For its second edition, the discursive and artistic program Terms focuses on the notion of “service.” This word, which is taken as a given in our lives and shapes nearly all of our social interactions, historically refers to the state of subjection and obedience that binds one to a higher authority—a master, the law, the State, God. In its usual sense, it suggests more broadly a commitment to others or to oneself: made out of desire or obligation, with or without self-interest, at the level of the individual or of society. Today the word prevails, perhaps above all, in the market economy, where it translates into a transactional object dictated by imperatives of profitability, performance, innovation, general interest, and, occasionally, public utility.
In whose names does a service act? This edition of Terms looks at some of the meanings conferred to the concept of “service,” considering the principles on which it can be linked, in particular those of equality, accessibility, benevolence, but also devotion, sacrifice, economy and competition.
SERVICE – PART 2
This second of two parts reflects on “service” as a form of giving driven by an individual’s sense of duty. Keeping with the program’s three-part structure comprising two essays and an artwork, the contributions in this issue consider the term as it relates to selfless dedication, voluntary and activist work, as well as caregiving. Featuring texts by Sarah Nickel, Associate Professor in the History Department at University of Alberta, and rudi aker, artist and curator based in Tiohtià:ke/Mooniyaang (Montreal), as well as a photographic series by artist Shelley Niro.
How does a term circulate through society, and how does its dissemination within contemporary discourse inform us about the way that society thinks about itself? By what means do certain words instill themselves in language and the public sphere to the point of becoming commonplace? Terms is an online discursive and artistic program that individually unpacks a series of broad and polysemous terms that are employed today to address a range of sociopolitical issues in contemporary society. While some words acquire multiple definitions the more they are used, they also often tend to become generalized and run the risk of having their meaning become diluted, confused, or unclear over time. Nevertheless, their continued presence in our vocabulary requires careful attention and analysis as to their etymological value, their semantic density, and their use across and beyond disciplinary boundaries.
Terms looks at how these widely disseminated key words echo within different forms of research, writing, and works of art. For each selected term, a researcher from outside the visual arts publishes a text that examines it in its many variants, tensions, and ambiguities through the specific lens of their field of activity. The word is then considered by pairing it with a resonating artwork shared on the Gallery’s website. In turn, a writer from the cultural sector uses this same work as the starting point for a second text that draws from the first and from beyond to probe aspects of the term in its various dimensions.