Posts Tagged ‘critical’

Catching Up: “How to Think… About Spectacle” with Glen Johnson (June 1, 2013)

Catching Up: Scott Sørli @ RAW Gallery (May 18, 2013)

Catching up: Pics from Accented Video & the Autobiographical (April 2012)


Pics from (((send+receive))): a festival of sound v. 15 – Day 3

Greenhouse (MB)

The Sons of God (SE)

Tony Conrad (US)


Whose Winnipeg? – August 20, 2013 – 765 Main Street

Whose Winnipeg?
A Workshop about Neoliberalism, Settler Colonialism, and the Production of Urban Space

This workshop brings together activists, advocates, writers, researchers, journalists, artists, and organizers to present notes, observations, histories, research findings, arguments, questions, essays, and articles about the contemporary urban processes that shape Winnipeg, from an anti-colonial and anti-neoliberal perspective.

It is a continuation of discussions that took place at two consecutive workshops organized by Owen Toews, David Hugill, and Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land at the 2013 meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in Los Angeles, California, USA.

The Winnipeg incarnation of this workshop has been organized by Kate Sjoberg, Owen Toews, and Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land and is generously sponsored by the Manitoba Research Alliance.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013 from 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Full schedule and session descriptions available here.


The Social Enterprise Center
765 Main Street, Winnipeg, MB


Please RSVP!

If you are not presenting and would like to attend the workshop as a listener, please confirm your attendance by August 15, 2013. Your RSVP will allow us to make sure there are enough chairs and enough food!

RSVP by sending an email to:

Please indicate whether or not you will be in need of childcare.

Deconstructing police kettling and the body politic

By June Chua for – July 17, 2013

When more than 200 bystanders, pedestrians and cyclists were first surrounded by a cordon of police officers on a stretch of downtown Toronto June 27, 2010, during the G20 summit, they didn’t realize they would become a part of political strategy that has its roots dating back two and a half millennia.

Police kettling can be traced back to the military tactic of encirclement, according to Scott Sørli, who researched the idea and has collected hundreds photographs of police kettling from around the world.

Sørli — who teaches architecture in Toronto and completed a Masters of Design Research at the University of Michigan in 2012 — says kettling is the child of the military strategy of encirclement.

Fast forward to June 8, 1986, Hamburg, Germany and encirclement has a new name. On that day, more than 800 people were “kettled” during a protest to contest the state withdrawal of the right to protest. They were held up to 13 hours with no bathroom breaks, food or water.

Sørli became intrigued by police kettling after the G20 incident and wrote about it this year for the architecture/landscape/political economy journal Scapegoat and the Weimar-based journal Horizonte. His work was most recently exhibited at Winnipeg’s Atomic Centre as part of “A Total Spectacle.”

As an architectural designer, how did you become interested in this?

I consider police kettling a cultural-spatial phenomenon in which the police use a line of their bodies to encircle and hold in place several hundred people over an extended duration of time.

Looking at it with an architect’s eye, police kettles are an urban event that requires adjacent building façades as a portion of the containment ring. In the case of the G20 Toronto incident, a global fast food outlet and a branch of one of the “big five” banks bracketed the people caught in the kettle.

A random selection of 200 bystanders, cyclists, pedestrians and shoppers were trapped for several hours. The specific crossing they were confined in was deliberate when you consider the section of road they were held on.

The configuration of the parallel police cordons crossed Spadina Avenue, which is a wide boulevard with streetcar tracks down its centre, rather than the narrower crossing of Queen Street. This was used as an experiment to demonstrate the viable length of the police line, which was shown to be any length desired, as long as sufficient police are on hand to cycle through their shifts.

I’d like to emphasize that not one citizen from this kettle was convicted of any charge, while over 70 police officers at the G20 were subsequently disciplined for removing their ID badges, which was contrary to police policy. Police Superintendent Mark Fenton, the com­manding officer who ordered the kettling, has since been charged with misconduct. There was no reason for the kettle. It is clear that its purpose was as a live training exercise.

What were the most interesting discoveries you made in your research?

Kettling is a mass ornament, to use Sigfried Kracauer’s term, that is external. While the police have their procedures, the individuals kettled behave no differently than water molecules do in making a wave. And, just as watching the waves crash against the beach over and over, the mass ornament of police kettling has a beauty all its own.

The membrane of a police kettle consists of the bodies and minds of the police, as well as inorganic material such as shields, truncheons, polycarbonate and Kevlar. Metal elements, such as crowd-control fencing or steel barricades can also become part of the police line.

During the Occupy Wall Street protests, plastics were deployed as barriers because of their light weight, flexibility, low cost and ease of use. Watching it unfold, the barriers bend and sway during the interaction between the yellow-clothed and black-clothed individuals. It is a social exoskeleton.

This reminds me of something Eyal Weizman said about “materialization of time [where] matter is not only as an imprint of relations, but as an agent within the conflict.

And it makes me wonder, did the workers who made these materials know the products would be used this way?

What about yourself — how do you feel that buildings, physical elements are being used this way?

I try to not to feel anything about it. To examine police kettling, I detach and try to look at it from an aesthetic, technological and typological point of view. Of course, I’m appalled by it. I think it’s a completely fascist configuration and it worries me very much.

To oppose it, it has to be described, and moral judgment gets in the way of understanding. I don’t want to tell people what to think and I don’t want to manipulate them emotionally. I’d rather they make their own conclusions and I think that’s way more powerful.

You created an exhibit about this, so what did that look like?

My work was part of “A Total Spectacle” at Winnipeg’s Atomic Centre. The show examines corporatism in its many forms as we are embedded within it. My exhibit was composed of photo montages of the Queen and Spadina kettle and the Westminster Bridge kettle. The images in my montages are carefully edited together. I chose the frames to mimic those in the Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937. It was the curator’s idea to hang them with those same chains.

The curator, Milena Placentile, created an exhibition that made a convincing case for what I see as the historical parallels between the Weimar Republic and our current historical moment.

I’d like to refer to her exhibition statement, in which she writes:

“Today’s spectacle takes many forms, from big budget events and entertainment to ever-present news media and advertising. It displays lifestyles we should envy and tells us how to succeed … It sensationalizes violence while showing us what might happen if we rock the boat. It is power represented through repetitive sights and sounds, stereotypes and clichés, and other social signals about wealth, fame, and technology, and it all serves to influence general opinion and behaviour to support a consumer society and those who profit from it the most.”

What is the “future” of kettling?

There’s a kind of morphing going on. Typically, a police kettle is static, but recently we’ve seen the wander kettle, which is not. In this case, police arrange themselves in front of, to the sides of, and behind protest­ers as they march. Once encircled, the police then control the route, starting and stopping the march at will.

This leads to the new phenomenon of bridge kettling. The earliest documented case of this occurred on the Pont de la Guil­lotière in Lyon, on Oct. 20, 2010. A wan­der kettle is deployed to a large bridge and detained over a waterway. Water acts as a barrier without ap­pearing to be one, and at the same time, the potential of prop­erty damage to private commercial buildings is pretty much eliminated.

In the Westminster Bridge kettle of Dec. 9, 2010, young students protest­ing tuition fee increases experienced nightfall and plunging temperatures while held over the open water of the Thames as the vote on those increases in the facing House of Commons was being executed. If you check out the photograph, a light on the bridge has been disabled so the police are backlit and appear to be one amorphous black mass — more menacing.

Continue reading here:

A Total Spectacle continues until June 9 – Admission is free!

Celebrity gawking, fear mongering, and other distractions, oh my! Is spectacle a harmless escape from reality, or something more?


Taking cues from blockbuster exhibitions past and present to explore the complex nature of contemporary spectacle, A Total Spectacle is a mini spectacle about spectacle created by Winnipeg-based independent curator, Milena Placentile, in collaboration with local, national, and international artists including: Dayna Danger, Glen Johnson, Joe Johnson, Istvan Kantor, Praba Pilar, Scott Sørli, and Paul Wiersbinski. The exhibition is accompanied by texts written by Placentile and Martin Zeilinger.

Regular open hours from May 18 – June 9 are as follows:

  • Wednesday to Friday: 3:00 – 7:00 p.m.
  • Saturday and Sunday: 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.
  • Monday and Tuesday: Closed

And, as of today, there is one more event scheduled:


For additional details, please click here

This exhibition has been made possible with thanks to generous financial support from the Canada Council for the Arts through a program formerly known as “Independent Critics and Curators in the Visual Arts Program”, which provided opportunities for creative intellectual research and production initiated by curators working beyond conventional institutional frameworks.

The curator and artists would also like to acknowledge the generous in-kind and promotional support of Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art, Martha Street Studios / Manitoba Printmakers Association, Central Canadian Centre for Performance, RAW: Gallery of Architecture and Design, Edge Village and Gallery, and =-)

Graphic design by Colourblind Graphic Design.

“Provocative, politically minded artwork challenges consumer culture and art’s place within it” By: Steven Leyden Cochrane

News and entertainment companies, advertisers and politicians regularly engage in choreographed diversion, guiding our attention in some directions rather than others, satisfying certain desires and manufacturing new ones at the expense of other, unaddressed needs.

A Total Spectacle, currently at Atomic Centre, aims to demystify and disrupt the network of influence and misdirection underpinning some of our most cherished diversions — contemporary art included.

Spectacle is both an exhibition and a piercing satire of exhibitions. Curator Milena Placentile transforms the south Point Douglas alternative space into a pitch-perfect caricature of “blockbuster” museum offerings (complete with ensuite gift shop), highlighting the work of six artists whose works reflect diverse approaches to issues of consumer culture. These range from incisive critique to nihilistic rabble-rousing to paranoid hand-waving and back again. While their effectiveness varies, each demonstrates a refreshing willingness to confront issues (and audiences) head-on.

Governor General’s Award-winner and punk-esthetic pioneer Istvan Kantor conducted the exhibition’s clamorous “opening ceremony,” which incorporated nudity, fake blood, real blood, religious iconography, sneering picket signs, open flames, and the undignified demise of a steel filing cabinet. While “smashing stuff” might be an understandable response to an intractable situation, the performance also illustrated a vulnerability of work reliant on shock: once that shock wears off, once-subversive acts eventually just look silly.

Colombian artist Praba Pilar lampooned the “cult of technology” in a low-budget, largely unscripted “service” of her “Church of Nano Info Bio Cogno” in Atomic’s unfinished attic space last week. With the “congregation” directed to engage with Pilar via smartphone and receive anointments of Coca-Cola, the performance offered a coherent, intermittently funny critique of technologically mediated interaction. (Regrettably, a related work echoes an approach to reality common to climate-change deniers and the anti-vaccine crowd, conflating very real issues like sweatshop labour with much more dubious others like the purported health hazards of wireless Internet.)

Joe Johnson’s documentary photographs of American mega-churches engage in a subtler and ultimately more provocative interrogation of organized religion’s flair for spectacle. Desk, Fort Wayne (IN) gives us a view from a cavernous church auditorium’s AV control booth, which pointedly wouldn’t look out of place in a cable-news studio or military command centre.

Similarly concerned with “optics,” Scott Srli overlays precise architectural diagrams with photographs of police “kettling” (the confinement of demonstrators and passers-by behind chains of riot police, often for hours), illustrating how carefully orchestrated scenes of “order” can seduce us into compliance with and support for the repression of dissent.

Scott Sørli’s Queen and Spadina

A number of works fittingly poach visual tropes from advertising, as in Glen Johnson’s trio of fictitious Tim Hortons television spots that skewer the conflation of national and cultural identity with corporate branding. In a pair of monumental photographs, Dayna Danger replaces the nude, oiled, and faceless fashion models of Tom Ford’s infamous 2007 magazine campaign with her own body, wedging bottles of dish detergent between her bare breasts and thighs in place of Ford’s expensive men’s cologne.

Drawing on her background in museum studies, Placentile unites the disparate works with careful staging, supplemental displays and signage, loops of odd and asinine TV footage, the aforementioned gift shop, and an “audio tour,” which is actually just a cassette of dancehall artist Sean Paul’s insipid theme song for last year’s UEFA European Championship. While highlighting artistic challenges to consumer culture, A Total Spectacle never loses sight of art’s frequent collusion with it (the not-unforeseeable parallels with the WAG’s much-ballyhooed 100 Masters are numerous and overwhelming). It’s an un-self-satisfied and all-too-uncommon approach to political art.

(But please, lose the tinfoil hat — your modem really isn’t trying to kill you.)


Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2013 C7. Find the online version here:

“Frames of Mediation and the Spectacle of Everyday Life” by Martin Zeilinger is now online

“Frames of Mediation and the Spectacle of Everyday Life” written by Martin Zeilinger for A Total Spectacle is finally online! In this text, Martin uses the Inglewood Police Chase viral video as a point of entry to discuss how we are inundated with spectacle so layered that, pulled in and out of scenarios sometimes too ridiculous to be anything but true, we become unsure of anything and thus well primed to accept whatever capitalism throws at us next, often without flinching.

Please click here to download…

Media Coverage for A Total Spectacle …xo!

Must-Sees for the week of May 16 – 22, 2013 by Leah Sandals for Canadian Art Magazine.

A Total Spectacle at Atomic Centre by Noni Brynjolson for Akimblog (May 21, 2013)

Interview with Praba Pilar and Dayna Danger by Rob McGregor for Black Mask: Frequency of Resistance on CKUW 95.9 FM (4:00 – 5:00 p.m., May 22, 2013)

Interview with Praba Pilar by Derek Brueckner for  Eat Your Arts & Vegetables on CKUW 95.9 FM (5:00 – 5:30 p.m., May 23, 2013)

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