"Falsework" for Artistic Matter

The Pull with artist Mary Mattingly
Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 1:52pm
Carla DeMarco
The Blackwood Gallery is fostering interdisciplinary knowledge exchange and inspired debate

Should social-media users be paid for their online contributions? Why don’t we put more thought into high-density housing? And do we really need to be consuming so much stuff?

These are among some of the current questions being explored at the Blackwood Gallery, which isn’t just a place to contemplate brilliant artwork. It’s a living, dynamic venue where intellectual thought and analytical dialogue are contributing to various research areas and collaborations across the U of T Mississauga campus.

“I wanted an exhibition that would animate a critical discourse on campus and create interdisciplinary connections,” says Christine Shaw, Blackwood Gallery’s current director/curator. “One that would change its form and develop new knowledge, new objects and new social encounters over the three-month period that it’s showcased.”

The current exhibition includes Mary Mattingly’s Sphere, which is a 140-lb bundle of the artist’s own personal possessions. In September, Mary and members of the UTM and Sheridan community participated in a “collective pull” of this bundle between Oakville and Mississauga. Furnishing Positions is a modular sculpture by Adrian Blackwell that over the course of the exhibit gets reconfigured six times in an examination of public space and is playing host to classes and events by faculty and students from across UTM’s academic units. Every two weeks a corresponding broadsheet is published by the gallery with academics and artists from various backgrounds and institutes contributing an essay in response to six positions on the paradox of public space. Additionally, Allora & Calzadilla’s Vieques Videos document moments of a civil disobedience campaign waged by local inhabitants to demilitarize and reclaim Vieques, an inhabited island used by the US Navy as bomb-testing site. Over in the e-gallery there is artist Cyprien Gaillard’s Desniansky Raion, a 30-minute video that “captures the failed utopian aspirations of early twentieth-century buildings.”

Billboard with excerpt of Wages for Facebook manifestoWages for Facebook is one of the most prominent and comprehensive projects, culminating with creator Laurel Ptak coming to the UTM campus in November for a workshop.

Wages for Facebook, a manifesto written by Ptak that she launched in January 2014, questions whether users of Facebook should be paid for their work because the content generated by users is owned by Facebook and is essentially used for marketing purposes. The exhibit includes excerpts of the manifesto featured on the billboard on the five-minute walk, with the full manifesto scrolling on an iPad in the Blackwood Gallery. There are also four UTM Work-Study students serving on the Wages for Facebook campaign to raise its profile and a five-part reading series with faculty members from various UTM departments, such as ICCIT and Historical Studies, who will contribute to the discussion on the economy of digital labour. The UTM portion of the initiative also envisions what a worker center on campus might look like.

“We are really excited to be hosting this project because it has generated an international debate on the politics of labour in our digitial age and has a local resonance with the users of our campus” says Shaw.

“At the end of the three-month campaign, Laurel Ptak is going to report on UTM’s Wages for Facebook involvement at the largest digital-labour conference, hosted this year at the New School in New York City. It’s amazing that our work here becomes the object of study for a conference paper.”

The exhibits at Blackwood all fall under the overarching title Falsework, described by Shaw as “any temporary structure used to support a permanent structure during its construction until it becomes self-supporting.” In this context, the Blackwood Gallery’s transformation into a space where public programming, academic endeavours, student learning, and research-related collaborations converging to make the environment more interactive and inspirational can also be regarded as a kind of falsework on the UTM campus.

With the Blackwood serving as a classroom space, hosting events such as scholarly film and video presentations, and, in partnership with the UTM Library, showcasing relevant, related reading material, Shaw mainly wants to ensure that the gallery continues to be a place that stimulates discussion and serves as a nexus for the diverse intellectual directions an individual can take.

“With this exhibition, my aim was to transform the gallery into a critical site for learning and exchange between disciplinary fields. It asks how we can learn by coming together to exchange knowledge because the ways we approach current research topics are all different,” says Shaw. “I am interested in what we can learn from each other’s work and methodologies, and how art can contribute to the circulation of knowledge and generate research and action. This kind of interdisciplinary exchange requires support structures, it needs good falsework.”

For full listings of the Blackwood Gallery’s Falsework exhibitions that run until December 7 see their website, http://blackwoodgallery.ca/index.html, or if you are looking to book the gallery for an event or for course-related activity, contact blackwood.gallery@utoronto.ca.