Last spring the OCA team gathered to read a letter by the late Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa in which she confessed to not having as yet ‘unlearned the esoteric bullshit and pseudo-intellectualizing that school brainwashed’ into her writing. In order to ‘begin again’, she turned away from poems and essays, and started writing a letter.
While reading her evocative words it struck us that letters, and their extended family of forms of correspondence, provide apt grounds for new beginnings. The epistolary spirit might encourage our on-going reflections upon canonical forms and structures of art historical narrations to be disassembled further, opening up the necessary spaces for the imagination of decanonical futures. Not only do letters de-orient the mode of presentation through a dialogical act of exchange, but they also distance us from the ‘wooden, cold’ voice that is often the backbone of canonical discourse towards, in Anzaldúa’s words, ‘a more intimate and immediate feel’.
We thought more intimacy and more exchange is just what so many of us working in art institutions, museums, schools, biennials, and so on, need if we are to make leaps into decanonical futures. They feel at any rate like good starting points as we gather our mental energies to erode that detached voice of power and authority which has engineered the centuries-long underpinning of the canon by whiteness, patriarchy, eurocentrism, heteronormativity and elitism. So we have asked a range of contributors already preoccupied by the urgency of these questions if they’d like to write letters, and whether they would share these exchanges or other performances and discourses at the gathering and in its lead up.
While the current proposition acknowledges with respect those much-needed institutional efforts across the world towards inclusivity by expanding the canon and diversifying the narratives that audiences and readers can engage with, we also assume that at the end of the day canon-expansionism is to the benefit of canonism. With ‘the canon’ usually standing in for the Western canon, it seems that more often than not expanding the canon means fitting the ‘overlooked’ into the already established frameworks of Western thinking, particularly Modernism and its offsprings, rather than the other way around.
This programme is part of OCA’s on-going research into artistic canons, a line of inquiry that brings together and builds upon the decolonial, demodern, and transformative propositions that have marked OCA’s activities over the last four years. With new museums expanding around the world, including two major additions set to open in 2020 in our home town of Oslo, this programme argues for an urgency in rethinking the status of the canon and canonizing procedures as we vault ourselves into uncharted cultural institutional futures.
We have the great privilege of bringing together artists, poets, curators and scholars from different parts of the world to help us in this endeavour. They include Las Nietas de Nonó, Liv Bugge, Dorota Gawęda, Geir Tore Holm, Søssa Jørgensen, Bouchra Khalili, Eglė Kulbokaitė, Quinn Latimer, Miguel A. López, Camille Norment, farid rakun, Ayatgali Tuleubek, Rolando Vasquez. In addition, Natasha Ginwala, Cecilia Vicuña and others will participate from afar.
The experiment has already started, with exchanges flowing between some participants as we write. If you wish to receive some of these by mail, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and provide your postal address.
Please also RSVP to attend the September 28th gathering at email@example.com.
We look forward to seeing you there.
Katya, Drew, Liv, Nikhil
& the OCA team