This journal shares in common the name of the (in)famous, clothing-optional Wreck Beach, located on the University of British Columbia Endowment Lands. This secluded strand shelters more than nude sunbathers and migratory birds: vendors openly sell illicit substances, gay men cruise, and grassroots organizations gather to resist encroaching development. Though Vancouver has been for some time widely associated with Wreck Beach – it attracts some 500,000 visitors per year – it is a space of perceived impropriety, of transgression, and of rejection of the more conservative, normative values embedded in the spatial practices of both the adjacent University and the surrounding urban precincts. Wreck Beach delineates a space for an alternative and, at times, oppositional public culture. In a similar way, the editors of the journal wish to provide a space for critical inquiry by graduate students into the production, dissemination, and reception of art and visual culture, as well as discourses (present and past) governing their fields of study.
Significantly, the word “wreck” also indicates an object destroyed, a site of ruin, and a dissolution of function; and it often connotes an unsettling encounter with the collapse of order, continuity, or history. Wrecks demand one of any number of different stratagems: salvaging what may still possess value, abandoning that which is deemed worthless, or commemorating what is lost. For some time the discourse of traditional art history has been described (by some) as in a wrecked state, in epistemological and methodological collapse. Disparate approaches to this problematized field of knowledge echo the approaches just described – to glean, to forsake, or to mourn the detritus of a foundered field of study.
The purpose of Wreck is to open a forum for graduate students to engage in larger debates enlivening the field of art history and visual culture today. The editors share an apprehension about the ceaseless circulation of academic fashions, and question the abandonment of valid ideas before they are fully realized. Envisioning these ideas as fraught wrecks exposes them to critical reexamination. With its online format, the journal aims to explore the problems, promise, and potential of these ideas, as well as new approaches to the discipline, by reaching a wider audience and incorporating diverse media, including sound and video.