GENERATORS | Presented by CDCC in partnership with the Toronto Art Book Fair
June 15–18, 2017
Critical Distance and the Toronto Art Book Fair are pleased to present GENERATORS, curated by Anthony Stepter and featuring Erika DeFreitas, Edie Fake, Marc Fischer/Public Collectors, Dina Kelberman, Nellie Kluz, Sanaz Mazinani, Eric Oglander, and Leah Wellbaum.
How do we see art in the age of image and information overload? Is a gallery the best place to look, or is the internet’s efficiency and long reach a better tool for engaging with the ideas artists are interested in? What about the reliable old standby, printed books?
The artworks on view in this exhibition highlight the fluidity of media in contemporary culture. Each project in Generators is guided by a single idea, approach, or rule. These frameworks generate troves of material for the artists to assemble and present in a manner that invites viewers to make connections that might otherwise go unnoticed. Many of the artworks draw from, or exist as, both printed media and digital spaces. These transmutations afford artists and viewers illuminating points of entry for exploring the unique properties of both printed and digital narratives without being constrained by traditional definitions of the archive and the artist’s book.
Selected from a joint call for submissions issued by CDCC and TOABF, Generators celebrates the astonishing diversity of outcomes that can arise from intentionally constrained modes of collecting and creating. The exhibited works circulate through a variety of platforms, from humble Tumblrs to museum exhibitions. By focusing on projects that start with simple ideas but evolve to open up wide ranging possibilities for engagement and display, Generators pushes against notions of presentation that privilege one form of media over another.
Dates, Hours, and Events
Generators is on view at Critical Distance in Suite 302 at Artscape Youngplace during the Toronto Art Book Fair, June 16–18, 2017. Fair hours are Fri–Sat from 12–8 pm and Sun from 12–6 pm.
Join us for the public opening preview party on Thursday, June 15 from 6–10 pm. Refreshments will be served and all are welcome.
A discussion with artist Erika DeFreitas, CDCC Director Shani K Parsons, and exhibition curator Anthony Stepter will be held on Sunday, June 18 at 2 pm in Suite 102 (Small World Music theatre).
For more information on all the great exhibitors, other exhibitions, and variety of events during the Fair and Toronto’s first annual Art Book Week, check out TOABF’s website at www.torontoartbookfair.com!
Location and Map
Critical Distance Centre for Curators
Suite 302 at Artscape Youngplace
180 Shaw Street, Toronto, ON M6J 2W5
Click for Google map
About the Curator
Exhibition curator Anthony Stepter is the Graduate Program Coordinator for Museum and Exhibition Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He holds an MA in Visual and Cultural Studies from the Art Institute of Chicago.
About the Artists
Erika DeFreitas is a Toronto-based multidisciplinary conceptual artist. DeFreitas explores the influence of language, loss and culture on the formation of identity with textile-based works, and performative actions that are photographed; placing an emphasis on process, gesture and documentation. DeFreitas has exhibited internationally and is a recipient of the 2016 Finalist Artist Prize from the Toronto Friends of Visual Arts and the 2016 John Hartman Award.
Edie Fake was born in Chicagoland and now lives and works in Southern California. Fake’s practice spans comics, zines, prints, drawings, and installations. Often extensively detailed and brightly colored, Fake imagines and reimagines the world based on his unique point of view.
Marc Fischer founded Public Collectors in 2007 “upon the concern that there are many types of cultural artifacts that public libraries, museums and other institutions and archives either do not collect or do not make freely accessible.” Public Collectors asks individuals that have amassed, organized, and inventoried these kinds of materials to help reverse this lack by making their collections public.
Dina Kelberman is an artist living and working in Baltimore, MD. Kelberman’s work spans a wide range of media including web-based projects, comics, photography, installation, and writing among other forms. Kelberman has exhibited and published internationally and was a founding member of the Wham City artist collective.
Nellie Kluz is a Chicago-based filmmaker who uses curiosity, observation and analysis to create films often focusing on social interactions, belief systems and material realities. Kluz is the recipient of a 2016 Princess Grace Film Scholarship, her films have been presented at numerous international film festivals.
Sanaz Maznani is a contemporary artist who works primarily in photography, video, and large-scale installations. Mazinani’s work ranges from works on paper to digital collages to large-scale installations. Her work is regularly exhibited in galleries, museums, and public spaces throughout the world.
Eric Oglander is a Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist. His project, Craigslist Mirrors, has gained international attention for the sometimes humorous, sometimes poetic, always fascinating collection of found images taken from craigslist posts attempting to photograph and sell or give away mirrors.
Leah Wellbaum is an artist and musician based in Los Angeles. Wellbaum has published four books of photography: Bruises, This Will Help, The Fucking Ocean, and The Fucking Ocean Part 2.
Critical Distance and Toronto Art Book Fair would like to thank the many wonderful artists and curators who submitted proposals in response to our spring call for submissions. The array of approaches and ideas was incredibly broad and made the task of selecting just one both a pleasure and a challenge. For those whose proposals were not selected for this year’s fair, there is always the possibility that we will be in touch to discuss other opportunities; either way we encourage everyone to stay connected for future calls and program updates. Subscribe to our (roughly quarterly) newsletter at CDCC News, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Thanks again!
left: Grace Ambrose, Marc Fischer and Public Collectors, Hardcore Architecture (cover), 2016; right: Eric Oglander, image from Craigslist Mirrors, ongoing
Links / Updates
News, press, publications and more information.
Special Feature: Essay by Kristi McGuire
Yann Moulier, in his book Cognitive Capitalism (2011), suggests we need a time-out in order to process how the f*ck we’re going to get out of a loop devoted to the production of wealth in an age of financial speculation—maybe the conversation isn’t or isn’t only about the precarity of physical labor in our hyper-mediated knowledge economy, or maybe we just need “a kind of small defrag program for Marxism’s mental hard drive.” If life is one, long Netflix binge, does the content even matter?
I forget why I started thinking about Ally Sheedy. I was reading Andrew McCarthy’s Wikipedia entry on my couch after trying to re-watch Less than Zero and had given up narrative pursuit—the movie streamed on in the background, occasionally jostling me with ill-advised increases of decibel during drug-addled Robert Downey Jr.’s banal descent into the shadow economy (the Cult’s “Lil’ Devil,” which accompanies James Spader’s initial appearance as RDJ’s remorseless WASP-y dealer, was not particularly well-mastered—it never made it on the official soundtrack). I note now that the penultimate item in my Google Chrome history before searching “High Art” was “Herman Melville fingers.”
Recently, I’d been obsessively Googling Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy tribute pages—most of which fell into one of two categories. There were blogs established in the years following CBK’s premature death in 1999, hosted on platforms like Geocities, and/or on expired pages customized for the Opera 5 browser (“Simply Carolyn”), which could be accessed via the Internet Archive’s web-trawling wayback machine, including a now-defunct Google Group with several email addresses ending in “valstar.net.” There were also a series of sites from the second decade of the twenty-first century, which situated CBK as an alt-Kate Moss ingenue, whose persona and make-up palette might be excavated alongside artifacts like the Delia’s Catalog, Chanel’s Vamp nail polish, and Monica Lewinsky. This second wave of interest, most of it hosted by WordPress, informs a more complicated fetish of 1990s cultural history, as both a simpler (“nostalgic”) moment of emergent neoliberal globalization and a temporally oriented commodity, to be ambiguously consumed as “a mood.” The WordPress sites recycled photos from the Geocities web clusters, themselves scanned from the pages of commemorative editions of People Magazine, which scavenged high-school yearbook pages or archived newspapers; these poor images, as Hito Steyerl would call them, now exist as ghostly upcycles on Pinterest, the domain of the first two dozen search results for “Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy fan.”
The poor image is no longer about the real thing—the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities. It is about defiance and appropriation just as it is about conformism and exploitation.
In short: it is about reality.
—Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image”
What would it mean to consider Caroline Bessette-Kennedy’s mediation through digital technology as my filter for understanding the world? Would the levity of everything shift if I insisted on allocating my interpretive resources to this lone topos? At best, when we take that step back from the noise of the cloud or the Sunoco, we might expose capital as capital, and any particular circulatory network, despite (or maybe in spite) of its idiosyncratic or novel specificity, as just another semiotic current of meaning, in which we then attempt to swim upstream in return for $$$. Would my focus on CBK have anything more irregular to offer about our contemporary predicament than, say, an axis of meaning I might map onto accumulating images of classified black-op military bases, or all of the Himalayan salt crystal lamps produced between 1992 and the present? Is that refinement any different than your average single-subject PhD dissertation, weighted as it is with performing its absurd specialization to open up a new arena in which capital might eventually sprawl, i.e., generating a credential?
Jarett Kobek’s book Atta is the imagined internal narrative of Mohamed Atta, the hijacker-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2011. Is the choice of Atta as the figure through which Kobek stretches the confines of the contemporary novel—its condensation of reality—to its limits, more or less salient than any other iconic personality? Is it Atta’s singularity that’s here to teach us or is it exposing the otherwise ubiquity of the novel? How obscure or particular or particularly obscure does a point of reference need to be in order to offer up something new about how it circulates? (A: There is nothing new under the sun. A: The sun has set on the empire. A: The emperor’s new clothes are really second-hand, Forever 21 scalloped-lace bralettes manufactured in Tientsin, China.).
All of this makes me think of a few things, two among them: the legacy of New Age manifestation doctrines (half-watered-down and culturally appropriated Eastern theology + half-Horatio Alger–style, rags to riches, “Anyone can make it!,” capitalist primers—The Secret is a fine example of this fusion) and Where’s Waldo?.
Where’s Waldo?, the American adaptation of an already-existent series of British children’s books called Where’s Wally?, attempted to fix the attention of a generation of millennial children, who scanned complex global scenes of extraordinary everyday life looking for a bespectacled man in a striped sweater. Was there a more poignant manifestation of late ’80s/early ’90s neoliberalism—the stage that would be set for the WTO and G8 protests—than a bunch of five-year-old kids eyeballing illustrations of worldly specificity looking for a white guy and his stuff? I mean. . . . sometimes the singularity of a subject lays bare the circumstances in which we produce our reality, and sometimes those circumstances manifest in the most precious form possible, through which they then will ultimately be laid bare.
At some point in the history of the universe, someone somewhere, maybe a young Bill Gates, read the collaged cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as a microcosm for a not-yet universal reality. The flattening of history and hierarchy its particular images evoked would have less to do with John Heartfield’s anti-fascist photomontages or Hannah Höch’s dadaist constructions than Frederic Jameson’s notion of postmodernism as the logic of consumption in late capitalism. Here are John, Paul, George, and Ringo—and Lenny Bruce and Carl Jung and some wax models of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and a velvet snake and a garden gnome and Shirley Temple. It’s 1967. Elvis Presley got married. A probe entered into the orbit of the moon. We’re still on the gold standard. Nicole Kidman was born. What a world.
That it was their world—a world capable of turning the forward-thinking artistic innovations of modernism into car advertisements that caught the eye of your feeble-minded, reactionary uncle—was part of the generational realization of Sgt. Pepper’s. The album became emblematic. Lots of blackboards in 1980s first-year literary seminars would become peppered with arrows pointing between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s as the pop cultural conception point in which we birthed postmodernism (I was never that into the Beatles; sometimes the Moog synthesizer that opens “Reflections,” released that same year by the Supremes, seems more sonic a baby boomer clarion call). One of the best-known songs on the album, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” contains the line:
“Picture yourself in a boat on a river/With tangerine trees and marmalade skies/Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly/A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.”
Hold this in your mind. Keep scrolling.
In “The Jurisprudence of Otherness,” Keith Cunningham-Parmeter analyzes the relationship between cognitive linguistics and legal reasoning by examining the use of metaphors by Supreme Court Justices, a practice which established the rhetorical parameters surrounding immigration law’s problematic discourse: IMMIGRANTS ARE ALIENS, IMMIGRATION IS A FLOOD, and IMMIGRATION IS AN INVASION.
Metaphor, in the way we know it best, is a figure of speech that makes implicit an otherwise opaque or hidden resemblance between two unrelated things: “The world is a vampire,” or “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” (That second one is tricky because it also contains a simile, which is the most in-your-face type of metaphor, reliant on “like” or “as” to make explicit comparison.).
Cunningham-Parmeter leans on George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s work on conceptual metaphor when he explains how metaphors function:
Cognitive linguists emphasize the difference between conceptual metaphors and their linguistic expressions. Conceptual metaphors involve the process of understanding one conceptual domain in terms of another. Linguistic expressions are the words or phrases that reflect the conceptual metaphor. For example, a speaker might express the conceptual metaphor THE MIND IS A CONTAINER by stating: ‘He’s empty- headed’ or ‘She’s full of ideas.’ Whether or not the speaker actually utters the conceptual metaphor, researchers can identify the underlying idea based on the number of linguistic metaphoric expressions that refer to it. Thus, conceptual metaphors are ‘ways of thinking’ about concepts, while linguistic expressions are ‘ways of talking’ about them. If a large number of similar metaphoric expressions or ‘tokens’ of conceptual metaphors exist, then they likely evince an underlying conceptual association.
Conceptual metaphors understand one idea or intellectual domain in terms of another; famously, Lakoff and Johnson offer the example, “argument is war,” pointing toward how culturally pervasive its linguistic off-shoots have become, as in, “She won the argument,” or “They attacked all my weak points,” or “His criticisms were right on target.” Here metaphor doesn’t merely unite two unrelated endeavors, but also reflects how society structures itself in and through its everyday language.
Metonymy, another type of metaphor, makes use of shared reasoning to demonstrate the contiguity of part-whole relations. A metonym, like “Wall Street” or “the White House,” is an association; something has become so characteristically representative of another something that it can stand in as a figure of speech, with minimal or no loss of meaning. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” famously offers up the compound metonym, “kaleidoscope eyes,” which at the moment of the song’s composition, was a generationally accessible stand-in for the experience of tripping on LSD. Metonymy’s ability to hone in an extreme characteristic or specific part and co-opt that part with no loss of contingency or connection, is part of its power: it also inscribes its audience based on mutual understanding. “Kaleidoscope eyes” is to “binge watch” is to “status update” is to “cloud storage”—that language might be lost on an alien recently arrived to Earth, but odds are if you understanding its meaning, you’re exposed to the culture that constructs it.
Metaphor, in turn, is only one kind of trope. Trope, whose etymological roots extend to origins of both noun and verb (“a turn” and “to change, to alter”), is a way of using metaphor to talk about . . . metaphor. To literally, and I quote: “Turn a phrase.” Hayden White’s Metahistory (1973) developed a theory of the trope as a method of discourse that runs throughout historiography: each generation has its own way of performing history and engaging in historical work by adopting and adhering to a certain structural style in order that their stories model their worldview.
The experience of social media—where more often than not we tell our “stories,” making it a perverse historiographical practice—is interpassive. It simulates participation by generating individually aggregated content that grows indistinguishable from sponsored advertisements. We think the story we’re telling is about getting laid-off from our job and melancholically petting a doggo on the way home and wondering how we’re going to have the psychic energy to get up the next morning and care for ourselves, but really we’re telling the story of a start-up acai bowl home-delivery service.
Anyhow. The History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, one of the nation’s first interdisciplinary graduate programs, where Hayden White taught for several decades, no longer exists, or at least no longer admits new students, which means it’s not doing its part to further the neoliberal research university’s dabbling in real estate speculation.
As of 2016, the median price of 266 homes for sale zoned in the Santa Cruz area is $899,000.
Andrea Fraser’s new project is to verify and publish the political donations of museum trustees, in order to explore “the fact that museums, in their origins, are a product of plutocracy.” Andrea Fraser didn’t make institutional critique a household name. My parents have no idea what institutional critique is—they submit their federal income taxes as a single household—and yet: the phrase has become shorthand for a complex series of practices engaged to critically and systemically self-scrutinize the concept and function of convention. We associate institutional critique with museum spaces or other art world monoliths—but I’d argue the phrase has become a metonym for something larger. It seems part of a contiguous chain of association that points toward complicity as a model of self-awareness. Criticality then, begins at the moment of participation.
Why isn’t the FBI database an endless scroll? (The FBI database may very well exist in scrolling format.*) The FBI is my favorite bureaucracy because its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) search page is called “The Vault: A Reading Room.” Part of the potential of Melville’s Bartleby or Tom Hanks’s turn as Joe Banks in Joe vs. The Volcano has to do with radicalizing banality in the face of bureaucratic oppression. The anthropologist David Graeber writes about the dumbness of bureaucracy, which itself isn’t or isn’t just inherently stupid, but is merely a way of managing social situations that are already stupid to begin with, because they are founded on structural violence. Those structurally violent scenarios—taxes, legalities, hegemonic accrual, marginalization, the loaded gun that is an ATM machine (to paraphrase Graeber)—presume radical agents. Those who initially appear passive because of the minute machinations of their resistance—a clerk who abstains from his labors but doesn’t willingly abscond from the office—are actually made radical at the moment their resistance registers as institutional critique.
Joe vs. The Volcano was a film ahead of its time—the story’s plot centers on a working stiff named Joe, diagnosed with “brain cloud,” and told he has a finite amount of time left to live, who agrees to be the once-a-century ceremonial sacrifice for an isolated Pacific tribe in control of vast deposits of a mineral essential to the production of superconductors. In return, an industrialist CEO offers unlimited funding for Joe’s final days on Earth. It’s not difficult to find in this screwball comedy a prescient fable about our dependence on mining Congolese coltan so we can endlessly scroll down in our Instagram app, as we go about our online lives, sent to our precarious dooms IRL without health insurance because of a plurality of pre-existing conditions. Joe’s salvation in the film is accidental: when he jumps in the volcano, it explodes and he’s blown away, along with his love interest, to their grandiose floating baggage. Bartleby’s fate is slightly less plucky but passive all the same—evisceration.
Bartleby radicalizes himself in the face of nineteenth-century bureaucratic culture by choosing to passively resist. Let’s presume he owns an iPhone but he doesn’t binge-scroll to distract himself from the precarity of his own existence, or the depressive alienation resulting from his estrangement from his labor, his colleagues, his family. Dude has a Facebook account but refuses to update his status or change his profile picture or like your selfie. He doesn’t abscond, he doesn’t abstain—he lives by his preference, dismantling the oppression of his existence from the inside, and choosing to fulfill the function of his circumstances. It’s a form of institutional critique, and Bartleby is radicalized at the moment his participation registers as such, which is when it becomes clear his choice is not to participate.
Where am I going with all of this? Now I’m thinking about an interview David Graeber did shortly after the events of Occupy Wall Street, where he talked a bit about passive resistance with the Brooklyn Rail:
One could make the argument, that since under neoliberalism everyone was told that everyone should think of themselves as a little corporation, more and more people started saying: Well, if I have to be a corporation, then why can’t I be a financial corporation? Why can’t I just start generating money out of nothing the way that they do? So more and more people simply demanded the right to have an appropriate and reasonable life for themselves and the people they loved through credit. If everybody’s doing it, the financial situation would have to crack at some point. They just simply carried on living. And eventually the whole thing reached a breaking point. You can think of it as this sort of passive resistance: “Okay, we will play along. You want us to all be little corporations? Fine, watch this.” And then you get a financial crisis.
To paraphrase Joan Didion: we tell stories on Facebook in order to live. Those stories are algorithmically ordered to generate a composite demographic subject, whose patterns of use and consumption will be aggregated into packages of data more valuable to corporations than whatever information is discernable from your tax return. The interpassive sameness, the violent banality of social media and the internet, covets the singularity of your individual preferences, if only to overturn previous generalizations about your habits, and this structural violence overflows into everyday life. It longs for nothing more than to simulate its users, just as capitalism longs for nothing more than to simulate its laborers. If you jam that machine by devotionally uploading only photos of Shih-Tzus in dresses, you eschew the purpose of its mediation—information retrieval masquerading as “social participation.” This single-subject visual trope becomes a kind of institutional critique, a metonym for acknowledging one’s complicity in a much denser, more opaque, and more discursive network of power. To remain distinct from a world of algrorithmically metered and data-tested sponsored content—simply from the banality and repetition of your content stream, the conscious choice to focus but not withdrawal—allows you a moment of preference, when asked to provide evidence of your distinct amalgamation of preferences, which capitalism yearns to simulate.
You would prefer not to.
— Kristi McGuire, 2017