Editorial: Syphon 4.0

As Modern Fuel marks its 40th anniversary as a parallel gallery and artist-run centre, we have been considering the possibilities of contemporary artist-run centres (ARCs). This issue of Syphon takes up inheritance, physical space, professionalization of artists, and self-organizing communities as intersecting themes and current tensions within artist-run culture.  

In inheritance (& the histories of artist-run culture) Kegan McFadden and Josh Vettivelu stitch together colloquial histories of artist-run centres to consider the decades-long evolution of ARCs in Canada. They pose the timely question; “How do you survive, then, while not reinforcing the same stagnant approaches that make most ARCs just last?” In a similar tone Andrew Rabyniuk considers his own involvement with Modern Fuel and other ARCs in Atlantic Canada and the Prairies, but through a handwritten letter that reflects on who is involved with these spaces and how. Looking further west, Sydney Hart turns his attention to the tensions of real estate in Vancouver as ARCs continue to endure while being increasing surrounded by luxury development projects that price out artists. In Notes on Architectural Reconstructions and Artist-Run Centres he looks at artist projects staged in galleries to bring awareness to the paradoxes of gentrification and housing scarcity.

Turning away from established ARCs Artist-Run Index looks at a small array of recently established artist-run collectives and spaces that are inventing new ways of practicing. In Owning it Rebecca Rose writes about two of these Toronto based initiatives, Blank Canvas Gallery and The Rude Collective, which grew in response to a need for more spaces by and for queer and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) artists, in ways that consider the gendered, racialized and socio-economic barriers to access.

While conventional anniversary programming tends to reflect uncritically on the institution, narrowly celebrating its achievements and successes, we wanted to have a more difficult conversation. Jacquelin Heichert's artist project Sites questions supposedly "blank" spaces -- which can be seen in the context of four decades of institutional critique that reject this neutrality[1] -- while in this issue's Studio Visit column Sunny Kerr reflects on Emily Pelstring's performative and installation-based subversion of contemporary arts spaces, with her world-making pushing back against what Kerr refers to as the "hetero male blathering superego."

Throughout much of the issue, contributors express a frustration with the hierarchies, bureaucratization and burnout that persists within many ARCs, while simultaneously appreciating their predisposition to critical self-reflection; as Clive Robertson states in Policy Matters, from their earliest days ARCs sought to be "sites of radical possibility."[2] This is expressed in Neven Lochhead's video commissioned for the issue, which draws attention to the challenging social dynamics and precarious state of many institutions through a seemingly endless "to-do" list, and concludes by pointedly asking that we "address the crisis."

-- Genevieve Flavelle and Michael DiRisio



1. For an overview of the legacy and development of institutional critique see Art and Contemporary Critical Practice: Reinventing Institutional Critique, edited by Gerald Raunig and Gene Ray (London: MayFlyBooks 2009).

2. Clive Robertson, Policy Matters: Administrations of Art and Culture (Toronto: YYZ Books, 2006), 16.

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