Centre for Incidental Activisms (CIA) #2

A choreographed collaboration between:

Maggie Flynn, Ame Henderson, Jp King, and Terrarea (Janis Demkiw, Emily Hogg, Olia Mishchenko)

With special projects by The M.A.D Poet (aka Melissa A. Dean) and Mark “Kurupt” Stoddart

6 January – 2 March 2014

Opening Reception: Wednesday February 5, 6 – 9 pm

Curated by Emelie Chhangur, Suzanne Carte, Michael Maranda, and Allyson Adley

Score making, seam clashing, position and movement: welcome to the second edition of the Centre For Incidental Activisms (CIA #2). While the focus of this series has evolved, the basic premise of what this ongoing project aims to do — and undo — remains similar. Both CIAs set out to performatively examine a question at stake in contemporary artistic and curatorial practice. In winter 2011, instead of creating an exhibition about politically engaged and activist practices, the CIA inaugurated a “centre” through which to enact politics and embrace activism as a transformative practice. Similarly, in 2014, CIA #2 continues to encourage disagreement, incoherence, uncertainty, and unpredictable offshoots, this time through a series of improvised situations that set in motion relations between people, ideas, and spaces where the brokering of different viewpoints, perspectives, and forms of artistic production is a central part of the work undertaken.

This time it is the role of collaboration across disciplines, not activism within an institutional framework, that propels our inquiry — though the former certainly still has bearing on the latter. Here, we seek to engage in speculative imagination, to nurture collaborative aesthetics, to facilitate precarious relations, and to explore oblique topographies through hands-on, process-based artistic research across disciplines and geographies: from writing and poetry, to choreography and dance, to architecture and urban planning, to visual art and social practice, while bringing together members of the downtown Toronto art community and members of the Jane-Finch community. Here our performative inquiry is a political action where we collectively determine what this project might become over the course of its duration. Through the process we aspire to create some sort of shared terminology that opens up the potential for collaborative work in-between the disciplines and individuals we bring together. This project is more akin to the creation of a score than an exhibition.

Inherently experimental, the CIA is a public manifestation of our desire to position “in-reach” at the core of our institutional practice. By bringing new forms of expression and different cultural practices and protocols into the institution, our “in-reach” projects are designed to open up the institution, to follow paths into new territories with unexpected outcomes, and to transform the institution from within by allowing differing forms of cultural production to infiltrate the working methodologies of contemporary curatorial practice. At the AGYU, we called this “infrastructural activism.” For this iteration of the CIA, we align our many activities into one form, everything from publishing, to exhibition making, education, and public programming: a shared terminology and self-organizing energy that draws inspiration from the multifarious activities and influences each artist brings to this project, activities and influences that we, in turn, bring into the gallery through our collaboration with them.

For the inaugural CIA, the only object we (the curators) introduced to the space was a large, custom-designed table, which we situated in the middle of the gallery. The table operated in both functional and metaphorical terms. It was an organizational device that acted as a site and a meeting place, and highlighted the questions the project itself sought to propose, such as: “who’s sitting at the table; who’s stepping up to the table.” It also acted as a platform for different kinds of activities — from talks, to workshops, to dinners, to classes professors conducted in the space, to being a stage for spoken word events and performances — and, in the end, through Public Studio’s intervention, the symbolic destruction of the idea of the “gallery” and the project’s very concept itself by cutting the table into pieces and rearranging it throughout the space. So what to expect this time …

For CIA #2, we take over the entire space of AGYU, splitting it into three distinct spaces in order to bring them back together. To the first, we have brought a custom-designed ten-foot-diameter rotating table. Low to the ground, it grounds the space as one of interaction and exchange. The next space, dimly lit and sound-baffled, is defined by a matching eight-station, off-centre library carrel: the atmosphere is contemplative and retrospective. The final space, at first, is open-ended, containing nothing but potential (although it is filled soon enough).

Returning, then, to the first space: the rotating table will be hard to miss. Surrounding it, though, are various accoutrements of the project: an ephemeral print-shop for printing ephemera; an array of objects in various stages of posturing and posing; notice boards and notices, administrative or otherwise. Oh, and, on occasion, bodies. This is the active room, the space for workshopping, display, creation, play, and production. Here, scores are realized. Performances enacted. Ephemera concretized. In this space, all the various components drawn from a collective “bin of stuff” come in to play as a cacophony of the collaborative.

While first on the viewer’s itinerary, this first space is not autonomous. The scores come from somewhere, the ephemera sourced from something. Step into the “open source” library, then, a contemplative space built for distribution, for reading, for meditation, reflection, and introspection. It’s a public space for that which all too often only happens in private: a presentation of research-in-action. An attempt at making visible the invisible work that constitutes a practice.

The third space, as we’ve mentioned, starts empty. It’s already full, though. Reserved for If We Ruled the World, it’s gradually filled with the material created by Success Beyond Limits participants [see below]. Once the evidence of applied collaborative research is present, it also becomes t the raw material for further investigation into the urban spaces of Jane and Finch, both symbolic and real. Making a laboratory for re-envisioning the urban landscape.

All these spaces—the active, the contemplative, and the laboratory—allow people and things to unite and work together in real-time that is both synchronous and asynchronous. They are a forum for discussion and collaboration at various levels of engagement. They are platforms for the dissemination of issues and ideas that come out of the concept of communal authorship as articulated in the cycle of exhibition activisms/activisms of exhibition.

We hope that CIA #2 is another experimental learning opportunity for the artists and the AGYU. Entering into a collaborative situation without knowing how it will work (or not) means that we seek to perform what the project sets out to do: to create a space of negotiation, compromise, flux, and subversion – feeling our way through the project and letting it take us in new directions, establishing new relationships, and developing new working methodologies by testing what works and what doesn’t. Experimenting this way is not intended as an isolated event with a determined beginning and end but rather a sustained engagement or ephemeral social activity with lasting impact. It is about learning through what these projects teach us so that we may put these less tangible things into practice, hoping that the CIA project changes the nature of our own practices and opens up the possibility for new kinds of collaboration in the future.

Maggie Flynn is an organizer, artist, and curator. Her understanding of critical pedagogy and community organizing has been shaped by her involvement with groups such as the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, the Really Really Free Market, Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (El Salvador), and the Anarchist Free University. She is the Director of Whippersnapper Gallery.

Ame Henderson grew up on Vancouver Island and now lives in Toronto where she is Artistic Director of Public Recordings, an atelier for choreographic experimentation. Henderson holds an MFA from the Amsterdam School for the Arts, where her research focused on the political implications of the synchronous gesture and its potential as a collaboratively authored improvisatory practice of togetherness.

Jp King is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and publisher. His collaborative and independent practice emphasizes garbage, material culture, contemporary mythology, masculinity, and primitive futures. Utilizing collage techniques, his obsessions with print and paper manifest in multiple forms, and his writing and images have been exhibited and published internationally. King operates the experimental publishing studio Paper Pusher.

Terrarea observe a manner of seeing and sharing that first arrived through an infinity box, and has since grown through friendship and chance. Terrarea prefer a variable and evolving approach—a responsive means of handling matter and coping with impulses. We learn together: Things look smaller from a distance, and multiply easily. Relationships are unfixed. Reflection is useful. Matter can get out of hand. Flexibility is key. Terrarea is Janis Demkiw, Emily Hogg, and Olia Mishchenko.

With this exhibition, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Ontario Arts Council. We acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council (OAC), an agency of the Government of Ontario, which last year funded 1,681 individual artists and 1,125 organizations in 216 communities across Ontario for a total of $52.8 million.

If We Ruled the World

In a Monday morning meeting, downtown…
White suits in a white room conceive failure,
draft dead-end plans, and map out patterns of early social misbehavior. Luckily, colorful thoughts arrive just in time
to overthrow the secret meeting and free young minds.
The world is mine!

— Black by Design: An Urban Planning Intervention

By The M.A.D. Poet

In a world increasingly marked by economic polarization and a widening gap between rich and poor, it is imperative for youth to mobilize and collectively challenge and destabilize patterns of residential segregation, locational discrimination, and spatial practices that contribute to social, economic, and political marginalization.

Led by The M.A.D. Poet (aka Melissa A. Dean) and Mark “Kurupt” Stoddart, If We Ruled the World, is a multidisciplinary art program for Jane-Finch youth that focuses on urban planning and spatial justice. Engaging fifteen youth from Success Beyond Limits, an educational support and mentorship program housed at Westview Centennial Secondary School, this program invites youth to investigate how visual art and spoken word poetry can be employed to hone and develop a critical spatial consciousness. Through workshops in Jane-Finch, Stoddart and Dean encourage and support youth as they collectively develop, cultivate, and draw from their own urban spatial imaginary.

Youth employ visual art and spoken word poetry as expressive tools to imagine urban design alternatives that promote community well-being, health, and belonging. Recognizing and identifying the structures of oppression that manifest spatially in the built environment and urban landscape, youth also produce alternative neighbourhood plans, founded upon the principles and ethics of spatial justice.

With the guidance of documentary filmmaker Chevy X King, participants create place-based spoken word poetry videos, shot on location at various neighbourhood sites throughout the Jane-Finch neighbourhood. Through their participation youth realize how art can be strategically deployed for empowerment, enabling them to create an equitable and inclusive urban spatial imaginary and reality.

These place-based artworks, poetry, and videos together form a critical body of youth-generated, arts-based research and documentation that shapes and informs their investigation into urban transformation. Collaborating in a two-day charrette at the CIA with Zahra Ebrahim and Sherry Lin of archiTEXT, a Toronto-based design think tank and creative agency, youth participate in a brainstorming exercise where they conceive of new urban design possibilities, as well as explore the potential urban transformation of the Jane-Finch neighbourhood. The second day focuses on the redesign of Success Beyond Limits educational and programming space.

The M.A.D. Poet (aka Melissa A. Dean) is a spoken word artist and community arts educator who grew up in the Jane-Finch community. She is pursuing a Masters of Environmental Studies in Urban Planning at York University.

Mark “Kurupt” Stoddart is an acclaimed Toronto painter and arts educator. Stoddart has exhibited his work in numerous exhibitions including Manifesto’s Sacred Seven Exhibition and has work on permanent display in the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre.

Born in Castries, Saint Lucia, Chevy X King is working on his first feature-length documentary entitled From Slaveships to Relationships: Narratives of Healing. Chevy is also a graduate student in the Masters of Humanities program at York University.