Launched in 2012 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery’s Permanent Collection, the SIGHTINGS satellite exhibition program was conceived as an experimental platform to critically reflect upon the possibilities and limitations of the modernist “white cube.”
In 2015, the Gallery introduced a new yearly thematic program for SIGHTINGS. Following a first cycle of projects focused on the question of work/labour, the 2016-2017 edition addresses pedagogy, considered as a critical interface between the university, arts venues and social space. With this in mind, artists and curators are invited to use the spatial and conceptual structure of the SIGHTINGS cube to question the construction of knowledge inside and outside the academic “box.”
Coordinator: Katrie Chagnon
SIGHTINGS is located on the ground floor of the Hall Building at 1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. West, and is accessible every day during the summer (including weekends) from 7 am to 11 pm, except on holidays.
June 29 – September 4, 2017
A Project by Katrie Chagnon
With the participation of
Matthew Barker, Assistant Professor, Philosophy
Anne Beaudry, Associate Professor, Supply Chain and Business Technology Management; Director of the Graduate Diploma and Certificate in Business Administration
Guylaine Beaudry, University Librarian
Isabelle Benoit Gelber, Assistant Professor, Biology
Rosemary Collard, Geography
Bipin C. Desai, Professor, Computer Science & Software Engineering
Graham G. Dodds, Associate Professor, Political Science & Academic Director, Cooperative Education
Erin Gee, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies
Trevor Gould, Professor, Studio Arts
Nelson Henricks, Part-time Faculty, Studio Arts
Kregg Hetherington, Assistant Professor, Sociology and Anthropology
Satoshi Ikeda, Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology
Nora Jaffary, Assistant Professor, History
Shauna Janssen, Artist in Residency, Theater
Linda Kay, Professor, Journalism
Martin Lefebvre, Professor, Film Studies
John Locke, Professor, Film Studies
Bradley Nelson, Professor, Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics
Norma Rantisi, Assistant Professor, Geography, Planning and Environment
Charles Reiss, Professor, Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics
Ronald Rudin, Professor, History; Co-Director, Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling
Catherine Russell, Professor, Film Studies
Alan Shepard, President and Vice-Chancelor
Paul Shrivastava, Professor, Management
Eric Simon, Associate Professor and Chair, Studio Arts
Christine Stocek, Part-time Instructor, Art Education
Anthony Synnott, Sociology and Anthropology
Theresa Ventura, Assistant Professor, History
Haidee Wasson, Professor, Film Studies
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In his well-known reflection on the “political function of the intellectual,” Michel Foucault argues that truth, far from being “outside power, or deprived of power,” plays a fundamental role in the structuring and working of societies. In 1976, he wrote,
Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true from false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.1
Foucault’s understanding of truth thus highlights the authority that is historically attributed not only to scientific and academic discourses, but also to the institutions that produce it, namely, the universities and other great “apparatuses” of education, information, and political control. And yet, as Jayson Harsin has justly argued in his article “Regimes of Posttruth, Postpolitics, and Attention Economies,” (2015) this dynamic that links power to knowledge, and discourses to institutions, is currently undergoing a radical transformation as many contemporary societies have entered a new regime of truth that has been termed “post-truth,”2 “post-factual,” or, as the US humourist Stephen Colbert would say, of “truthiness.”
The adjective “post-truth,” Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016, “relat[es] to or denot[es] circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”3 This phenomenon, which has been intensified by the Brexit campaign in the UK, Donald Trump’s presidential election in the US, and more recently the French presidential election, manifests itself not only through a proliferation of “alternative” facts circulated through new information networks that have been fragmented and personalized by algorithmic filter bubbles, but also through a growing indifference toward the very distinction between true and false. Recently, the realization of the detrimental epistemological and socio-political consequences of this massive disaffection toward truth has given rise to numerous positionings in different intellectual domains, including the history of sciences, philosophy, sociology, politics, information sciences, education, and art. In the wake of these reactions, we have also seen brought to the fore, once again, the crucial question of the pedagogical and critical responsibility of “intellectuals” toward “truth,” “facts,” and scientific “objectivity”4 – notions that had been discredited by the poststructuralist/postmodernist critique of positivism, of which Foucault was a prominent leader – in favour of a social constructivism and a kind of cognitive relativism,5 the fallout from which we are dealing with today.6Read more
To close the 2016-17 cycle of SIGHTINGS centred on the theme of pedagogy, we thought that in this context, it was relevant – in fact, urgent – to broach the issue of (post-)truth as it reverberates in our environment, at the crossroads of the university and the art world, in addition to the large space it takes up in the mediascape. A number of questions arise in this direction: for instance, how do the new epistemic conditions underlying current “public pedagogy”7 transform academic teaching and research? How can academics, artists, and critics come out of their “bubbles”8 and contribute to the battle against disinformation, against the cultural production of ignorance and the resulting erosion of democracy? Which intellectual, ethical, social, and political standpoints is it possible – and desirable – to adopt in the present climate, in both the academic and artistic spheres, toward the “true” as a principle of knowledge? And what role can an artistic apparatus embedded in the university play in this interdisciplinary thinking?
Since the summer is a period of slowing down that lends itself particularly well to reading and meditation, we have decided to transform the SIGHTINGS cube into a display of books and articles that can be consulted freely by the university’s passers-by and users. The content of this open “library” is based on my research and the suggestions of members of the academic personnel (professors, deans, researchers, etc.) of different departments at Concordia. We asked them what they considered particularly relevant readings – or re-readings – for this specific historical moment in which we are experiencing such a marked crisis of truth. By moving a host of textual resources into a university public space, which, because it is occupied by an exhibition structure, also calls for an aesthetic appreciation, and by juxtaposing references generated by different disciplines (pure sciences, human and social sciences, communications, etc.), this installation invites a critical questioning of our present relationship between knowledge and power. The books and articles can be read on site or borrowed for a few hours, then brought back, based on trust. Moreover, each person is free to annotate and highlight passages, which will then be transcribed and archived on the Gallery’s website.
- Michel Foucault, “La fonction politique de l’intellectuel,” in Dits et écrits 1954-1988, vol. 3, 1976-79, ed. Daniel Defert and François Ewald, with the collaboration of Jacques Lagrange, Paris, Gallimard/nrf, 1994, p. 112. Translation in Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power,” in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, New York, Pantheon Books, 1984, p. 73.
- Jayson Harsin, “Regimes of Posttruth, Postpolitics, and Attention Economies,” Communication, Culture & Critique, 8 (2015), p. 327-33.
- Oxford Dictionaries, “Word of the Year 2016 Is…,” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016 (accessed 9 May 2017).
- Sheila Jasanoff eloquently asks this question to the professors of future citizens in an article published on the First 100 Days blog of the Program on Science, Technology & Society of the Harvard Kennedy School. Sheila Jasanoff, “What Should Democracies Know?,” 28 March 2017. Online: http://first100days.stsprogram.org/2017/03/28/what-should-democracies-know/ (accessed 18 April 2017).
- On this topic, see Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers’ Abuse of Science, London: Profile Books, 1998.
- Writers who had actively participated in the deconstruction of scientific objectivity, such as the sociologist of science Bruno Latour, are now voicing concerns in response to the excesses of post-factual discourse. Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matter of Fact to Matter of Concern,” Critical Inquiry, 30 (winter 2004), p. 225-48. For an interesting parallel between “post-truth” and “post-positivism,” see also Benjamin Tallis, “Living in Post-truth: Power/Knowledge/Responsibility,” New Perspectives, vol. 24, no 1 (2016), p. 7-18.
- That is, “the lessons that are taught outside of formal educational institutions by popular culture, informal institutions and public spaces, dominant cultural discourses, and public intellectualism and social activism.” Ben Williamson, “Social media and public pedagogies of political mis-education,” code acts in education, 16 November 2016. Online: https://codeactsineducation.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/social-media-and-public-pedagogies-of-political-mis-education/ (accessed 24 March 2017).
- Bruno Latour, “Comment ne pas se tromper sur Trump?,” Le Monde, 12-13 November 2016. Online: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/downloads/LEMONDE_12-16-TRUMP.pdf (accessed 24 March 2017).