by Amish Morrell
Typically a predecessor is someone who has held a position one now holds or aspires to hold. It can describe an identity that is held in place by a set of social conventions or institutional roles, such as the Director of a gallery or the Editor of a magazine, as well as the continuation of a lineage, where one uses the materials and ideas of others as part of their own practice. By making predecessors the theme of this issue, we pose the question of what are the structures that allow there to be predecessors and also consider how we might expose and transcend these forms. To do so, we look to people who exist outside the parameters of social conventions, as well as to innovative individuals who rise above the norm and transform the institutions they work within.
Many of the contributors to this issue invoke a dialogue with the teachers, friends, lovers, collaborators, surrogate parents and weird elders who have enriched and influenced their imaginations and careers. For a special section of the magazine, we asked some of our contributors to each write a short text about someone who has shaped their life and work. Sixteen writers have written about individuals from the art world and from culture at large, describing a wide range of influences – some less likely than others – who belong to a critical counterculture that shapes and informs much contemporary art practice.
In this issue we also explore some of the larger stakes at play when we think about who are our predecessors. Several writers examine how both writing and art practice can support marginalized forms of knowledge and give voice to experiences that have been excluded. Métis anthropologist and critic Zoe Todd draws upon Indigenous legal theory to provide a critique of the use of Eurocentric philosophical concepts in contemporary art discourse. One of the latent ideas in Todd’s essay is that predecessors, and ideas themselves, are tied to the embodied specificity of places and cultural experiences, challenging the hegemony of abstract universal concepts produced within academic disciplines and institutions. Similarly, Maiko Tanaka, in her article on feminist citation, looks at strategic ways of putting other voices forward, such as using one’s position as a proxy for another. She describes citation as a durational exchange, where a written text is a bridge between lived experiences, which I might also argue, invokes the possibility of empathic connection and forms of community.
Also in this issue, Liz Park writes about the artist and dedicated long-time member of the Vancouver art community Cornelia Wyngaarden, whose video and installation work uncovers neglected histories, connecting ancient myth with contemporary socio-political realities. Wyngaarden’s work, according to Park, describes feminist subjectivities that are both plural and trans-temporal. Similarly, Jesse McKee writes about film and video documents from the American counterculture of the late ’60s and early ’70s, looking at how these movements came to reject the idea of singular leadership and produced a model of dispersed engagement. McKee also examines Adrian Piper’s Mythic Being Cycle, an artwork from 1975 that included performances where Piper dressed as a young, racially ambiguous male, wore an afro wig and sunglasses and smoked a Tiparillo,making appearances at art openings, movie theatres and other public places where she droned phrases from the journal she has kept since pre-adolescence. McKee aligns this artwork with a general countercultural shift towards a consideration of the self and identity. Describing this performance as a form of revolutionary drag, McKee argues that the movements of the ’60s and ’70s produced a sense of “radical selfhood” characterized by an enduring counterpositionality that continues to unfold with subsequent generations of artists.
Elsewhere in this issue, predecessors are identified as written texts. For the artist project, Danielle St-Amour and Xenia Benivolski staged a formal experiment, presenting a third edition of Rearviews, a project where they publish reviews of exhibition reviews. Woven throughout the magazine’s regular reviews section, Rearviews begins with a review by Onyeka Igwe, of Jon Davies’ review of Performatorium, a festival of queer performance art held in Winnipeg. In turn, Amy Lam reviews Igwe’s review, and Tiziana La Melia reviews Lam’s review. Continuing for six sequential reviews, each text becomes increasingly abstracted from the content of the original, drawing attention to the conventions of the review form itself. By looking backwards, Rearviews uses homage and lineage as the building blocks of a critical practice, providing an apt metaphor for this issue as a whole.
As someone who works closely with artists and writers in my role as Editor of this magazine, I am often aware of the range of ways that people draw inspiration from and share commitments with dimensions of experience that lay outside of contemporary art. In conceiving this issue, we were interested exploring the myriad origins of peoples’ critical practices. Asking contributors to write about predecessors was a way of identifying contexts and relationships that aren’t always visible in the public presentation of artwork and art writing. In some instances, we asked people we might ordinarily think of as our predecessors, who are their predecessors? Through these exchanges, a dialogue takes place, and a complex scaffold around contemporary practices and ideas becomes visible.