WRECK – Volume 3, Issue 1

Material Affinities: Intersections that Matter


As guest editors we wish to acknowledge the support of the many people who made this issue of WRECK possible. Firstly, the symposium itself would not have taken place without the financial and administrative support of the AHVA department at UBC including Whitney Friesen, Audrey Van Slyck and Dr. Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe. Our thanks also extend to Allison E. Collins, CCST student and current editor of WRECK, who offered support and edited the reviews for the issue, MA student Rebecca Lesser for sharing her invaluable skills as copy editor and designer Bill Matthews who generously produced the layout for the issue (billywilliam.net).

Above all, we thank the contributors for their efforts and their patience throughout the publishing process, and for sharing their work in this forum. The involvement of media artist and recent MFA graduate Josh Hite deserves special recognition. In response to the theme of the symposium, Josh generously shared a series of photographs, one of which was featured in our promotional materials, and a selection of which can be seen in the introduction.

Finally, we offer particular thanks to Dr. Jennifer Marshall (University of Minnesota), one of our keynote speakers, for composing the short essay included in this issue. The essay addresses the theme of the conference in relation to the debates and discussion prompted by her original keynote presentation. We are honoured that she would take the time to compose this piece and her willingness to participate speaks to her scholarly generosity. It speaks to the potential of scholarly events to foster critical dialogue that extends beyond the temporal and physical limits of the event itself.

Carla Benzan, Aldona Dziedziejko and Angela Zhang, guest editors

Introduction: Material Affinities

by Carla Benzan

Revisiting Materiality’s Material Conditions

by Dr. Jennifer Marshall

In this short essay, keynote Dr. Jennifer Marshall reconsiders the notion of “semiotic thingness” that was introduced during her keynote presentation. Dr. Marshall addresses the debate prompted by her understanding of materiality in modernity, specifically in relation to theoretical notions of materiality as a “productive and palpable excess to the social, arbitrary, and deeply ideological world of signs.”

The Body as an Everyday Material in the 1960s: Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton

by S. Elise Archias

What sort of material was the body when it appeared so insistently in the work of art in the early 1960s? More than just a shocking novelty, the body provided an answer to questions about the status of materials and materiality in art, questions that were driving the increasingly widespread consensus among contemporary artists circa 1960 that “painting was dead.” This paper looks at Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, and Robert Morris, three artists who worked in the same community in New York, whose questions about the nature of the work of art led them to live performance. Why did this move seem logical to them, and what sort of bodily modes did each put forward in his or her works? Morris and Rainer both received positive critical responses — though for distinctly different reason — while Paxton was almost unanimously viewed as an enigma. Why was this? This paper explores their different approaches, particularly the ways that each of their practices was informed by a notion of “the everyday,” a concept that perhaps unifies 1960s art practice more than any other. The paper will finally be most interested in Rainer’s exploration of the bodily everyday for the ways it led her to a form of bodily presentation that emphasized the body’s materiality, thus allowing the work of art to hold on to the contingent material effects that had in the past animated painting, while freeing it of a version of the human that emphasized its agency, dominance, and personality. In dialogue with Paxton and Morris, Rainer’s work makes a case for passivity that proved to be deeply necessary and useful for art practice in the decade that followed.

The Materiality of Cognition: Concrete Poetry and the Embodied Mind

by Mike Borkent

This paper examines the connection between visual and verbal communication in concrete poetry, using the work of Canadian poet, bpNichol, as a starting point. I show how the materiality of this poetry harnesses the embodied experiences of the reader/viewer to construct meaning. Concrete poetry is often multimodal and uses both visual and verbal cues to construct meaning; the poems employ the materiality of both the page and language through manipulations and evocations of space, arrangement, typography, artistry, and spelling. Therefore, this poetic mode adds meaning through the visuality of its words and spaces, and ascribes meaning to the often ignored materiality of the written word and the page on which it resides. Concrete poetry, thereby, functions on the borders of the visual arts and language arts, locating meanings in the material interplay of words and images. I examine the materiality of this poetry in relation to findings from studies of cognition in linguistics, neurobiology, and psychology, which have shown that the embodied mind uses our sensorimotor experiences to construct higher order meanings in language and the arts, particularly through iconicity (which can be both imagic and metaphoric) and performativity. I will connect this research to work done by authors like WJT Mitchell and Johanna Drucker, who also examine the interplay between language and images, and show how an understanding of embodiment can add to interpretations of materiality in the arts.

Vitreous Demeanor and Gerhard Richter’s Moving Glass

by Taisuke Edamura

A body of works on glass panes accounts for a fraction of Gerhard Richter’s oeuvre, of which his photo-based and brightly-coloured abstract paintings constitute a substantial portion. However, the glass works have been treated as significant as those paintings due to their intended critique of the tradition of picture making. Both the artist’s painted photographs and his use of glass challenge the epistemological quality of the picture which has long been credited with providing a painted analogy to reality. Accordingly, a number of critiques have focused on the artist’s exhaustive investigation of the varied visual and perceptual models. As for a wide spectrum of the glass works, however, few attempts have been made to see through the focus on their “subjective pulse.” This paper will examine the works’ defiance of the regime of sight through the analysis of their “vitreous demeanor”—i.e. the intrusion into the space of beholding. The mobility of the glass works might liberate viewers from the conventional logic of perspectival painting that requires a fixed relationship between the viewers and painted objects, instead enabling them to choose the way in which to relate to what they see. However, it is not only for such an exclusive “protagonization” of the viewers, but also for the works themselves that resist being an obedient viewed object which is amenable to the viewers’ manipulation. The movement embodies the “afterimage” as a refusal to understand the glass works with exclusive interest in their visual specificities and in their objectifiability, so to speak.

Making Restitution Matter: Engaged Arts, Public Collaboration and the Matter of Social Relations

by Ray Hsu

During the 2009 Graduate Student Symposium, postdoctoral fellow Ray Hsu and his collaborator Brian Ee presented on the Reading Week Project: a collaborative project between a local restitution-based elementary school and the University of British Columbia. Since the conference was held several weeks before this project took place, their presentation involved a discussion of the values and imperatives of restitution-based pedagogy by Ee and a discussion of collaborative practices by Hsu. In their contribution to Wreck, the presenters bring together a group of reflections on the experience of the Reading Week Project. These include a discussion of a previous collaboration project by Hsu, an introduction to the Reading Week Project and to restitution-based pedagogy by Ee, reflections of UBC undergraduate students who participated in the Reading Week Project and Hsu’s considerations on this collaboration. The editors wish to thank Ray, Brian, Jillian, Maki and Winnie for sharing their thoughts and experiences regarding this unique project.

(En)counter the White Cube: Regimes and Experiences of Viewing at the Vancouver Art Gallery

by Adrienne Fast

Much has been written about the consequences of the so-called, white-cube gallery style, from its ability to overwhelm and devour anything placed inside it, to the way it encourages a particularly attentive way of looking, to its role as a theatre for ritualized performance. However, as intriguing as such theories are for the insights they offer into the experience of gallery visitors, they have rather less to say about another audience that exists within the modern gallery environment. Installation installers, conservators, registrars, and curators all have daily experience with spaces dedicated to art storage and treatment rather than its reified contemplation. For this audience, there are optical regimes at work that have little to do with sacralized and empty space. When examining such behind-the-scenes spaces it may not be possible to extrapolate much from theories of the White Cube regarding the particular effects of white-walled, high-ceilinged, theatrically-lit spaces. But what remains relevant is what such theories have had to say regarding the movement of bodies in space, the cumulative effects of embodied viewing over time, and the relationship between spaces of secret knowledge and the workings of power. Using the Vancouver Art Gallery as a case study, this paper will examine the layout and use of the vault storage and working spaces in the gallery basement in order to analyse how lighting, arrangement of space, and ease of access in such spaces encourage a relationship to art very different than that implied by theories of the White Cube. By examining the relationship between these gallery basement spaces and the attitudes towards art experienced by gallery employees, the hope is that we may gain a greater appreciation of the contours and limits of theories of the White Cube while also illuminating a hitherto under-researched aspect of museum and gallery space.

In Rows

by Josh Hite
In Rows explores determinants of viewer movement within auditorium style seating arrangements. The organizational structure of these venues in part determine the movement through them, but of equal importance are viewer to viewer interactions, as are the relationships between things the brought into the space.

Engraving the Savage

by Joan Boychuk

Book review of Michael Gaudio’s 2008 monograph Engraving the Savage: the New World and Techniques of Civilization.

We are the plants that need to go to the gym: Germaine Koh’s Fallow

by Jen Weih

Exhibition review of Germaine Koh’s installation Fallow at the Charles H. Scott Gallery in Vancouver, 2009.