Thursday, June 12, 2008

Losing Ctrl over the art of remembering*

Ctrl-P, an online journal of contemporary visual arts, started in the Philippines two years ago. Responding to the lack of critical voices in the country, Judy Freya Sibayan and Flaudette May V Datuin took it upon themselves to launch a site devoted to collecting critical essays concerning contemporary visual arts around the world. Ctrl-P will be turning its focus onto Canada, specifically Edmonton-based artists, for its next issue (due out this summer on

Guest edited by Lianne McTavish, who joined the U of A’s Department of Art and Design last year, the issue will focus on locally archived artists that ran in conjunction with Sibayan’s project. Inviting Sibayan to the U of A shortly after starting with the school as a professor of art history, McTavish had been wanting to bring Sibayan to Canada ever since they met in Mexico during a conference on interdisciplinary art history. Spotting a petite woman with a larger-than-life presence, McTavish knew immediately she needed to bring this artist and academic to Canada.

“I was very impressed by her sophisticated and philosophical performance,” McTavish begins. “She conveyed a concept of how an archive works and functions, adhering to institutional formats as she undermines them; I felt that Canada needed to see her.”

Then a faculty member with the University of New Brunswick, McTavish finally found the opportunity to bring Sibayan in as an international visiting artist upon moving out west. By then, Sibayan’s work had developed into The Museum of Mental Objects (MoMO), an ongoing work and archive that opens and exhibits directly from the mind of Sibayan herself.

In a similar non-systematized manner as Ctrl-P, which does not publish on a regular schedule but pushes through downloadable issues as soon as enough material has been gathered, MoMO operates on a sporadic schedule that caters to being as accommodating to a viewing public as humanly possible. Accountable to none, including governing or funding bodies, board of directors or prestigious patrons, MoMO at first appears to be an anarchist in-joke gone too far, but unfolding the layers of institutional law and order in the project’s subtext, MoMO debunks every major foundation of how art has been approached. Existing only in the mind of Sibayan and other independent MoMO curators from around the world, and “exhibited” as a live performance of memory and storytelling, issues that plague institutions often bound by policies and mandates are made explicitly clear. Highly contestable issues include deeply ingrained systems governing authority over quality, relevance, economic value, demand for exhibition and collections and, most interestingly, who the artists are and how they are remembered and experienced.

“We’re putting forward the importance of collecting, from 19th century model of museums to the 14th century importance of retaining all letters and correspondences,” shares McTavish, whose research interests focus on Italian Renaissance as well as contemporary art from 1970s to present. “To put these objects in the forefront as the exhibit rather than the back room, there is an anxiety about what was being remembered and reveals how archives actually work.”

Proving that documentation needs to exist, whether as a resource or as an assessment, we only move forward by acknowledging the steps taken.

*First Published in Vue Weekly, June 12 - 18, 2008

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