March 21st, 2014

Under the banner IN THE NAME OF ART, last week, I posed the question as to whether it was appropriate to visit Russia now with the introduction of the pre-olympics homophobic laws followed by the recent movement of Russian troops into the Crimea. I voiced my personal opinion that I would not be visiting Russia any time soon.

My comments elicited two responses from individuals holding rather differing viewpoints. As Visual Arts Alberta – CARFAC wishes to create a forum for discussion and debate, I wish to share the comments of William Prettie and Elizabeth Kirschenman, two artists who replied that they would visit Russia now “in a heartbeat.”

William Prettie argued from a geo-political world viewpoint wherein Russia’s need to have a warm water port (Crimea) was a natural desire considering the relegated position they now hold in the world power structure. According to Prettie, we often overlook the force exerted by the United States in controlling the fate of world nations. Read Read William Prettie’s Full Comments Here.

Elizabeth Kirschenman believes that “Art” transcends politics and economics. According to Kirschenman, a boycott is a rather childish response to issues and events that do not seem to be going our way. Great art and artists supersedes present regimes. Read Elizabeth Kirschenman’s Full Comments Here

Visual Arts Alberta – CARFAC welcomes opinion pieces and ideas for our newsletter. We want to create a forum for discussion by Alberta Artists on Current Issues. We can always be reached at Next week we will be examining Copyright Concerns with Social Media.

Chris W. Carson
executive director


March 14, 2014 In the Name of Art?…

At Visual Arts Alberta – CARFAC, we are interested in what we do IN THE NAME OF ART…

Are there countries in the world that we should not presently visit even if our motives are purely artistic? Are there circumstances where our travel could be viewed as sanctioning an oppressive regime? Personally, I have always been fascinated by Russia (reading and rereading all those great novels…). As a gay male and half Ukrainian, I could never visit Russia at this time.

I recently read that the biennial Manifesta 10 will go ahead in St. Petersburg, Russia despite calls for a boycott signed by 1500 artists. You can read the short article here.

Should the voices of 1500 artists be enough? What is the point of this event and who does it serve? Artworks are often created to question social and political conditions. The support of the questionable conditions in Russia by art institutions seems counter intuitive to what art is…

This Russian quagmire is something all artists and art institutions should think very carefully about. A prominent Canadian Gallery is scheduled to lead a tour of patrons to the Hermitage in St Petersburg this June. Is this really the best time? Send us your comments on whether you would visit Russia now to We are interested in what we should do IN THE NAME OF ART…

Chris W. Carson
Executive Director

(For an analysis that explores the purpose and implications of the International Biennial as a concept read Sydney Lancaster’s FINAL THOUGHTS )

Final Thoughts…
From Sydney Lancaster, ADVOCACY CHAIR, on the purpose and implications of the International Biennale…

I think there are many issues and questions that need to be addressed in relation to these exhibitions:

Who is being served by these events, really? These are big-ticket, big-sponsorship events, as the recent shakedown over the sponsorship of the Sydney Bienniale so tellingly showed. They give sponsors and the cities hosting them various (often quite lucrative) opportunities to pat each other on the back. The same can be said for the galleries and dealers associated with these events; it’s good press to have “your artist” in a Bienniale or similar event – it raises the cultural and economic cachet (and hence the selling price) for artists showing work at this level. Yes, these things events can improve in the status and exposure for the artists involved obviously, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into improving their economic lot over the long term. If the politics of such events are fraught – as is increasingly the case – this exposure might do harm rather than good to an artist’s career. As Shari Boyle commented on her participation in Venice this year: “I immediately started thinking: Who gets asked to these kind of things? Why am I asked? Why will some of my friends who make extraordinary art never get asked? I’m always going to be critical of the system in that way. Even if here I am, I’m the one that got chosen. But I still don’t trust it. So thinking about that honed what I wanted to do. It became about silence and the politics of inclusion and exclusion.” (She also has some very important points to make about the economics of art and how her project was funded). See her comments here.

I find it unlikely that these events would be places of genuine dialogue (let alone argument) about the issues at hand either; since Catherine de Zegher has already framed any provocative works that may be on display in Moscow as “like fast food almost. It flares up, then it’s finished. Of course I do believe in activist gestures, and movement and action, but I think art works in a different way.” This is a backhanded ploy from a voice of power and authority to deflate the validity of criticism within works of art pre-emptively; it may also be a warning, in kid gloves.

On this scale, art is political no matter what: it adheres to and is consumed by the power structures inherent in corporations, advertising, sponsorship, government, and yes, politics of all stripes, including human rights issues. As to that, art is always already political, in that it is created within particular cultural and political conditions, and is accepted (or not) by an establishment as being ‘worthy’ of notice. If artists choose to participate in these events – and if people choose to travel to these events as art tourists and consumers of these events – it should be with that awareness in mind. Participating in these events is taking a stand, just as boycotting is.