Panya Clark Espinal

Re | Enactment: Between Self and Other

This general introduction by Barbara Fischer appears in the catalogue Re | Enactment: Between Self And Other, published by The Power Plant, Toronto.

This exhibition focuses on the material means by which six contemporary Canadian artists — Carl Beam, Panya Clark, Stan Douglas, Janice Gurney, Barbara Lounder and Lani Maestro — attempt to renegotiate definitions of cultural identity, especially in the context of the art gallery and the museum.

The history of society and culture has always been one of struggle with complex issues of “difference” and “otherness.” Rather than simply being questions of national boundaries however, difference and otherness are defined and instituted within the very fabric of a given culture, whether on the basis of sex and race, or on that of cultural traditions, ethnic customs, and religious beliefs.

The “problems” represented by these questions therefore must be considered in relation to a particular notion of the individual or collective self. The notion of “self,” as invoked in the context of this exhibition, refers not to a self “as one among others,” but to the the vantage-point of that subject position against which all others are defined as ”other.”

If art and its various institutions (which include the gallery and the museum) has taken an active part in the construction of cultural difference, recent cultural history is characterized by an unprecedented contesting of the definition of difference. As the assigned identity of “otherness” is contested by those who are subjected to and excluded from its construction, the very limits and boundaries that secure the identity of a privileged subject position have been thrown into question, and the terms of definition of self and other catapulted into crisis.

Through such strategies as mimicry, copying, reconstruction, appropriation and “reenactment,” Beam, Clark, Douglas, Gurney, Lounder and Maestro question the certitudes of identity at the level of the individual and of the objects of knowledge, in order to contest the hierarchies of self and other. Rather than leading to acts of symbolic or physical violence, the uncertainties invited by this “undoing” are welcomed by the artists in Re | Enactment as offering the possibility of cultural innovation and renewal.

The panicipants in this exhibition examine issues of cultural difference from a number of very different stances. Panya Clark and Barbara Lounder seek to represent representations of the “Other” as the phantasmagoria of the Western “self.” Stan Douglas and Janice Gurney question the exclusiveness of the opposition between self and other by suggesting intermediary positions, in which one is traversed by the other. Lani Maestro and Carl Beam negotiate the division of self itself, as bound up in cultural difference and differing traditions.

Re | Enactment describes, then, the operation and process whereby artists are working throngh issues of cultural difference, and whereby the self is displaced as a centre through language, material, and enunciations which are already of the Other — including culture.

Barbara Fischer