Negotiations in a Vacant Lot

Negotiations in a Vacant Lot: Studying the Visual in Canada

Lynda Jessup
Erin Morton
Kirsty Robertson
Copyright Date: 2014
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  • Book Info
    Negotiations in a Vacant Lot
    Book Description:

    At a moment when the discipline of Canadian art history seems to be in flux and the study of Canadian visual culture is gaining traction outside of art history departments, the authors of Negotiations in a Vacant Lot were asked: is "Canada" - or any other nation - still relevant as a category of inquiry? Is our country simply one of many "vacant lots" where class, gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation interact? What happens to the project of Canadian visual history if we imagine that Canada, as essence, place, nation, or ideal, does not exist? The argument that culture is increasingly used as an economic and socio-political resource resonates strongly with the popular strategies of "urban gurus" such as Richard Florida, and increasingly with government policy. Such strategies both contrast with, but also speak to traditions of Canadian state support for culture that have shaped the national(ist) discipline of Canadian art history. The authors of this collection stand at the multiple points where national culture and globalization collide, however, suggesting that academic investigation of the visual in Canada is contested in ways that cannot be contained by arbitrary borders. Bringing together the work of scholars from diverse backgrounds and illustrated with dozens of works of Canadian art, Negotiations in a Vacant Lot unsettles the way we have used "nation" to examine art and culture and looks ahead to a global future. Contributors include Susan Cahill (Nipissing University), Mark A. Cheetham (University of Toronto), Peter Conlin (Academia Sinica, Taipei), Annie Gérin (Université du Québec à Montréal), Richard William Hill (York University), Kristy A. Holmes (Lakehead University), Heather Igloliorte (Concordia University), Barbara Jenkins (Wilfrid Laurier University), Alice Ming Wai Jim (Concordia University), Lynda Jessup (Queen’s University), Erin Morton (University of New Brunswick), Kirsty Robertson (Western University), Rob Shields (University of Alberta), Sarah E.K. Smith (Queen’s University), Imre Szeman (University of Alberta), and Jennifer VanderBurgh (Saint Mary’s University).

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9637-5
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-2)
    Lynda Jessup, Erin Morton and Kirsty Robertson
  6. Introduction: Rethinking Relevance: Studying the Visual in Canada
    (pp. 3-20)
    Lynda Jessup, Erin Morton and Kirsty Robertson

    At the turn of the millennium, Canadian historian IanMcKay questioned the ongoing relevance of Canadian history as a disciplinary project. As he put it,

    Why have a field of Canadian history if even the most powerful and far-reaching methodologies often treat Canada as a “stage” on which universal processes and formations interact? If Canada is more or less just a “vacant lot,” one more (relatively minor) place where class, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on, interact – as they do everywhere on the planet – why not go to where the action really is, to the United States,...

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 21-30)
      Erin Morton

      This book is concerned with investigating the history and politics of writing about the visual in Canada in the present, by illuminating how the process of conceptualizing, speaking of, writing about, and understanding this object of study also effectively serves to constitute it.¹ The essays gathered here are therefore decided interventions into the discourse of the study of the visual, in terms of the ways in which scholars have thought about its past, and in turn how this past either speaks back, fails to speak, or is prohibited from speaking in our current moment.² The visual is, in this regard,...

    • 1 Struck by Likening: Homer Watson, Jack Chambers, Gerhard Richter, and the Force of Art World Analogies
      (pp. 31-46)
      Mark A. Cheetham

      The use of the nation as an organizing rubric in Canadian visual culture can be brought into focus by examining the familiar pattern of often hyperbolic textual analogizing that makes artist “X” into the artist “Y” of his or her country. While we find such comparisons in everyday parlance and in many disciplines, rarely do these “likenings” seem accurate or useful. But like other clichés, they prosper. Thus Sir Francis Bacon was “the Plato of England,” John Singer Sargent was the “Velazquez of America,” and Samuel Palmer was the “English van Gogh.” Likenings are a form of analogy, a translation...

    • Colour plates
      (pp. None)
    • 2 Feminist Art History in Canada: A “Limited Pursuit”?
      (pp. 47-65)
      Kristy A. Holmes

      Within the last forty years, the discipline of art history has been transformed by feminist politics. During that rather short time span, feminist art history has shifted from a project of recovery and recuperation – one of finding so-called lost women artists and adding them into the dominant narrative of Western art – to one that questions and critiques patriarchy as one of the foundational ideologies of disciplinary art history. Within Canada, however, I would argue that while these critical discussions have generated a fair amount of work on specific women artists and on the various complex relationships they have...

    • 3 Dealing with Chiastic Perspectives: Global Art Histories in Canada
      (pp. 66-90)
      Alice Ming Wai Jim

      This chapter offers some preliminary thoughts on the current pedagogical direction of what I propose to call “global art histories” in Canada by addressing the apparent impasse posed by the notion of what is euphemistically called “ethnocultural art” in this country. It examines different interpretations of the latter chiefly through a survey of course titles from art history programs in Canada and a course on the subject that I teach at Concordia University in Montreal. In the second part, I reflect on some aspects of Quebec’s internal dynamics concerning nationalism and ethnocultural diversity that have affected the course of ethnocultural...

    • 4 The Location of/The Conditions for Art: On-Site Specifics and Site Adjustments
      (pp. 91-106)
      Annie Gérin

      The following reflection on urban art in the Canadian context developed from an incident that occurred several years ago. While humorous, it was certainly thought provoking and it expanded my understanding of the art historical concept of site specificity. It also made me wonder how it can be operationalized today to discuss urban artistic practices.

      In May 2006 I organized a small exhibition of contemporary art,Perambulations: Art of Motion and the Streets of Ottawa,³ as a contribution to a colloquium titledCultures in Transit: Cultural Mobility in Brazil and Canada.⁴ The colloquium brought together Brazilian and Canadian scholars to...

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 107-113)
      Imre Szeman

      Whenever one speaks about neo-liberalism the first danger to be avoided is reducing the term from the analytic to the normative – that is, from a descriptor of the ways things are organized and arranged at the present moment to a claim about whether this arrangement is a good one or not. Yet it is in the normative register that neo-liberalism is most often invoked. Some two decades after the temporal split of 1989 (i.e., the beginning of the “end of history” that accompanied the end of the Cold War) that we can’t help sticking squarely in the middle of...

    • 5 National Cultural Policy and the International Liberal Order
      (pp. 114-129)
      Barbara Jenkins

      I begin this chapter with three quotations intended as a response to a question posed by Ian McKay in the concluding paragraphs of his essay “The Liberal Order Framework: A Prospectus for a Reconnaissance of Canadian History.” How, he asks, can contemporary neo-liberals attempt to “Canadianize” themselves when their reductionist market ideology lacks any justification for Canada to exist at all? Wouldn’t it be easier for neo-liberals if Canada simply and naturally dissolved into the continental political economy it appears destined to be consumed by?⁴ This question parallels one of the queries that motivates our larger study in this volume....

    • 6 Visualizing the “New” North American Landscape
      (pp. 130-149)
      Sarah E.K. Smith

      Both the rhetoric and reality of neo-liberal globalization have large implications for scholarship, from the macro-level of disciplines (structured historically by the nation) to the micro-level of the objects and processes of study (the nation itself or aspects organized and categorized within the construct of the nation).³ Ian McKay has recognized such issues in the field of Canadian history, arguing that a strategy of reconnaissance is necessary to overcome the treatment of Canada as a site for universal actions, rather than a specific, historically constituted formation of liberalism.⁴ These same concerns are equally applicable to the field of Canadian visual...

    • 7 Arctic Culture/Global Indigeneity
      (pp. 150-170)
      Heather Igloliorte

      The historical relationship between Canada and the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic is complex, convoluted, and fraught with contradiction. The contemporary Inuit arts industry, for example, provides a cogent illustration of the paradox that characterizes the relationship between the Canadian state and the Inuit who live within the Canadian Arctic borders. Since the beginning of prolonged contact with the inhabitants of the north around the mid-twentieth century, the government of Canada has actively sought to suppress, dismantle, and eradicate the entire pre-contact Inuit way of life through the assimilative policies of colonization. Concurrent with this period of devastating cultural...

    • 8 The Vacant Lot: Who’s Buying It?
      (pp. 171-178)
      Richard William Hill

      I suppose it is an indication of the extent to which the study of Canada’s visual history has been explicitly a nation-building undertaking that we are obliged to acknowledge a crisis in the field when the traditional foundations of nationalism are called into question. After all, one need not normally have faith in or accept the subject of one’s research on its own terms: you needn’t be a Christian to study cathedrals or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or a communist to study socialist realism. The fear seems to be, as the quote from which the title of this...

    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 179-187)
      Kirsty Robertson

      In December 2010, WikiLeaks released a list of “infrastructural sites deemed vital to the national security of the United States.”¹ The document – a cable sent by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to overseas embassies – catalogued “critical dependencies” that if interrupted, destroyed, or exploited “would likely have an immediate and deleterious effect on the United States.”² Locations, objects, institutions, and factories were included, among them a Danish manufacturer of smallpox vaccine, the Nadym Gas Pipeline junction in Russia (“the most critical gas facility in the world”), the Southern Cross undersea cable landing in Suva, Fiji, a “battery-grade” manganese mine...

    • 9 The Aesthetics of the Territory-Nation-State and the “Canadian Problematique”
      (pp. 188-200)
      Rob Shields

      What does a nation or nation-state look like? The aim of this paper is neither to present a taxonomy of works representing Canada nor to define Canadian-ness through a category of creative work such as visual art. Rather, it is concerned with the problem of the aesthetics of nation and how it is composed in relation and tension to the state on one hand and to territory on the other. The nation-state is a familiar notion, but the solidarity of the state to a territorial ground tends not to be considered as a spatially constructed commons for a nation. This...

    • 10 Our Vacant Lot Is a Trailer Park: Why English Canada’s Perpetual Threat of Disappearing Keeps Film and Television Alive
      (pp. 201-216)
      Jennifer VanderBurgh

      In their introduction to this volume, Jessup, Morton, and Robertson advocate that Canadian visual culture “be studied as always already symptomatic of and always already productive of the kinds of political-cultural-economic aggregates that define the latest version of liberalism.” Interestingly, while the authors characterize this as a relatively new vantage point for art history, it is a perspective that tends to characterize Canadian film and tv scholarship across a variety of disciplines. This perspective, however, appears endangered as critics increasingly adopt the Web’s “post-national” convergence rhetoric, a vernacular that eclipses the actual, located specificities used to incentivize and regulate the...

    • Colour plates
      (pp. None)
    • 11 The Art of Conflict: Liberal Development after Neo-liberalism
      (pp. 217-235)
      Susan Cahill

      This chapter examines the ways in which exhibitions and art objects engaging with international conflict function to shape and reshape the category of “Canada” as a liberal project in the post–9/11 period. My purpose is to use such cultural objects as entry points to question thewhy, how, andwhat nowof Canadian art history and the ontological category of nation situated at its disciplinary centre. To do this, I base my analysis on three main premises:

      (1) Art and cultural objects do not occupy a space “above” cultural politics, nor do they simply reflect such politics. Rather, these...

    • 12 Considering Sovereignty and Neo-liberalism within Indeterminate States and Self-Determined Spaces
      (pp. 236-252)
      Peter Conlin

      The starting point here is not to worry about a putative emptiness at the core of the Canadian art historical project which threatens to dissolve a nation-bound discipline into universal or global forces. Instead, I am focusing on gaps and supposed loopholes which certain kinds of cultural practices – self-determined, independent, or merely aloof from dominant institutional practices – have attempted to work out of, owing to the promise of undoing or escaping official agendas and the false scarcity that underscores so much of contemporary art. Rather than considering vacancy as something fearful or as merely a neutral precondition contrived...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-274)
  11. Contributors
    (pp. 275-278)
  12. Index
    (pp. 279-290)