Editorial: Syphon 3.4


In recent years the term “social enterprise” has gained prominence in discussions of socially and community-oriented businesses. While the use of the term varies from region to region, it is generally applied to organizations that combine a conventional business model -- where the profit motive is central -- yet with a greater regard for the social or environmental impact of their activities.[1]

Although the work of these organizations is often deeply appreciated, the emerging discourse around social enterprise too often fails to address the context within which these organizations operate. The profit motive is, after all, not a neutral hand guiding the market, but a brutal social force with a long history of exploitation and dispossession.[2] It is this context that we wanted to address with this issue of Syphon. We reflect on political economy from a range of perspectives, while focusing more closely on arts labour in particular with the issue’s Art Work Supplement.

Mike Marcon’s installation-based exhibition TEOTWAYNI, which will be exhibited at Modern Fuel from June 24 to August 5, 2017, engages with this context by addressing what he considers to be the “irrational fears, macho fantasies and general overkill that increasingly populate narratives of late Capitalism.” Marcon’s scratched renderings featured in this issue speak to the violence embedded in this system, invoking forms of refusal and retreat.

Tara Lynn MacDougall’s artist project Give me a Break (2017) explores a different form of refusal, with a set of instructions inviting readers to reject the dominant logic of production. Responding to the physical and emotional impact of precarious employment, MacDougall asks that we look out for each other, paying particular attention to ways of ‘taking a break’ when you are underpaid or deprived of permanent employee rights. Without the stability of these rights, workers are often motivated to work harder for longer hours, for fear of not having their contract renewed.

Turning to the realities of arts labour, our new Studio Visits Column will feature one local artist in each issue, where they will discuss current directions in their practice and some of the things that are motivating them at the moment. Our aim is to  provide insight into the depth and complexity of contemporary arts practices, while creating space for sustained reflection on the often unseen aspects of one’s work. We are pleased to have Aida Sulcs, a local artist and member of Modern Fuel since its inception as the Kingston Artists' Association Inc. in 1977, host us for the inaugural studio visit.

Further insight will be provided by our Art Work Supplement, which addresses a range of topics relevant to practicing artists, from submitting programming proposals and writing for arts periodicals to navigating artist contracts and negotiating payment. These are central components of many artists’ practice, and the best practices outlined in the supplement offer not ‘hard-and-fast’ rules, but a broad guide to help navigate these unseen administrative aspects of maintaining a practice in the arts.

As is likely apparent at this point, we employ the term social enterprise as the issue theme rather glibly; we are not attempting to engage directly with specific social enterprises, but consider the social dimension and enterprising nature of contemporary capitalism. While this consideration continues to remain on the periphery of more conventional discussions of politics and economics, it is crucial for a broader understanding of our present socio-political moment, as well as for a critical reflection on the role of the arts in these post-fordist times.


-- Michael DiRisio

Michael Dirisio is the Artistic Director of Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre.



1. Attesting to the increased attention given to social enterprises, the Ontario Government has developed a Social Enterprise Strategy for 2016-2021, wherein they state that there are approximatley 10,000 social enterprises currently active in Ontario. https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontarios-social-enterprise-strategy-2016-2021

2. See Ellen Meiksin Woods’ On the Origins of Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 1999) for a detailed account of the specific social and political context within which this social system emerged.


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