On the Work of Christopher D’Arcangelo, 1975-1979
Heather Davis + Michael Nardone
While Pierre Bal-Blanc’s video lecture “Tomorrow I Go to the MoMA” (2012) addresses the many challenges in documenting intervention, performance and labour works, Pierre Leguillon’s projection of D’Arcangelo’s textual intervention “LAICA as an Alternative to Museums” (1977) makes visible the blank page in which D’Arcangelo invited viewers to exert their own “curatorial control.” Sylvia Kolbowski’s “An Inadequate History of Conceptual Art” (1998-9) presents a series of interviews with conceptual artists, focusing only on their hands, while the sound plays asynchronously with the video. The artists interviewed were asked to avoid reference to all proper nouns – titles, place names, names of artists – drawing attention to a system of art production and circulation that seeks to place the name of the artist as the missing commodity.
Rainer Oldendorf’s and Émilie Parendeau’s documentary pieces establish a more expansive sense of D’Arcangelo’s historical present. Taking from his personal archive, Oldendorf has constructed a wall of photocopied personal and public texts and images from the years 1975-79, the working period of D’Arcangelo. Parendeau’s “Artist as Assistant” creates a space in which one can view a selection of readings on the numerous artists’ works that D’Arcangelo laboured as an artist’s assistant.
The works of Montreal-based artists François Lemieux and Simon Brown as well as Nicoline van Harskamp begin to move away from D’Arcangelo toward a more direct consideration of anarchism. Lemieux uses the analogy of a loosely tied raft in his poem “Et la télévision inventa le samedi matin,” (2013) to beautifully illustrate the relations of anarchist practice today. Composed of both original and sourced language, the text (available as give-away multiples at the desk, while the references are framed on the gallery wall) engages with contemporary paradoxes of movement building. Brown’s zine-like publication “Chris, Simon & Jennifer,” (2013) is the only piece that directly references the 2012 Quebec student uprising. Alluding to D’Arcangelo’s museum shacklings on its cover, the work portrays the frequent brutality of the Montreal police in response to student demonstrations.
Van Harskamp’s “Yours in Solidarity” (2013) is a multi-faceted work based on the letter archive of late Dutch anarchist Karl Max Kreuger. For over ten years, Kreuger corresponded with a global network of individuals on political issues. Several letters from this archive, hand-copied by van Harskamp, appear framed on a gallery wall. Beside them, two subtitled audio tracks document van Harskamp’s collaboration with actors to develop characters based on the details and perspectives of the letters’ authors. Once developed, van Harskamp staged and filmed a fictional meeting of what might happen if all the characters were to meet one another in one space today. The outcome is a stunning portrayal of the duration, dissonance and occasional consensus of direct political engagement.
This show captures well the paradoxical relationship between D’Arcangelo’s guiding concept of anarchism and the institutional constraints of contemporary art. As Thériault commented, in the aftermath of the student uprising in Québec, people are interested in art that could directly address questions of political engagement. “Anarchism without Adjectives” points to both this desire while illuminating its distanciation due to its institutional framings. However, as D’Arcangelo himself wrote in his 1975 notebook, “It is not the paradox but the space between the two parts of the paradox that is important.”
Originally published in Camera Austria 124, 2013.