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Belated June news delivered in July

After exciting Venice and Portugal where we met Tehching, Wayne, and Marisa, we co-directors flew to opposite directions and have been running two satellite offices ever since. (this sometimes happens) While dealing with different kinds of realities, each of us has had moments to reflect on Martin Creed’s “the whole world + art = the whole world”, which keeps us wondering rather than discouraged.  

***

Over three weeks in June, co-director (s) had to make multiple trips to the tax office in Japan to file her due on her own, unassisted by the “artsy” accountant who understands it all and helps her in Canada.  As we had announced in different places, RFAOH was fortunate to receive some public support from Canada Council for the Arts this past year.  At the office, she had a different tax officer every time, to answer to her “non-average” questions due to her peculiar “occupation” and “situation”.  The first officer had very little clue that this kind of stuff or life existed. He was so puzzled but would kindly go back into his office and look up precedents in obscure cases in a book and gave her his best objective advice accordingly.  The second officer seemed rather miffed about this “nonsense”, even though he wasn’t rude or anything. He kept giving her analogies with other professions, to prove what she was saying made little sense. She felt constantly challenged. The ultimate line in their conversation was “…so you are saying that the government supports you to ‘volunteer’?”  Ironically, it actually made a lot of sense and she felt weirdly enlightened (after feeling slightly pathetic).  Then the last officer seemed genuinely curious about this non-average case and even bothered to ask her questions to better understand about this “unconventional” art thing or a lifestyle or income sources he has never known or imagined. Obviously, co-director (s) could explain things much better with some kind of confidence than the second time around where she mumbled the whole time as if she was a criminal.  After this entirely reflective experience about how we/art may or may not exist in our world of the sole, steadfast “currency”, here’s what she concluded on social media:

“Talking to a tax officer almost convinces you that “non-production” is the only solution to stopping the madness of our world, and I think more deeply about this producing “work” about non-production. It’s a bit like John Cage’s line: “there’s nothing to say and I’m saying it”. (I also produce my own jams and clothes and stuff)”

***

Meanwhile at RFAOH headquarters in Canada, the legacy of Venice Biennale had an interesting spin. Among our decent collection of tote bags, half of which we seem to have acquired in Venice, co-director (m) has lately been using the one we picked up at the Australian pavilion this year as it is a nice size and design to carry on his back while he bikes. The aboriginal artist, Tracy Moffat represented Australia this year with her work addressing various narratives around indigenous experience in Australia. The tote bag is black with the words “INDIGENOUS RIGHTS” on one side in yellow Helvetica, and “REFUGEE RIGHTS” on the other in Red. Even though Canada remains relatively open to immigration and refugees, the recent report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has spot lit our country’s own shameful history with our first nations people. So it’s a topic, especially this year as the country celebrates its 150 year of confederation (colonization), and RFAOH’s headquarters Montreal celebrates its 375th year. Meanwhile, debates around cultural appropriation continue to spiral throughout the arts blogosphere, and co-director (m)’s simple tote bag began to seem like a provocation on so many fronts.  June 24 was Jean Baptiste Day — a tradition brought over to Quebec with the first French settlers, and which also carries with it certain amount of nationalistic fervour given the history and chronic political anxiety of our predominantly French province within a predominantly Anglophone nation(continent). There is usually a good representation of separatists enjoying the parade along with a few too many wobbly pops, a few of whom took issue with his tote bag promoting refugees and indigenous rights. And in English text!  

As we reflect on all of this, we again come back, as we seem to constantly do with this project, to the relationship between rhetoric and reality, and the plasticity of both.   We think about this bag which is not really art but perhaps could be collectable should Tracy Moffat’s career take off.   Or perhaps it is an extension of her work at the Australian Pavilion as people carrying around the tote bag assume some agency for the questions she is posing in Venice.  What is this difference between carrying it around the Giardini among the artworld players and wealthy holiday-ers, or down the east end of L’Avenue Mont Royal during the Jean Baptiste Day revelry, or past the group of first nation’s individuals who hang out at the corner of St Urbain and Sherbrooke every morning? What is a slipperiness between context and the language itself? To one group the text seems (apparently) to be a threat, to the other, perhaps meaningless or trite, or a gesture of solidarity to yet another.  Co-director (m) just needs to carry his things: a bottle of water, his other glasses, and book of essays he’s working through on Institutional Critique.

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