- Vancouver Art & Economies
Vancouver Art & Economies is an eclectic book that explores multiple facets of Vancouver contemporary art from the 1980s until the present. Rather than setting out to describe Vancouver's art scene as 'distinct and definable,' the anthology attains editor Melanie O'Brian's stated goal of complicating 'the notion of definability.' Moving from discussions of artist-run centres to commercial galleries, from photography, sculpture, installation, magazines, digital media, and performance to video, from issues of landscape to cultural diversity to economics, Vancouver Art & Economies covers much ground.
Examinations of Jeff Wall's photographs appear in several essays, creating a thread, of sorts, throughout the anthology. Sharla Sava's 'Cinematic Pictures: The Legacy of the Vancouver Counter-Tradition' examines how Vancouver artists, such as Wall, Ken Lum, Eileen Cowin, and Ian Wallace, are engaged in dialogue with modernism, conceptualism, and cinema in their photographs. Her reading of Wall's Insomnia is particularly noteworthy. She sees the insomniac middle-aged man who [End Page 457] lies underneath the table in the image as 'that of the artist. As such, what we are looking at is the fate of modern art itself.' In his essay 'In Another Orbit Altogether: Jeff Wall in 1996 and 1997,' Stephen Steiner examines how Wall placed 'increasing pressure on the problem of documentary photography' through his black-and-white photographs.
While there is much discussion of photography throughout the anthology, sculpture and installation are also given their fair due. Ken Lum's, Rodney Graham's, and Myfanwy MacLeod's sculptures are viewed through the lens of minimalism and Donald Judd's notion of the 'specific object' in Tim Lee's essay, 'Specific Objects and Social Subjects: Industrial Facture and the Production of Polemics in Vancouver.' Clint Burnham discusses Brian Jungen's sculptures from the perspective of globalization while Sadira Rodrigues looks at Jungen in relation to issues of race and cultural diversity.
The anthology also considers the venues in which artworks are exhibited. Michael Turner examines the shifting terrain of Vancouver's commercial galleries. Reid Shier, in his essay 'Do Artists Need Artist-Centres?' discusses the positive aspects and the pitfalls of artist-run culture and concludes that the 'act of making a space' through artist-run practices remains 'evocative and fundamental.' Unfortunately, the anthology does not contain any equally sustained discussion and questioning of the Vancouver Art Gallery as an institution.
Of particular note is Randi Lee Cutler's essay, 'Vancouver Singular Plural: Art in an Age of Post-Medium Practices.' Cutler successfully critiques the term new media by offering an alternative vantage point on artists who embrace plurality, rather than medium specificity, through 'post-medium practices.' She discusses how economic, cultural, and political spheres collide with technologies to produce a 'mutation of artistic practices' and a specific 'singular plural' in Vancouver. Another strength of Cutler's essay is her consideration of emerging and lesser-known artists such as David Rokeby, Daniel Jolliffe, Jocelyn Robert, Antonia Hirsch, Laiwan, Fiona Bowie, and Warren Arcan. The anthology as a whole would have benefited from this type of focus on artists who have received less critical attention internationally.
Kristen Hutchinson, University of Alberta