Stephen Wright: Getting Used to Usership
The Museum Is Not What It Used To Be speaker series
Thursday, February 22, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
The Commons at 401 Richmond
The program of talks, The Museum Is Not What It Used To Be, invites arts professionals to share their thoughts on how to create a museum model that answers to the pressures of our extreme present, but at the same time establishes a meaningful and enduring agenda.
The third speaker in the series, Stephen Wright, is a Canadian, Paris-based writer and co-director of the PhD-level artistic research program “Document & contemporary art” at the European School of Visual Art (ÉESI). His talk, Getting Used to Usership, will explore his research over the past decade examining the ongoing usological turn in art-related practice, focusing on the shift from modernist categories of autonomy to an art on the 1:1 scale, premised on usership rather than spectatorship. He is the author of “Toward a Lexicon of Usership“, is currently preparing a book on the “Politics of Usership” and a companion volume, “Not, Not Art.”
“The Museum Is Not What It Used To Be, that’s for sure, but what did it “used to be”? And what does that odd verbal construction even mean? Since its inception some two centuries ago, the Museum’s task has been to showcase the specificity of art, often warehousing exemplary instances for periodic display. Art’s specificity outside the realm of use was instituted as the cornerstone of the museum’s conceptual architecture. But over the past two decades, with the deactivation of art’s aesthetic function, a patent dissatisfaction with so-called autonomous art, and a quest for greater traction amongst practitioners, it is art’s compatibility with other social processes that has come to replace specificity as art’s operative horizon. Today museums — or at least those that care about keeping step with art’s evolving modus operandi — find themselves repurposing what they are “used to” as they experiment with this compatibility and make way for its usership. Still, is there some link between the proscription of use and what the museum “used to be”? There is a line in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, “How use doth breed a habit in man!”, which seems to point to a gradual slippage from one use, to common use, to custom, to habit. Today, breaking the modernist museum’s habits (not bad habits, merely ill adapted to the challenges of the present) requires reverse engineering that trajectory toward new modes of common use.” – Stephen Wright