Fillip 4 — Fall 2006

Sink and Swim: An Editorial
Jordan Strom

Despite a concerted attempt made to avoid thematizing our issues into neatly lined glossy caskets, in the flowing mysterium of opinion that represents each emerging issue of Fillip, the stones occasionally slip from our subjects’ ankles. These subjects bob up to the surface, sometimes exposing unintended family resemblances and similar evidence of foul play. It is not surprising then that for this issue, which has been assembled against the backdrop of escalating crisis conditions, art and the geopolitical are finding common course in contemporary art’s clouded river mouth of ideas. Indeed, it would seem there is a slowly emerging interest in art and geopolitics—not in opposition to, but in conjunction with—the turbidities and turpitudes of the micropolitical that has dominated the agenda of North American contemporary art through the close of the last century and into our current decade.

On this question of the political, it is important to recognize, so Boris Groys argues, that the “dominating the aesthetics of the commercialized mass media [where] images of terror and of war against terror function primarily as [the] true images—as authentic icons of the contemporary political sublime.”1 Increasingly, artists and writers are responding to this situation in ways that cut through the light chop of agitprop and instead consider the very spatiality and various spatialities of events.

Melanie O’Brian and Antonia Hirsch’s assessment of the recent Berlin Biennial’s apparent appeal to its own history reveals, for them, a missed opportunity in its relationship to the event’s urban context. In contrast to the “spatial fixity” of the standardized biennial, Kristina Lee Podesva’s essay describes how the Emergency Biennale in Chechnya ’s “evolutional” model “attempt[s] to resuscitate the lapsed criticality” of the biennial form. This recuperative act operates through a temporal back and forth between the ‘core’ polis of Grozny and accruing satellite sites. The “iconic political sublime,” described by Groys, can be dealt with in other ways too. Susanna Haddon, for example, listens in on the exhibition Arsenal: Sound as a Weapon, where several of the artworks take their inspiration for art-making from the tortured interrogational techniques used in the current “War on Terror.” Also departing from a focus on the city-state and postnational models of production, Luis Camnitzer asks us to reconsider the State’s potential relationship to art through a series of historical examples of often ignored state art policies—a highly unfashionable proposition. For Rebecca Lane, the mega-institutions embody these sorts of policies and it is therefore not by chance that the clean and seductive work of Douglas Gordon fits so seamlessly in the chambers of the “new” Museum of Modern Art in New York. For Lane, it is indicative of a troublesome elision of the modern by the contemporary. In this era “after institutional critique,” Caroline Busta argues for new models of independent space outside the narrowly prescribed territories of public, private, or artist-run alternative space. This new form of resistance, for Busta, is embodied by New York’s Miguel Abreu Gallery and its recent programs.

Barnaby Drabble’s essay, on the other hand, examines the recent history of artist-led culture in Zürich with its interlocking artistic and activist elements, but evident forgetfulness on the part of larger institutions and their prehistories. Drabble’s essay continues Fillip’s series of discussions on global artist-run centres, which began last issue with Michèle Faguet’s focus on two Latin American exhibition spaces. Of course, political efficacy need not be limited to the influences of protest or spatial constraints. Warren Arcan’s review of Jimmie Durham indicates how political work can come from the modest act of joining and rejoining elements together. Arcan shows how Durham’s Knew Urk exhibition, in effect, bridges the gap between the politics of the quotidian and geopolitical. This brings us back to undercurrent of ideas for which we began. Un Projet A Lille (1996), a monitor-based video, depicts the artist loading small boats with painted stones until they plummet to the lake bottom. The rocks meant to hide the bodies instead hide the boats. Here, the boat—a vessel of meaning—is incriminating evidence to be hidden, reinvesting it with political force. This tension between visibility and invisibility, secrecy, and publicness—a thread that runs through several of this issue’s other texts—is suggestive of the reconnection between the geo- and the micro-political. Durham knows, Arcan reminds us, that what is most important is to “decode and synthesize a dominant culture’s methods of denying other realities.”

With this, our fourth issue and second operational year, Fillip has instigated several new design changes in order to improve readability. We might say that changes were also instituted in order to prevent the gouging that can incur from our dear friends at the national post office any time a serial publication diverges from a generic magazine format. What does this all mean? We have increased the overall writing content; the space devoted to images has expanded; and the number of artist insert projects has doubled. By increasing the overall content, we have had to move the text columns from the cover, in effect opening the door to the problem and prospect of a cover image. Overall, however, we are continuing the ongoing project to decompartmentalize art writing, and exhume the exhibition review from the anterior ghetto of the standard art magazine format in order to project the exhibition forward as an object equally deserving of thorough scrutiny and consideration.

  1. Boris Groys, “The Politics of Equal Aesthetic Rights,” Radical Philosophy 137 (May–June 2006): 30.
About the Author

Jordan Strom is a curator and writer based in Vancouver. He is Founding Editor of Fillip. He currently works as Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Surrey Art Gallery.

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