The title was enough to tempt me: “How to Make Art at the End of the World.” It came out less than a year ago, but surfaced to me on one of those lists of books necessary for this moment. I clicked on the link and then saw that it was as much about pedagogy, radical pedagogy, as it was about art. I was sold without much more convincing.
There are moments when you open a book and realize that it was meant to be in your hands in that moment. The author teachers at the University of Alberta, where I got my PhD. The author is originally from Montreal. Even though the book was published at an American university press, the book talks about SSHRC and the Canadian Council and UQAM and Thomas King (THOMAS KING!) and…
I am barely finished the introduction, but this idea of research-creation the author is putting forward is one that resonates with me, deeply, right now. All my creations may be text-based, but how she describes a desire for art but also a desire for research, for deep thinking and writing, how these twin desires brought her to where she is today. That desire. I wanted to be a writer, but decided to do a PhD because I wanted to seriously study writers and writing. Part of me wants to do an MFA for the same reasons.
I am already thinking hard about the book and what she says, knowing what the University of Alberta is facing right now, even before COVID-19 decimated the province’s budget and oil is now priced in the negatives. The government has slashed the budgets of all of the province’s post-secondary institutions. Friends of mine had been let go, fired, find themselves unemployed. I am furious, watching it happen, knowing it will only get worse, and holding this manifesto published just before the world, in Alberta at least, started falling apart.
The author admits, in the first lines of the acknowledgements, that the book would have been impossible if not for her TT and then tenured position at the U of A. In one of those disciplines that the government deems frivolous, Contemporary Art and Theory. I know how it feels to be attacked, to be seen as supurfluous, wasteful. And I read the first pages and know that this is essential reading for moving forward beyond COVID-19.
My art is my words. I am writing my way through this, creating space and images and community with my words. We get through this time reading and watching musicals and plays and concerts and virtual art exhibits and fashion shows and painting and writing and sculpting and crafting and making and shaping and reshaping. We cannot reshape the world right now, so we look at shapes that have been presented to us, imaginary and real, warped and bent and broken and shinning like a beacon of hope.
We take our childhood obsessions seriously because we need to remember fun and frivolity and that it is serious business of being a girl, a kid. And it is a kind of art we are creating, a kind of community around one art in order to write and create another one, a kind of research-creation, one we are making at the end of the world.
I’ve barely finished the introduction, and yet had to come and write out that for the first time since this whole thing has started, I’ve found the perfect thing to speak to me, but also to give me hope.