2017 Governor General's Award for the Visual and Media Arts

I was a recipient of the Outstanding Contribution Award for the 2017 Governor General's Awards for the Visual and Media Arts.

Pixie Cram was commissioned to make a short film. Click here to see.

 Still from Pixie Cram film

Still from Pixie Cram film

 
 Rideau Hall, Ottawa, 1 March 2017

Rideau Hall, Ottawa, 1 March 2017

Here is my speech delivered on acceptance of the award:

Your Excellencies, Laureates, Distinguished Guests

To tell the truth, in the end, I’ve always wanted to be recognized as a writer. My career path was a way of continuing to be a writer, by any means necessary—even by becoming a curator. But eventually one’s identity changes and settles into new roles. Each new role, each new position, changing from writer to curator, or curator to director, or from institution to institution is a performance, an opportunity for the re-invention of the self. Yet, aside from continuing to be a writer, one thing has remained constant for me. People ask me why I didn’t leave Canada to become one of those peripatetic international curators. Maybe it’s my socialist, protestant, prairie upbringing, but I do believe in selfless service, and rather than being a free-floating one among many, I’ve always thought it better to be recognized in one’s own country for some singular historical contribution to its cultural development and understanding. To this end, I’ve always been concerned with establishing value for this place, Canada (and now that we have Drake in the 6ix, I don’t have to do this anymore, at least for Toronto), and making us self aware of what these traditions are, which we now know, paradoxically, are linked to the future, not to some continuity with the past: this is something we recognize from Canada’s present post-national condition. And so, when it comes to a person of my age, after having gratefully received this award, it is not a matter of working to ensure one’s own legacy, but of performing anew that final career transformation of linking oneself to the future by enabling those younger who come after.

And here is the speech delivered at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, at the opening of an exhibition of the laureates' works, on April 7:

Sometimes I wonder, how did a high school student in the late 1960s in Winnipeg become interested in contemporary art—when it wasn’t in the school system, didn’t come from home, and was not really part of the cultural life of the city? It happened somehow, as difficult as it was to find information. I haunted libraries looking for books. I remember one, just then published, Alan Solomon’s New York: the new art scene, that I found in the University of Manitoba library. I remember the heft of the book, the feel of its linen cover, the quality of its paper, the texture of its black and white photographs by Ugo Mulas. A fetish, you might think. Of course, there were reproductions of artworks, but also photos of the art scene: Warhol’s Factory, a thanksgiving dinner at a long table for forty in Robert Rauschenberg’s downtown loft with Pop Art paintings on its walls. Wow!

Flash forward thirty years to 1996. I had just installed an exhibition at the Power Plant in Toronto called The American Trip, with the artists Larry Clark, Cady Noland, Richard Prince, and Nan Goldin, on the theme of America’s fascination with the outlaw, who turns out to be, problematically for American society, the boy or girl next door. The worry was of the joining of criminal families: the Manson family or the homosexual underground. Suddenly, I realized that the exhibition really was about me, not my fascination with the outlaw but the “outlaw” underground art scene, that family: those images that fascinated me as a teenager, that attraction from afar conveyed through photography that makes one leave a city to join an art scene elsewhere—from Winnipeg to Toronto. That used to be the situation for some Winnipegers of my era. It changed; people remained; a unique art scene formed here. What, though, had changed? Hasn’t that attraction to the afar only retreated within, to the imagination, to a realm so at odds with the day-to-day of city life—even if called My Winnipeg—that it might as well be … elsewhere? So, maybe, here and there, in Winnipeg and Toronto, exiters and remainers, these generations are not so different! Hmm. Maybe something to ponder.