The era of creativity redux is one of bitter irony for artists and their institutions. In a context in which culture provides an ideal public-relations face for neoliberal capitalism, the positive externalities that those located in the “creative core” produce are being turned against them. In this scenario, the intangible benefits that the arts community creates as a by-product of its activities serve as the rationale for both economics-driven cultural policy and parasitic post-industrial urban development. Well into the twenty-first century, we are familiar with artist-led gentrification as a corollary to the conversion of art’s je ne sais quoi into sign value for cities to cash in on. The current transformation of Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood into a creative hub is but one example of this cultural capitalism at work. Here, the 5455 de Gaspé building serves as a point of confluence for structurally connected actors who are readily identifiable as playing a role in the art community’s exodus to other industrial locales awaiting their culturalized rebirth: Montreal’s digital-optimism-imbued cultural development policy, Allied Properties and their marketing of the building to creative entrepreneurs, and corporate tenants who reap the benefits of being headquartered in a neighbourhood whose trendiness materializes on the glossy pages of a cultural lifestyle magazine.
In this displacement story, 5455 de Gaspé artists, cultural workers, and their organizations appear to have received the wrong end of the new economy’s stick as they are being priced out of the cultural-turned-creative haven they have fostered. But The Tenant complicates a straightforward reading of the situation as one in which artists and their institutions are solely victimized. In this exhibition, Joshua Schwebel, whose context-specific interventions address systemic issues implicating the structures of the art world, takes stock of the challenges that the local artistic community faces as many of its members have been forced to set their sights on the Chabanel Garment District and other, similar areas. In doing so, however, he points to the complex ways in which Centre Clark and those who gravitate around it are structurally embedded in processes of gentrification. Layering traces of capitalism’s self-renewal in and through the exhibition space, Schwebel opens a window onto the framing conditions and support structures that underscore the operations of Centre Clark and artists’ culture in Montreal. Offering a partial view of the mechanisms that generate the conditions for artists to become victims of their own success, the exhibition reflects on how, in a creative city, cultural capital is a double-edged sword that carves out the material conditions for participation in immaterial economy. And while it resists potential for capture, The Tenant is, as irony will have it, aware of its own inevitable involvement in this process.
- Mariane Bourcheix-Laporte
Joshua Schwebel is a Canadian conceptual artist who has been active for over ten years. Through his work, he reflects on the flows and motives of the labour and business of art, focusing on the exploitations and expropriations that produce artistic value. His work has been presented in exhibitions, events, and interventions across Canada and internationally, and has received support from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, and the Canada Council for the Arts.