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Issue 134

Florida is Galaxy Grey
by Jake Moore

“Florida” is a 2006 Galaxy Grey Mazda MPV minivan. Artist Sheena Hoszko’s brother found the vehicle listed on Kijiji in Mont-Laurier, QC, about a three-hour drive from Montreal. Though already several years old, Florida had exceptional appeal as she had only been driven in winter, but not during the harsh and overly salted seasons of Quebec. Florida spent winters in her namesake state as the vacation vehicle of a snowbird, the name for those who retreat to the south when the cold and harsh weather truly arrives. This colloquial naming after migratory birds remarks on this community’s ability to relocate across borders to more hospitable environs at will and is evidence of privilege not necessity. Hoszko named the van Florida out of awareness of the mobility the vehicle would allow her, as well as an understanding of how objects operate symbolically well beyond their utility. Vital connections between mobility, location, agency and justice play out in Hoszko’s mediating of objects, actions and interventions. Though best known for minimalist sculptural interpretations of carceral spaces within gallery confines, Hoszko is now revealing another stratum of the processes she undertakes to make spaces of incarceration in Canada visible to publics not directly affected by them but fully implicated in their existence. She bought Florida last year and promptly learned to drive, for the first time, in her early thirties. (Each decision in Hoszko’s daily life is directly tied to a larger praxis of art-making and organizing work.) This particular decision was prompted by her project 35+ Prisons in Quebec, in which she set out to visit all 35 sites of forcible confinement in the province. It was a research tour to document each place and to create an archive of their locations intertwined with her experience of them, which will lead to new works. In 35 + Prisons… Hoszko’s visitations speak of just how far and how shockingly near and abundant, the architectural tools of isolation are from her own position. While her iPhone photographs of the sites and her pencilled notations serve as mnemonic devices, it is frottage that lets her know where she has been and will be what she ultimately shares with us. Frottage is the French word for rubbing and an artistic technique named by French Surrealist Max Ernst. It is described as an automatic form of art making, much like automatic writing, wherein the artist or author does not prefigure in the mind what will come to the page but simply unleashes into action their hands and mark-making devices. The resulting inscriptions amplify what was supposedly already there. Hoszko’s tour notes read as poetry, or automatic writing; all signs unsettled to allow for fresh meaning.

Driving from Percé to Îles-de-la-Madeleine

Tim Hortons Tim Hortons

Stop for gas you didn’t

want to run out


My skin is clammy from

the ocean air and

the near mist rear end


Distracted by a fleet of motorcycles

Smoke Smoke


Check itinerary

East Coast beef jerky

Upon Hoszko’s arrival at each site, she takes a rubbing of the land on which the building sits. Depending on the environment – be it urban core or rural conditions, she must act distinctly. She describes the difference between the behaviour allowed around a minimum security and a “supermax” prison, making clear that their physical control and disciplinary functions exceed their walls. When her minivan arrives in a location not searchable by GPS, the surveillance cameras respond urgently. Hoszko describes faking car trouble more than once. She quickly drops to the ground, places a piece of Strathmore 50lb paper between her and it, and then rakes across the sheet with charcoal, conté or litho crayon with just enough pressure to transmit the surface of the earth to the surface of the medium.

These rubbings move beyond the traditional picturing of prisons as illustrations of their power, with either imposing external architecture or disenfranchised bodies on display, to suggest an important reconsideration of just what we are seeing when we look at sites of incarceration. As filmmaker and geographer Brett Story states, in both her doctoral thesis1 and her genre-defying documentary film The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, we must understand carceral space as a mental state. Drawing on the work of geographer R.W. Gilmore, Story insists we think of the prison “not as a discrete or exceptional edifice over there, but rather as a set of relationships.”2 Hoszko extends this approach as necessary to understanding Canada, a land that is occupied as a colonial state, meaning it is itself refigured as a place of containment and privation for its original inhabitants. In Canada, where Indigenous peoples dominate prison populations, these buildings become monuments, to the colonial methods of displacement of original inhabitants in order to separate them from their lands, and, containers, for a population viewed as surplus within colonial capitalism. The frottages, then, are indexes of those lands now that serve equally as sign and measure. It is a way of picturing a set of relationships that Hoszko wants to make visible. Hoszko is well aware of the tensions between her relatively easy movement between these multiple sites of incarceration, and it’s this part of the situation she wishes to put into high relief. Her spatial practices reveal the multiple and simultaneous conditions of experience, and her artistic methodologies work to literally make things different through her direct handling of materials. The things of her practice are the institutions and their measurements as well their reconstitution as different forms; of fencing, drapery or drawing. This shifts the things from how they have been understood most often. Through displacing and repositioning objects, herself, and us the political potential of the work is put into volley. Hoszko’s methods also make information corporeal, asserting that knowledge as sentient experience or presence is critical to understanding the absence or presence of bodies in contemporary life. Her gestures extend into what scholar David Garneau names the extra-rational activity of artmaking as “a space of difference, even resistance, where people can find refuge from the ideas that otherwise rule them.”3 yet Hoszko does so through an almost hyper-rational artistic practice that uses order to disrupt control. When imaging the built carceral environment in her installations, Hoszko works with a strict conceptual rule – her practice “examines sculptural materiality as it relates to institutional power dynamics by mapping geographic and architectural sites on a 1:1 scale.” In her exhibitions Toronto Immigration Holding Centre (total perimeter: 1164 feet) (2015), exhibited at A Space Gallery in Toronto; Central East Correctional Centre (2016) in Artspace Gallery, Peterborough; and Centre de prévention de l’immigration de Laval / Laval Immigration Holding Centre (Périmètre total: 572 pieds / total perimeter: 572 feet) (2014) at Centre Clark in Montreal, rented security fencing equivalent to the perimeter of each site is presented as sculptural form. The fence is thus transformed from a useful method of containment into something somehow more solid, less penetrable and yet also deeply aesthetic. Susan Buck-Morss has articulated that the “original field of aesthetics is not art but reality – corporeal, material nature,” working through the word’s etymological origins in aisthitikos meaning “perceptive by feeling,” and aisthisis or the “sensory experience of perception.”4 In 1992, Buck-Morss was arguing for a reinvestment of the capacity for both knowledge and political power in the sensory and even pleasurable experience of aesthetics that has been gaining theoretical traction today, though art is still most often considered inadequate as a political gesture. Hoszko takes up this complexity and refuses to place one outside the other; her work is intra-relational with politics. Entering the exhibition Centre de prévention de l’immi- gration de Laval / Laval Immigration Holding Centre (Périmètre total: 572 pieds / total perimeter: 572 feet), I experience a complex intimacy as the materiality of the work, interlocking metal grid fencing, already occupies most of the space. My body is relegated to the narrow spaces between the temporary architecture Hoszko has assembled into a mass and the gallery wall. If I wish to see the whole thing I must push up against one or the other, which feels violent. I can see through the overlapping grids, painted an institutional green, though often chipped through persistence of use, to reveal their metal cores. It is a density and repetition of that most modernist of forms – the grid – until their presence is almost audible to me as a kind of insistent demand to not be read as logic or content, a kind of contradiction of their exceptional and contained order. It is here that the work becomes hyper-rational as it makes clear the stakes of our engagement; we are ever-negotiating space for our bodies and making active decisions about the methods and distribution of spatial occupation. The grid is analogue to the crosshairs of surveyors’ transit levels and the road system of the Dominion Land Survey, which pinned down the prairies with square mile increments to make clear the locations of parcels of lands, gifts for settlers, defined. Among the artists that Hoszko claims as influences are Mary Miss, Agnes Martin and Eva Hesse, but also Adrian Piper, Martha Rosler and Kate Craig, as she sees her exhibition projects as a form of performance documentation. Hoszko’s performances are her methods of measure. It is difficult to get specific information about the kinds of spaces that become the base material of her exhibition practice. Often, she comes to know their dimensions by transcribing oral histories, or via access-to-information requests, but Hoszko also measures these spaces with her body by walking their perimeters and counting her steps. She then transposes the number of steps she has taken into feet and inches, processing space through her body. The performance is not only her physical effort but also the seeking out of information that describes the material nature and spatial limitations of incarceration. She understands well that data, like space, is not empty, but revealing of its social construction, multiple histories and ethical positioning. I’m reminded of Karen Barad’s statements on measurement:

(m)easurements are agential practices, which are not simply revelatory but performative: they help constitute and are a constitutive part of what is being measured. In other words, measurements are intra-actions (not interactions): the agencies of observation are inseparable from that which is observed. Measurements are world-making: matter and meaning do not pre-exist, but rather are co-constituted via measurement intra-actions.”5

Hoszko’s objects become documents of the performance of individuation that is necessary to maintain distinctions between the inside and outside, to forming an “us” and a “them.” She brings these proxemics into full physical tension with her transposition of sites of containment into objects of display. Hoszko also uses her practice to point to the power inherent within the Western art historical canon. With its conceptual foundation, Hoszko’s practice evokes, at least on the surface, the practices of Robert Smithson, Donald Judd, Mel Bochner, Robert Barry and, particularly, Dan Graham. She works from the lineage of Conceptual and Minimalist practices yet retrieves the political within them through her own systems of acknowledgments and reciprocities. Her artistic labour often assumes the role of project manager: coordinating permits, arranging the delivery of ready-made components and their rental along with the hiring of professionals licensed to perform the work associated with heavy lifting and impermanent installations in galleries or public spaces. In his essay, “Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From the Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions,”6 art historian Benjamin Buchloh associates the bureaucratic bias within Conceptual Art practices as an aesthetic of indifference and that the systems assumed for production for most of the works is aleatory – these are simply chance operations. This suggestion sutures this work backwards to Duchamp and also made a comfortable bed for John Cage. While Buchloh identifies the intense and quotational relationships between many of the artists he names, he fails to observe how affective and social this patrilineal structure was. This is both a method of de-politicizing artists’ practices and a deep disservice to the male artists he has named. Minimalism and Conceptualism began in an effort to refute commodification and to evade the production of objects as both congealed and concealed labour. When Buchloh fails to mention the women working contemporaneously within his list, it is an active erasure of the role feminism and its analysis of the role labour and biopower played in the development of contemporary art practices. In curator and writer Lucy Lippard’s much earlier description of certain Conceptual artists’ practice as akin to office work,7 her discussion was one of the economies of care, pointing to the labours most women were allowed and identified with as being themselves forms of expression. Hoszko extends that line as she takes up the occupation of space made possible through organization, personal contacts and maintenance, as well as exceptional observation and the subsequent amplification of minutia. In a recent interview with Leah Sandals for Canadian Art, Hoszko articulated clearly her own position; “As a sculptor, I work with space, and prison and incarceration is almost the endpoint of power and space,” with endpoint defined as “the final stage of a period or process, the end of a line or interval, the point of which a reaction is complete.”8 Carceral spaces are meant to be closures, voids and erasures but Hoszko’s aesthetic engagement makes matter of them that demands engagement. I echo curator cheyanne turions in her belief that, “…aesthetic forms make important contributions to the broad project of decolonization, a belief that hinges on the conviction that exhibition spaces are civic spaces, and that artistic and curatorial practices are political gestures.”9 Hoszko further activates public space with information sheets and flyers that bring her long-term participation in anti-prison struggles into the gallery as not only a site of contemplation but also one with potential for action. Her connection to incarceration is personal – she has family members who have been incarcerated and others who work within the carceral system. With this proximity to the structures and effects of such systems, she shows us how reality is produced; the spaces she creates are actual, experienced, lived, as well as being deeply unsettling. In fact, they are uncanny. Hoszko’s sculptures point to the unnatural and vampiric structures of settler colonialism where land is the object of plunder. If one views the land as a subject there can be no exchange nor method of trade that will ever be just. Hoszko’s ratio of 1:1, then, is more about the methods of measure as themselves indicative of power and how the spaces put through such calculations can never be reconstituted as the same thing. So, when you say Cowansville it can be both “farmland” and a “perimeter patrol.” Even Hoszko’s notations are spatializations seeking equivalency; it is their failure to resolve that she wants us to see.

Cowansville

Farmland

Subdivisions and homes

corn fields

residential

road offshoots to the left and the right
a path amongst crops

SUVs zoom by 

Fire in the fields

Three fires in the fields
Controlled burns by farmers

well
manicured
lawn
not sure for who
training centre

blue sky
the length of
a perimeter patrol

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