by Jaclyn Bruneau and Kari Cwynar
KC: In her short text in this issue, poet Lillian Allen writes, “I remember a time when a person was as good as their word as a societal norm.” We asked Allen to write a short definition of “trust” – inspired by the anecdotal yet radically political definitions of common terms in the arts that Allen produced for Public Recordings Performance Encyclopaedia project in 2016. Allen’s new “definition” introduces the issue and establishes an important background – trust as community-based and relational, as a social system, as a financial system, and importantly for a publication that produces, thinks through and probes language – Allen ultimately stresses how trust is completely entangled with words, with one’s word.
In our call for proposals for C139, we posited some degree of trust as implicit in the production, presentation and language of art, writing of “trust as inherent to relationships, and a prerequisite for good ones – be they, in the arts, relationships with institutions, audiences, readers, editors, bosses, curators, artists or project partners.”
JB: But it didn’t take long to realize that an issue on trust would in fact equally be an issue on its opposite.
KC: The theme’s reach grew, with trust (and breaches of trust) revealing itself as a fundamental principle through and against which we are all working today, where public trust has been eroded, and where interpersonal trust must be being endlessly redefined.
JB: Popular opinion says an assault has been made on trust; people who aren’t not allowed to lie, but aren’t allowed to be seen lying, have been seen lying. Resultantly, the word “fake” has been redefined, from a word that has always been pejorative, to one that has become so exhausted by its usage as a weapon in the culture’s now-breathless fight that it seems to have become a parody of itself. How can you call something fake when all the world’s a stage? And by stage, of course I mean a late-capitalist, neoliberal, post-democratic landscape of veneers. In her review of Patrick Langley’s Arkady (Fitzcarraldo, 2018), Alex Quicho quotes the author saying “[The book] has something to do with how global events trickle into and alter the psyche; how zeitgeists are felt in the blood.”
Where, as Quicho writes, Langley is seen anonymizing the city in which the novel is set, and “scalpelling out what over-serves, offloading words too bloated with connotation,” other projects in this issue engage the intense specificity of spaces where trust has been corrupted, and name repercussions. In his review of cherry kutti and Sanjit Dhillon’s Biding my time / Biting my tongue exhibition at Whippersnapper Gallery, the 2018 New Critics Award winner Vince Rozario describes the subject of the central video work, Baba Ramdev, “a celebrity yogi and business magnate at the helm of a multi-million-dollar business in pseudo-Ayurvedic products and quack remedies.” As Rozario elucidates through the exhibition – which focuses on mental health in diasporic South Asian communities – “even the holistic modes of addressing trauma available to racialized communities are co-opted by larger social and political systems.”
Thinking further about co-optation and breached trust, we’re grateful to have Aylan Couchie reflect in these pages on The Mush Hole Project, which aimed to “engage with the site of Canada’s first residential school (The Mohawk Institute, a.k.a. Mush Hole) as a space in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists and scholars can meet and 1) acknowledge the residential school legacy, 2) challenge the concepts of ‘truth’ and ‘reconciliation,’ and 3) practice interdisciplinary art and performative methods of decolonization.” After outlining many ways that the project, which was directly borne of the recommendations around the role of the arts in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, failed to effectively consider the humanity, histories and voices of its Indigenous participants, Couchie writes that “many Indigenous people maintain a distance from the reconciliation agenda. After all, they have nothing to reconcile for.”
So-called reconciliation, in that case, materialized as a self-congratulatory performance for settler organizers. The room for improvement – or flat out failures – of the well-meaning Mush Hole Project make me think about something artist and curator Pamila Matharu brought up in the roundtable we facilitated about the role of trust in the artist-curator relationship. The term Cultural Safety came about in the late 1980s, in New Zealand, when Māori nursing students expressed concern about their safety in monocultural nursing schools. Cultural Safety is met when actions “recognise, respect and nurture the unique cultural identity of the patient.” Since then, the term has gained a versatility that can be applied across all kinds of groups that are seen to be marginalized; no one life can be generalized. Matharu writes, “These days, my fierce urgency is centred on the Cultural Safety of the artist-curator process; I have learned that the embodiment of this is equal parts action, reflection, empathy and compassion.”
KC: Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, in conversation with writer Lucy Ives, describes the ways in which we read others’ values and beliefs in the photographic moment, saying “the kind of social encounter I’m interested in by way of photography approximates one that precedes or can precipitate violence. I’m interested in the fact that people believe they know things about a person on the basis of the body that person is carrying around…”
Wolukau-Wanambwa’s statement pinpoints trust as embodied, as embedded in the face-to-face encounter with others, in the ways in which we “read” others and establish beliefs about them. In the issue’s final text, artist Andil Gosine takes up the role of naming, the “rules” through which identity is socially established, and the subsequent codes of conduct that emerge from this naming. He counters this with a proposition for animality, for the embrace of identities and politics that disrupt the colonial hierarchy of human over animal, and for the rejection of hierarchies of behaviour that govern class- and race-based acceptability. In the face of an uncertain future, he proposes an equally uncertain new world order: “I am Animal. But, what now?”
The issue opened with Lillian Allen suggesting the deterioration of long-standing social bonds and systems, and the difficulty of locating trust in the endless circulation of increasingly empty words. Her final line reads, matter-of-fact: “I think this is where we are in the world today.”