The Canadian Art Database

Ingrid Bachmann

Paradox, Contradiction, Contingency, Dialogue

From So, To Speak, J-P. Gilbert, Sylvie Gilbert and Lesley Johnston eds.,
Artextes Editions, Montréal, 1999.
[ 564 words ]

I have been living in the city of Chicago for the past two years, a transplanted Canadian living in a country that has recently abolished all public arts funding, in a political climate that is witnessing the rapid and increasingly formidable power of the religious right. The impact has been dramatic. Within one year of the funding cuts, only two artist-run centres remain in the city and they are struggling to keep their doors open. 'My work isn't political; you can interpret it anyway you like,' is a pronouncement heard a little too frequently at artists' talks. It is difficult to be self-righteous, as times are tough and the stakes are high. The question of artistic practice interweaving in a meaningful way with the social fabric is more urgent than ever.

What is also evident is the contingency of place and time: the political, economic, and social factors that constitute a place in a particular time, the transience of those factors, and the complexities, necessities, and urgencies that accompany a place. I have chosen the four words of the title to describe my own response to the question of the social and civic responsibilities of an artist.

Paradox: because I firmly believe in the subversive potential of art; the necessity for art to interact, intersect, and confront a particular place and time, its social, political, and cultural situation.

Contradiction: because this overtly political stance is coupled with the acknowledgement of the imagination as a necessary site in which to dream; to recognize the space of dreams as the first site of political action; to acknowledge the irrational, the improbable, without abdicating social responsibility; to be politically aware and still be able to 'construct boxes where things hurry away from their names' (Octavio Paz); to dream grandly with feet firmly planted on the ground; to fly with, not in spite of, the heavy baggage.

Contingency: because art is irrevocably linked to the notion of place in all its complexity — physical place, psychic place, and the attendant cultural, economic, and social factors.

Dialogue: because dialogue implies a listener, a constituency, an audience. An artwork, in whatever form, is always addressed to another. I am still invested in the gallery as a laboratory for ideas, as a site to create and initate dialogue, and as a forum for ideas and debate. The artificiality of the gallery setting can provide a speculative space to pose and to attempt, however provisionally, to answer some of the difficult questions of our historical moment/s.

Dialogue across disciplines: working and interacting with systems that are already in place — institutions, the internet —, collaborating with individuals from other fields: science, computers, engineering. In more pragmatic terms, serving on boards of non-profit galleries, teaching, writing and curating exhibitions as direct contributions to the arts community.

As an artist, I want to be a thorn, an itch, a nudge, a tweak, a push. An artist's marginal status is useful only if it is an engaged marginality. I like the model of the court fool as a prototype for the artist's role in society; someone who is closely linked to the structures of power but whose relationship to the centres of power is always necessarily tenuous.

From So, To Speak, J-P. Gilbert, Sylvie Gilbert and Lesley Johnston eds.,
Artextes Editions, Montréal, 1999.

Text: © Ingrid Bachmann. All rights reserved.

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