Exhibition

July, August, September
Douglas Scott
February 19 — March 19, 1994

Douglas Scott’s installation at the OR Gallery consists of shelved plaster tablets which contain randomly selected library texts about the city of Vancouver. The showcase window at the gallery entrance contains a related work and will be the Or’s first showcase installation.

Scott’s interest in the various ways in which Western society’s dependence the written word as a defining structure, has led him to create several works based on the functions of libraries. The plaster tables in ‘JULY, AUGUST, SEPTEMBER’ (the time period of the research) contains excerpts of texts from 270 books about Vancouver from every section of the Vancouver Public Library. These arbitrary selections reveal a reliance on certain types of information, certain academic concerns, certain biases; in particular the fundamental flaw that ‘literacy’ exemplifies ‘civilization’. Unlike an archive, this installation deliberately does not function as a reference tool. Instead it can be seen as one person’s examination of how a library’s material defines the city. In establishing his relationship with the library the artist also establishes his own relationship with the city. It is also the artist’s intention to explore new roles for the use of text within a decentralized structure.


essay by Madonna Hamel
JULY, AUGUST, SEPTEMBER
Douglas Scott
Or Gallery February 19 to March 19, 1994

The first lantern on the delta was owned by uncle. It was made of lacquered tin and glass and was about four inches square and ten inches high. 917.1133115m

A phrase floats on a plaster plaque. A dedication. An explanation. A tombstone. A reminder of a thing that no longer exists. A quirky, cryptic little detail is now a recorded ‘memory’. It makes its way up the hierarchy of history. From a spoken story, to typewritten fact, to printed matter, to the Library of Congress, to the library in your town. This memory gets reinforced each step of the way. Seeing a thing in print helps legitimize it for us. Seeing it molded on a plaster slab sitting on a shelf in a gallery confuses it for us.

Most people in Kitsilano were content with things the way they are. 790.097 11 v22k

Scott spends the warm months of July, August and September , in the city library. He types his subject heading ‘Vancouver’ into the computer. He jots down the call numbers and makes random samplings from the corresponding titles. They range from the history of churches in Vancouver, to the botany of Stanley park, to psychedelic drug use in Vancouver schools. The phrases are then typed and placed carefully in a manual to later be transferred to labels and eventually plaster slabs that sit displaced on a shelf.

Birdie had set up shop at the corner of Water and Cambie streets about five or six years earlier – a modest establishment with a white painted porch, just next door to the Methodist parsonage. r364.9 711 k290

Douglas Scott is a man who likes libraries and despite the fact that he feels he has to live in a city in order to become established as an artist, he likes Vancouver. He seesJJULY, AUGUST, SEPTEMBER’ as an acknowledgment to the city; something he has to do before he can really li~e here. Before he can protest the destruction of any heritage he needs to learn what he can about it. “It’s a kind of rite of passage” he says “and being compulsive it followed that the acknowledgment would take this shape. I know the library exists, I know it contains information about the city, I know we’re a literate society, therefore I have to go through all the books.”

The evacuees had few people willing to fight for their own interests and in fact there was considerable opposition in Vancouver to the ‘good’ treatment being netted out to the Japanese. 607.34 B83v

While working on this story I would walk with Scott to and from his studio. It became evident that he was learning a great deal of Vancouver’s recorded history, more than we can glean from his random excerpts. Parts of the city have a profound
effect on him. Scott’s initial impression of the Pacific National Exhibition grounds has been changed by the fact that Japanese citizens were interned there during the Second World War and their Vancouver homes sold at bargain prices. The freefloating effects of bigotry, prejudice, racism and chauvinism show up everywhere yet are not easily acknowledged by the fair citizens of Lotusland more concerned with the ample parking and good views. While Douglas Scott never states his political views I draw my own conclusions. My fascination moves from the poetical to the political because “the more you learn about and acknowledge a place, you mark it and change it forever. There are ghosts here marking their territory even as we try to enforce our own.”

The attitude of many police officers does little to dispel the Native Indians’ conviction that the police view them with disdain. 363.209711 v22f

Back to Scott, jotting down call numbers, checking out books, he goes home with books under his arms. He is deceptive in his inconspicousness, a wizard in a big coat carrying a piece of the library to slice and to serve up. There are three hundred slices in all stacked in twenty~five hundred pounds of wood shelving. What will the viewer do with these fragments, these snippets? As we stroll the burgundy wood stacks of this impressive and aesthetically compelling monument with its traces of mildew and its inaccessible top shelves, are we more interested in the look of history than the stories within the stories? .

“Because of your regret and pity for my suffering, never again shall the dogwood grow large enough to be used as a cross.” 971.1002 66361

Some postmodernists believe that the individual story is really all there is. That is, totell a story is to be honest, up front, that all versions are subjective and so there is no official story.1 Or, as Scott muses, perhaps this fragmented library, this decontextualization, is simply a reflection of the impossible relationships we have with all this information, language, codification and recordings. Perhaps this “deconstruction is a way of understanding the role of the library without necessarily complying with it.”

Vancouver’s history is that of Topsy, it just growed. 333.77v22p

Moving from the poetical through the political, I arrive to a place of pure aesthetic appreciation. I feel somewhat subverted by the work’s formalism because the piece does not function as a library. I cannot look up a particular topic and find it on one of the shelves. Scott has subversively made all the choices for me. His rendering the library dysfunctional forces me to view it as an aesthetic object. I think of Marcia Tucker’s description of the function of the New Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum “was founded on the premise that works of art are not only for visual delectation and assessment, but are repositories for ideas that reverberate in the larger context of our culture“2 ‘JULY, AUGUST, SEPTEMBER’ does the same with libraries in the reverse. A “repository for ideas” becomes an object for “visual delectation and assessment”. It puts recorded memory into art and has us look at it in a new way, raising new considerations around ‘legitimacy’.
Her real name is Peggy Middleton and she was born in Vancouver in 1922. 971.133h49v

1. Tucker, Marcia, ed. ‘Art After Representation: Rethinking Representation’ (New York: the New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984)

2. ‘Art After Representation’ (New York, 1984) p.vii.

Foster, Hal. Recordings – Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics (Seattle: Bay Press, 1985)

Wallis, Brian, ed. ‘Blasted Allegories’ (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1989)

Douglas Scott is a Vancouver artist. He is also a board member of the artist-run centre,Access.

Madonna Hamel is a writer and performance artist working in Vancouver.

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Or Gallery

555 Hamilton St.
Vancouver, BC
Canada V6B 2R1

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