The Museum of Everyday Life: Tools, Memorials, Laboratories

The Museum of Everyday Life - photo by Gabe Levine

This SSHRC-funded postdoctoral research project looks at homemade, non-official museums that display and transform everyday, vernacular objects. From North Carolina’s Elsewhere to Vladimir Arkhipov’s Post-Folk Archive, it groups the collections of these para-museums into three broad categories: objects of use, objects of memory, and objects of experiment. In thinking about these collections, I am especially interested in the play between exhibition and performance, and the way that they animate the affective lives of those who encounter them. The research is in part a collaboration with the Vermont-based Museum of Everyday Life and its curator, Clare Dolan.

A first article from this project, “The Museum of Everyday Life: Objects and Affects of Glorious Obscurity,” was published in the Journal of Curatorial Studies in their Fall 2015 special issue, “Curating and the Affective Turn.”

Another component of this project was a performing arts event, Animate Entities: Objects in Performance, held at the University of Toronto on March 18-19, 2016, sponsored by the Jackman Humanities Institute and the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies. This two-day festival brought together a group of artists, scholars, curators, poets, and puppeteers, who place the performative lives of objects at the centre of their work.

The Valences of Practice

Pythagoras with Bells

This project investigates one of the slipperiest terms in contemporary thought and art-making: practice. Its various inflections – from practice as daily repetition, to practice as collective transformation – echo through conversations in art and theory, and would be well served by some clarification. Along with Marcus Boon, I am currently co-editing Practice, a volume in the Whitechapel Gallery/MIT Press series Documents of Contemporary Art (publication in Spring 2018). As a first attempt at collaborative writing on this subject, we presented a performance lecture – “We're Talking About Practice: Ten Non-Theses” – at the second annual Performance Philosophy conference in Chicago, April 2015.

Radical Vernaculars: Experiments with Tradition between Politics and Performance

 The Rude Mechanical Orchestra, Purim 2012 - Photo by John Bell

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra, Purim 2012 - Photo by John Bell

This book project, which grows out of my dissertation research, investigates the reclamation of cultural practices that supposedly belong to the collective past. Focusing on performance in present-day settler-colonial North America, the book offers alternatives to the dominant modes of appropriating “tradition” as heritage or property. Its central chapters put into constellation four projects: a queer, festive and politicized reclamation of Jewish ritual; an Indigenous remixing of several musical traditions; a performance institute that draws on everyday “abandoned practices”; and a food movement that revives traditional techniques of fermentation. In their various ways, these experiments grapple with tradition across profound gaps in historical and cultural continuity. In so doing, they work through complex histories of colonization, shame, and abandonment, while moving toward spaces of shared capacity and collective action.

The book manuscript is currently under preparation. In the meantime, an early version of one chapter (“Remixing Return: A Tribe Called Red’s Electric Pow Wow Bounce”) was published “The Work of Return,” a special issue of TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies (2016).