by Kari Cwynar
Around the editorial advisory table at C Magazine, we had long been mulling over the idea of an issue on public art or public space. Last year we finally landed on “the monument” as one of the most consequential areas of discussion to be had around art in the public realm today. In the last two years, attention has been placed on monuments with unprecedented urgency. This is my final issue as Editorial Director at C Magazine and the theme seemed both vital to address and a significant swan song.
C Magazine addresses critical issues from the perspective of art and artists. As such, this issue circumvents broader and more frequently asked questions like, “what do we do with monuments that no longer reflect us?” and instead takes up the monument via artists’ engagement with notions of history and memory, and with art in the public realm. What is deemed monumental in art? How is the monument related to materiality? To questions of temporality? In the call for proposals, we asked: How do artists address, challenge and intervene on historical narratives, tradition and memorialization? How does this relate to future-building? How else might stories be recorded, either materially and immaterially? What are the possibilities for art in public space, whether IRL or online?
The issue came into focus for me after a trip to Vancouver, where I met artist Charlene Vickers and she told me about her ongoing project, “benchin.” Benchin refers to regular social gatherings on a bench in Vancouver, as part of Cool Indians on Main Street, a project/group started in 2007 by Vickers and Neil Eustache. In 2015, artist, curator and writer Stacey Ho programmed benchin as part of Vancouver’s LIVE performance festival, and in this issue, they revisit the project in a short essay. Vickers’ and Eustache’s project speaks volumes about the ways that we use public space, and who and what urban public space is planned and zoned for. On one hand, benchin is a simple hangout on a bench at the corner of Main Street and 13th Avenue, for Cool Indians on Main Street and their friends and joiners. But it is also a quietly political action, claiming space for Indigenous gathering on unceded land in a rapidly gentrifying part of Vancouver. Benchin resonated deeply with me in the context of the monument or monumentality. It is a completely anti-performative performance project that has now been taking place for 12 years. More than that, with a touch of humour, benchin subverts the grandiosity that we associate with the monument or with public art. Without any fanfare, the project has turned a section of Vancouver’s sidewalks into an active place for gathering and conversation in a way that most public artworks or monuments rarely accomplish.
It is in this spirit that the issue came together, gathering many voices and practices that come to monumentality sideways, in subtle, unexpected yet potent ways. Theodore (Ted) Kerr outlines the history of AIDS memorials, asking a question that is relevant far beyond AIDS: how do you memorialize an ongoing crisis? Kerr brings up the work of artist and performance scholar Marc Arthur who asks whether pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) itself might be a form of memorialization—a daily ritual undertaken by HIV-negative people to remember the decades of loss and grief, and the advances that have brought us to where we are now. In his essay, Kerr ultimately suggests that the best way to memorialize AIDS is to support the work of those living with it—the artists, dancers, musicians and writers who, on an ongoing basis, share stories, reduce stigma and create open, unprescribed platforms to consider both past and future.
The summer issue also features an artist project by Pejvak (the collective work of Rouzbeh Akhbari and Felix Kalmenson); an essay by Aylan Couchie on the role that social media and digital networks now play in how we engage monuments; a reflection by Elwood Jimmy on the vandalism of Rebecca Belmore’s sculpture Freeze: Stonechild Memorial —for Neil Stonechild; and interviews with artists Stephanie Comilang and Life of a Craphead.
At the front of the magazine you’ll find our first “Letters” column, with four letters reflecting on our spring Graphic Design issue. This is now an ongoing column and we encourage readers to submit more letters, to continue the discussion sparked by this issue. The next issue will be the first developed by C Magazine’s new editorial fellow, Merray Gerges, who, together with C’s editor Jaclyn Bruneau, will be carrying on the conversation from here.
Many thanks to our readers and the C Magazine team and advisors for an enriching 4 years on the editorial team.