apexart :: New York City Fellow :: Trevor Mahovsky
Fellowship Program
Trevor Mahovsky
(Vancouver), recommended by Ken Lum
May 15 - June 14, 2000
Trevor Mahovsky delivered this paper at apexart on May 31, 2000   Placed Upon the Horizon, Casting Shadows

Upon hearing the words 'With the number two selection in the 1999 NBA draft, the Vancouver Grizzlies select Steve Francis', the young phenom rolled his eyes and sluggishly made his way to the floor. Across television screens in Canada and the United States Francis immediately declared his intention to remove his Grizzlies cap 'as soon as this is over.'

Vancouver likes to talk about itself as a non-place. Certainly rebuffs by petulant atheletes who refuse to play there have had an egregious effect on the psyche of the city's boosters; even second-tier players such as Othella Harrington, who haven't the clout to simply walk away from Vancouver, can be quite frank about their general distaste for Terminal City. To many the Grizzlies are the joke of the National Basketball Association, their image crisis exacerbated by the Canadian-dollar/Canadian tax-load problems endemic to Canadian pro sport franchises. The perception is that Vancouver is not a full partner in the NBA but a kind of hobbled, tag-along who soon is going to be too tired to try and keep up anymore; to Francis playing in Vancouver is akin to falling off the end of the earth. Many Vancouverites who write about their city have internalized this attitude to a degree, although it has been transformed in the process into a discourse of non-place that actually insinuates a certain conceit of cosmopolitanism.

This attitude is one I would contrast with Canadian cities such as Calgary, my birthplace and a haven of old-time boosterism a la early 20th century Los Angeles. Half the size of Vancouver but growing wildly, Calgary trumpets its go-gettem attitude, its 'best-ever Olympic Winter Games to date' (according to Juan-Antonio Samaranch at the closing ceremonies in 1988), its 'second-highest concentration of corporate head offices in Canada' (many stolen away from Vancouver), its spirit of volunteerism and its white-cowboy hat Stampede hospitality. I'm not trying to be disingenuous and suggest that Calgary's 900,000 occupants don't complain - about the ugliness of much of the city, about its preponderance of strip mall culture, about the small-market struggles of its National Hockey League franchise - but the city has not developed an extensive self-conscious and self-critical literature, given that the bloom is still on the rose. Located on a broad, flat plain that is a city planner's fantasy, Calgary's quality of life is astonishingly high and urban blight very close to non-existent. The large number of dispossessed in the downtown core drift amidst a newly gentrified pedestrian avenue, and spend freezing winter nights in the lobby of city hall, a modern and sleek glass structure that seems to belong to a much larger city. An exceedingly self-confident and unabashed mixture of white-collar sophistication and rural friendliness (by virtue of an invented cowboy history), Calgary loves nothing better than to roll out the carpet and 'Welcome the World' since to date the world has been very kind to Calgary.

Returning to the West Coast, it is not that the self-reflexive discourse of Vancouver paints the city as a worthless dead-end. Rather, the lion's share of these representations have valorized Vancouver's status as Terminal City, keeping in play all the connotations of that phrase: end of the line hinterland and transnational nexus. Publications such as Vancouver: Representing the Postmodern City, have sought to characterize the "distinctiveness of local life" through Vancouver's position at the nexus of "global migrations and shifts of capital"(i). In his introduction to this collection of essays, editor Paul Delany cites Vancouver as a "polyglot contemporary city" produced by a particular openness to "gay, bohemian, politically radical" subcultures(ii). Delany, echoing Jane Jacobs, even goes so far as to hold Vancouver and Toronto up as models for urbanism internationally, given his assessment of their retention of ideals such as "civility, an impartial justice system, and comprehensive rights to health care and social security"(iii). In such a fashion, Delany inadvertently constructs a picture of Vancouver as a utopian mixture of radicals and mandarins. Importantly, Delany presents Vancouver as a city without a memory, one disinclined to defend nativist ideals in the face of physical and financial colonization and transformation.

Hence Vancouver attains central importance by virtue of its fringe status. In particular, artists from Vancouver have fashioned a highly developed discourse in which the city has become a staging ground for charting the international flow of populations, capital and information; here notions of civic identity and locus geni have been utterly dismantled. Roy Arden's camera may be pointed at Vancouver but his photographs index, to quote the title of a catalogue essay, a "Landscape of the Economy"(iv). Ironically, Vancouver has produced a vigorous inward-looking literature and art couched in a rhetoric of liminality, non-place, trans-nationalism, and the 'defeatured landscape'. Further, this rhetoric has been produced by a critical, curatorial and pedagogical discursive community factured from the assertion that local artists, curators, writers and historians do not form any kind of meaningful community per se.

Thus quickly from Steve Francis to Robert Smithson, another tourist that dumped on Vancouver. Smithson's Vancouver visit and companion 1970 project, Glue Pour, executed in front of Lucy Lippard (among others) on the University of British Columbia Endowment Lands as part of the exhibition 955,000, has been cited by Vancouver thinkers and artists as a particularly apt and goopy seminal moment in the city's urban discourse. Certainly Dan Graham, who visited Vancouver in 1978, too has been ensconced as a model alongside Smithson in the subsequent rhetoric surrounding art production and notions of urbanity in Vancouver. In "Discovering the Defeatured Landscape", Vancouver curator and critic Scott Watson traces the incorporation and reconfiguration of the ideas of Smithson and Graham manifested in the practices of artists such as Jeff Wall and Ian Wallace and their concurrent facture of what Watson terms an 'urban semiotic'. Watson notes the pedagogical aspects of Wallace and Wall's practice, reflecting pessimistically on the danger of a subsequent formation of a "local official academic style", predicated upon the masterful play of this semiotic across the reified surface of auratic painting in the guise of photography(v). Jean-Franciose Chevrier's christening of the Ecole de Vancouver seems to bear Watson out, yet characteristically this moniker is utilized in Vancouver with only the deepest and healthiest sarcasm.

Although I don't think it can be said that Watson's fear of the formation of a kind of local salon has been realized, the pedagogical dimensions of the activities of Wall and Wallace have been clear. Both, like peer Rodney Graham, were trained as art historians and explicit in their writing and teaching is the conviction, and lesson internalized from conceptual practices, that the discursive is a mode of art production. However, it must be noted that the particular manifestations of neo-avant garde practices in Vancouver have almost always asserted the weak over the radical argument: notions of autonomy and strategies of representation have not been played out, and rather, their continued validity is constituted by the very critiques that sought to abjure them. Much of the written and curatorial work of artists from Vancouver has revolved around such arguments over the continued efficacy of avant-gardist strategies and ideals, given the conflicted nature of the modernist project and the acculturation and bureaucratization of its critique by systems of education, collection and exhibition locally and internationally.

One finds this theme repeated explicitly and often in local work and writing, wherein the international project of modernity, as it is played out in Vancouver or British Columbia, is transformed and reproduced by local contingencies. I might cite the litany of locally manifested failed utopic projects that crop up in the work of Stan Douglas - the exploration of the new world, the experimental community at Ruskin, BC, aborted low-income housing projects for Vancouver's East Side (Win, Place, Show, seen recently in New York at the Dia)- as an illustrative set, considering that for Douglas the very failure of these utopias is what continues to give them their relevance. Douglas' work is not simply a melancholic meditation on the failures of the past, but a call for the reconsideration of certain historical moments that, in Douglas' words, 'could have gone either way'. In this sense there is an implication that there is something to be saved from the project of modernism in much work, writing and teaching done in Vancouver - that those hinterlands colonized by the financial and cultural centres of modernism will not in fact be the site of modernism's demise, but perhaps of its limited redemption.

* * *

Certainly, the continued project of the institution of the 'university' has been central to much of the curatorial, written and exhibited work by Ian Wallace and Jeff Wall. Wallace's The Idea of The University (1990), staged in the Fine Arts Gallery at that time beneath the University of British Columbia main library, was both pointed and polemical in its engagement with notions of the transmission of ideas in traditional teacher-student contexts. Wall has made explicit reference to the wish he and his "closest colleague" Wallace held to build upon "the humanistic, social democratic approaches of our teachers" and pair it with an engagement with the sociological and aesthetic critique of the neo and historical avant-garde(vi). A significant portion of Wall's "Four Essays on Ken Lum" outlines Wall's own pedagogic project. In this substantial piece of writing, Wall develops an ethnographic reading of Lum's work, contextualised within the experience of emmigrancy and academic tutelage: Lum is presented as speaking for the "subject who has survived subjection", both social and intellectual. Wall characterizes Lum in Cliffordian terms: "he walks through the cities to study the survival skills, the mimetic capacities, the high-spirited arabesques cut by subjected peoples as they confront their own subjection and imagine its transformation"(vii).

Within the text itself, a catalogue accompanying a survey of Lum's production between 1984 and 1990 at Witte de With and the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Lum's own text/response stands out. I'm not certain if Lum had read the catalogue essays by Wall and Linda Boersma before producing his own, even if not there is a sense that his is written as a kind of pre-emptive maneuver to diffuse those anticipated readings.

>Lum's understated and economical piece runs a single full page of text next to Boersma's modest two and a half pages and Wall's fifteen page opus. Significantly, Lum's writing is neither an apologia nor a theoretical text, given its specific and anecdotal content. It might be best to describe the three short statements Lum provides as having an allegorical relation to the work they engage: the Portrait Logos, Furniture Sculpture, and Language Paintings. On Portrait Logos is an account of the employment by both Lum and his grandfather Lum Nin with Canadian Pacific Railway. Lum notes his grandfather's displeasure with his employment as "third-cook" for CP Rail, and refers to his own experience passing the simple graves of CP workers along the route through the British Columbia Rockies, graves of men his grandfather may have known. Lum imagines conjoining his grandfather's image with the logo of the CP Rail. On Furniture Sculpture describes Lum's tiny childhood home in a row house block in Vancouver. He recollects the considerable time he spent reimagining this small domestic space in emulation of "the showroom spaces depicted in home furnishing flyers and catalogues"(viii). Finally On Language Paintings, ruminates upon the signage along "Manhattan's Broadway through Spanish Harlem, through the concourses of London's Brick Lane, through Little India in Toronto's east end, or through Kingsway in Vancouver"(ix).

On one hand, this text appears to reinforce or recapitulate the interpretations of Wall and Boersma. Yet Wall's reading is problematic in that, although well observed and highly sympathetic, it characterizes Lum as a kind of educational guinea pig. Significantly, according to Wall's account that which made Lum so particularly receptive to the "teaching experiments"(x) he was undertaking at Simon Fraser University in the late 1970's was Lum's status as a native-born child of immigrants. Here Wall paradoxically implies that the experience of transnationality is felt comparatively more authentically, more directly or more purely by Lum.

What is so singular about Lum's text relative to his own work is it's autobiographical nature, an autobiography that the work itself resists as generative of meaning. Relative to Wall's text, it makes no reference to Lum's educational background, to contemporary or art-historical context, or to theory. Through his presentation of autobiographical anecdote, Lum exposes the limits to which his cultural and socio-econonomic background can inform his work. Yet, Lum's personal narrative, his askance point of view, also resists the exclusive placement of his work, and indeed his entire identity as an artist, within the context and within the polemical project that Wall narrates. This specificity, and indeed the specificity of the content of all of Lum's work, including its references to persons, narratives, social dilemmas, conventions of home furnishings and commercial photography, is precisely what prevents it from being a mere academicized rumination over theoretical first-principles, a failing Wall has attributed to the most dreary and most bureaucratic of conceptual art produced after 1974 (xi).

So in a sense, Wall is correct in his assertion that Lum has survived not only the subjection of "imperialized and imperializing modernity"(xii), but in fact the imperializing of Wall's own teaching as well. Yet the teleology of Wall's argument posits that his pedagogical system already accounts for this break on the part of Lum, and in fact actually makes it possible. Lum's response is to provide an autobiography that takes away as much as it appears to give. Lum is well aware that historical developments have created a situation in which he is unable to take a position not always already theoretically accounted for by the educational and critical systems within which he works; in fact those very systems have been fully explicated by Wall as context for Lum's work. Lum's specific and elliptical text, therefore, points to the philosophical aporia at the heart of Wall's "Four Essays on Ken Lum", for of course Wall is also trapped within this dilemma. On one hand Wall encourages an engagement with vanguardist ideals by students such as Lum, whose status of "permanent emigration" and "angry conformism"(xiii) provides them with a critical mindset: for example Wall suggests that the void Dan Graham revealed at the heart of minimalism functions as a cipher of the sense of absence experienced by the emigrant(xiv). Simultaneously this proves the trans-national nature and worth of such conceptual critiques of formalism. On the other hand, Wall argues that teaching art also involves some kind of engagement with the institutional structure embodying the state's concept of art, which ironically includes conceptualism's critique of institutions.

As Ian Wallace notes in his essay for The Idea of the University, although rife with contradiction and doubt, there is a "compensatory value"(xv) in this kind of transmission of ideas, wherein the abstract ideal of knowledge meets "the contingencies of everyday life"(xvi). Wallace notes that one idea we can carry forth from the lessons of conceptual art is the notion that text can be a form of "redemption of the everyday", that text is a "cipher for a whole range of realities and contingencies", and that the aleatory movement by an agent between and through these realities and contingencies is at "the heart of what can be retrieved from the 'idea of the university'"(xvii).

Thus I begin with these texts because I think they illustrate not only models for critical reading and writing by artists, but illustrate also the discursive formations of notions of educational, artistic and social community and non-community that I allude to at the start of this paper. One of the ostensible subjects in the writing of both Lum and Wall here is a dialogue of community informed by the rubric of leftist cultural studies from the 1970's up to the time of the catalogue's publication in 1990. However, what makes this exchange interesting is how these theoretical and narrative texts about community are in practice a manifestation of community. To study the discursive production of Vancouver artists since the 1970's is to study the practical generation of a diffuse community manifested in text, one that defines itself in relation to radical pop, minimal and conceptual art practices of the late 1960's and early 1970's, yet one that also understands itself as a particularly administered and institutionalized continuation of those projects. Further, given this bureaucracy of the avant-garde felt internationally as well as in a very specific way locally, there is an attendant character of irony and doubt in the larger formulation of this continued activity.

This is not to suggest that other models have not been put forth, or that this community is representative of some kind of monolithic Vancouver art enterprise. What is most interesting here is that the overwhelming majority of Vancouver artists' work from a marginal or outright adversarial position relative to this conception of local practice. To speak of this discursive community is not to speak of a community physically grounded in Vancouver and given its logic by that place. Rather this Vancouver is a product of the selection and the concomitant erasure that occurs in any process of representation. However, I have chosen this particular construction of "Vancouver" because it specifically addresses larger notions of regional identity and non-identity, and as such can function as a critical model. This is a community that engages and defines contingent and contested notions of itself across cities and texts, where Vancouver is reconstituted in the conventions of painting, photography, and conceptual art, the status of each theorized through a reconfigured Critical Theory in texts published in cities such as Rotterdam. It is a marriage of convenience, a strategy for learning, dissemination and even survival as an artist, an imaginary identification; it is, for example, the selective engagement of a paper delivered in Poland by another delivered in New York.

* * *

The lion's share of theoretical, polemical and critical writing about Vancouver and the art produced there has come from the artists, one notable exception being Scott Watson, the current curator of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery on the campus of the University of British Columbia. Watson has produced a substantial and extended bibliography on the Vancouver scene in catalogues for the Belkin Gallery and the Vancouver Art Gallery, in his role as Vancouver correspondent for Canadian Art magazine and in books he has written or contributed to, including a text on painter Jack Shadbolt and Phaidon's monograph on Stan Douglas.

However, it is ironic to term Vancouver's art community a scene with regards to Watson's work, given his conviction as to the utter lack of any kind of identifiable scene in the community. However, I can't imagine that for Watson this is entirely lamentable. His writing repeatedly critiques attempts to define 'genius loci' and the authentic experience of Vancouver. What makes Watson's work on Vancouver interesting is his extended dismantling of notions of essential local character achieved through an intense engagement with local production. Further, the curatorial projects produced or selected by Watson at the still very young Belkin Gallery have presented a mix of locals including Rodney Graham and NE Thing and Company, and international artists such as Ray Johnson, Walter Marchetti, Ed Ruscha, Mike Kelly and John Miller (the latter two in an exhibit curated by Roy Arden); Watson would probably alter this descriptive tag to read "internationally active and significant artists, some of whom happen to come from Vancouver".

One of Watson's most ambitious projects involving Vancouver artists was the 1998 exhibit 6: New Vancouver Modern, featuring "six artists whose work is just beginning to attract attention" whose work demonstrates the thesis that "a utopian impulse continues in the art of today and that it is found in gestures of negation and refusal of all that is comfortably established as signs of social order"(xviii). 6 is a particularly interesting curatorial project given its relation to earlier arguments in Vancouver over the value, or lack thereof, provided by the regional state-of-the-union exhibit. Indeed, 6 was explicitly ideologically positioned as a counter-exhibition to such surveys as Topographies: Aspects of Recent B.C. Art (1996) and Vancouver Art and Artists: 1931-1983, both at the Vancouver Art Gallery, or to the series of community-driven exhibits in non-institutional spaces such as The October Show and its subsequent progeny The Warehouse Show and the Artropolis series. These latter exhibits have, at least in part, sought to define the Vancouver art community as either heterogeneous yet of shared purpose by virtue of cohabitation, or to discern local tendencies in art reflective of a particular sensibility of place. Yet all of these exhibits, including 6, have also functioned as a part of a larger apparatus of legitimation, however their positioning as regionalist, internationalist, officially sanctioned, popular or as exhibits of protest. The task at hand then is to contextualize 6: New Vancouver Modern by tracing the various constructions of the nature or non-nature of the Vancouver art community and its rhetorical relation, be it supportive, adversarial or ironic, to an historical art of social critique. For 6 has also been conflictingly represented as both a continuation of the critical aspirations of contemporary art and the evacuation of all critical conscience: an exercise in bad faith.

In the catalogue accompanying 6: New Vancouver Modern, Watson posits a much earlier exhibit curated by Alvin Balkind as his model. Unambiguously titled Beyond Regionalism, that1965 exhibit featured artists that Balkind felt worked within a new sensibility that was decidedly urban; as Watson notes "the more industrialized and less "natural" the better", in response to a tradition Balkind implies to be regional and of limited intellectual value(xix). Artist Robert Linsley has characterized the dominant artistic tradition in Vancouver up to the 1960's as "lyrical, romantic, expressionist, subjective, and above all asocial and bourgeois" landscape painting(xx). Linsley further notes the parallels between the "Buddhist-love idyll(s)" of Vancouver painters such as Fred Varley and Jock Macdonald and the sensibilities of the beat poets(xxi), remarking that this particular social imaginary of the British Columbia landscape as empty, tamed and spiritually healing developed its logic as a denial of the wholesale destruction of that mythologised wilderness by mostly American-owned logging companies working land ostensibly managed and administered by the Canadian government. To Linsley, this painting serves as an aesthetic alibi for an ironic double displacement of both native peoples and their colonial exploiters(xxii).

Within this context, Balkind's exhibit Beyond Regionalism sought to move past such a mystification of local essence somehow rooted in British Columbia's 'wilderness'. The period of Balkind's activity in Vancouver is often characterized, deliberately or inadvertently, as a kind of golden age of intellectual exchange and dissemination. A 1996 article from the journal Canadian Art has attributed to Wall the notion that Alvin Balkind was the one and only "impressive type" in the history of Vancouver art, and that the absence of impressive types is precisely what has prevented a local scene from developing(xxiii). Alongside the iconic visit and project by Smithson, the late 1960's and the 1970's saw artists such as Dan Graham, Ed Ruscha, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Vito Acconci, Michael Asher, Bruce Nauman and Lawrence Weiner all either visit or participate in important exhibitions such as 1969's The Photo Show at Balkind's UBC Fine Arts Gallery or the Lippard-curated 955,000 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In writing about the development of contemporary art in Vancouver this period is discussed thoroughly and often; Scott Watson and Robert Linsley have provided excellent accounts, as has artist Christos Dikeakos in his catalogue essay for an Ian Wallace retrospect at the Vancouver Art Gallery, a show formulated in "recognition of Ian Wallace's role in the development of conceptual art in Vancouver"(xxiv). Conventionally narrated as the moment in which Vancouver was endowed with a measure of self-consciousness and worldliness, the story of art in Vancouver in the late 1960's often reads like the crux of a bildungsroman: and things would never be the same again...

Even more than Smithson, whose motif of the industrial landscape as a wilderness that rises into ruination finds a clear echo in much work from Vancouver, Dan Graham's 1969 photo and text piece Homes for America has proven pivotal to local reception and critique of conceptual art. Jeff Wall's 1991 catalogue text "Dan Graham's Kammerspiel" makes this readily apparent. The Kammerspiel text reads like a user's manual for socially critical art in the age of doubt, and features an especially cogent account of the relationship of conceptual art to both the limitations and the critically promising features of pop art and minimalism. What is striking about this essay is the manner in which it attributes the formulation of certain ideas to artists such as Graham, while in practice it marks a critical return to Graham's work through rhetorical strategies that had actually been developed through the discussion of work and texts produced in Vancouver. Further, "Kammerspiel" sheds much light on the way Wall has theorised the work of Roy Arden, Ken Lum, Ian Wallace, Rodney Graham and indeed his own production, as well as the manner in which he conceived his pedagogical approach.

In this text Wall finds in Dan Graham's work a way around what he terms conceptual art's "terrible contradiction", that contradiction being that what conceptualism ultimately expresses is the "inexpressibility of social critique"(xxv). The central movement of conceptualism according to Wall was away from an emblematic formalism, embodied in the monochrome that functions as a gesture of polemical anti-polemicism, towards the discursive and critical, only to return to the emblematic, this time in a language that only expresses it own failure. This latter movement Wall finds manifest in the work of On Kawara. This dilemma has further been cited in texts by Wall on Roy Arden's juxtaposition of the photographic index and the monochrome, by Dikeakos' on Wallace's similar strategy, and by Wallace on the conflation of minimalist reductivism and socially aware conceptualism in the practices of Arden and Lum. Wall points to a number of lessons that Graham has taught, including his introduction of the city as the site par excellence of the conceptual critique: where Smithson leads into the "desert", Graham leads to the "suburbs"(xxvi). He also notes Graham's profitable exploitation of references to pop art, evident in the false magazine spread format of Homes, and to minimalism, evident in the equation of the catastrophic architecture of the suburbs with Judd's Specific Objects. This mimesis allowed Graham to introduce a "journalistic subject"(xxvii) to his work, a content that was separable and distinct from the work's theoretical and formal makeup. Although Graham cannot resolve the sense of hopelessness Homes for America conjures, he is at least able to articulate a shock and encourage speculation of the world at large. As such he produces a "liberating hallucination" not unlike the effect of Situationist detournment, sans the romantic anarchism of the Situationist agenda(xxviii).

What allows Graham to continue to extract value from conceptualism after its nominal collapse as a viable movement in the mid 1970's is that his approach accepted "the existing formalism of culture - its rigidified generic structure - as a first principle"(xxix). Hence what Buchloh terms a conceptual 'rematerialization' of the object. As Wall notes, the only other options possible would be sterile academicism, Smithsonesque romantic banishment or ironic self-dissolution and commodity production. This rematerialized object, again made valuable and even radical by the dreariness and immobility of conceptual art, would ultimately become the vehicle for conceptualism in Vancouver. However, as Bill Wood has commented in his examination of criticism in Vancouver, the Kammerspiel essay functions as an homage to the past, while Wall's "Four Essays on Ken Lum" looks to the future. The lessons learned from Graham can be activated and made newly relevant by Lum, the "ideally estranged and deep-feeling agent of a nearly completed modernist project"(xxx).

In "Dan Graham's Kammerspiel", one of the enduring values ascribed to conceptual art is its dismantling of New York School formal and generic hegemonies, including Pop art's dependency on American corporate design and minimalism's dependency on American productive systems; Wall points to conceptual art's bureaucratic look as the source of its internationalism. Artists in Vancouver have struggled with the bureaucratic proclivities of conceptual and information-based art; NE Thing Company and the artist-run collective Intermedia provide examples of two contrasting approaches taken locally.

Nancy Shaw, in "Expanded Consciousness and Company Types: Collaboration Since Intermedia and the NE Thing Company" traces "utopian models of social integration" formulated by artists and educational institutions in Vancouver. She notes that collaborative practices that critiqued notions of authorship and object were "pedagogical doxa" at Simon Fraser University, but that this collaboration ultimately began to "mirror bureaucratic organization"(xxxi); artists became increasingly relegated to the performance of specialized tasks within larger projects, rather than truly collaborating. In this context appeared Intermedia, an artists collective lasting from 1967-72 that supported interdisciplinary events, happenings, exhibitions, discussion and especially education outside of an institutional setting. Factured from a countercultural sprit and interest in communications theory and social activism, Intermedia attempted to become the quintessential anti-institution. Soon, however, Intermedia became bound to Canada Council funding and was forced to hire a director, seen by some members as "a contamination of the ideal collective structure"(xxxii). In 1972 Intermedia dissolved in the face of increasing constraints and institutionalization. Alternately, one finds in Vancouver the overtly administered NE Thing Company, a kind of art-business formed from the marriage of Ian and Ingrid Baxter. Participating in many important conceptual art exhibitions, NE Thing also incorporated as a business and ultimately opened a restaurant and a photo lab. NE Thing Company presented the image of conceptual artists as "modish conforming couple"(xxxiii), like Graham taking the 'existing formalism of culture' as an a priori condition. Here the radical notions of conceptual art find a comfortable home amidst the Vancouver Board of Trade; the Baxter's entreprenuerialism and optimism figured as their answer to the stale academicism of late conceptual art.

In the introduction to Vancouver Anthology, Stan Douglas' formidable tribute to the textual skirmishes around contested notions of Vancouver's art community, Douglas charts a dilemma similar to that experienced by Intermedia. As Douglas observes, "institutional intrigue"(xxxiv) has a rich and storied heritage in Vancouver, manifested in the administrations of Social Credit and New Democratic provincial governments as well as in cultural institutions such as the Vancouver Art Gallery. The events in question surround the inaugural exhibition at the new home of the Vancouver Art Gallery in the renovated provincial courthouse in 1983; the show, Vancouver: Art and Artists 1931-83 caused much concern given the exhibit's inevitable exclusions and its institutional setting. An alternative exhibit, The October Show, was curated by a committee chosen by a collective of concerned parties and staged in a three story building in downtown Vancouver. The October Show spawned a series of subsequent reprisals at unregulated intervals: The Warehouse Show and the Artropolis series. Scott Watson, surprisingly writing a commentary for the catalogue for Artropolis '87 , characterizes the motivations of the exhibit to be ahistorical, universalizing and evocative of a "colonised sensibility"(xxxv). His review of Artropolis '93 is no kinder, placing the logic of the show in proximity with that of the trade fair.

Douglas charts a quick background for the various manifestations of this display of community spirit. Like Watson, he finds a value in the original exhibit. The October Show did not make claims to utterly dismantle the authority of the Vancouver Art Gallery, in fact many artists participated in both shows; as Douglas notes, the goal was simply to "present a range of local art according to an alternative logic"(xxxvi). The show further promoted dialogue that emphasized differences within the work and not some kind of fabricated overall essence. However, with subsequent shows the panoramic and spectacular became leitmotifs, as the series turned increasingly bureaucratic and cumbersome to the point of discussion emerging around a counter-exhibition to Artropolis. However, one of the most interesting critiques of Artropolis has come from itself. In 1997's Artropolis: Browser, curators Kitty Scott and Andrew Renton allowed participating artists to fill a Hollinger archival box with any materials they wished, including working materials and notes on process. Using the classic conceptual formulation of the indexical file, the boxes could be accessed through attendants at the exhibit site and examined by visitors, who were left to draw their own connections between the material they viewed in basically random association. While one might criticize Browser as a classic case of curatorial dictatorship, this exhibit, and the inclusion of Watson's scathing essay in an Artropolis catalogue, proves that Artropolis can be a self-critical tool for reflection on both the nature of community and the institutionalization of conceptual practices.

It is in this context of the "community defining" show, and against this background of bureaucratic conceptualism that Scott Watson's 6: New Vancouver Modern is set. The editorial tag affixed to Ken Lum's review of the exhibition 6: New Vancouver Modern, staged in 1998 at the Belkin Gallery at UBC, reads "is a new generation of art stars on the rise in the west-coast capital of conceptual art?". In the review, which is simultaneously both scathing and supportive, Lum places the work of these very young artists firmly within the dilemma that I have elaborated in this paper.

The work in the exhibit is in Lum's estimation, "a consequence of the proliferation of the art school, of which every artist in this exhibition is an alumnus, and from which learning about art has become an increasingly glib process"(xxxvii). The work is characterized as appearing conceptual, but behaving like Pop; this formulation the result of a submission of the social aspirations of conceptual art to pop-art irony and interiority, given the situation in which "further dialectical synthesis may prove impossible and in which the institutionalization of art is sealed in advance, no matter the radicality of the aesthetic experience"(xxxviii). The pieces in the exhibit ranged from Ron Terada's monochromes overlain with Jeopardy questions to Kelly Wood's immaculate studio photographs of impossibly slick and clean garbage bags. Among other works, Myfanwy Macleod presented Propeganda for War, a work in the image of Duchamp's In Advance of the Broken Arm; however, Macleod's shovel is deformed by the impression of a cartoon head, left by some recent victim of a hilarious blow.

After deeming the work "abject", lacking in "interpretive complexity" and "morally pathetic", Lum implicitly asks if a cynical attitude to theory can not be productive, even surreptitiously critical. As Lum notes, "The works seem to be saying to the viewer: 'Why do you come to us with so many demands?' Or: 'Why do you have such needs which are clearly sanctioned by traditional expectations?'"(xxxix). It could be easily argued that this very sense of frustration, of looking to artworks for a form of moral guidance that they refuse to give, is actually in concordance with a continuum of discourse around conceptual art that dates back to Dan Graham. Scott Watson has ascribed the very same effect to Lum's own work, which he describes as setting up a "discomfort zone": "Lum's works are not political in the ordinary sense. They don't offer stable readings that we can accept or reject. They affirm nothing, instaed confronting the viewer with those very same contradictions that constitute his or her social and political identity"(xl).

Lum's assessment of 6: New Vancouver Modern sharply differs from Watson's curatorial explication, in that where Watson finds a the content of the work to function critically, Lum finds the work's erstwhile content a mirage; to Lum this is its provocation and what makes it art school art par excellence. Watson cites the exhibition title as pointing to a productive and hopeful engagement with the unfinished project of modernism, albeit a modernity made somewhat perverse. One of the motifs of the exhibit is "the long shadow adolescence casts over adult life"(xli), as exemplified in Steven Shearer's silk-screened images of pathetic 70's teen idols. Here childhood is colonized, arrested and emptied of delinquency. The question becomes can not these adolescent experiences provide the same askance and skeptical view that Lum's adolescence afforded him? According to Wall, the revolt of children is a powerful productive force.

Lum's writing is an instructive engagement with this work, in that he does not try to fix the goals of these young artists within an institutionally sanctioned critical project, even though the work is clearly the project of institutions. Where Watson extends the critique of these artists along accepted lines of enquiry - commodification, law-of-the-father, deconstruction - Lum demonstrates that this work has emptied those lines of enquiry and fashioned them into a mask, a mimicry of criticality. This is the sense of abuse the work engenders in the viewer, a discomfort that can no longer be stimulated by the official questions ruminated upon at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the Emily Carr College of Art and Design.

The provocation that Lum ascribes to the work in 6 is thus rendered more effective in Lum's own polemic, which likewise confronts the reader with an insoluble dilemma, and especially within the dismal context that Lum lays out for Canadian culture as a federal government initiative in his essay "Canadian Cultural Policy: A Problem of Metaphysics". Lum's paper was presented at a conference coincidentally (or not so coincidentally) sponsored by Apex Art in Poland, and was subsequently published in the Fall 1999 issue of Canadian Art magazine. The crux of this paper is the extent to which Canadian culture has been engineered, administered and bureaucratized, and Lum's analysis has been an unacknowledged component of this entire paper. If I refer to "Canadian Cultural Policy" only elliptically, it is still in the explicit acknowledgement that my text points to Lum's, relying upon its context and expanding upon its discourse.

With every repetition, engagement with the socio-critical aspirations of conceptual art has become increasingly confusing and difficult. However, these neo-or-pseudo-or-abject conceptualisms can still generate speculation about the larger world, and do gain a certain level of critical purchase from local contingencies, even if in a self-dramatized or negative sense. Whether you believe Watson or Lum, 6: New Vancouver Modern still has the power to generate a temporary condition of uncertainty despite its bureacratic origins, and should that uncertainty open up feelings of melancholia, anger or cynicism is more a product of the discourse around, or the acculturation of, the work than the work itself. Perhaps here is the redemption of the agent in an aleatory motion through texts that Ian Wallace speaks of, filling in uncertainties only to create more. It would be very easy to convincingly argue that these artworks function in a similar fashion to late 70's conceptual work that Wall argues retreated from the discursive and back into an emblematic denial of the possibility of critique - a distant pose of symbolic protest. Yet because this work understands that it will almost instantly be acculturated, it points to a discursive potential that still exists, even if that potential is only realized in the clashing of texts such as those of Watson and Lum.

Finally, in reference to Lum's problematization of Canada's national policy of multiculturalism and administered community, I have offered this particular argumentative community of texts as a counter or possibly redemptive formulation. These texts are inevitably biased and exclusionary, yet as a whole they originate in no single institution: some are magazine reviews, some are catalogues for shows in commercial galleries, some originate from artist-run centres or institutions such as the Vancouver Art Gallery. Many are produced outside of Vancouver. Some are journalistic, others are polemical. The connections I have drawn between them are my own; it is a community I have fabricated. Yet these texts remain to be recontextualized, mine included. New stories can be told. These writings engage across projects, draw conclusions beyond their regional boundaries, and invite speculation beyond those same boundaries.

So I conclude with the figure cut by a Lawrence Weiner installation on the pediment of the Vancouver Art Gallery, to which the title of this essay refers: an institute textualized, words turned to objects, a dialectic of local concerns and the transnational rhetoric of conceptualism.

(i)Paul Delany "Vancouver as a Postmodern City," Vancouver: Representing the Postmodern City, ed Paul Delany (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1994) 1.
(ii)Delany, 9.
(iii)Delany, 11.
(iv)Scott Watson, "Landscape of the Economy: Roy Arden's Photographs," Roy Arden, exhibition catalogue (Toronto and Vancouver: Art Gallery of York University and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, 1997).
(v)Watson, "Discovering the Defeatured Landscape," Vancouver Anthology, ed Stan Douglas (Vancouver: Or Gallery, 1990) 263.
(vi)Jeff Wall, "Four Essays on Ken Lum," Ken Lum, exhibition catalogue (Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1990) 33.
(vii)Wall, "Four Essays," 27.
(viii)Ken Lum, "On Furniture Sculpture," Ken Lum 9.
(ix)Lum, "On Language Paintings," Ken Lum 11.
(x)Wall, "Four Essays," 35.
(xi)Wall, Dan Graham's Kammerspiel (Toronto: Art Metropole, 1991) 22.
(xii)Wall, "Four Essays," 25.
(xiii)Wall, "Four Essays," 35.
(xiv)Wall, "Four Essays," 40.
(xv)Ian Wallace, "The Idea of the University," The Idea of the University, exhibition catalogue (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Fine Arts Gallery, 199) 25.
(xvi)Wallace, "The Idea," 27.
(xvii)Wallace, "The Idea," 27.
(xviii)Watson, "6: New Vancouver Modern," 6: New Vancouver Modern, exhibition catalogue (Vancouver: Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, 1997) 22.
(xix)Watson, "6," 20.
(xx)Robert Linsley, "Landscape and Literature in the Art of British Columbia," Vancouver: Representing the Postmodern City 193.
(xxi)Linsley, "Landscape," 197.
(xxii)Linsley, "Painting and the Social History of British Columbia," Vancouver Anthology 227.
(xxiii)Adele Freedman, "Vancouver to Paris," Canadian Art Spring, 1996: 41.
(xxiv)Christos Dikeakos, "Ian Wallace: Selected Works 1970-1987," Ian Wallace: Selected Works 1970-1987, exhibition catalogue (Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1988) 6.
(xxv)Wall, "Dan Graham's Kammerspiel," 19.
(xxvi)Wall, "Dan Graham's Kammerspiel," 29.
(xxvii)Wall, "Dan Graham's Kammerspiel," 28.
(xxviii)Wall, "Dan Graham's Kammerspiel," 31.
(xxix)Wall, "Dan Graham's Kammerspiel," 32.
(xxx)Bill Wood, "Some Are Weather-Wise; Some Otherwise: Criticism and Vancouver," Vancouver Anthology 161.
(xxxi)Nancy Shaw, "Expanded Consciousness and Company Types: Collaboration Since Intermedia and the NE Thing Company," Vancouver Anthology 85.
(xxxii)Shaw, 89.
(xxxiii)Shaw, 95.
(xxxiv)Stan Douglas, "Introduction," Vancouver Anthology 15.
(xxxv)Watson, "Desiring Transparency," Artropolis '87, eds. Maja Grip and Annette Hurtig (Vancouver: Artroplis, 1987)13.
(xxxvi)Douglas, 16.
(xxxvii)Lum, "Six New Vancouver Modern," Canadian Art Summer, 1998: 50.
(xxxviii)Lum, "Six," 48.
(xxxix)Lum, "Six," 48.
(xl)Watson, "The Discomfort Zone," Canadian Art Spring, 92: 37.
(xli)Watson, "6: New Vancouver," 25.