Documentary Protocols I

Documentary Protocols I: Emulation of the Administrative Ethos in Artistic Practices of the 1960s and 1970s in Canada may not have the catchiest title, but this unusual show at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery at Concordia University in Montreal, engagingly and hilariously lays out a rarely seen element of Conceptual art history. During the late 60s and early 70s a group of Canadian artists, simultaneously deflated and inspired by the tedious administration of Canada’s culture industry reimagined themselves through the lens of the bureaucrat. Conceptual artists Iain and Ingrid Baxter formed the highly influential N.E.Thing Co., Vincent Trasov and Michael Morris started The Image Bank, an enormous international databank of images and contact information that grew out of mail art activities of the time, and Joyce Wieland appropriated governmental publications on Northern flora and fauna to question ideas of personal and national identity. Simultaneously questioning and promoting their own roles as ‘culture workers,’ their ironic use of public relations tools and ‘documentary protocols’ (in the form of seals, stamps, official letterhead, etc) was a means to turn the day to day business of being an artist in Canada into a viable and engaging practice in its own right. Correspondence, logos, currency, annual reports and other documents are on view both as original documents (in vitrines) and as photocopies (in accessible binders), emulating elements of institutional bureaucracy within in the exhibition design itself and providing evidence of vast artists’ communication networks long before the web. (rhizome.org)