SALT VERY IMPORTANT

THEORY IN PRACTICE: December Letter from Literary Arts

Sacrificial Cabbage

[excerpt from a conversation between Julia and Greta]

In the garden beds, purple and green cabbage grow for winter, soon to be harvested and pickled for kraut, eaten with salted fish and beet soup, if only they last the season. 

Slugs! 

Have you tried copper netting?

Have you tried marigolds?

They crawl up the raised boxes?

Maybe you just have to sacrifice one cabbage to the slugs, so the others can grow? 

Taking its name from a garden plant ravaged by slugs, Sacrificial Cabbage was a workshop series hosted throughout the month of November that invited contemporary artists to share their practice with our regional community. Artists Christina Battle, S F Ho, and Tania Willard facilitated workshops on ecology, seed saving, medicinal plants, and land-based practices that engaged broader dialogues around climate change, disaster capitalism, land and food sovereignty, and harm reduction. Together we read, wrote, cut and glued, talked about the weather (no longer a banal topic), and stepped outside to pay attention to what was around us. We thought about our needs as a group and as individuals, how to sustain ourselves and our communities, and how to foster reciprocity with the lands we live on and the communities we live in.

Core to the Sacrificial Cabbage programs was the notion of maintenance. Drawing on Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintenance Art Manifesto (1969), and the labour of maintaining the ecosystems we tend to every day, the workshops sought to reframe our relationality to plants and non-human beings. Julia’s anecdote about the slugs in the cabbage inspired a dialogue about attempts to mitigate the damage of aphids, slugs, deer, and other pests in the garden with companion planting, copper netting, and fencing. These tips are helpful to an extent, but what happens if we adjust our attitude towards pests, and forge a more generative relationship with the bugs, animals, and microbes that live in our gardens? When we adjust to a practice of reciprocity, can we also resist the idea of scarcity and private property for the sake of abundance and community? These questions were central to the workshops, as participants were invited to explore their relationship to the weather, medicinal plants, and outdoor spaces beyond their computer screens.

Christina Battle’s workshop was rooted in her practice as a media artist engaged in participation and the notion of disaster as a site that generates dispersed systems of care and knowledge. Battle mailed a package to workshop participants with seeds, chamomile tea, a beeswax candle, collage materials, and charts with colour and smell descriptions. Participants filled out a form about the weather (part of an ongoing research practice for Battle), read texts by Natasha Myers and Zadie Smith, and discussed the effect of shifting meteorologic patterns on gardening, seed saving, and soil regeneration–all while collaging postcards to send each other as a reminder to plant the seeds come spring.

S F Ho led a workshop that troubled perceptions of plants as healing or toxic, with a particular focus on the geopolitical histories of poppies as a medicinal plant and drug. Ho read from a milky new work that positions their familial lineage and experiences living as a settler in Vancouver within the histories of poppies and opium trade. They spoke about vernacular healing modalities and traditional Chinese medicine in relation to their grandfather’s zine making and apothecary. Participants were invited to read and write collectively in response to prompts Ho provided around plant medicine, health, and sustenance. The workshop ended on a musical note, as Stevie Wonder’s “The Secret Life of Plants” played us out.

Tania Willard spoke about the shift in her curatorial and artistic practices when she became a mother, and relocated to her family’s rural reserve land. Willard sought to engage intergenerational and non-human collaboration and Indigenous epistemologies within a contemporary art space. Thus emerged BUSH Gallery, a rural outdoor gallery and collective activated by Willard and collaborators Peter Morin, Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, and Jeneen Frei Njootli. Through the happenings at BUSH Gallery, Willard developed a practice of site/ation, a collage based citational practice that acts as both a land acknowledgement and storytelling device. Willard invited participants to step outside to gather plants, berries, snow, twigs, anything that inspired a memory, story, relationship, or place of learning from the land. The result was a series of citational collages that initiated dialogue around our relationship to the places we live.

Soon to emerge from the Sacrificial Cabbage workshops are three broadsheets that offer readings, references, and notes to summarize the happenings of the workshops. Inspired by newsletters and broadsheets produced by communes and by anarchist printing presses, the broadsheets attempt to create a sustained system of knowledge dissemination invested in collective nurturance, resistance, and dreaming. The broadsheets will be available for pickup onsite at Oxygen Art Centre, or mailed out by request. Email literaryarts [at] oxygenartcentre [dot] org to request one (or three).

collage made during Sacrificial Cabbage workshop with Christina Battle, 2021
site/ation produced during Tania Willard’s Sacrificial Cabbage workshop, 2021
screenshot of a video about snail slime extraction for beauty products

dig a hole in the garden

A new initiation of theory and practice, dig a hole in the garden is a three phase research project that begins with monthly blog posts on SALT VERY IMPORTANT, and will culminate in an exhibition at Oxygen Art Centre in June 2022. The project engages slowness and adaptability in contemporary art practice. Inspired by methodologies of slow curating and queer temporalities, dig a hole in the garden attempts to initiate a state of hibernation in the gallery through exhibition and public programs.

This phase of research forges a collection of cultural references, images, songs, states of being, and emotions that inspire the aesthetic and critical ambition of the exhibition. At the moment, dig a hole in the garden, is inspired by slime, sleep, sticky fingers, adaptation, the water bears (or tardigrades) that landed on the moon, Freak Heat Waves, heal your powerful mind sleep podcast, hay bale furniture, resin, caterpillars, slug sex, butterflies, Derek Jarman, hibernation, habitation, arousal, the fish at the bottom of the pond, winter gardens, inertia, momentum, space vaccuums, black holes, dark matter, “I dont know enough to have an opinion about it,” aura photographs, heat sensitive wall paper, candles, transition, rurality, fermentation, gestation, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, stoner chill, vibeology, queer motherhood, sand mandalas, pet rocks, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, dormancy, elongation, bean bag chairs, vernacular architectures, whatever the opposite of a fidget spinner is, and exhaustion.

Notions of adaption and hibernation are explored as responses to crises, biological and ecological. To face mass extinction, water shortages, monoculture crops, floods, wild fires, earthquakes, viral pandemics, and the myriad contemporaneous crises of our moment, requires a force of adaptability both of body and environment. dig a hole in the garden seeks to explore these transitions through the messy osmosis of ecosystems and humans.

ELEMENTS OF A COMMUNE: August and September Letter from Literary Arts

“Communes are a movement in consciousness.” Getting Back Together, Robert Houriet, 1971

Grass Art at Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

After thinking through communes as a form of refusal–that is, the conscious dropping out of society and mainstream culture/consumption for the formation of self-organized communities–I wondered: Is there a life affirming form of refusal? It seems so often that refusal comes at the cost of our bodies, of social ease, or the fullness of our lives. When we drop out of what’s considered mainstream or normative culture, we lose a certain ability to move through that culture, to access and participate in it, often resulting in lack of access to health care, goods and services, and public space. It is in the loss of dropping-out where revolution becomes possible, and at the same time, creates a longing for something easier. How does one balance the desire for ease with the simultaneous need and desire to fight capitalism, colonialism, private property, and the necropolitical criminalization of drugs and poverty? Can refusal be life-affirming, or must it always come at the cost of social alienation?

Through August and September, I read Getting Back Together by Robert Houriet (1971), Communes in the Counterculture by Keith Melville (1972), Mutual Aid by Dean Spade (2020), and Siddartha by Herman Hesse (1922). Both Houriet and Melville’s accounts of communes come from the era in which the counterculture began. While Melville describes the counterculture through a critique of capital, Houriet’s insights are more personal. In Getting Back Together, Houriet travels between California, New Mexico and Vermont visiting communes in their early days, sites that were organized on the basis of self-sufficiency, farming, organic eating, consensus decision making, and sometimes mysticism, drug-use, and polyamory (then dubbed Free Love). Houriet provides insight into the origins of the communal movement, the day-to-day happenings of communes, and especially, what kept them together. He notes the importance of a shared ideology, be it political or spiritual, in keeping a commune together. He describes how many communes failed in their early days due to a lack of commitment by members to these sites, general vagabonding and a desire to escape practicality. Houriet underscores how necessary income, labour, and collective propriety were to the maintenance of communes.

The penultimate event in the first sections of Getting Back Together, is Houriet’s confrontation with death. As he ponders dropping acid, Houriet evokes the more mystical and spiritual aspects of communal life. In visiting various communes, Houriet witnesses spiritual transformation and salvation by commune members who seek guidance from gurus and spiritual leaders at these sites, communes that practiced new age techniques, Christian mysticism and paganism. All the while, he carries his tab of acid in his pocket. When finally he takes the tab, he reckons with himself, suffers what he deems an ego-death, an experience that becomes inextricable from his understanding of communal life. That one must give in and give up their self-hood to fully be there, to participate.

After I read Siddartha, I noticed a similarity in how enlightenment is achieved by both characters: Some kind of ego-death–be it drug induced, meditative, deprivation, self-abnegation–is required for the characters to reaffirm their lives. This was this notion of death that made me wonder about life-affirming refusal and alienation. I’m keeping the question with me as I continue to read about communes, counterculture, the back-to-the-land movement, and more contemporary cultural and political ideations of refusal and dissent. My intuition is that the affirming aspects of resistance philosophies supersede the negation of the self, to intend towards futures that are more viable, maybe even sustainable. That the necessary death is generative. That maybe if we alter our consciousness, suffer an ego-death, there might be some radical shift in how we empathize and care for systems of life.

Other Readings

Interventions on Hostile Architecture by Benjamin de Boer and Phat Le

An Artist’s Guide to Herbs: Psilocybin by Harmony Holiday

DROPOUT PIECE: July Letter from Literary Arts

Lee Lozano, General Strike Piece, 1969

July brought sunset swims, moonlight above Arbutus trees, hugs, splendour, zucchini, the return of morning glory in the garden, library visits, and the impending change of seasons. The sun sets earlier, the grass is yellow; at season’s change I’m often reminded of what I was doing the year before. Last summer, I had just returned from Toronto to Northern Vancouver Island. The quiet of the island was a profound comfort to me after a few months in the throes of city-wide pandemic protocols and the collective anxiety of the circumstance. On the island, there was little stimulus, no one to look at and no one to be looked at by. I felt reassured by my distance from the city. As I dug up rotting rhubarb plants from my parents’ too-shallow raised bed, I thought about who I had been in Toronto, and who I might become in this new remote place. The solitude felt like a reinvention, like I had transformed by removing myself from the perceptions of the friends, community and passersby who had witnessed me in Toronto for years. Was there something more holistic or internal about personal change when it happens outside the city?

This summer, having left the island for Vancouver, I have been reflecting on those early days of privacy in my parent’s garden. I had dropped out of the city’s economy of looking and perceiving and identifying, challenging myself to be with myself rather than in front of a public. For so many people, especially queer folks, being oneself feels more possible in a place with a lot of people, people with whom to exchange glances and knowing nods of difference and similarity; for me, the current of self-hood seems to flow most naturally when I’m not being looked at at all. I’m reminded of artist Lee Lozano’s General Strike Piece which began in 1969, wherein Lozano effectively dropped out of the art world. Lozano was a conceptual artist who practiced at the precipice of art and life, her work taking on the weight of her existence through her temporally exhausting efforts. Lozano’s General Strike Piece is an instructional work, a common form of the era that offers instructions to the reader and are sometimes enacted by the artist. In Lozano’s case, she always enacted the instructions, notably in “The Halifax 3 State Experiment” at NSCAD in 1971, wherein she gave a lecture three times, once sober, once stoned, and once on acid. General Strike Piece was earlier in her career, during which she boldly refused to participate in the art world. The piece reads, “GRADUALLY BUT DETERMINEDLY AVOID BEING PRESENT AT OFFICIAL OR PUBLIC ‘UPTOWN’ FUNCTIONS OR GATHERINGS RELATED TO THE ‘ART WORLD’ IN ORDER TO PURSUE INVESTIGATIONS OF TOTAL PERSONAL AND PUBLIC REVOLUTION. EXHIBIT IN PUBLIC ONLY PIECES WHICH FURTHER SHARING OF IDEAS & INFORMATION RELATED TO TOTAL PERSONAL AND PUBLIC REVOLUTION.”

Lozano’s positing of a revolutionary life outside the typical economies of art world schmoozing, inspire me to question the meaning of being an artist, its importance (or not) in the world, and how at odds the process of creation can feel to the administration required by a career in the arts. In the city, there’s constant need to make oneself public, or to be visible in the “art world” as Lozano puts it, which can often feel contradictory to living and making work as an artist. Lozano proposes dropping out as a revolutionary gesture–that in refusing to make yourself visible, you might be free to cultivate an intellectual practice that can be brought into the public for the means of revolution. Is there some tension here then between the rural and the urban, the public and the private, the normalcy and the revolution? Lozano’s General Strike Piece puts into question the need for visibility and legibility in the arts, and how personal investigations come to take on public and political meaning, and even whether or not they have to? What would it look like for artists, writers and cultural workers to collectively strike against the conditions of labour in the arts that require ‘presence at uptown functions,’ as Lozano suggests? What would change if artists dropped out, became revolutionaries?

Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell, 2020, and Mutual Aid by Dean Spade, 2020

As these questions come up for me, and as I continue to read about feminist, queer, lesbian and trans people on communes, I wonder about the connected desire to drop out from gender, cities, and work, and to make oneself illegible within an identity or mode of living? These questions are taken up by Legacy Russell in her manifesto Glitch Feminism (2020) wherein she describes a generation of feminists whose online experiences formed their relationship to gender, sexuality and race identities. The short book is a cyberfeminist manifesto that proposes the glitch–or error, disappearance, illegibility–as a generative site for feminist recourse. Russell discusses contemporary digital art practices and new media works through the lens of identity politics, emphasizing how particular artistic practices draw on the glitch to centre trans and non-binary genders, which is a mode of feminist thinking that, I think, attempts to abolish the gender binary. The manifesto proposes an existence of in-betweenness, wherein identities are forged through or as the glitch, as varying parts of our experiences shape the fluid existences we inhabit both online and AFK (away from keyboard). 

I’m interested in Russell’s notion of the glitch as an entry-point into gender, particularly as it relates to queer, trans and non-binary gender identities. I’ve often wondered about transness and non-binary gender as a mode of illegibility, a queering of the gender binary that opens gender towards a fluid in-betweenness, wherein an identity comes and goes, or might otherwise be (re)invented by the self infinitely. In this notion of gender as fluid, there is a certain kind of refusal or dropping out that’s necessary. These kinds of alternative modes of conceiving of gender through the glitch, remind me again of the digital utopianism proposed by early commune settlers and counterculture revolutionaries. In both Russell’s manifesto, and in the hopeful attitudes of back-to-the-landers, technology, and eventually the internet, proposed a kind of radical equity wherein universal access is possible within, and despite, how somehow identifies. Though this has been proven false in practice as technology and the internet have become independent bodies of discourse that dominate politics and create microcosmic echo-chambers of identify based groups, I think there remains something interesting and utopic about the notion of refusal as revolution. Only now the question of dropping out includes removing ourselves from the internet, which had once for back-to-the-landers been the hopeful mode of resource sharing that would allow more universal access to the knowledge and tools required to live off the land.

Russell’s Glitch Feminism offers the first in what I can only imagine will be a huge number of feminist and literary manifestos published by writers who grew up intimately with the internet. It offers a way out of the hegemonic structures of social media by imbuing digital mishaps with a kind of political potentiality. But I always wonder, despite the all or nothing perspective of this thought, what it would be like to give it up all together–the city, social media, an identity. While I think identity not only gives meaning to our lives, but through the specificity of language, can acknowledge certain histories and material conditions that continue to affect our lives, I wonder whether or not an identity can change the conditions of existence towards something more equitable. Would choosing not to identify be a futuristic mode of imagining the fruits of gender abolition? Or are the categories of identity still necessary to rectify the wrongs of the past?

Mark Aguhar, “These are the Axes,” 2012, in Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell, 2020

And as always, a pointing-to to end the month’s thoughts. A diffuse reading group called Bread, curated for Virtual Care Lab by Aden Solway and mama collective in Tkaronto/Toronto; a poetry workshop called God is Not a Metaphor facilitated by Angelic Goldsky through ReIssue Publication’s Free School in Vancouver; Peripheral Review’s Summer Reading Series every Sunday throughout August, which was hosted by Fan Wu in its first iteration last week; the summer issue of C Magazine “Community” is out now; and a little bit more about Lee Lozano’s influence on contemporary art here.

SEEKING COMMUNE STORIES: June Letter from Literary Arts

Growing mustard, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers in a garden laden with bindweed

In the aftermath of the heat dome, my thoughts are ungathered. The bathroom, once visited by silverfish, is now infested with spiders, some of whom nest together in a web by the ceiling (another Vancouver polycule, I think). The others scurry up the side of the tub when I run a cold shower to clear my head. The heat reminds me of past year’s dystopian conditions–the sun glowing red in the hazy sky, smoke drifting North from California fires. Though we have not yet arrived at the height of summer wilting–really, we’re just entering the sweet growth of pea blossoms and tiny green tomatoes–the heat dome and burning towns across BC remind me of what’s to come. 

Though I have always felt enlivened by heat, I’m fearful of the possibility that these thirty and forty degree temperatures might become permanent. It’s a bleak possibility that the ecocidal predictions of science fiction novels could be realized–birds dropping dead from the sky, pollinators extinct, air conditioned glass domes built over cities of the rich. I feel listless with complacency, and compelled to refocus that sensation. How can we care for each other within the intensifying cycles of weather, heat, life and death? Community organizers like Mount Pleasant Mutual Aid have placed coolers at parks across the neighbourhood for residents to take or leave a drink; Local Open Access Fridge is installing a freezer, fridge and pantry in the Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood for food insecure residents. Community centres, libraries and gyms have become cooling stations for those without air conditioning or other cooling means. The precarity of shelter, food, and health were urgent crises prior to and during the Covid-19 pandemic, and persist as covid restrictions are lifted. 

Much like in the early days of the pandemic, this month felt like a moment to reconsider the role of artists, writers, and cultural workers within community care and activism. How can the work of art writing, criticism, and art making, translate to community problem solving? I think one of the tasks of cultural workers is to promote and maintain a culture of sustenance, one that uplifts the well-being of one’s neighbourhood. In Toronto for example, many artists and cultural workers organize with the Encampment Support Network to protest encampment evictions, provide unhoused residents with water, and work on the podcast We Are Not the Virus. In the vein of thinking through the role of artists and writers in community care, I want to mention a couple of my reads this month that generated some of these ideas. 

Outdoor School, edited by Amish Morrell and Diane Borsato, 2021

Outdoor School is a new book of contemporary environmental art edited by Amish Morrell and Diane Borsato. I attended a lecture with Morrell and Borsato hosted online by Doris McCarthy Gallery in Scarborough, ON. The editors foregrounded the role of artists as teachers and keen observers of their environment. Morrell and Borsato envision artists as those sharing with the world what might not otherwise be seen–artists look into nooks, see the invisible, and tell forgotten stories. Included in Outdoor School is the BUSH Manifesto, created by Tania Willard, Peter Morin, Jeneen Frei Njootli and Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill. Bush Manifesto calls for an artistic and critical site outside of the gallery, a land based practice where bears, dogs, children and grandparents are welcome in the actions; “BUSH Gallery…contributes to an understanding of how gallery systems and art mediums might be transfigured, translated and transformed by Indigenous knowledges, traditions, aesthetics, performance, and land-use systems.” 

Also in Outdoor School is an essay by environmental philosopher Karen Houle. In “Farm as Ethics,” Houle reflects on her pedagogical practice using urban farming at Guelph University as a tool for student learning. She confronts the misogyny and cognitive/emotional dissonance of Western philosophical practice, and forges instead a holistic methodology that uses agricultural and outdoor sites to teach, learn, and heal collectively with her students. Outdoor School is an invitation for artists, writers and cultural workers to shift towards the outdoors, to cycles of life, porous practices, reciprocity with the environment, and a public intellectual culture outside of artistic and academic institutions. I should mention as well that Amish has been a mentor and friend of mine over the years, whose knowledge of communes, conceptual art and counter-cultural publications inspired much of the work I completed in my undergrad, as well as this project with Oxygen. 

As I battled with the Himalayan blackberry and bindweed in my garden, I read Green Lines by Vancouver artist S F Ho, a chapbook that troubles the notion of invasive ecology and forges a lineage of decolonial gardens. Throughout Green Lines, Ho considers the relationship of invasive plants to politics of alienation, capitalism, and decolonial ecology. They note that both the Latin and English proliferation of plant names “render plants ahistorical” by erasing the uses carried by their native or colloquial names. Ho also notes that while invasive plants are named for where they’re from, “Himalayan black berry, Scotch broom,” what makes them invasive is not their foreignness, but their potential to limit capital; “a plant becomes a weed when it threatens intensive farming and industrial agricultural practices” and thus, when it threatens white, Western, capitalist culture. The bibliography in Green Lines is also an enriching starting point for readings on anti-invasion ecologies. Ho cites My Garden by Jamaica Kincaid, and the decolonial garden at 221a semi-public led by artist T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss. 

In the realm of upcoming business, the Slocan Valley’s independent newspaper, The Valley Voice, is for sale! Though we dreamed momentarily of acquiring the publication, instead I offer our brief personals listing: 

SEEKING COMMUNE STORIES: Do you live communally in the Slocan Valley? Have you been part of a commune, organic farm or free school? Would you like to tell your story? Oxygen Art Centre is seeking commune dwellers to contribute to a research project that maps the history of communal living across the Slocan Valley and BC interior. If you would like to be interviewed about your experience, please email Greta at literaryarts@oxygenartcentre.org

And a couple viewings/readings of note for the month: Derya Akay’s Meydan at Polygon Gallery in Vancouver can be viewed until the first of August; the Contingencies of Care conference, hosted by OCAD U throughout the month of June, is recorded and available online; and UK based artist Sean Roy Parker’s newsletter, Fermental Health, is very good! 

Derya Akay, Meydan at Polygon Gallery, Vancouver, 2021

THE DAY WILL COME WHEN WE WILL HAVE TO KNOW THE ANSWERS: May Letter from Literary Arts

Outdoor Kitchen at Garden Don’t Care, Unit 17 Vancouver; gratitude to Vivienne for a tour of the garden

I’m penning this letter on a hot day with morning sun, shag carpet, Beverly-Glenn Copeland singing in the background, hibiscus tea cooling on the stove, and peeking out the window at the dye plants on the patio–the Indigo particularly bushy and needing repotting. This letter, and these letters (will), emerge from the contexts in which I am working across various small towns, islands and rented apartments in BC over the next ten months, conducting research for the new position Literary Arts Coordinator at Oxygen Art Centre. This project emerged through a shared desire between myself and Julia to develop a publication that took up the ethos and aesthetic of counter-cultural publications of the late 1960s and 1970s, including the Whole Earth Catalogue, Mother Earth News, Radical Faerie Digest, the New Woman’s Survival Catalogue, and the many independently published broadsheets and newsletters of that era, each offering various survival skills and DIY resources for rural women, queers, homesteaders, and organic farmers. We also bring together our individual bodies of research–Julia’s studies in feminist practices of curation across rural locales, and my desire to excavate a personal history as the child of a back-to-the-lander and wannabe-organic-farmer father.

We conceptualized the project a number of months into the pandemic, a moment in which many communities were organizing towards a shared sense of survival across multiple crises. We wondered what a contemporary revival of counter-cultural publications might look like, what resources most urgently need textual distribution, what issues remain unchanged. Through the coalescence of our research questions, we are attempting to develop a publication that deepens our understanding of the counter-cultural revolution’s failures and takes up its potential points of renewal. SALT VERY IMPORTANT is one such research aspect of this project.

Whole Earth Catalogue page spread showing systems of land and systems of body, edited Stewart Brand, 1968

In developing a publishing project that draws on counter-cultural and revolutionary texts, we are asking the following questions, among many: Why did the dream of co-operative land ownership, Buddhist economics, free love, and agricultural freedom fail in the face of neo-liberal capitalism and the personal tech industry? Why was the emergence of a mass cultural turn towards anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anarchist/anti-government, and feminist practice depleted by the end of the 1970s? Because the Whole Earth Catalogue was considered a precursor to the internet, what is the connection between the digital utopianism of 1960s California hippies and the contemporary tech dystopia currently unfolding in Silicon Valley? How can we continue to learn from counter-cultural thinkers while remaining critical of the back-to-the-land movement’s whitewashed and colonial concept of a “return” to nature? How do we acknowledge and honour the back-to-the-land movement’s debts to activists organizing around mutual aid and anarchism? How does the ethos of counter-culture fit into contemporary movements like Black Lives Matter and Land Back? What are some alternative histories that can decentre whiteness from organic farming, communal living, and our relationship to the outdoors? 

These aren’t rhetorical questions, as so often questions are when posed in the arts. This project will forge ahead to answer these questions through traditional archival research, alongside more material processes like conducting interviews, visiting gardens, farms, and compost centres, and maintaining the methodology of an eco-feminist practice (whatever that might look like to me these days; I’m thinking about my dye plants on the patio again). Through the coming months, I aim to develop infrastructure and resources for a long-term educational program and publication at Oxygen that picks up the threads of the counter-cultural vision within the context of contemporary anti-racist, decolonial, and feminist practices. This might include reading lists, an interview series, print and publishing workshops, as well as creating a publication by and for rural artists and writers across BC. These letters, too, act as a form of institutional transparency, as I describe the changes and malleability of this project over time. (The letters also borrow the title from Diane Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letter #3, the line, “SALT VERY IMPORTANT,” and this month’s title from Revolutionary Letter #6, “None of us knows the answers, think about / these things. The day will come when we will have to know / the answers.” Published 1968).

Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval (2018) and Mooncalves by Victoria Hetherington (2019)

Alongside this research aspect of this publishing project, I’m spending some time considering what the tasks of a Literary Arts Coordinator are within an artist-run-centre, and what they could be. To name a few possibilities I’ve noted over the last month: to create financial and community contingency for the current literary projects including the author reading series, and the publication of artist monographs and exhibition catalogues; to develop educational programming on print practices and publishing; to acquire a library of artist books and multiples, as well as texts and publications relevant to the centre’s programming. While it may not be me who develops these resources in their entirety at Oxygen, I’m planting the seeds here.

This month I split my time between researching grants to develop a publication and educational programming for the upcoming year, compiling a reading list that includes texts ranging from conceptual art, to climate change, to the tech industry, and attending workshops on farming and co-operative land ownership. I had a short visit with Garden Don’t Care at Unit 17 in Vancouver. I attended the virtual launch of the Centre for Sustainable Curation at Western University with a panel on Curating and Radical Pedagogy including panelists Christina Battle, Gabby Moser, Ryan Rice, Eugenia Kisin, Tania Willard and Christiana Abraham. I also attended the virtual panel Doing the Work: Art and Activism at McMaster University, which featured short talks by Syrus Marcus Ware, Jenna Reid, and Ravyn Wngz. I read Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval, Mooncalves by Victoria Hetherington, I revisited the Maintenance Art Manifesto by Mierle Ukeles Laderman, and the first issue of MICE Magazine on Invisible Labour


Want to get in touch? Have a story you want to tell? Want to contribute? Email Greta at literaryarts@oxygenartcentre.org

Garden Don’t Care, Unit 17 Vancouver
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