative –one might even say they’re out there – evidenced this year with multi-faceted and super smart way of presenting Colombian artist Icaro Zorbar’s work.

In his “assisted installations,” Icaro intervenes, gives voice to, proposes conversations, or formulates emotional encounters that his apparatuses personify. The Images Festival underscores the performative nature of his work by assisting it through a new kind of performative presentation—inventively incorporating it into film screenings, in the lobby of screening venues, and as trailers to programs—that runs throughout the entire festival.

Studio Blog: Foreign Agent

AGYU’s Foreign Agent series puts the spotlight on places re-centering discussions on innovative contemporary art practices. This time around, Foreign Agent Jacob Korczynski, hot on the trail of contemporary art from the bustling streets of Taiwan, reports on both the official and the counter Taipei biennials.

Jacob Korczynski, former Images Festival programmer, is an independent curator based in Amsterdam where he is participating in the de Appel Curatorial Programme.

Upcoming Exhibitions

Raqs Media Collective

21 September – 4 December 2011

Winter 2012: Will Munro

Education

JANE AND FINCH RISES TO THE TOP

RISE AND SHINE: A COMMUNITY-BASED TALENT SHOWCASE

“I’m not afraid to big up my community,

because the media fails to notice our unity,

or because I’ve been made a victim to scrutiny

or because I’m underrated

this isn’t new to me. “  –Lola Lawson

On February 8th, 2011, Jane and Finch brought the heat to York University with RISE AND SHINE. Organized by Lola Lawson as part of her internship at the AGYU, RISE AND SHINE was a community-based talent showcase that featured stellar performances by emerging artists from the Jane and Finch community. Presented in conjunction with the AGYU’s winter program “The Centre for Incidental Activisms (CIA), this hype event included performances by some of the community’s best, up-and-coming MC’s, singers, and spoken word artists. Shining the spotlight on underexposed artists, this event connected emerging talents with new audiences and provided them with long overdue exposure and recognition. Hosted by Femi Lawson, the event featured music by DJ OHSO and performances by: David Delisca, Domanique Grant, Rian Hamilton, Heavy Steve, Nancy Kamalanathan, Lola Lawson, Nomanzland, R.O.S., Rushie Raw, Star Dat Prince, and TK.

AGYU’s Inaugural Youth Consultation

Reflecting the AGYU’s commitment to youthdriven arts programming, on February 9th, the AGYU hosted a youth consultation forum to engage youth from the Jane and Finch community in the conceptualization and design of future educational initiatives. Sharing their perspectives and insights into the kinds of art programs that would be most relevant and empowering to youth, members of our focus group spoke of the need for a community-based radio program to showcase the musical talents of local youth. The AGYU plans on facilitating future consultation sessions in our ongoing effort to represent and address our youth stakeholders’ voices and needs.

Publications

The AGYU Artists’ Book of the Moment (ABotM):

In the interstitial space between the judging (judgment has occurred: thanks to our jury, Michelle Jacques and Cheryl O’Brian) and presentation of the 2011 ABotM, we have a moment to stop and consider: why are we doing this? After all, the shift in contemporary art towards prizes and fairs and biennials has not always been a resounding success for the presentation of thoughtful and considered work. Do we really want to encourage the genre of artists’ books to shift towards America’s Next Top Artists’ Book?

No, of course not.

What we are accomplishing is the bringing attention to the field, highlighting some of the highlights of the field, building a resource collection of artists’ books in the process. The shortlist of ABotMs is currently on our website (www.agyuisoutthere.org/books), and on the day of Humberto Vélez’ opening (April 13th) at 6 PM, the top of the ABotM for 2011 will be revealed.

We’d like to note, with great gratitude, the financial support of Joe Friday, and to the jury, the Brothers Dressler for their stunning bookshelf which housed the entrants at the recent exhibition at The DepARTment, The DepARTment itself for housing the bookshelf and the Ice Fishing in Gimli exhibition, and, of course, the participants in this years’ competition.

New Publication:

On the evening of March 25th, the much anticipated, much coveted FASTWÜRMS: Donky@Ninja@Witch catalogue was (will be) ushered unto the world at Paul Petro Contemporary Art. An evening that, while not a full moon, had all the necessary accoutrements to ensure a proper introduction. Designed by Lisa Kiss, with major texts by Emelie Chhangur, Sally McKay, and Jon Davies, as well as a love letter from Andrew Harwood. Time for you to reserve some space on your bookshelf for this one, available now through the AGYU’s online bookstore.

Upcoming:

Now in the final stretch, And So, The Animal Looked Back … is a hybrid beast. Part theatrical script, part exhibition catalogue, and another part artist book, matching perfectly Alex Wolfson and Bojana Stancic’s hybrid performance and exhibition of the same name back in the winter of 2010. Along with Wolfson’s scripts for the plays which bookended their exhibition are a new short story, completing the trilogy, dual introductions by Philip Monk and Emelie Chhangur, illustrations by Ken Ogawa, and a documentation of Stancic’s stage design. A launch party for this one is coming in the next couple months, so keep tuned to the main stage for further details.