This special issue of the Journal of Canadian Art History/Annales d’histoire de l’art canadien has been edited by Johanne Sloan, Concordia University, as part of her program of work for the Insight-funded collaborative research project, Networked Art Histories: Assembling Contemporary Art in Canada, 1960s to the Present.
Before turning to networks, we begin in the archives. In Canada, we are now awash in the print culture of contemporary art – that which has accumulated over the past several decades as magazines proliferated, as the country’s manifold artist-run centres began publishing, and as artists’ books and other experimental publications flourished. Aside from conventional libraries, certain designated sites attest to this material plenitude. Art Metropole in Toronto began its program of collecting and disseminating “artist-initiated” publications in 1974, for instance, while in Montreal, the documentation center Artexte has been assiduously amassing all manner of art-related material since 1981; amongst their archival boxes it is possible to unearth not only magazines and catalogues, but paper ephemera including posters, photographs, press releases, invitations to vernissages, artists’ cv s and statements, and so on.
Introducing the first volume of a recent anthology of essays from the art journal Parachute, Alexander Alberro and Nora M. Alter argue: “Art periodicals today operate as vehicles for the evaluation and dissemination of artistic practices, as well as locations for the elaboration of interpretive approaches capable of addressing the extraordinary complexity and sudden tentativeness of art following the collapse of the modernist paradigm. Furthermore, they address a remarkably diverse readership comprised not only of artists and those connected with exhibiting and marketing their work, but also of academics and a general public increasingly interested in art and culture.” These comments are particularly appropriate to describe Parachute, a bilingual journal published out of Montreal between 1975 and 2007 that played a pivotal role in introducing new theoretical paradigms and language to the Canadian art scene through often complex essays by local and international scholars, art critics and artists.
The word “Tawow”, in the language of the Cree, means “there is room” or “Welcome” – in this first issue of the magazine, this means welcome to all Indian people who want to write.
With these words, editor Jean Cuthand Goodwill greeted the readers of Canada’s first Indigenous cultural magazine. The 1970 launch of Tawow: Canadian Indian Cultural Magazine marked a remarkable shift in Canadian policy, but as a young reader I had limited awareness of its significance. Now, forty-five years after Tawow’s debut and thirty-five years after it ceased publication, I still have six dog-eared copies I have hauled from one end of the country to the other. Over the years, I have made conscious choices to not only keep them, but take them with me, packing them in boxes, moving them from home to home, office to studio, and back again. Most recently they moved from Montreal to Winnipeg, where they now hold pride of place in a growing Contemporary Aboriginal Art History Archive Project.
On 13 July 1979, the Walter Phillips Gallery at the Banff Centre for Continuing Education opened an ambitious exhibition on contemporary Canadian art photography. Curated by Lorne Falk and Hubert Hohn, the exhibition included a stellar group of photographers, with the goal of establishing the Banff Centre as a place for serious photographic study. Listed by geographical residency from West to East, the photographers that were selected for inclusion were: Nina Raginsky (b. 1941) in British Columbia, Orest Semchishen (b. 1932) in Alberta, David McMillan (b. 1945) in Manitoba, Robert Bourdeau (b. 1931) in Ontario, Lynne Cohen (1944–2014) in Ontario, Tom Gibson (b. 1930) in Quebec, and Charles Gagnon (1934–2003) in Quebec. An influential group, these seven photographers spanned most of the country, as do their images, including Raginsky’s portraits of Victoria’s citizens, Semchishen’s images of small town Alberta, and McMillan’s, Gibson’s, and Gagnon’s street scenes of Winnipeg and Banff, Toronto, and Montreal respectively. Only Bourdeau’s spectacular landscapes and Cohen’s modern interiors are less geographically secured. Photographers – or images – from the North and the Maritimes were noticeably absent.
Certain conversations keep busy in the mind. Surprise makes them memorable; mortification makes them sharp; the combination is decisive. These factors explain my clear recollection of a very brief conversation that I had some 35 years ago with Toronto artist and writer David Hlynsky (b. 1947), then editor of the photography magazine image nation, at an exhibition opening in Ottawa. Who is this ‘I’? At that time, I was senior exhibition producer at the National Film Board, Still Photography Division – curator, in all but name, of the federal government agency charged with the collection and circulation in exhibitions and publications of contemporary Canadian photography. The NFB / SPD operated the Photo Gallery/Galerie de l’Image on Kent Street in Ottawa, which is where we were standing on the evening of 14 February 1980.
A copy of Roy Kiyooka’s Transcanada Letters (Talonbooks, 1975) sits in a beam of sunlight upon my desk. Canada Post delivered the book from Vancouver to Montreal after I ordered it from an online bookseller. My desire to own a copy of Transcanada Letters arose after a first visit “out West” to the Contemporary Literature Collection at Simon Fraser University, where Kiyooka’s papers are housed. My trajectory, moving east to west, echoed the coast-to-coast narrative of Canadian nationhood. In this narrative, Vancouver currently plays the role of a thriving twenty-first century metropolis, which evolved from its earlier image as a “fantasy dream” at the edge of British Dominion and American Western expansion. Since the 1970s, when Transcanada Letters was published, Vancouver has increasingly adopted the identity of a Pacific Rim city. In this alternate narrative, the city plays the role of an essential node in global trade routes reaching out to Asia, just as its artists are tangled up in the complex cultural, political, and economic factors folded into the term “globalization.” The imaginary space mapped throughout the pages of Transcanada Letters, however, troubles the attempt to link the locality of its narrative, or the identity of its author, to a defined territory.
The Asianadian: An Asian Canadian Magazine was published quarterly in Toronto between 1978 and 1985 during a period of significant anti-racism activism in Canada marked by ongoing debates on a fledgling multiculturalism, controversial media representations of people of colour, and efforts to establish venues to feature an expanding volume of Asian Canadian cultural production. Its founding editors and contributors – minority writers, artists and scholars, many of whom are today’s leading established Asian Canadian Studies scholars and creatives – spoke persuasively, expressing themselves through text and visual culture against racism and other forms of oppression in Canadian society that paralleled efforts made in their own practices. This article sets out to contextualize the publication’s editorial aims and scope, content and presentation. It focuses on how the journal dealt with stereotypical representations of Asian Canadians in visual culture such as mainstream mass media, film, and social caricature, in order to demonstrate that The Asianadian was a significant site of visual cultural critique.
In 1988, when Vancouver’s Artspeak gallery presented Anne Ramsden’s (b. 1952) photo-based exhibition Relations, also producing a catalogue with a featured text by Reesa Greenberg, they were giving West Coast audiences a taste of Montreal’s postmodern feminism. Ramsden was one of an impressive roster of women artists who undertook experimental photographic work in Montreal during the 1980s: Jocelyne Alloucherie (b. 1947), Raymonde April (b. 1953), Céline Baril (b. 1952), Dominique Blain (b. 1957), Geneviève Cadieux (b. 1955), Sorel Cohen (b. 1936), Moyra Davey (b. 1958), Martha Fleming (b. 1958) and Lyne Lapointe (b. 1957), Lorraine Gilbert (b. 1955), Angela Grauerholz (b. 1952), Nicole Jolicoeur (b. 1947), Nina Levitt (b. 1955), Lani Maestro (b. 1957), Sylvie Readman (b. 1958), Cheryl Simon (b. 1955), Cheryl Sourkes (b. 1945), Barbara Steinman (b. 1950), Nell Tenhaaf (b. 1951), and Jin-me Yoon (b. 1960). I want to argue that these women were part of a network of artists, writers, curators, magazine editors, gallerists, translators, teachers, students – all committed to expanding the field of photography, all engaging with feminist ideals, all caught up one way or another in the fever of postmodernism.
In the early 1990s three Montreal art students working under the moniker Nation to Nation mounted a series of renegade exhibitions. By 1997, with a handful of art shows, performances, and community projects under their belts, Nation to Nation would launch CyberPowWow (CPW), an early experiment in Internet art publication, and to date the most expansive platform for network-based art made by Indigenous artists.
CPW was operational for eight years and is now largely offline, making it difficult to assess its impact. Twenty years on, it has become a remnant of a cyberutopian experiment in Indigenous sovereignty on the early Web. This article attempts to track the networked conditions from which an experiment like CPW could surface, and also to recall its emergence from a political climate of Indigenous self-determination that came to the fore in the nation- state of Canada during the 1990s.