Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Just say Non: Artists Exercise Right of Refusal During Olympics Buildup

Good lord, how much do I like Lucy Pullen's photos of people posing in totally reflective clothing? A lot. Even if some of her installations/sculptures with this stuff have left me nonplussed, the photos continue to be really great, I think.

And so the press image above (2010's Wall Street) easily pulled me in to a description of Pullen's upcoming project at Artspeak in Vancouver, called I Would Prefer Not To. The project, staged during the upcoming Vancouver Olympic winter games, would seem to make a spectacle of refusing to participate (or well, kinda refusing to participate) in the Olympic hoopla. Here's how Artspeak is framing it:

Occurring between February 12 and March 21 (bracketing the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games), Pullen produced blinds for Artspeak. The blinds, made from a reflective fabric that Pullen has explored extensively in past work, will remain drawn for the 38 cumulative days of the Games. During the day, the blinds appear silvery grey, but in the darkness they will reflect light sources (from street lamps, cars, revelers, protesters) with a blinding brilliance. Both exclusionary and interactive, Pullen’s gesture questions meaningful resistance and indifference. The title borrows from Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener (1853), an existential tale of isolation and passive resistance in the mid-century Wall Street environment of New York. The gesture to pull the blinds on Artspeak, making it an impenetrable space, calls into question participation in the social, ethical, and economic conundrums surrounding the Games. Pullen’s accompanying text investigates the idea of a blind spot within the spectacle, positing Artspeak in a position of complicated refusal.

I find this project interesting, partly because Pullen is involved and partly because of the shutout factor.

Her project calls to mind another window project happening in the leadup to the Olympics, Ken Lum's I Said No:

I have no idea if Lum's project is intentionally referencing the Olympics, but that's certainly how some will read it.

Also, Pullen and Lum's projects resonate with recent news that Vancouver's poet laureate, Brad Cran, has refused to participate in the opening ceremonies and related cultural activities of the games. As he noted on Vancouver Observer,

As Poet Laureate I was offered time on one of the celebration stages where I would be allowed to read poems that corresponded to themes as provided to me by an Olympic bureaucrat.

One of the themes was “equality” but since VANOC had blown the chance of making these Olympics the first gender inclusive Olympics in history by including a female ski jumping event I didn’t think they would appreciate a reading of the one Olympic poem I had written on equality: “In Praise of Female Athletes Who Were Told No: For the 14 female ski jumpers petitioning to be included in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.”

In fact a reading of this poem would violate a clause in the contracts that Vancouver artists signed in order to participate in the Cultural Olympiad:

"The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC."

I do find this to be an unjust attack on free speech but more importantly it shows that VANOC is misrepresenting Vancouver.

Indeed, though there are some very celebratory art projects that are happening thanks to Olympic money (like Raphael Lozano Hemmer's Vectorial Elevation) I think it will be very, very interesting to see how the next few weeks play out on the ground, both culturally and otherwise.

Oh yes, and one last thing -- all of this also reminds me of seeing Santiago Sierra's No here in Toronto during Nuit Blanche. I didn't enjoy it, actually. I wonder, is it too perversely patriotic (or too Canadian) to say I think Canucks have done negativity at a "world-class" level on this one? In a good-bad way?


nick said...

Brad Cran's response is to be commended, especially since so many artists have (understandably) sucked up their criticisms in order to reap the benefits of cultural olympiad funding. But I'm also happy that he brought the situation of the women ski jumpers to light-- this is a case where the IOC contravened Canada's charter of human rights.

Recently, a group of Vancouver artists under the name Project Rainbow made an artwork in collaboration with the ski jump team (this was when they were still awaiting the ruling):

Project Rainbow's fourth dance and media based project, Blue, is an experimental film and dance documentary, installed at four venues in East Vancouver-Centre A, The Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver, The Strathcona Community Centre and Solder and Sons-as well as the LED screens at Robson and Granville Streets, from early February until mid March 2010. The film installation features the Canadian Women's Ski Jumping Team 2009 in flight. The jumpers were filmed ski-jumping while training in Zakopane, Poland, for the 2009 World Championship which took place in Liberec, Czech Republic. This footage will be shown on the LED screens in Downtown Vancouver. The jumpers were also filmed performing gestures based on their physical training and choreographed by Project Rainbow. Both aspects of the film will be shown as Chapters at the host sites in East Vancouver.

more at:

Sarah Fuller said...

Another project relating to this theme:

Leah Sandals said...

Great points, Nick and Sarah, and good links too...

This news came out today as well - Salt Lake City Olympics' artistic director tells VANOC to repeal the clause that "prevents" artists from criticizing the games:

Also just saw a post on Akimbo for this site:

The next few weeks are going to be verrry interesting.