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Kadiatou Diallo and Dominique Malaquais, for SPARCK
In September 2013, reports started coming out of Kinshasa of a cosmonaut walking the streets at odd times and places. The first sightings were in Lingwala, a neighborhood near the city center. Then came the wildly eroded streets of Kindele quarter; Kimbanseke, home, once, to the prophet Simon Kibangu; Ngwaka, the city’s toughest area; Matonge, where Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fought the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974; and, finally Massina, also known as the People’s Republic of China. Initially, people just watched the cosmonaut go by. Then they started filming. Photos and pocket films were made with cell phones. Pictures went up on Facebook. Shortly, the diaspora was commenting. Eventually, a big-name photographer got involved and posted images online. By 2014, a scholar in Europe had got wind of things and, following a brief research trip, gave her first lecture on the phenomenon.
As it happened, we knew more about the cosmonaut than most. This was a result of our close working relationship with a Kinshasa based crew—part artists’ collective, part think-tank and experimental living facility—called Kongo Astronauts. K.A. were in daily contact with the cosmonaut and, while they explained that a formal meeting was not as yet possible, they were in a position to provide us with the best images known to date: a series of photographs shot at a site some five hours South of Kinshasa, Zongo Falls. Shortly thereafter, they followed this up with a video, also shot at the falls.
The still and moving images showed the cosmonaut ambling through a forest, pushing a boulder, Sisyphus-like, up a steep embankment, and performing a ritual before the falls. In some shots, his head was covered; in others, his face was visible. Everywhere, he appeared in a silver suit bristling with extensions of various kinds.
The images had come to us in March of 2014. Following this, we heard little. The cosmonaut appeared to have ceased his Kinshasa rounds. Then, a week ago, came reports of renewed sightings, this time in the neighborhood of Limete. This prompted a series of questions that, it struck us, went to the heart of what we were trying to accomplish in this issue of FUSE.
Speculation, it seems clear, is at the core of the cosmonaut’s appearances. This is so in two regards. First is the fact that he seeks to prompt speculation among his viewers: hypothesis, conjecture, guesswork. He gives few clues as to who he is or why he chooses to amble through the city. On occasion, he has been known to help a person in need—crossing a street, changing a tire—but, as a general proposition, he does nothing in particular. This raises a lot of questions concerning what, precisely, he is about.
Second, his presence opens up spaces of possibility—of moves that might eventually be made. Not committed to any particular course of action, the cosmonaut appears to be hedging his bets. These two aspects of his appearances reveal the double nature of speculation. Besides conjecture, the latter also indicates an investment made in the hope of gain, but with the risk of loss. To speculate, in the second sense of the word, is to hedge one’s bets. The link between the two meanings is particularly obvious in the present instance. The cosmonaut is investing in the future of an as-yet-unknown prospect. Put differently, he is making space—building a possible stage for himself—which he may or may not choose to act upon in the future.
In as radically unstable a post-war context as Kinshasa’s, this double use of speculation makes a great deal of sense. AbdouMaliq Simone, one of the foremost thinkers on contemporary urban experience in the global South, points to the critical importance, for everyday navigation of the city, of making things happen. Where there are few formal jobs to be had, where shifting political, economic and social states of affairs make it exceedingly difficult to position oneself, where who and what one can count on is in constant flux, the ability to create spaces, or better yet to find breaches, into which one can temporarily insert oneself and which one can exit just as fast, means everything.  The cosmonaut undoubtedly sees this and has chosen to act upon it.
The result is one of the more arresting experiments in performance art that we have encountered of late. For this, indubitably, is art. The cosmonaut defines himself, and is trained, as an artist. His art, however, is not readily recognizable as such. In fact, as the foregoing suggests, it is not recognizable as much of anything at all—save, that is, itself. Nor is it signed: the man in the cosmonaut suit does not claim ownership of the persona that he inhabits as he walks the streets of Kinshasa. As such, his performances engage with a notion put forth by philosopher Stephen Wright. Art is at its most effective, politically, Wright holds, when it is not recognizable as art: when it flies under the radar screen that the art world uses to identify what is and is not of its ambit. Because it cannot be pinned down as art, it cannot be policed by an art world intimately linked to the structures of power that govern us. 
Much the same might be said of the works by Kongo Astronauts around which this issue of FUSE revolves. None quite fit the definition(s) of art and all engage with the notion and the practice of speculation. The first, Postcolonial Dilemna Track #02, can best be described as a visual experiment in/on extractive processes. To a screeching tune, it probes the violence visited on vast swaths of Congo by the rabid exploitation of resources—raw power (transformed into electricity), coltan (the stuff that makes cell phone and satellite communications possible), heterogenite (a compound of copper and cobalt) and all manner of precious and semi-precious gems. Many of these resources are traded and re-traded on highly volatile markets by investors who speculate extensively on minute-to-minute shifts in value. The pairing of immense wealth for some and grinding poverty for most that such speculation entails makes for radical instability that finds an echo in the formal instability of the film. Sight and sound, cuts and repeats are wed in such a manner that little makes sense, save the sense that extraordinarily violent forces are being brought into play. And yet… Listen closely, in several languages, through muffled satellite relays, and things become rather less clear-cut. There is talk of hauntings (envoûtements); technology is misappropriated and fails. Certainties as to who has access to and rules what begin to fray at the edges.
Hauntings come front and center in Postcolonial Dilemna Track #01 (Redux). Here, the focus shifts from the extraction of raw materials to that of souls, one understood as an extension of the other. Wrapped in the garb of Conradian fantasy, speculative capitalism hovers as bodies and bribes are traded. But, again, doubt enters the picture, here in the form of zombies whose allegiances are wholly unclear. Certainties fray further still.
In Young Money Billionaire (Photo Novella), a Kinshasa street slang primer, it is language that frays at the edges. Lingala, Kinshasa’s lingua franca, is shot through with words borrowed from French and reworked to suit local needs. Langila, a form of Lingala slang, plays still further havoc with the self-styled “mother tongue,” bending it to wholly new ends. Nothing means what, on the face of things, it seems to mean—not for Lingala speakers and even less so for users of French. Nor will the primer be of much help: by the time you’re done reading it, words will have shifted, morphed, taken on new significations and forms. Langila is a wholly speculative language: it is made, remade and unmade daily in much the same way that the cosmonaut moves through the city—in order to make things happen, to set the stage for the new, the unlikely and, hence, the possible.
Emphatically lo-tech, all of the pieces we have commissioned for this issue have a certain samizdat quality. Video shot on the fly with a camera meant primarily to take still pictures; images and sounds pilfered and re-played unedited; cut-and-paste photomontages recalling a genre popular in second and third tier magazines from the 1970s. Both the films and the photo novella make use of media and modes that stand in stark counterpoise to the slick production values characterizing so much of what the art world has to offer at the edge of thetwenty-first century. Much the same might be said of the Zongo falls pictures, where, hijacked Photoshop meets cheap, over-the-counter calendar imagery, or, indeed, of the cosmonaut himself: his helmet, after all, is a plastic bucket. All of this is a deliberate decision of course, and a deeply political one at that. The point is to expose the seams of process: to get under the skin of practice in a complicated place and render visible the mechanics of making things happen. In much the same way as the cosmonaut is at work creating possibilities, his Astronaut colleagues are imagining what can be done with the building blocks at hand. This is not to say that either one—Kongo Astronauts or cosmonaut—wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to imagine more with more means. The point, rather, is that, given few means and a bent to do exactly as they please, they are intent on telling an unadorned story, both of themselves and of the place from which they work. In this, they function as a model for emergent SPARCK projects.
In December, the SPARCK team will be in Kinshasa. There, the plan is to film a series of interviews with K.A. and, hopefully, the cosmonaut. This footage, shot with much the same material as were the Postcolonial Dilemna films, will be the basis of a podcast for our ongoing Artists On Africa project, SPARCK’s latest endeavor.  A.O.A. is a series of conversations with artists, watchable on iTunes. It considers how creators at work on the continent make things happen, creating breaches—spaces/tools/methods—for sharing knowledge about what it may mean today to produce art (or to decide that such is beside the point) from Africa. Speculative practices, here, are a central focus: choices creators make to eschew fixed outcomes in favor of steering a contingent, and if need be a changing path in contexts of constant flux.
With this project, we seek to plumb issues that go to the heart of who we are. As it was gaining its sea legs, SPARCK was very much focused on setting a track record: meeting objectives within a formal relationship to its funders, a foundation that generously covered its first three years of activity.  Entering upon the second phase of its life, it opted for a turn. Decisions as to which projects will be undertaken are now made in a distinctly more fluid way, in order to allow for greater experimentation: that is, for undertakings that involve more risks. Speculation is a fundamental matter. We invest our energies in creating possible platforms for further foray. Sometimes, this means working with no net at all, save threads of conjecture we weave over Skype, in transit or, as here, in the ether space of the Web, with partners in dialogue whose interest in us is born of similar stands.
Our collaboration with Kongo Astronauts and the relationship resulting from this have, in many respects, been emblematic of this process. What began as a conversation about possibilities, over the months morphed into a full-scale partnership, in which daily developments in Kinshasa emerged as the engine for shaping SPARCK’s contribution to this final issue of FUSE. Initially, the theme of the contribution was speculation. In time, speculation became the means and the method—the thing itself. In the process, we have come a little bit closer to what we imagine we might become. Hence the structure of this issue, which is very different from what we had planned at first. Hence, too, our thanks to FUSE, which, as it comes to a close, has opened the way for us to a new dynamic.
 AbdouMaliq Simone, For The City Yet to Come (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004).
 Stephen Wright, “Spy Art: Infiltrating the Real,” Afterimage 34 no. 1-2 (2006), 52.
 Artists on Africa.
 The Africa Centre, Cape Town, South Africa.
All images: Cosmonaut at Zongo Falls (2014) .Images courtesy of Kongo Astronauts.
Safiya Randera, Director, Editor
Writers: Gina Badger, Natalie Kouri-Towe
Jack Yan Chen, Director of Photography
Jacob de Hoop, Location Sound, Camera Assist
Art Direction, Gina Badger
Puppy Machine (Chandra Bulucon), Music and Sound Mix
Mitchell Akiyama, End Credit Music
Production Assistants: Yaniya Lee, Robyn Lew, Alison Cooley, Nicole Cropley, Skye Maule O’Brien
Branding: Gina Badger, Safiya Randera
Starring: Richard Fung, Gina Badger, John Greyson, Lisa Steele, Jacob de Hoop, Rinaldo Walcott, Abdi Osman, Yaniya Lee and cheyanne turions, Camille Turner, Miss Fluffy Soufflé, Clive Robertson, Walter the hamster, Finley Akiyama and Eloise Akiyama, Laura Kane, Syed Hussan, Gina Badger. Extras: Finley Akiyama, Eloise Akiyama, Sharlene Bamboat, Amanda Bly, Ella Bly, Jacob de Hoop, Jessica Patricia Kichoncho Karuhanga, Heather Kirby, Natalie Kouri-Towe, Aliya Pabani, Jesse Purcell, Jenna Robertson.
Thanks to Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell of FAG (Feminist Art Gallery) for “we can’t compete!”
Gear generously donated by: Charles Street Video, Puppy Machine
Shot on location in Toronto at Haul (Toronto) and 401 Richmond.
In this issue of FUSE, SPARCK (Space for Pan-African Research, Creation and Knowledge), in conversation with the Kongo Astronauts, reflects on uses of speculation as a tool for making sense of and navigating postcolonial geographies. It is the final issue in our series, States of Postcoloniality, which has ran at the rate of every other issue since fall 2011. This ambitious series, curated by outgoing FUSE Editorial Director Gina Badger, has featured Egypt, Inuit Nunangat, the Baltic region, decolonial Aesthetics in the Americas, and finally, speculative futures from Kinshasa, in the DRC.
For the purpose of this issue, postcolonial environments are defined as spaces worldwide whose present is poised on the cusp of a violent, unresolved past and a radically uncertain future. The issue takes the form of conjectural narratives and conversations around alternative ways of producing and disseminating knowledge. Individually and as a group, the contributions engage with an approach that has been at the heart of the SPARCK initiative since its inception in 2008: casting aside hierarchical notions of centre vs periphery and formal vs informal, they concentrate instead on process, movement and shifting networks.
Published as a web-exclusive issue, this will be FUSE‘s last. It consists of a collection of work from the Kinshasa-based Kongo Astronauts, as curated by Kadiatou Diallo and Dominique Malaquais of SPARCK. Its multimedia contents will be published on our website over the month of August, so stay tuned.
In a post-disciplinary funkitude, Kongo Astronauts is an attempt to move beyond the psychic ghettos that hold us fast. Its appearances, transmissions and contaminations signal a vision that is simultaneously intuitive, polysemic, multidimensional and hyperlinear, constructed to face down manifold forms of exile and unmooring. A state of consciousness modified by the inexplicable, remixable ad infinitum, Kongo Astronauts is hybrid and poetic concept. It is a navigator of cognitive dissonance that reinvents itself by the minute, transgressing physical, virtual and aesthetic frontiers to a Hip Hop beat, oscillating between past and future present.
SPARCK (Space for Pan-African Research, Creation and Knowledge) is a programme of experimental multi-disciplinary arts residencies, workshops, symposia, exhibitions, publications and performances centred on innovative, ethically driven approaches to urban space.
Kadiatou Diallo is a Cape Town based artist/ educator/ catalyst with an MA in educational psychology (Universities of Maastricht, NL and Stellenbosch, RSA) and a diploma in Fine Arts (Ruth Prowse School of Art, Cape Town). She has worked as a researcher, curriculum developer and evaluator in the NGO sector (adult education and community healthcare) with the Adult Learning Network. She has developed and facilitated a wide range of creativity workshops, using applied arts and culture as tools for processes in other areas and disciplines (for universities, conferences, NGOs and youth groups). Kadiatou served on the executive committee of the Association of Visual Arts and on the Board of Greatmore Art Studios. She is co-founder of the Cape Town based initiative, Kwa, a physical and conceptual space for imaginations.
Dominique Malaquais is a scholar and writer. Her work focuses on intersections between emergent urban cultures, global, late capitalist market forces and political and economic violence in Central Africa. She has taught extensively in the United States (Columbia and Princeton Universities, Vassar, Trinity and Sarah Lawrence Colleges) and is currently based in France, where she holds the position of Senior Researcher at CNRS – the National Science Research Centre, Paris.Dominique is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles, as well as essays, poems and short stories in English, French and Spanish. She is Associate Editor of Chimurenga magazine (South Africa) and sits on the editorial board of the journal Politique africaine (France).
Image: Cosmonaut in Kinshasa (2014). Courtesy of Kongo Astronauts with the kind assistance of Renaud Barret.]]>
Sonny Assu, #IdleNoMore, 2013. Acrylic on panel, 40 x 84 in. Image courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Sonny Assu: Possession
Curated by Jon Davies
Oakville Galleries at Centennial Square
1 December 2013 – 16 February
Review by Ellyn Walker
Possession is the condition of having, occupying or owning something. Sonny Assu’s recent solo exhibition at Oakville Galleries explored notions of possession through both historical and contemporary lenses, drawing links between Canada’s colonial project and intensifying capitalist tendencies. Aptly located in Centennial Square—a large central building in downtown Oakville that also houses its public library—Possession raised important questions about how knowledges are brokered, how exchange takes place, and how communities participate in cultural expression. These questions reemerged throughout the works, inviting viewers to consider how histories, art and sites interrelate—a pertinent consideration for a city like Oakville that sits atop the original meeting place of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Wyandot peoples. Thus, the exhibition itself can be regarded as an intervention into the bucolic colonial suburb known as Oakville.
Born and raised in British Columbia, Assu is Liǥwildaʼxw of the We Wai Kai First Nation (Cape Mudge), an identity that is expressed throughout his body of work. Now living and working in Montreal, Assu’s practice grapples with a sense of place in a city that has long harboured its own political divisions—such as enduring Anglo-Franco tensions and the notoriously violent land dispute that took place at Kanesatake in 1990 (also known as the Oka Crisis). Often regarded as a politically active city—think of the 2012 tuition protests that saw thousands of students take to the streets as just one recent example—Assu’s practice articulates what he considers to be a void in Montreal’s political discussions: Indigenous issues of sovereignty.  Currently enrolled in the master of fine arts program in Fibres and Material Practices at Concordia University, Assu’s practice continues to evolve across relational geographies and material disciplines, as evident in the diversity of works exhibited in Possession. Curated by Jon Davies (the associate curator at Oakville Galleries), Assu’s range is celebrated in photographic, sculptural, installation and painterly forms, and reflects the complex, hybrid and sometimes paradoxical nature of cultural identities.
Left: Sonny Assu: Possession (installation shot). Image courtesy of the Artist and the Oakville Galleries. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid. Right: Sonny Assu, Longing #25 (2011). Reclaimed Cedar, brass, 13.5 x 9 x 9.5 in. Image courtesy of the Artist and Equinox Gallery. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Assu’s series of sculptures entitled Longing (2011) appear stoically throughout the gallery, like canonical European busts raised on plinths. These cedar logging offcuts originate from near Assu’s Vancouver Island reservation and resemble traditional Kwakwaka’wakw masks in their newly fashioned forms. Within the gallery, the woodcuts are re-presented as masks on brass stands, at varying heights and angles, and are characterized by Assu as “colonizers, warriors and bureaucrats.”  Assu’s reimagining of traditional Indigenous masks using contemporary waste (or logging refuse) interrupts the white cube in a number of ways. For instance, Assu’s combining of typically high and low materials enables him to nudge colonial, imperial and capitalist histories all at once. Similarly, since Western artists have predominantly used the mask to symbolize notions of primitivism or the so-called prehistorical, Assu’s subversion of the mask ruptures its colonial art histories and instead offers more nuanced understandings of cultural materials and Indigenous symbolism. It is up to viewers to negotiate the mask beyond its history as a fetishized ethnographic object, a call to reconsider how one encounters and, in turn, understands Indigenous objects.
This tension also exists in Assu’s photographic series Artifacts of Authenticity (2011), which extends his use of woodcuts by documenting them in various locales. Three beautifully framed, glossy photographs take up one gallery wall, depicting notable British Columbian sites, including the Museum of Anthropology, Equinox Gallery and Roberts Gallery and Gifts. These locations signify both canonical and contested sites of Indigenous representation and inclusion in Canada: the colonial museum, the commercial gallery and the tokenistic tourist shop. In these images, Assu restages the offcut masks in ways that intervene and unsettle their histories as Othered artifacts within each location’s politicized context. For instance, the image of the tourist shop portrays the cultural commodification and hyper-ethnicization of Aboriginal artifacts, now including a single woodcut mask on display amongst cultural kitsch. Through careful looking, one can see a security camera lurking in the far corner of the image. This reminder of surveillance is echoed in another part of the exhibition, the site-specific work Colonial Eyes, They’re Watching You… (2013). Although hardly noticeable, the gallery’s security camera is subtly reimagined, enveloped in copper leaf—an increasingly familiar material used throughout Assu’s practice.
Sonny Assu, Colonial Eyes, They’re Watching You… (2013). Copper Leaf on reclaimed gallery surveillance camera. Image courtesy of the Artist and Art Mûr. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Davies’s accompanying curatorial text, “Face Value,” explores the ways in which Assu takes up visible and invisible histories in his work. We see this clearly in the installation 1884–1951 (2009), which was also part of last summer’s blockbuster international Indigenous exhibition Sakahàn at the National Gallery of Canada. Its breathtaking array of 67 copper coffee cups, akin to those of Starbucks, appear toppled over a vintage Hudson’s Bay blanket. Sixty-seven cups—the same number of years the potlatch ceremony was prohibited in Canada—is not the only metaphor at work in the piece. The mass of disposable copper cups subverts one’s material expectation of disposability, where unlike in the West, copper is a highly regarded material by the Kwakwaka’wakw people. Assu’s use of a dark red Hudson’s Bay blanket (different from the popular four-stripe version) evokes the blood and violence entangled in Canada’s history of colonial expansion. This work, like much of Assu’s practice, merges facets of the past with the present to mirror other parallels at stake, such as autobiography and cultural history, Indigeneity and coloniality, and cultural and consumer wealth.
In more graphic style, Assu employs painting in his series of giant, wooden crest sculptures. Each is colourfully painted in army camouflage or monochromatic and contrary colours and given Twitter hashtag names such as #IdleNoMore (2013), #angrybirds (2011) and #digitalnative (2011). Assu brings the pictorial style and recognizable shape of Chilkat weaving in conversation with other cultural practices such as graffiti and script writing, contributing to this series’ markedly hybrid style. Chilkat weaving is a traditional textile practice of the Tlingit, Tsimshian, Haida and other peoples of the Northwest Coast that features Indigenous imagery and lush wool fringe. Its distinctly vertical form and crest-like shape enabled high-ranking chiefs to wear Chilkat blankets as robes during special ceremonial occasions, such as the potlatch—a consistent cultural reference throughout Assu’s work. Although the aesthetic of each piece within the series differs greatly, Assu’s reliance on the Chilkat shape is highly politicized, as it insists on the visibility of a historically marginalized practice alongside other dominant cultural forms.
While the space of this review is not substantial enough to critically engage with all of the works in the exhibition (to the extent I would like), Possession offered a powerful artistic commentary on issues of identity, colonialism and sovereignty that adds to a growing dialogue around art practices and decolonization. The exhibition’s effect lies in its lingering; one returns to Assu’s works and their larger questions in everyday instances, such as when buying coffee or when seeing unused pieces of wood. What role does one play in perpetuating capitalistic and colonial practices? Where does one’s intention end and one’s intervention begin? These questions define a vector of considerations at play in Possession that move beyond the frame of the art exhibition and into real life.
 Sonny Assu, personal correspondence with the author, July 2013.
 Jon Davies, “Face Value” (Oakville: Oakville Galleries, 2013), 7.
Ellyn Walker is a curator and writer based in Toronto. Her work focuses on cross-cultural and artistic production as a type of decolonizing practice. Her research asks questions of inclusion and coalition in relation to the nation-state. Born and raised in Toronto, Walker is a settler of Scottish and Italian ancestry born on Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Wyandot territory. Her projects have been presented by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Xpace Cultural Centre and Videofag. Her writing has been published in C Magazine, the Journal for Curatorial Studies, PUBLIC, Magenta magazine, Studio and Sketch. Ellyn recently completed her MFA at OCAD University in the Criticism & Curatorial Practice program.
Kim Adams, Toaster Work Wagon (1997) 1960s VW bus parts, bicycles. Collection of Museum London; purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program and the Moore Fund, 2013. Installation at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo: Mike Lalich
Kim Adams, One for the Road
Art Gallery of Hamilton
8 February – 4 May 2014
Review by Michael DiRisio
Recently on at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, One for the Road surveyed more than thirty years of Kim Adams’s interdisciplinary artworks. Though best known for his sculptural works, comprised of repurposed plastic models and full-scale structures, the exhibition also included numerous drawings and prints. Despite this wide range of materials, Adams’s sustained interest in repurposing and reconstructing objects from everyday life produced a cohesive exhibition, one that drew attention to Adams’s significant contribution to contemporary Canadian art. His recent receipt of a Governor General’s Award for Visual Arts further attests to this.
Adams is often appreciated for his criticism and exploration of consumption and production within contemporary society; but another, less noted strength revealed in One for the Road is an emphasis on what comes between production and consumption—the circulation of commodities. Adams’s frequent use of railcars, railway tracks, transport-truck semitrailers and other transport ephemera points to this circulation, and the title One for the Road can be understood within this field of reference as well. The functions of the railcars and semitrailers are almost always subverted, which speaks to Adams’s interest in reconsidering the use and purpose of these objects.
The clearest expression of this is found in Adams’s recent series Caboose (2013), includes numerous miniature environments built around railcars. Many of the cars appear disused—some have graffiti on them, some have been rebuilt, and others have been incorporated in the construction of larger buildings. Surrounding the resting railcars are lawns and gardens, with people leisurely talking or lounging. The work seems to suggest that we somehow live by these cars, both literally and figuratively, and that they are much more a part of our lives than we might recognize. Caboose makes these cars visible in a way that they commonly are not, and depicts them as firmly embedded within society—a depiction that says more about the current state of our political economy than these odd little environments might be assumed to represent.
Adams’s inventive illustration of repurposed cars takes this point beyond mere social critique and towards a new system of value and use. This certainly makes his project sound more dry than it really is; his keen sense of play and humour was present throughout One for the Road. Many of the characters within his models exemplify this humour, including the flasher exposing herself to a clown within Adams’s massive, though intricately constructed, miniature Artists’ Colony (1987–1989). Where Caboose offers meditations on discrete environments, Artists’ Colony overwhelms with the level of detail that characterizes the numerous structures and substructures. Artists’ Colony depicts people engaging in a wide range of activities, in a city that appears to be centred on a repurposed train yard. As in Caboose, railcars no longer transport goods here, but are instead used for shelter and to support large gardens, or are similarly put to alternative uses. Situated at the entrance to the exhibition, the work offered an appropriate introduction to Adams’s practice, as it reconsiders dominant modes of circulation and value through a city that is much more creative and resourceful than the cities that surround us.
Gift Machine (1988) offers Adams’s most direct, albeit no less playful, criticism of circulation and value. A work that appears oddly quiet within the gallery, it consists of two mopeds facing away from each other, connected by trailers and ladders that support umbrellas, suspended tent bags filled with tennis balls, and other miscellany. When this curious work is exhibited in the streets, Adams accompanies it and hands out small balls mounted on sticks—a gift that is equally curious. In the exhibition’s accompanying publication, Julian Jason Haladyn relates the long, horizontal ladders to an assembly line, and this apt connection emphasizes the relation that this work has to the inanity of contemporary production. Use value is continually overlooked in current forms of industrial production, with an item’s exchange value being the only value considered. Gift Machine upsets this shift from use to exchange value, with seemingly useless objects being given away, rather than sold.
Kim Adams, Gift Machine (1988). Scooters, wheelbarrows, ladders, tennis balls, umbrellas, bags. Courtesy of the artist and Diaz Contemporary. Installation at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo: Mike Lalich
The exhibition of Gift Machine left something to be desired, however, as the removal of the socially engaged element of the piece, and the lack of any documentation of it functioning in public, made it difficult to access the work’s content. While the exhibition’s publication addressed this work extensively, and no doubt filled in these gaps, until I read it I was left feeling somewhat lost.
Though the more socially engaged works included in One for the Road may have felt slightly too still, too quiet, Adams’s works on paper were unmistakably active. His lithograph print The Gift Tractor (1998), with its swirling lines of orange, blue and green, seems to represent the energy that an activated Gift Machine might possess. His drawings and prints complement and often expand upon themes taken up in his sculptures, and the almost frantic linework present in many of these works allows for a freedom of expression that his tighter sculptures do not. It is unfortunate that his works on paper have not received greater attention.
Also unfortunate was the lack of access to Adams’s Bruegel-Bosch Bus (1996–ongoing) during my visit to One for the Road. Found in the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s Sculpture Atrium, Bruegel-Bosch Bus is a chaotic mix of models and toys built into, and exploding from, an old Volkswagen bus. Despite the work being a permanent display at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, an installation taking place on the same level as the Bruegel-Bosch Bus rendered the work off-limits. This oversight was a real disappointment in my visit, given that Adams’s permanent work at the gallery should have been highlighted, not restricted, during the run of an exhibition that approached retrospective status.
Despite this lack of access, both to the permanent work and to supplementary information, One for the Road featured a series of works that attest to the depth and complexity of Adams’s critical practice. A strength of the exhibition, and certainly of his work more generally, was that it highlighted Adams’s ability to critique prevailing systems without relying on polemics or overt didacticism. His repurposing of mass-produced objects suggests that alternative structures and systems can be constructed, or at the very least, that we could be a little more creative with the consumer goods that surround us.
Michael DiRisio is a writer and visual artist based in Toronto. His recent work explores alternative economies and the construction of value, through projects involving the documentation of things given away for free and the construction of free stores in gallery spaces. His writing can be found in C Magazine, On Site review and PUBLIC journal, where he typically addresses the intersections between labour, politics and socially engaged art practices.
Review by Amber Berson
Homework II: Long Forms / Short Utopias
Conference hosted by Broken City Lab
Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario
8–10 November 2013
The Homework II: Long Forms / Short Utopias conference was hosted by Broken City Lab at the Art Gallery of Windsor. The primary goal of the conference was to discuss the subject of utopic dreaming within artist-run culture as manifested through collaboration, friendship and long-term social engagement. As hosts, Broken City Lab invited the participants and arranged for an accompanying exhibit to be held at the CIVIC Space gallery on the subject of debt. They also organized a follow-up documentation project, which will collect reflections on the conference (including photos and tweets) as a means of continuing the discussions that emerged over the three days of Homework II.
When one of the keynote speakers, Steve Lambert—who is best known for making international news in 2008 after publishing a fake “special edition” of the New York Times announcing the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other good news—began his talk, he called our attention to the words of Eduardo Galeano, the celebrated Uruguayan author: “Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance.” 
Utopia literally means no place. If it is not a place, or at least a place that currently exists, then what is it? We can attempt to unpack the term as the future perfect, our imagined dream lives, or the possibility of the ideal or perfect society. Utopian-Marxist theorist Ernst Bloch suggests that art not only carries a utopian desire but also provides an account of what is missing in reaching said utopia.  If art has the potential to be both the question—in this case, what do we want from the future?—and the answer, then it would be a short jump in logic to assume that a system built by artists to support their individual and collective needs (such as the artist-run centre) would at least attempt to be utopic in nature. Lambert’s own work, itself a sort of utopian dream project, neither explicitly critiques nor offers a possible blueprint for advancing towards utopia. Rather, it presents a space to imagine a new and separate reality, with the underlying implication that this would be better than the present. What Lambert offers us is a space for utopian dreaming, as well as a set of questions to begin pondering, as we set out to imagine our futures as emancipatory spaces for flourishing cultures.
Erik Olin Wright’s book Envisioning Real Utopias is a crucial text for understanding the social, historical and political context of capitalism as an economic system, and the role of liberalism in maintaining capitalism as the dominant economic system in today’s world. Wright, an American scholar who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a Marxist sociologist specializing in alternatives to capitalism. This is especially obvious in Envisioning Real Utopias, where he presents eleven arguments against capitalism, systematically breaking each down, and then sets up a series of plausible alternatives to the capitalist system. Wright demonstrates that while the issues created, perpetrated or aggravated by capitalism can easily be transferred onto other economic systems, unlike capitalism, systems such as socialism offer us options capitalism can’t. Instead of putting forth a series of solutions, Wright argues that we can work with the capitalist exoskeleton to find alternatives that are at once utopian and practical, which point us beyond capitalism.
Transferring Wright’s theories onto artist-run culture, we can begin to investigate the current (utopian) tactics that artist-run centres use in the face of neoliberal funding (read contemporary capitalism). I believe that artist-run centres are utopian models of an earlier, more socialist vision of artist-run centres in Canada that is out of sync with the vision promulgated by the current administration’s increasingly neoliberal administration of culture. Shifts in funding—from earlier, more socialist models to a more conservative one—directly result in changes to administrative policy and, consequently, in programming. When the system that supports artist-run centres becomes more capitalist in nature, artist-run centres themselves follow suit. Wright proposes options for avoiding this, and for finding emancipatory alternatives to the existing model.
Homework II brought to mind a 2011 article written by Tatiana Mellema for C Magazine titled “New Experiments in Communal Living.”  Mellema’s article describes a new crop of artist-led residencies in Canada, all working “to bring focus to our contemporary social and economic conditions that are unique from the histories that earlier communes criticized.”  Mellema points out that these new artist-initiated activities actually run in opposition to artist-run centres and grant programs, and are motivated by sharing amongst artists due to a “widespread opinion in Canada today that artist-run centres have since become part of the mainstream art world, functioning on a bureaucratic model of selection and producing exhibitions almost identical to those of museums.”  For Mellema, this speaks to the loss of the social aspects of artist-run culture. This is particularly interesting because it posits these new artist-initiated activities as specifically utopic and places artist-run centres in the sphere of failed utopias.
Historically the roots of artist-run culture position it as a direct response to the failure of the museum and gallery system to respond to the needs of the artist. It is artist-directed culture that is responsible for instituting a minimum fee schedule, for speaking about the specific barriers faced by women artists in relation to labour and childcare, for building experimental exhibition platforms and cross-country networks, for fighting for subsidies, and for building a myriad of other types of support systems, addressing needs ranging from affordable housing to healthcare. In developing answers within the artist-run centre community, the desire to create perfect solutions (or at the very least, working solutions) to social problems is especially visible. Yet, like any other enterprise, artist-run culture is susceptible to institutionalization. In the process, it can fall into the trap of being a culture that supports some and not others. The micro-utopias that it generates have often proved to be short-lived.
At Homework II the discussions that emerged between attendees mostly centred on the roles of social practice artwork and community engagement in developing possible (utopian) futures. The artists and invited speakers (as well as the audience) engaged in discussions on the difference between activists who become artists and activists who take up art as a tool for social change. While subtle, the difference in the origin of someone’s decision to get involved in rebuilding a community can result in radically different outcomes. In the group discussions, there was a real fear of “parachuting into” community, attempting to fix problems. It seemed that in cases where artists were looking to design solutions and become activists they often failed and that it would be easier to start with a desire for community engagement and problem solving. It seems that artist-run culture has in some way failed to achieve the utopic project it set out to accomplish and that we have work to do in respect to the sociopolitical issues within our own communities. Perhaps the problem, then, as Lambert and others spoke to, is no longer knowing where our collective utopia resides. In using art to help people define their own ideas of utopia, we can collectively engage in the social work required to effect real change. We must first envision “real” utopias to arrive at them. Part of the systemic problem that can result in failed utopias is the disconnect between short-term projects and long-term goals, which is partially affected by the funding crisis within artist-run centres.
Which leads back to the question of what utopia is. What can we imagine as an alternative to the reality we are currently engaged with? Conferences like Homework IIoffer the space to pose questions about our imagined futures, but they rarely operate over a long enough period of time to lay the foundations that would allow these hopes to become lived realities. At its most interesting and provocative, Homework II suggested that friendship and solidarity were the true methods of survival in working towards long-term change. Essentially, the backbone of artist-initiated culture is the friendships and allies we nurture in the process of building the types of spaces we need for our own personal growth. In short, in order to create realities out of our utopic dreams, we search for like-minded individuals to create with. Homework II: Long Forms / Short Utopias reminded us that in order to foster change, art workers must focus on the social structures that support them as much as they do on the art itself.
 “Eduardo Galeano Quotes,” Goodreads Inc., (accessed 21 December 2013; online).
 Ernst Bloch, The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays. Studies in contemporary German social thought. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988), 109.
 Tatiana Mellema, “New Experiments in Communal Living,” C Magazine, no. 112 (Winter 2011/12): 34–42.
 Ibid., 34.
 Ibid., 37.
Amber Berson’s current research focuses on artist-run culture and she is working on a PhD in Art History at Queen’s University. She works in and with artist-run centres and most recently curated TrailMix (2014) and *~._.:*jEnNiFeR X JeNniFeR*:.~(2013) at Eastern Bloc; the Annual Art Administrator’s Relay Race (2013); the Wild Bush Residency (2012–ongoing) in Val-David, Quebec, and Amden, Switzerland; The Magpies Nest (2009) at the Wenger Homestead in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and In Your Footsteps (2008) at the VAV Gallery. She is on the editorial committee of .dpi, a feminist journal of digital art and culture, and recently organized the Montreal edition of the Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon.
Image credit Broken City Lab.]]>
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