In Rob Nixon’s book “Slow Violence,” he uses that term as a populist summary for an environmentalist politics of what is essentially structural violence (deforestation or the polluting of rivers, as opposed to crises that grab headlines); I want to turn the phrase around and use it to talk about art writing that resists the instantaneity of the review, the online twitter feed or facebook status update, the blog comment. Art writing that takes forms that include reviews and essays but also fiction and poetry, memoir and theory. Art writing that resists the prostitution of writing to art (all catalogue essays are pimping your art, giving it the proper theoretical armature). Art writing that uses textuality, as Jodi Dean says, to resist “communicative capitalism.” So partly what I want to talk about on November 16th is the ecology of art writing, using some of my own practice over the past 10 years locally as a worst/best case scenario (writing in The Vancouver Sun, writing catalogue essays, online, using twitter), but also thinking about a worker’s slow down as a critical practice. Partly I want to engage with the art/writing nexus that is The Western Front, perhaps showing a rare early videotape from the 1970s. Partly I want to talk about my latest novel project, which is about (writing about) the Vancouver art world:
A Vancouver artist, Pamela X, opens her latest show, in which a sculpture of a homeless man lies outside the gallery, crouched against the corner of the building, as if sleeping. A Vancouver artist pamela X ‘s latest show features a sculpture of a homeless man. Situated inside the gallery at the edge of, at the bottom of a in the corner of in the Pamela X’s new work is a is the sculpture of a homeless man sleeping tucked against he wall as if sleeping Vancouver artist Pamela X’s material-based process derives the The work is less a Pamela Pamela X’s sculpture is less representation does no X’s sculpture does not repr is not a is not The artist said her work sculpture came out of working in the gallery’s archive and when she realized that the VHS and Betamax tapes were all destined for the landfill after being digitized. “Videotape has always been a homeless medium,” she said. “When you live here you realize I was I was taking a visiting artist, the Swiss video artist Betti Heynrich, we went to see a sculptural show at the __Gallery which was very resonant of the problem of space and how where do you put a sculpture they were all very non-anthropomorphic but facing the wall, if you can face the wall when you do not have a face, and then because her husband is a human rights journalist we went to a gathering in O_________ Park, where the VeinDoos were organizing around so-called “arm reduction” and you know we get so used to this problem in our city, a rich city, a very rich city, and everyone wants the Olympics or a when the Convention centre was being built but then we cannot even find but even with this grassroots organization, which is what has always propelled social change, they had the problem of their archive, their interviews which are so crucial for media activism, and they were deteriorating and so I tried to find some way of bringing these issues together but I do I have never worked in a figural way not that I not ———— (redacted) I don’t want to knit a homeless person cozy out of video tape, a sleeping bag for the homeless they do when you talk with people who live in and out of the street they do not just simply need a sleeping bag or they do not need me to be polite to them they need a home or a job or support the cardboard the sculpture made from from archival boxes collections of streetkids’ begging signs paid for with a deck of smokes a coffee a beer the magic marker ink slowly rotting the cardboard the water from the street or the sculpture inside Vancouver artist Pamela X’s latest exhibition at Vape gallery begins outside the gallery with a sculpture of a man lying on the ground, crouched as if sleeping on the street, seeking the warmth of the building.
Clint Burnham is the author of Smoke Show (2005), The Benjamin Sonnets (2009), and The Only Poetry that Matters: Reading the Kootenay School of Writing (2011), along with other books. His writing on art has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Artforum, Canadian Art, Camera Austria, and in various catalogues and online publications. He is presently writing a book on Žižek and art, and a novel, and teaches in the English department at Simon Fraser University.
Scrivener’s Monthly is a series of public presentations that explore the space between material practices and spoken words: a periodical that talks. Set alongside the exhibitions program at Western Front, this experiment in “not publishing” involves readings, performances, and other articulations.