Friday, October 2, 2009

Down with Success at Esse

The mid-eighties seem to have been a pretty fertile time for art publications in Canada—this year, C Magazine, Canadian Art and Esse all turn 25, while Border Crossings turns 27. (Fuse is the big bro, around since 1976 - 33 years!)

Of all these, I think Esse has taken the most unexpected approach to its milestone anniversary. Rather than running a theme issue on the subject of "promise," as Canadian Art has, or dropping a quiet acknowledgment in an editorial, like C has, Esse has released a theme issue that is offers explicit b-day buzzkill--"trouble-fête/killjoy".

I gotta say, I'm impressed with Esse's ballsiness. (Plus, seeing the cover did make me chuckle... such a contrast from the usual celebratory hoopla.) Some anglo text from La Societe des arts technologiques elaborates the reason for the theme:

In the context of a crisis that has ramifications in the cultural sector, the desire to celebrate is certainly not as strong. And so, it is under the sign of anti-celebration that esse marks 25 years of activities. The double theme of trouble-fête (party pooper) and killjoy seemed the perfect locus for this kind of event. For this reason esse has invited eleven authors to develop a perspective on the many aspects of celebration—both in its joyous and festive manifestations, and in its darker tones.

Also adhering to this theme/sensibility are esse's new thank-you badges for donors, which read "ça fesse". As esse explains,

The ça fesse slogan has a very ironic double meaning [i.e., a hit or a blow] in the current economical context. Enthused by the vitality of the artistic scene and its practitioners, esse says that Art is a hit—ça fesse! However, the funding of not-for-profit organizations is sometimes submitted to cuts from our governments. The culture cuts is a blow—ça fesse! ... Often humorous, at times irreverent, esse could not resist this friendly pun.

Overall, I just really wanted to salute esse on this anniversary tack they're taking—-even with all the successes the art scene in Canada has experienced, there very much is an ongoing sense of crisis, be it in funding (hel-lo BC), shrinking column-inches/writing venues (though Parachute was an int'l critical fave, it kicked the bucket in '07) or overall precarity.

If you want to help esse celebrate (or anti-celebrate) its cultural coup, do take note of its "party" (whassat?) at Divan Orange in Montreal on October 15 and its fundraising auction at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on November 11.

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