the inspiration

two artists went to a bar…

Introduction to the Exhibition

Let’s start with inspiration, one that took root in a bar in Ottawa two years ago. It began with a conversation about an amazing exhibition, Sculpture ’67, that we had both seen in Nathan Phillips Square the summer before we went to art school. It included Françoise Sullivan and Michael Snow as well as Iain Baxter’s N.E. Thing Co., and was groundbreaking in its development of the new idiom of minimalist and conceptualist tendencies revolutionizing the art of the twentieth century. It was a hit with both public and critics. No one remembers it. 

So memory – or the loss of it – became an inspiration. Because with no memory there is no meaningful present, no conversation. What to do? How can an art practice confront this question?

It was here that a thought was born. What if instead of a forgettable statement tacked to the wall, statements by artists became the artwork itself? What if voices would be the work – the voices of artists speaking to their interests, to the interests of their viewers – conducted by artists. By us. So, “Voices: artists on art” – a work about how work works in the context of the world and the values artists and viewers share.

A core deciding factor in our selection was that we would neither seek to represent nor to isolate a group that would suggest a limited understanding of artists working in Canada today. Based on a belief in the agency of artists, this project is our contribution, our work as artists, to an on-going conversation on what is art and what it can become.

This project addresses those who are curious about contemporary art and the radical changes in the way art is understood, changes that have exposed the fault lines between art as a lived engagement and art as a marketable product. Our project emphasizes the trajectory of cultural and conceptual shifts that artists have faced over those fifty years between 1967 and today, shifts that make art a living enterprise.

Yvonne Lammerich and Ian Carr-Harris  2017

About the Voices Project and this Catalogue

This catalogue is an expanded version of the original ‘virtual’ catalogue produced for the Voices: artists on art exhibition.

Concerning the project itself, while we could have easily interviewed twice or three times the number of artists we chose to interview, we had restricted ourselves to match the 51 who participated in the 1967 exhibition. 

We would also like to point out that we included ourselves in order to insist on the project as one in which artists are interviewing artists, to reveal ourselves as part of rather than apart from those being interviewed– and to subject ourselves to the same parameters. We hope, of course, that another team will follow the lead of the Voices project and continue the process of bearing witness to our time.

Voices: artists on art was conceived as an exhibition, and in this we were guided by the concept of the café or the library. Occupying the main space is a large central table on which are mounted 6 individual tablets with headphones, each containing – in alphabetic sequence – about 8 hour-long interviews from all 51 artists. Seated at the table by any of the tablets, the viewer is free to select from the list an interview they wish to watch at any one time. Demanding in its time commitment, we expect this to be an option attractive to the dedicated professional or the curious lay public.

Linked to the tablet interviews, the exhibition includes a series of three hour-long video compilations of individual artists speaking to the questions that structured the interviews. Organized as a form of conversation intercutting different artists’ statements, each of these ‘cine-videos’ is divided into sections with headings and descriptions preparing the viewer to follow the thread of the conversation. Our purpose is to bring the artists together as a round-table, permitting the viewer to listen to several artists speaking on a given subject in a short period of time.

Of course in the beginning was a book, the catalogue for the 1967 exhibition. While that catalogue is included in a glass-surfaced vitrine containing a number of important documents arising from the original exhibition, we decided to ‘open up’ the catalogue as a series of 51 scanned images of each spread page fixed to a thin metal backing. This enables the viewer to see the work and read the statements of all the artists in the National Gallery’s exhibition.  Placed on shelving that runs along one wall like a library’s magazine section, each scan is arranged in the same order as in the catalogue.

Three of those statements were by Iain Baxter&, Michael Snow, and Françoise Sullivan, and we were fortunate and honoured in that all three agreed to read their original statements on camera as a living document. In the exhibition, a special monitor carries their readings on continuous play.

For younger visitors, and school-based visits, the exhibition includes a video on a free-standing monitor that answers to the question “How I Came to Be an Artist”. For this 30-minute presentation, we have collated the remarks by several artists on the circumstances that led them to work professionally. Our aim is to demystify the role of the artist and to reveal the amazingly personal stories that lay behind their decision.

Finally, we mentioned above that the exhibition includes a glass vitrine with a number of important documents detailing events surrounding the 1967 exhibition. In addition, near the vitrine, a scrolling video catalogue of the 51 artists we interviewed plays continuously on a monitor mounted on one wall of the space.

In the Toronto Harbourfront exhibition, Voices benefited from the addition of six younger and two established artists profiled in vitrine cabinets within the Harbourfront Centre complex. These are of course included in this catalogue, along with a special photographic exhibition of Blake Fitzpatrick and Vid Ingelevics’ Mobile Ruin project that we commissioned for the Toronto space.

As an exhibition, the project has seen three different iterations to date, and we hope it may find other venues in the future. For the present, we hope this catalogue will suggest the same sense of optimism and faith in the idea of art that we brought to the Voices project as a whole.

Artists make art to be heard. Making art is a process of gathering evidence – whether that evidence concerns the materiality of the world expressed in line and shape, or whether that materiality concerns the social constructs that dominate or infiltrate our experience in the world. Art can frame what moves us, or destabilize our assumptions, and the artists in the Voices project interweave these elements in their practices. Art is a public enterprise, and without a public to receive and consider it, art is denied its vital resonance. We are therefore thrilled that Dan Adler, Victoria Baster and Andy Payne agreed to review the project and participate in this catalogue through three very thoughtfully considered essays.

Artists also depend on expertise that in many ways are crucial to the production of their work. The fabrication of a work can often be beyond the resources of the artist, and in such cases it is imperative that the artist be able to depend on a collaborator whose sensitivity to the project matches the intent of the work. One such collaborator we decided to include in this catalogue is Steve Richards in Toronto, whose experience in public commissions has equipped him to construct an international reputation for his ability to turn concept into reality.

Bill Kirby has dedicated a lifetime to making the work of artists in Canada available to a wider public, initially as Director at the Edmonton Art Gallery, later as curator at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, then through his position at the Canada Council’s Art Bank and subsequently through his CCCA website. While the internet’s various sites – Instagram and others – have become mainstream, we want to acknowledge the pioneering work that Bill almost singlehandedly took on over the decades that preceded today’s distribution systems.

We are of course extremely grateful to all those who have contributed to the possibility of having the Voices project represented in print, and to the best of our knowledge we have noted those contributions in the acknowledgments section at the end of the catalogue. Apart from that, it is important to emphasize that this publication would not have been possible or even considered, had not the artists expressed their interest in it and assisted in its production by a small but vital financial subscription. Perhaps the future lies in catalogues by subscription.

It is well beyond the means at our disposal to offer a translation into French of the entire catalogue. Nonetheless, we have targeted certain sections that we feel may be helpful to see translated. In the case of the three essays, we have provided short synopses in French in the hope that this may suggest the main threads taken up by the authors.

In many respects the catalogue represents the culmination of four years of our commitment to the Voices project. While we never anticipated such an extended journey, it has been immensely engaging and rewarding to work with so many accomplished artists.

Yvonne Lammerich & Ian Carr-Harris

By Mail

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Belleville ON Canada K8N 0A7