THE SYSTEM

This week’s post, The System, will begin after this important message . . .

HYPO

I’m shifting my attention from drool. to HYPO, a newsletter. (I’ll still be posting to drool, but the posts will be less frequent.)

HYPO is not, like a blog post, public. It will be delivered directly to your inbox. The only way to see/read it is by subscribing. You can do that using the handy form, there on the right. If you are on a mobile use this direct link or scroll to the very bottom for a subscribe button.

HYPO will be different from drool. I’m excited about getting out of the blog box, escaping the social media giants’s algorithms, shaking things up, experimenting. I want to see what my newsletter can be, what I can turn it into. Come along for the ride . . .

We now bring you The System . . .

THE SYSTEM

Recently I was asked to sit on a couple of arts juries, to decide on exhibition proposals and acquisitions. I gave it some thought, weighed the pros and the cons and, in the end, declined.

Well, you might be thinking . . . You, Tony, seem to have all sorts of complaints and/or thoughts about the arts system, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and use these invitations to, you know, change things from the inside?

Good question.

The answer is: I don’t believe the system can be meaningfully changed from the inside. The first rule of systems is to do whatever is necessary to perpetuate the system. If you put emphasis on being accepted, buying in, you get co-opted, no matter what.

In the case of an arts jury, sure, I might have enough persuasion power (or whatever you want to call it) to get something included that would not otherwise have been considered. But I still see this as, essentially, token.

Furthermore, it would feel to me, somehow, like collusion. I’d rather remain, as much as possible, outside the system. That way I can retain what I like to think of as my “observer” status. By remaining as independent as possible I have more room to move and critique.

You might also be thinking . . . Well, Tony, you participate in and reap some rewards from the system. Aren’t you being hypocritical here?

Another good question.

Yes, it’s true, I do participate in the system. I pay my taxes, stop at red lights, hold doors open for people, and so on. And, yes, I’m engaged with PhotoWorld™, after all, you’re reading these words, are you not? But one can be engaged, participate, from a position outside the system. What’s the alternative? Giving up? Becoming a hermit?

And I do reap some rewards. Get the occasional show or mention, make a print sale from time to time, and stuff like that. But that’s not a complete definition of success. The fact that I don’t feel I must conform or suck up to prevailing attitudes and systems leaves me free to be critical. It also leaves me free to see the world in way that’s less mediated by the prevailing systems of thought, politics and group-think.

Not that my work is radical or anything. I believe that to be effective expression must remain recognizable. But trying to see and render the world in a way that’s independent from how the powers-that-be want (demand) it be seen usually results in a more dimensional understanding.

But sure, I live in this world so am, by definition, a hypocrite.

But, you might wonder . . . What’s the point of being a serious photographer, putting in all that time, money and emotion, if you don’t get adopted by the establishment, if your work doesn’t get seen?

Well, my work does get seen. Perhaps not as much as it would be if I spent more time (and money) promoting it to the blue-chip movers and shakers of PhotoWorld™. But every book I’ve published has sold out, my two most recent exhibitions have been in art (as opposed to commercial) galleries in Groningen (Holland) and NYC (USA). So there are ways to penetrate the system without falling for it.

Besides, I do photo projects for myself . . . to learn, to get out of the house. Any other “exposure” is only a side effect of that primary impulse.

As to getting a pat on the back from the establishment: Fuck that shit. I choose to spend my time and attention on the periphery because it’s more interesting there.

(I also spend some time monitoring popular culture, trying to decipher that. Without understanding the status quo it is impossible to critique it. I want to occupy a space where I’m close enough to the system to see what’s going on, but removed enough to have a longer perspective.)

And, yes, I understand that the system will absorb, render effete and/or monetize any irritant it can. I understand that, until we get closer to the end, the system is pretty much unassailable. The edge either gets pulled to the centre and used, or is ignored.

So I’m not sure where choosing to operate and remain on the periphery leaves me, vis-a-vis having/building a career in photography. But this is the choice I make. I’m happy to let the chips fall where they may because, in the end, not only do I have to live with the system, I also have to live with myself.

(All images above are out takes from Official Ottawa.)

PHOTOGRAPHY & POLITICS

Couple of things to make clear at the start . . .

I’m not talking here about the day-to-day, vernacular photography we see posted on social media. I quite like some of that and appreciate the function it fulfills. (Although some of what follows can be applied to that kind of photography, too. After all, all photographs define, somehow, some aspects of the aspirations and world view of the person who took them.)

What I am talking about are the bodies of work created and circulated by photographers who intend to situate their work within the confines of the “serious” and/or “fine art” realms of PhotoWorld™. What are their personal politics? How is it rendered in their work? Do they care? Does it matter?

So okay, with that out of the way, let me begin . . .

My view of, and interest in, photography has always skewed towards the political. And I define “politics” in photography quite broadly. It need not be, in fact often isn’t, overt. It includes informed and incisive looks at, and dissections of, the world. It might consider personal or global politics from a tempered, poetic perspective, or simply be a photographer trying to honestly define their life. (Can there be anything more political that trying to honestly define your life?)

And, it must be said that a good photograph, no matter what, contains a multitude of wonderful aspects to appreciate. What I hope to find is informed opinion and intelligence, photographs that will educate me by showing me something I haven’t thought of before. Or photographs that cause me to reconsider or expand my world view by shedding new light on something that I have thought of before.

But I also look for and analyze the politics contained in images, whether those politics were consciously embedded by the photographer or not. (And this coincides neatly with my belief that many photos are gateways to some aspect of their creators’ subconscious, to their aspirations and/or world view . . . i.e. their politics)

But (and remember I’m talking here about “serious” and “fine art” photography) . . . but a lot of photographs that are created, liked, and given blue-chip support seem to me to be nothing more than pro forma, commercial images that merely support a product. The product being the status quo.

There are, of course, a million shades of grey. I’ve seen quiet, beautiful work that is profoundly political, just as I’ve seen bold edgy work that seems nothing more than a clever way to separate money from patrons who want to appear radical (while at the same time making sure the art they buy matches their glamorous decor).

Don’t get me wrong, I know we need a certain amount of joy, distraction, and just plain beauty in our lives. And, sure, there’s no reason art can’t supply some of that.

But the embrace of anodyne photography equals a tacit acceptance of the tumult that the world (your world, my world, everyone’s world) is being subjected to these days.

Which side are you on?

OTTAWA NOTES

JUSTIN WONNACOTT STUDIO SHOW

This Friday and Saturday Justin Wonnacott will be opening his studio. You are invited to drop by, look at some photographs, have a drink and a chat. And, it must be said, chow down on some of the stellar snacks he’s been known to make.

Happening this Friday, November 29 between five and nine and on Saturday the 30th from one until about six.

Getting there is a bit tricky but will be worth the effort. This is what Justin says:

Folks are invited to a party in my studio with things to eat,
some wine and pictures on the wall.
My studio entrance is the north door at 82 Rue Hanson in

Gatineau on the second floor of La Filature .
I will leave a note on the door with my phone number to call
and I will open the door for you.
Come and see where I work. But….. If you plan to come please

RSVP in a facebook message to let me know when you are coming.
Thanks, Justin Wonnacott

REMI THERIAULT at STUDIO SIXTY SIX

Also on Friday, No Vacancy, a show of Remi Thériault‘s images of life on the road, in the clubs, and stuff, will open at Studio Sixty Six. That’s November 29th, six to nine.

(ANTI) ARTIST-STATEMENT

1/

A while ago, in a fit of inspiration, I dashed this off on my Twitter feed:

Not decorative, not lyrical, not framed as art.
– My (anti) artist-statement.

This isn’t a statement against artists. No, it’s kind of what I’d like my artist statement to be. Except it’s too simplistic. Though it must be said that there’s a beauty to simplicity and to lack of explanation, to leaving it up to the viewer to come to their own conclusion(s).

But, because I embrace my contradictions, let me explain . . .

I don’t want my photographs to be about the history of art, nor for their meaning (whatever that might be) to be reliant on the viewers’ education. I don’t want their form to supercede their content. I don’t want my work’s “success” to be defined by its acceptance into the white-cube-gallery world that signifies “important” work (and here I initially misspelled important as impotent, yup).

And, yes, I know that meaning of (almost) all Art is available for everyone, no matter what; that you don’t need an education to think and to feel or to be affected by any form of expression.

But I hope you catch my drift here . . . I’m talking about Art (photographs) who’s success (acceptance) relies upon the kind of in-thinking (and in-breeding) that forms the closed loop of so much that is considered valuable these days. And in these Late-Capitalism, neoliberal times value is most often equated to monetary worth and acceptance by rich motherfuckers. Let’s call it: collectability.

2/

I just returned from coffee and discussion with another photographer. He was bemoaning the fact that the art world has changed. (Has it?) The gate keepers of those white-cube spaces are too busy (or something), he said, to even look at, let alone consider the work of (senior) artists. Or at least those artists that don’t mesh with their (the gatekeepers) scheme.

I’m sure there are exceptions to what he said, just as I’m sure there is a certain amount of truth to it. But it seems obvious that the system is skewed. Kind of like it has always been. (Of course, if you are an in-demand artist you’ll probably be thinking the system works just fine, thank you very much.)

What is true, though, is that there is a surfeit of photographers clamouring for the limited sanctified wall space in the power-structures we call art galleries. Getting seen and then chosen by the choosers is very difficult and, seemingly (within certain bounds) kind of arbitrary.

I suggested to my friend that if the people who hold the keys to the galleries, and thus to bluechip acceptance (and sales) won’t consider your work perhaps it’s time to look for ways to circumvent those gate keepers, to redefine success, to find other ways of disseminating the information you call your art.

After all, if the door is blocked, it makes no sense to keep banging on it, thinking (hoping) that this time it will be opened.

3/

Now, I’m not saying that galleries have no place in the art world. What I am saying is that showing in galleries is not, or needn’t be, the be-all and end-all; that in this new age there are so many other options available for the dissemination and monetization of art. The problem seems (to me) to be the lack of imagination artists display when it comes to rethinking their place in the current system.

Perhaps it’s time to devise and implement new strategies and tactics, schemes and alternate means, different definitions of success. If you are compelled to create and communicate it might be time to move past (or around) the art-system as it exists now.

Of course, if the approval of the power brokers that represent the status quo is what you need, if your validation will only come from having your work placed on the white walls of the white cubes, I’m afraid you’re pretty much stuck with playing their game, using their rules. And you will change nothing.

OTTAWA NOTES

FURTHER

In the coming months, here on drool., I’ll be thinking out loud about the ideas expressed in the above paragraphs. Tune in to keep up.

OLIVIA JOHNSTON at CUAG

Opening today (Sunday, September 15th) at the Carleton University Art Gallery.

From the CUAG website:
In this new series of photographic portraits, Olivia Johnston invited peers to pose as Christian saints and Madonnas, as well as other biblical figures. As an artist with a secular upbringing, Johnston has been investigating the influence of Christianity within the visual language of Western art and wider culture. Exploring the collection as CUAG’s fifth artist in the Collection Invitational series, the Ottawa-based artist has selected artworks that depict or reference Madonnas, as well as works that contain symbols or narratives associated with saints that are brought into conversation with her own works.

LAUREN BOUCHER and KAT FULWIDER at EXPOSURE GALLERY

Opening Wednesday, September 18th. 6 to 8 PM.

From the Exposure Gallery website:
Heal represents a pilgrimage back to the self. In a dialogue of expression, Katherine Fulwider and Lauren Boucher utilize the photographic medium as a vehicle for introspection, exposing the active process of healing.

In Fulwider’s project Womb, elements of nature and the female form are brought into union through exploring the disconnection between humans, nature and Spirit. Through her dreamlike cyanotypes, Fulwider highlights the universal need for connection and refuge in growth. In You Are Safe Here, Boucher examines ephemera and how the photographic medium plays into recording impermanence. In her visceral, poetic imagery, Boucher enacts performative release by vocalizing personal prayer and affirmation.

Together, Boucher and Fulwider reclaim voice and access inner truths through connection to both the external world and the intimate self.