We have been interested upon our return to Canada and Alberta (Calgary) after 20 years away, in the recent efforts of governments to establish their stake in what art(s) are to be and how they are to be used as part of a cultural and economic industry. As Alberta works to diversify and renew its economy in the midst of a failing gas/oil industry they have become the first province to designate January the Month of the Artist. At the same time Calgary approved a city budget with increased funding to the arts while cuts abound in many other areas. Within this same year a conservative school board has axed a vibrant art curriculum.
We recognize the importance of these gestures of supporting the arts and artists, and also note the accompanying claims about the role of the arts by governments and commerce. Both of us in our early careers had more “commercial” (gently embedded) art careers in Alberta in contrast to our current practice as artists in a Gifting Economy. We find there is a hidden agenda, a type of innocuous-sounding discourse description and curriculum of Art and Society when the State and Commerce put their surface wrapping on what to us is a sacred world-work–that is, an authentic and healing art. Nato Thompson, in his 2015 book Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the 21st Century wrote that,
If the forties saw the birth of culture as consumption, and the sixties gave birth
to the rise of the counterculture, by the early twenty-first century, the move
from counterculture to cash register was so brief as to make the transition feel
almost imperceptible. Culture and commerce appeared to be so intermingled
that one could not readily say which was which. (p. 13).
In the official statement released by the Alberta Minister of Culture and Tourism they hold Art within their mold and perception, with what we see as a partial and potentially distorting agenda and vision (if it could be called a vision):
In distinct and necessary contrast to the above, is another voicing of the nature and role of art in the world today. Because ‘today’ is a very different kind of ‘today’ than the Alberta government imagines or apparently cares to address, as a critical interrogation. We are speaking of this necessary voice of the artist-psychoanalyst-activist Bracha L. Ettinger from a recent interview in India (as part of the Kochi Biennale ) where she, within her matrixial lens (adopted by Studio M*) responded to her interviewer’s question:
There’s a prophetic nuance, not romantic or utopian, but sensed through the lens of a ‘woman’ artist and one who has deeply responded to trauma in the world via art for a very long time. “Art emerges,” she says, and she means it has purpose beyond typical functional ends of the State and Commerce, “after trust dies”– and, if one truly takes that in and dwells with its depths of meanings and feelings–one, really comes to encounter ‘art’ in a way that is necessarily always in relation to hurting/violence/oppression and tragedy. Governments and commerce don’t like to talk about this connection.
Ultimately, what we at Studio M* care about is a more sincere ongoing dialogue re: the State, Commerce and Art in an integral and holistic way, not merely in the ‘public’ space of rhetoric that the governments so often rely on as they ‘promote’ arts in an overly phallic way that needs to be challenged and reintegrated with matrixial perception and values. We are talking about the maternal core of the relationality that has deeply been injured, where sociality is now dangerously infused with rampant distrust and fear. The matrixial way of art-work-ing in compassion is something we hold a deep desire for all artists and others to learn more about. We see ourselves in service to assisting this learning.