I’ve had a rough month. I mean maybe most of it was fine, but the last week and a bit got SO STRESSFUL and I felt like if I came back and wrote something here about what was going on it would get quoted in some Art Mag and then people would pile on me on Twitter and I just honestly didn’t know how to deal. I can see why people hire publicists. I did make one statement to Art News and part of it got quoted, I mean it seemed to be a good quote, the part they picked. But it all felt immense and mostly I was concerned about presenting a unified front with other artists who were reacting in various ways.
ANYWAY yeah, as I had mentioned in a few posts I am in the Whitney Biennial this year. And I was asked to be in it last year, around November. And after I said yes the stories started coming out about Kanders, and WAGE and Decolonize This Place asking artists to withdraw from the Biennial. And it’s a really hard decision to make. I don’t have a lot of high profile shows I have been in. It’s such a huge platform. And also my work was going to be in an Indigenous film program near the end of the exhibition. I would have two screenings and have 12 minutes of video screen in each screening. So out of this exhibition I’m showcased for about 24 minutes altogether. And in many ways I was hoping if I held out I could see how this all plays out on it’s own. And I have mostly screened in Artist Run Centres and in small festivals all over the world. So to be in the Whitney was a big deal.
Anyway obviously the Kanders thing was looming over this. And I don’t think anyone wanted to be associated with a war profiteer. And the places where Safariland teargas has been used are places a lot of the artists including myself felt allied with the protestors it was used on. And then there were people bringing up the point that there are many galleries and museums and universities who are getting funds from all kinds of unethical places. Capitalism is never an innocent force.
So I had been thinking about this for a while and knowing I would probably do something to make my feelings known. There was a letter Verso put out asking Kanders to step down that I and a lot of other Biennial artists signed. And I think there was still potential for other actions to happen. But then more recently this letter came out in Artforum shaming the artists who were still in the Biennial for not pulling out.
It really stressed me out because a lot of what was going on seemed to deflect anger at Kanders into anger at the artists, and artists are generally disenfranchised people anyway. And 8 artists withdrew from the exhibit. Which I was in solidarity with but I wasn’t going to withdraw because I still wanted to figure out another way of protesting. I did come up with something I was going to do which I won’t mention here because now it’s a moot point. But I made the mistake of looking at what people were posting on social media, including Twitter, and a lot of it was really reflecting this idea of a binary of the good artists who withdrew like people have been asking us to since November/December, and the bad artists who were going to be judged by art history and have our reputations ruined. And this whole time I had been worrying that the Kanders controversy was going to destroy my career no matter what decision I made. If I pulled out I’d be like, hard to work with, and lose my big break, and if I stayed in I would have shitty politics even though I still tried to be vocal about my feelings on his participation in the board. I don’t feel like I have a lot of clout, and since my video was gonna screen at the end of the Biennial, if I pulled out no one would have seen my art at all, while other artists had shown for half the exhibition.
So I was trying to keep it from being about myself, but it was starting to feel like my work didn’t matter anyway compared to this massive political art world scandal, and I was being selfish by seeing how complicated this was and not withdrawing. I also didn’t feel like I had a lot of friends to talk to about it. My closest friends mostly aren’t in the art world and didn’t really even know what the Whitney Biennial is. And I was snoozing people on social media who were posting in favour of artists withdrawing because even tho I understand it’s a powerful political statement, it felt like more pressure I didn’t want to see in my facebook feed at that time. I did have a few people to talk to but it was starting to put me in a tailspin and I felt sometimes that people didn’t see the full ramifications of the whole situation, especially for individual artists who all have different situations in their lives. And just the fact that it was a biennial of artists who were mostly BIPOC and half women being sort of demonized for not reacting the way the narrative wanted us to felt shitty. Like taking it out on BIPOC and women artists when the real enemy was this white cis male war profiteer felt like a shitty and convenient deflection.
Anyway I was stressed and if anyone asked me how I was doing there was like, a long sigh. I felt really worried about making the wrong statement, and I was going to write one with a friend who knows media better than I do (I mean press media). And also I just felt really concerned about the artists in the show, both the ones who withdrew and the ones who were staying for now. I felt that I wanted to be supportive of any way that people protested or didn’t protest or spoke out or didn’t speak out. I know people’s careers were at stake no matter how we responded, and it was a really awful situation to be in.
So right, I was waiting to see how this would play out, but I was getting pretty depressed, and my mental health is not tip top anyway, it can really vary according to whatever the hell my brain chemicals are up to. And at the same time I know it was all way bigger than me, I was like a dust mote in this tornado. And I was feeling hopeless, people were telling me he probably wouldn’t resign anyway, that there were other people on the board who also had shady dealings, etc etc.
And then Thursday morning I woke up to news Kanders resigned. I’m still absorbing it. I know it was largely those eight artists withdrawing and the question of if more would withdraw that finally forced his hand. And that’s great, I’m glad it happened, I’m glad those eight artists felt like they could take that risk on and that their gamble paid off. I’m still kind of reeling though at how much infighting happened in the art world, and I’m still wondering if people are going to take it out on the artists who didn’t withdraw. And I’m wondering when this will happen again, because pretty much every major institution is being funded by dirty money.
In some way I am a little bit sad that I never got to do my action. But that’s really just political vanity so I’m not dwelling on it. My friend Maria Hupfield was one of the protestors at the opening who got a lot of art news press when her and her friend did their action, and she got in on my invitation which was pretty sweet but also like yeah that was all her I didn’t talk about it with her besides her giving me a heads up she was gonna do an action. There was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, and a lot of stuff, like actions, no one will see or know about because finally the situation has been resolved in a positive way.
I think however that my own conflicted feelings are starting to go away, and now I’m really thinking about how rapidly change can happen when you don’t expect it. I know it’s a big deal that he resigned, but it also gives me hope on a larger scale for change to happen overnight. For instance I have been thinking a lot about climate change and the end of the world and how politicians including in Canada are all in the pockets of the dying fossil fuel industry. And at times it feels hopeless, and like our planet really is just gonna die and we have all accepted this. But then I think fuck, maybe something will happen and one day I will wake up to news that capitalism has fallen or something. You never fuckin’ know.
So I guess besides learning change can happen fast, and that direct action like withdrawing work from a show works (even though I didn’t withdraw), I’ve also learned that sometimes you really do just have to hang on and see how things play out. I still don’t feel out of the woods yet personally in terms of how I will be judged by others who weren’t in the Biennial. But I guess I just have to find out.
In the meantime I did get a Canada Council grant to make a documentary installation. So that perked me up. And I do have work offers coming in still. And I don’t know if I will make it in the American art world, but also I’m a Canadian Indigenous Artist, and I’ll be around for a while longer in Canada at least.
Ha ha omg this probably sounds so much more personal than people would like. This is a pretty personal blog. I know it’s a big issue and not all about me. But this was how it affected me this last while, and I didn’t want to come back to my overshare blog and not be honest about what was happening for me. And I hope there is a diversity of viewpoints about how this situation played out for everyone. I still feel nervous breaking away from the group to tell the story the way it happened for me, and all the things I was worried and anxious about. But this is my blog and I was avoiding it for like, a damn month, and I guess now you know.