Issues of Glocalization equally important in Toronto and Cleveland

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 09/17/2006 - 01:49.

This weekend the Toronto arts and culture scene was world-class beyond belief, featuring the final weekend of the Toronto Film Festival, the opening of the new Four Seasons Opera House (premiering Wagner's Ring Cycle), many smaller community arts festivals, and two major arts festivals – the Queen West Arts Crawl, featuring over 500 artists and galleries along mind-blowing Queen Street) and the august 11th Annual Canadian Art Gallery Hop. The Queen West Arts Crawl was way cool, but I stayed in Toronto an extra day for Software Freedom Day and the Canadian Art Gallery Hop, as that featured a free “Glocal Live Roundtable” of many of Canada's arts leaders. “The term GLOCAL fuses global with local and points to the meshing of macro and micro realms of experience in the contemporary world of Internet technologies and instant information. The speed and collapsing distances of this new reality hold challenging implications for traditional identities and communities, along with promising opportunities.” The roundtable was astounding... see below for detailed notes of interest to all concerned about arts, culture and the economy, local to anywhere in the world and global.

This free roundtable kicked off the Gallery Hop at 11 AM Saturday, 09/16/06, at the just expanded and totally sharp Ontario College of Art and Design, hosted by their President Sara Diamond, and featuring Art Gallery of Ontario's (in the process of going Gehry) Director of Exhibitions Bruce W. Ferguson, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) Director David Liss, and The Power Plant gallery Director Gregory Burke, all in discussion with Canadian Arts magazine editor Richard Rhodes... a world-class, globally attuned panel.

Ontario College of Art and Design President Diamond made welcoming comments explaining how important this subject is for her institution - “Glocal - local meets global” is a big focus of OCAD, which, in 2004, completed a very unique $42+million expansion of facilities, designed by acclaimed British Architect Will Alsop, of Alsop Architects - new President Diamond now looks to expanding OCAD's global role in the world of art and design.

In Canadian Art Editor Richard Rhodes' opening comments, he explained “Glocal” is a theme in Canadian Art - a code word for the intersection of local and global in the times of instant information. Glocalization offers remarkable new opportunities for artists and the arts world to communicate in a new era that is opportune and disruptive, representing a new paradigm on the other side of modernism... a unitarian mindset. But, Rhodes pointed out, the art world already operates across borders so globalization is a phenomenon that has already happened for artists, and art is an agent for the post-modern paradigm and increases the momentum.

All that leads to concern of how fast consensus and conformity might move around the world. Local hasn't disappeared, but it is now a fractional reality of a post modern shift that has the world primed for transformation... in transformation. Under these global movements, notions of the local seem passée – with post-national cultural institutions, are we becoming import or export culture as there are 3 millenniums of global belief systems at play world-wide.

Rhodes then points out the panelists for this discussion deal with glocalization on a daily basis.

Art Gallery of Ontario's Director of Exhibitions Bruce W. Ferguson explains it is best and worst of times. In a glocal - local and global – world, art world is a vast labyrinth of career opportunities... there's never been a more opportune time in history for artists – world becoming more visual, in a post textual economy – the local, tribal world is a bizarre environment - self regulating. Worldwide, there are 60 significant national “biennials” and nearly one major art fair a day – 400 major galleries in Chelsea in NYNY alone - explosion of private museums – larger collecting base with immense wealth – even in film world there is explosion of interest in art as subject.

Art schools teach conflicting messages - two concepts conflict each other: 1. art is over... art is debased and compromised, associated with entertainment and conspicuous consumption – vs. 2. art are highly visible everywhere, all at once. In the new networked world, art is the key and bridge to new world view, where we have a new global language being developed... Globish, with just 1500 words, including pizza. Todays artists work in this space where all is global, transforming and visual.

Enemy is no longer easily identifiable... hard to find locus of power.... no longer monarchs but the 1% of wealthiest people distributed around the world with the ability to control the world's real and perceived capital.

How to make art that is critical, if it desires (but that is not necessary)? All images need a context to be political and be taken up by audience – context is everything. Art world is half full, as there is so much context in the global environment... best political work is coming from gorilla approach

Rhodes points out this creates a picture of immensity... you need to read up to take in Chelsea. Tom Friedman has notion of “world is flat” - how does that change immensity of overpowering art scenes like NY and London – how does local fit in?

Ferguson responds the powerful US media, which is focused on just a few arts markets centered in USA and edge of Euroope, doesn't overpower the global art world. Go to Latin America and there are equally powerful Glocal arts, and media voices... look at contemporary Chinese art. No one in the world is going to know everything about the global arts world – it is chaotic and disorganized and hard to negotiate

Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art Director David Liss responds it is not the role of the media to flatten the world and there are pockets of resistance

Liss then points out with MOCCA there are contradictions in the very name of the institution - “Canadian” vs. Glocal. When Liss took role of Director, having a background in international art, he was not interested in parochial view so tweaked mandate of MOCCA – local to global engagement – important to produce exhibitions within gallery, and in neighborhoods across Canada, and to participate in global events.

Pragmatic view at MOCCA is we aren't thinking but doing. n North America and worldwide people have become complacent about AIDS so took Canadian work raising AIDS consciousness into global concept – so MOCCA is pushing core concepts globally.

Lots of arts business discourse is on global issues – global reach, thematically. MOCCA's “Darkness ascends” was exhibition that spoke to the age of darkness, fear and anxiety – exploration how this is part of personal and global psyche – through technology things happening across the globe have impact on local psyche. One critic said the show was very Canadian, as this land is too idyllic vs. developing countries. But, who are these Canadians? They have often fled here quite recently, or fled the Holocaust – in fact, people outside Canada are often quite interested in thoughts of Canadians as nation of Indigenous people and immigrants... Canada has been living the global reality all along, and identity is unclear, so nation is innately glocal... most diverse nation on Earth.

Rhodes asks, when you do international projects what are perceptions of others about Canadian art? Some Canadian artists are told their art should be more Canadian... landscapes, for example.

Liss responds: blame the damn media for these perceptions – in China they wanted Canadian show and expected landscapes – Liss invited an Aboriginal artist – added some folksy art – built around other artists who attack the notion Canadians live within nature – fight the clichés

The Power Plant gallery Director Gregory Burke, who came to this position a year ago from his native New Zealand, starts his segment showing a cartoon of a person in a bombed-out city saying “What our village needs now is a biennial”. He then points out, when he first arrived in Toronto from New Zealand and asked the hotel concierge where he can I get the best coffee in Toronto the response was “Starbucks”. He's been writing about globalization for decades – New Zealand started deregulation 30 years ago and the myth is that globalization is about freedom of global trade – really just for exchange of money – in core nations, impact of globalization has been opposite of open nations, but, rather Fortress America and Fortress Europe.

In such nations, and others, there are trends that view local cultural and economic independence as critical. European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies produced a study called European Cultural Policies 2015: A Report with Scenarios on the Future of Public Funding for Contemporary Art in Europe that opens:

In 2015 art is almost completely instrumentalised in the economic sense, regardless of whether financing is private or public. Art then services either national or European interests that wish to construct a certain identity: it is a desirable marketable commercial good for private ownership and it contributes to regional development and provides society with new creative employment opportunities. Visiting art institutions is a popular, easily digested leisure activity. In 2015 art can be used to stave off undesirable fascistic and nationalistic tendencies in society. This is one side of the coin, according to the eight contributors to European Cultural Policies 2015: A Report with Scenarios on the Future of Public Funding for Contemporary Art in Europe. The report is a collaboration between Iaspis (International Artist Studio Program in Sweden) eipcp (European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies) and åbäke, an international design group based in London, made on the occasion of the Frieze Art Fair 2005. The other side of the coin is a development towards a more critically oriented art, which has found its own ways and means and established self-supporting micro-systems. This art is not necessarily adapted for exhibitions and other established institutional formats, and it is an important factor in civil society. It also encompasses more forms of collaboration than does present-day art.

Do we want art institutionalized and viewed as regional industry, pending uniformity for cultural tourism and economic good? Watch for Power Plant “Power Talks” on institutional conformity of art. Last century, in New Zealand, England taught world order with England in center of world and New Zealand falling off the globe. United States attempts to institutionalize the world and has caused many problems in the world – before globalization there was Americanization.

In the arts world, biennials (60+ worldwide) may be perceived to show what may not be found close to home, but they are not becoming delocalized – they are usually created in response to conflict, within context of local power protection, incubated by contemporary art centers and curators. For example, the Singapore Biennial was shut down by the Islamic Defender Front (IDF) over a work called Singapore Swing showing naked people with white dots over private parts, but still violating IDF sensibilities – there will not be another Singapore Biennial... the artist was imprisoned. Indonesia is 95% Islamic.

Audience question: With globalization of marketplace, does it change how artists create art – what they create?

Liss responds that global discourse and writing about art may lead to some art being developed for specific markets – some artists who show at one biennial will be invited to show at others

Ferguson responds it is hard for anyone to know what global market wants – there may be some markers in the marketplace but 20 minutes later curators want something else. It is a complex process – but, there are “distribution genres”.

Audience question: Is Power Plant gallery representative of multiculturalism of Toronto?

Gallery Director Burke responds Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world yet that isn't represented in art scene.

Liss (MOCCA) responds he tries to be conscious of Indigenous culture and art but there are perceptions of race and class here – artists are highly educated poor people and patrons, curators and writers are not poor.

Ferguson points out one thing he loves in America is affirmative action – Canada assumes all people will catch up with each other but they do not. Should arts institutions mirror society? They currently do not have a good representation.

Audience Question: Do you find global art world is becoming homogenized?

Burke responds yes, in critical economies he is not surprised to find homogenization.

Rhodes points out there has been criticism of the rehanging of MOMA for this reason... to homogenized.

Liss says world is always most exciting when creators are in their 20s... not homogenized.

Rhodes expands to say personal filters are important and the art critics and writers are aging and there aren't enough young writers/filters.

OCAD President Diamond Question: How do you look at curating shows to balance artists and critics roles?

Ferguson responds all exhibitions are arguments and the curatorial role is to create as many for the audience to enter the argument as possible – some pleasant some painful.

Liss says curator is programmer connecting artists with audiences.

Burke points out notion of theme exhibitions can be problematic – need narrative to support arguments and dialog

Audience Question for Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art Director David Liss: do you include top Canadian Abstract Expressionist artists in international exhibitions?

Liss responds since 9/11 it is very difficult dealing with US border issues and insurance has become prohibitively expensive to tour important works.

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