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Design General

What Are Our Supports?

edited by Joni Low & Jeff O'Brien

by (author) Germaine Koh

Information Office, Doryphore Independent Curators Society, Art Metropole, Richmond Art Gallery
Initial publish date
Dec 2022
General, Performance, Contemporary (1945-)
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2022
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What are our supports, amidst current conditions of environmental, social and political precarity? How do artists draw attention to the underrecognized supports — material and relational, temporary and foundational — that sustain contexts for artistic communities, gift economy, and incidental encounters in our commons, amidst the increased privatization of public life? Are there ways to re-inhabit seemingly outdated support structures to embody different futures? What is the role of practice in relation to ongoing struggle?

This anthology, based on a series of artist’s projects in a downtown Vancouver park curated by Joni Low in 2018, reflects on the urgency of these questions now intensified by a global pandemic and human-induced climate crisis. Situated in Germaine Koh’s HMH: Boothy — a telephone booth-like platform and imaginative time-space portal — these projects approach art as quest and friendship as medium, manifesting a critically-engaged pleasure activism. Responding on an intimate register, they made perceptible the embodied support structures and sensorial agency that will continue to guide us through precarity: sensing otherwise, restoring Indigenous worldviews and reciprocity, habituating communal interpersonal rhythms and care, and revealing multiple dimensions of space and time towards incorporeal transformation.

With original artist reflections, invited poems and essays and parallel essay re-prints, the book includes contributions by Germaine Koh, Aron Louis Cohen and Russell Gordon; Emily Neufeld and T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss; S F Ho and Elisa Ferrari; DRIL Art Collective with Elisa Ferrari, John Brennan, Justin Patterson, and Michele Helen Mackenzie; Andrew Lee, Khan Lee and Francis Cruz; Otoniya J. Okot Bitek, Charlene Vickers, Jeff Derksen, Paula Booker, Jeff O’Brien and Joni Low, and reprinted texts by Celine Condorelli and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. It also features additional artworks by Chantal Gibson and Otoniya J. Okot Bitek, Debra Sparrow, and Ron Terada.

Co-edited by Joni Low and Jeff O’Brien Co-published by Information Office, Doryphore Curators Society, Richmond Art Gallery and Art Metropole Designed by Information Office

About the authors

Excerpt: What Are Our Supports? (edited by Joni Low & Jeff O'Brien; by (author) Germaine Koh)

From "Introduction: Materializing the Social" by Joni Low:

"In 2018, What Are Our Supports?—a series of artist’s projects in public space—responded to the then-current conditions of social, biopolitical, environmental and economic precarity, now intensified by the instabilities of a global pandemic and a human-induced climate crisis. On an intimate register that responded to these wider global patterns within direct lived experience, five artist groups explored the support structures—material and relational, temporary and ongoing—that sustain contexts for artistic communities, space, and incidental encounters in our commons, in a downtown park on the unceded and ancestral territories of the xwməθkwəy̓ əm (Musqueam), Sḵwxw̱ ú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples.

We began with these questions: what are the afterlives of material and conceptual structures that have outgrown intended “uses?”1 In a culture of planned obsolescence, what can we bring from the old and “outdated”—ideas, paradigms, technologies, ancient knowledges—to imagine different futures? How do we draw attention to the supports that allow for encounters with art and gift economy, that shift perceptions and ways of coming together? How do we sense the invisible webs of relations that support art and art communities—crucial mediation that creates relationship to context? Drawing inspiration from Céline Condorelli’s Support Structures project and publication (2003–2009; 2010/2012)—specifically, the need for greater discourse around the supports that facilitate the making and representation of space for art—the series looked to the frameworks artists create, and the energies that sustain yet often elude representation, in working together to build resilience and change.

These artists—Germaine Koh, Aron Louis Cohen, and Russell Gordon; Emily Neufeld and T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss; S F Ho and Elisa Ferrari and DRIL Art Collective, John Brennan, Elisa Ferrari, Michele Helen Mackenzie and Justin Patterson; Andrew Lee, Khan Lee and Francis Cruz—embody practices that are characterized and guided first and foremost by the quest of art: a journey through exploratory unknowns towards experiential knowledges, less so art’s commercial, capital and conspicuous rewards, neoliberal co-optations, and the constant pressures of productivity and striving. Responding in intermedial and sensorial ways, they approached art in public space as a form of research, provocation, experimentation, and collective learning with unexpected publics. Each group situated their project within Germaine Koh’s Home HMH Boothy, a platform that itself critiques space restrictions in our over-regulated city, and offers solutions for shelter. In many ways, Boothy is a microcosm of our world and an emblem of this moment, in its transformability and world-making potential.

From a currency exchange smelting electronic waste to coins, Indigenous ecosystems exploring life-in-common with ancient plant histories made present and tactile; surveillance portals alerting us to invisible networks and stratified systems of belonging, light boxes illuminating over-looked physical and sonic surfaces of the built environment, complimentary haircut services for the public as forms of care and trust, and intermedial sound and light performances—these artists made perceptible the textures of connection, self-organization, mutual aid, multi-directional time, and a collective critically-engaged pleasure activism."

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