Sélection: a Catalog of Essays and Critical Theory

A Catalog of Essays and Critical Theory in Artist-Run Centres

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Introduction & Curated List
Mariane Bourcheix-Laporte, commissaire


“…Matthew Stadler, co-founder of Publication Studio, in Portland, OR—a publishing initiative that prints books on demand and has inspired the formation of an international network of self-described publishing laboratories—defines publication as the creation of a public and as such equates it to an essentially political act. For Stadler, beyond the process of publishing a physical object (or, one might add, a digital book), publication involves an ecology of practices that, in the process of connecting readers to writers, generate public spaces: situations for conversations.[1] These considerations are closely linked to the raisons d’être of artist-run centres (ARCs)[2], whose individual and networked practices set in place conditions for dialogical processes to unfold: the forging of connections between artists and audiences, a community of peers, and an ever-growing nexus of contemporary art production and research.

Aligned with the concept of publication, ARC activities can be said to constitute essentially political acts. For those who are acquainted with artist-run values and structures, this equation may appear self-evident. The very existence of artist-run culture is a political statement that has developed for over forty years (and continues to do so today) through the idiosyncratic organizations that artists have fashioned in an effort to maintain autonomy in the definition of their practices, networks, structures and values. In this context, the fact that ARCs have, since their inception, positioned publishing activities as an integral part of their operations and have used the production of publications as a strategy to expand their reach—as an extension of their being in the world—comes as no surprise.

Combined, the amount of publications produced by the Canadian ARC network is innumerable. Ranging from exhibition ephemera and brochures to high-production-value catalogues (and everything in between, including monographs, critical anthologies, artists’ books, audio CDs and vinyl, and Web- or app-based documents), these publications fulfill the dual mandate of documenting the breadth of artistic production and research that artists, curators and authors engage with or share via ARCs, and ensuring that these ideas are circulated widely.

Far from being exhaustive, the present Sélection of Canadian artist-run centres’ publications—many bilingual in French and English, representing mostly the Québec and French Canadian scenes in Canada—presents a cross-section of titles published from 1991 to today. This initiative stems from a desire to revive or re-circulate key texts and documents produced by the network and thereby to shed light on ARCs’ contributions to the development of critical discourses about contemporary art in Canada. In the process of selecting titles, an effort was made to reflect the diversity of perspectives and practices that weave together the Canadian artist-run fabric. However, some perspectives are under-represented; the Sélection does not do justice to the vital contributions made by members of First Nations, queer and cultural communities—a blind spot that is due to the overall under-representation of these perspectives in Canadian ARC publishing endeavours. Further, the Sélection lacks titles produced by centres from the Prairies and Atlantic regions, not for lack of substantial material but because ARC publishing activities in these regions are largely comprised of exhibition catalogues and artists’ books, which for the most part were excluded from this compilation. The forty-two selected titles provide insight into the critical reflections that have underscored ARC activities in the last two decades, including discussions pertaining to various disciplines represented within the visual art field, contemporary art theory, institutional structures and engaged practices.

[1] Matthew Stadler, “What is Publication?” (keynote speech at Richard Hugo House, Seattle, WA, May 22, 2010), http://vimeo.com/14888791.

[2] Artist-run centres (ARCs) are collectives and non-profit organizations run by artists that support new and innovative practices in the arts. Since the early 1970s in Canada, ARCs have formed regional, national and international networks in visual art, media art, performance art and other contemporary art practices.