Hello! Thanks so much for joining my very formal newsletter, Official Record.
Official Record is an opportunity to examine daily life and art in order to find sneaky patterns and instances of connection. Like when you happen upon a flock of geese migrating in a V — an instantly recognizable and natural occurrence, but surprising nonetheless. Or witnessing a painting that reminds you so much of a feeling you’ve had before, for no reason you can clearly articulate.
I think these moments help us understand ourselves a little better, and in turn solidify a sense of belonging and empathy with our communities and environments. If we can relate to something out in the world, whether a hint from nature or the result of a human hand, then we are instantaneously existing outside of our own isolation, participating in an abundance of intimate and unique moments experienced both individually and collectively.
Over the last few years, I’ve witnessed Toronto’s music and art communities dwindle, and at times, seemingly perish completely. Initially, my partner and I brushed this off as growing older and losing touch. But then all of our D.I.Y venues and galleries began to shutter, one after another, with no replacements due to the ongoing rise in rent costs. Anyone living in a major city has likely witnessed gentrification slowly creeping into beloved neighborhoods — often the home to generations of racialized communities, immigrants, and working class families — but the speed at which Toronto has become submerged in corporate and commercial spaces is unlike anything I have witnessed before in the West.
Part of capitalism’s power comes from creating an environment so unsustainable and emotionally violent that creativity loses its capacity to function. That is, people become so overworked and ill from merely existing within this oppressive framework that it can seem impossible to find the space for mental clarity or imagination. In Art on My Mind: Visual Politics (1995), bell hooks touches upon our culture's refusal of free time to create meaningful work. She writes:
I think often and deeply about women and work, about what it means to have the luxury of time — time spent collecting one’s thoughts, time to work undisturbed…It enhances our capacity to create. Work for women artists is never just the moment when we write, or do other art…it is also the time spent in contemplation or preparation. This solitary space is sometimes a place where dreams and visions enter and sometimes a place where nothing happens. It is this stillness, this quietude, needed for the continued nurturance of any devotion to artistic practice — to one’s work — that remains a space women struggle to find in our lives.
hooks goes on to reference poet Adrienne Rich’s What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics. Rich considers how time to be alone is “guiltily seized,” and that “the struggle to limit the working day is a sacred struggle for the worker’s freedom in time. Yet every work generation has to reclaim that freedom in time, and many are brutally thwarted in the effort. Capitalism is based on the abridgement of that freedom.”
What I find so fascinating about moments of connection is how our body almost forces us to stop and observe. When something visual affects us, we are abruptly swept into a heightened consciousness: Where am I standing? What is my breath doing? How am I feeling? It prompts a sort of instinctual alertness that we must attend to. I guess my own attempt to push back against the abridgement of my freedom (of my time) is to stretch these moments lengthwise so that they occupy more space in my daily routine. I think about these occurrences throughout the day, I try to write them down, I photograph them. If I don’t repeat them again and again in my head, or record them in some capacity, I will lose them. And I fear I will lose the knowledge I’ve gained from them too, even if that knowledge is only remembering a feeling. Anyone who knows me knows I have a terrible sense of memory. It seems I’m not the only one, perhaps due to my demographic growing up in a rapidly developing period with an overwhelming amount of information. So many details, or simple sensations, can get buried or lost. Official Record is one way that I hope to assemble together and sit with these personally significant, though maybe unexceptional moments.
I first read hooks’ Art on My Mind in 2017 during my Master’s program, where I focused my research on how white supremacy manifests in museums. The book has since been critical in guiding my curatorial work, my intentions, and my desires. One of my favorite passages is below:
In a democratic society art should be the location where everyone can witness the joy, pleasure, and power that emerges when there is freedom of expression, even when a work created evokes pain, outrage, sorrow, or shame. Art should be, then, a place where boundaries can be transgressed, where visionary insights can be revealed within the context of the everyday, the familiar, the mundane. Art is and remains such an uninhibited, unrestrained, cultural terrain only if all artists see their work as inherently challenging of those institutionalized systems of domination (imperialism, racism, sexism, class elitism, etc.) that seek to limit, co-opt, exploit, or shut down possibilities for individual creative self-actualization. Regardless of subject matter, form, or content, whether art is overtly political or not, artistic work that emerges from an unfettered imagination affirms the primacy of art as that space of cultural production where we can find the deepest, most intimate understanding of what it means to be free.
See you next time!