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Making Space for Clay: Ceramics, Regionalism and Postmodernism in Reginaby David Howard
From what vantage points are we to understand the various guises, metamorphoses and reconfigurations of historical and contemporary capitalisms? How might we simultaneously apprehend both the global and transnational forms of capitalist accumulation and the symbolic forms, the local discourses and practices, through which capitalism's handmaidens—commodification, massification, and exploitation—are experienced, interpreted, and contested? How are . . . multiple modernities . . . worked and reworked, fashioned and refashioned, against a backdrop of global, transnational forces?
Allen Pred and Michael John Watts
What becomes crucial
here is to recognize the proliferation of non-articulated spaces, interstitial
spaces of no-man's land at the limits of established fields. These sites
provide the potential for local struggles as nodal points of articulation that
can subvert the established fields at their margins.
In the aftermath of World War Two, the words "freedom" and "regionalism" in the North American art world meant diametrically opposed positions in terms of both aesthetics and politics. Regionalism, especially in the North American context, with its dependence on realism and political didacticism, had quickly been discounted in the post-war period as incapable of defending freedom in the Cold War. Both regionalism and realism became conflated with the dangers of totalitarianism, as represented by both the fascism of Nazi Germany and the version of communism that was extolled by the Soviet Union. According to influential critics, such as Clement Greenberg, the defense of freedom could best be expressed by the abstract forms of art and cosmopolitan outlook that were associated with the abstract expressionist avant-garde of the late 1940s and 1950s. In this context, the modernist avant-garde distanced itself from both realism and regionalism, an achievement which Greenberg lauded as the hallmark of the defense of freedom. As a result, New York wrested the leadership of the art world from Paris, as Serge Guilbaut has demonstrated in his book, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art.
However, beginning in the late 1960s and continuing up until the present day, postmodern critiques of modernism and modernity have examined the premises that permitted a universalizing modernism to encompass the entire globe. In particular, their critiques have targeted the fetishization of time over space within the Enlightenment tradition, a binary opposition which pitted the imperatives of progress against the particularities of place. Because the rise of the clay practices of Regina coincided with this radical re-examination of the traditional inferiority of space vis-à-vis time, the impression was momentarily created that the inversion of this artificial hierarchy would greatly enhance the personal freedom of the artist, as well as function as the basis for a revolt against the tyranny of a homogenizing modernism. As critics began to identify the cosmopolitan values of modernity, not with the advance of human freedom and autonomy, but rather with a new phase of the rapid expansion and insertion of capitalism into more and more aspects of daily life, the traditional linkage between regionalism and totalitarianism began to buckle. Regionalism, given its newfound distance from the narratives of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, therefore gained currency as a challenge to the perceived authoritarianism and colonizing hegemony of Western modernism and modernity. The "heightened pressures of commodification," which were increasing exponentially at the end of the 1960s, injected into the cultural dynamic of the period a radical alteration in the relationship between time and space, as well as the relationship between culture and the economy. These older categories, which postmodernism eagerly sought to deconstruct and exploit, became reconfigured, but in a manner unforeseen by the postmoderns. Nonetheless, as the interstices on the margins of Western culture and politics became identified as the critical terrain upon which to stage a revolt against modernist orthodoxy, ceramic practitioners in the United States and Canada found a space to establish the integrity and criticality of their art practices.
In the context of Saskatchewan, the foremost exemplars of this modernist defense of freedom and autonomy were the Regina Five, who through the aegis of the Emma Lake Artists' Workshops, had succeeded in inviting many of the leading practitioners of post-war modernism to visit Saskatchewan. However, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, Regina had become the focal point for the rise of a variety of clay-related practices that stood in stark contrast to the universalizing and now formalized exercises of abstract painting in modern art. In particular, the profile and success of the abstract paintings of the Regina Five, who helped to vault Saskatchewan to the forefront of the Canadian art world, now appeared to many artists in Saskatchewan as characterizing the worst excesses of the modernist criticism that was extolled by Greenberg and his Canadian disciples, such as Terry Fenton and Karen Wilkin. One of the most outspoken advocates for the relationship between ceramics and Prairie regionalism, Joe Fafard, denounced the implied colonizing of the cultural community of Saskatchewan by cosmopolitan modernism. By contrast, Fafard endorsed the virtues of the local community:
Under the pressure of such criticism, Greenberg's concept of the modernist avant-garde could no longer represent the liberal cosmopolitan ideal of freedom in the Cold War. The de-centering of Greenberg's modernism provided an unparalleled opportunity for artists in heretofore marginalized locations and mediums, such as the ceramists who were active in Regina in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to win a newfound legitimacy for redefining the role of the visual arts. Not just in Regina but across North America, the virtues of the local, particular and vernacular were now regarded as a sufficient basis for making a sophisticated, critical and humorous regionalist art. Once regionalism was no longer associated with the authoritarian practices of the pre-World War Two art world, it could be reconfigured as the cutting edge of the democratizing and decentralizing impetus of Cold War liberalism in the 1960s.
However, this reformulation of regionalism as a central component of the post-Greenbergian art environment was, in turn, heavily influenced by the new regionalism that was advanced by pragmatic liberal intellectuals of the late 1950s, who gained access to power with the election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960. The new regionalism sought to undermine the threat to nationalism as well as the universalizing pretensions of Soviet communism by promoting a geographically diffused popular culture at the expense of the high culture that emanated from New York and the Northeast, thus decentering the hierarchy of high and low culture and re-organizing the politics of space within the United States. To the chagrin of Western Canadians who sought to advance their own regionalist voices in opposition to the federal government, the regionalism that was advocated by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was consistent with its American variant: regional elites in both Canada and the United States were expected to have a loyalty to the liberal premises of the centre, while at the same time representing the emergence of a renewed regionalist voice. This seemingly paradoxical centralizing of the regionalist impulse neutralized any residual liberal anxiety within the federal government that an emphasis on regionalism would inadvertently support desire for more regional autonomy in Western Canada, or even separatism in the case of Quebec. Ironically, in the United States and Canada it was often the same liberal proponents of a universalizing modernism in regionalist clothing, such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Trudeau, who were at the forefront of advocating a renewed role for regionalism in art and society, as a means of facilitating democratization and the decentralization of capitalist modernization on the new battlegrounds of the Cold War in the former European colonies of the Third World. While Greenberg's theory of a modernist avant-garde was appropriate to winning the hearts and minds of the liberal elites in Western Europe to the cause of freedom in the late 1940s and early 1950s, by the late 1950s and into the Kennedy era, the extension of the Cold War across the far reaches of the Third World meant that more readily understandable and regionally based art forms were required to compete against the spread of Soviet influence outside of Europe. Therefore, the question immediately arises as to whose interests were being served by this re-orientation of regionalism within North American culture at the dawn of the postmodern era. One may also raise serious questions about the renewed profile of regionalism in cultural models of resistance in the postmodern era. These enormous questions cannot be answered in such a short essay but I believe that serious research on the questions of regionalism, postmodernism and the clay practices of Regina, which this exhibition explores, must confront this troubling contradiction. Regionalism, as emblematic of the assertion of a spatial politics of difference under postmodernism, was implicated in the processes of the Western universal as much as the more easily caricatured notions of Greenbergian modernism. Were the new regionalism and the artistic practices that it helped to promote an integral moment in the new logic of capital, as opposed to a counter-discourse moment of resistance within modernity?
The late 1960s were a period of profound penetration of the economic logic of late capitalism into the cultural arena. For leading social critics, such as Fredric Jameson, the extent of this penetration of the economic into all areas of life fundamentally alters the relationship between culture and the economy of capitalism. John O'Kane, professor of cultural studies at the University of Southern California, explains, "This is because Jameson grasps the convergence of systemic changes in capitalism and postmodern culture as revealing the effects of a 'break,' a transformation produced from existing forces having reached a 'certain threshold of excess' in the late 1960s." O'Kane also notes, however, that the totalizing implications of Jameson's argument are mollified by the perception that "culture's enhanced social functioning seeds the potential for unforeseen appropriations and the possible evasion of capital's power." Emerging at this threshold between a declining modernism and an emergent postmodernism, these clay-related practices of Regina signaled, for many, an opportunity to dismantle the modernist hegemony of Greenberg and his perceived disciples. The concept of freedom could no longer rest on the secure foundations of universality and abstraction, but rather it needed to be reoriented in a more complex, and arguably problematical, approach. For a very brief moment in time, the diverse clay practices of artists such as Joe Fafard, Victor Cicansky, Russell Yuristy, David Thauberger, Marilyn Levine, David Gilhooly, Ann James and Jack Sures radically problematized and proclaimed the break with modernist orthodoxy. Their emphasis on locality, irony and humour emanating from an intense regionalism (which was more geographical in nature for some ceramicists than for others) stood in marked contrast to the universalism and teleological orientation of orthodox modernism. Often the narrative of such a conflict culminates in a triumphant assertion of clay practices as an active participant in a counter-hegemonic postmodernism celebrating the triumph of an integral moment of local resistance to an inauthentic universalism. However, as Maria Elisa Cevasco has written,
I would argue that in the future such an approach will undermine the comfortable narrative of lament and celebration that has framed the Regina Five and the ceramists of Regina; it is a settled narrative that has sunk over time into the quagmire of the modernism-postmodernism debates. To initiate a move beyond this stalemate would require not only a strategy of cognitive mapping vis-à-vis the Regina ceramists, but also one that would apply to the legacies of Clement Greenberg, the Regina Five and the Emma Lake Artists' Workshops. This approach would enable the process of unraveling the oversimplified narrative of an authoritarian modernism being supplanted by a politics of difference and hybridity, as demonstrated by the Regina ceramicists.
In the context of postmodernism, localism or regionalism attempts to provide a crucial breathing space for a critical individuality that is beholden to neither universal aesthetics nor any specific geographic location. However, the dilemma for all the clay practitioners of Regina at this time is reflected in the anxiety of the noted geographer Doreen Massey:
The Regina ceramists are exemplars of this strategy of relocating a critical art practice on the periphery, while being cognizant of the need to avoid succumbing to the authoritarian allure of pre-World War Two forms of regionalism. However, the emphasis on particularity, which is central to the anti-Greenbergian modernism of the Regina clay movement, raises a troubling question. As George Hartley writes,
Once again the relationship between freedom and regionalism is problematized beyond a simple binary solution. The question of regionalism in contemporary postmodern theory, with its emphasis on locality and the particular, is characterized by the widespread usage of spatial metaphors, which, as geographers Neil Smith and Cindi Katz argue, appears to result from a "decentering and destabilization of previously fixed realities and assumptions" that can leave space which is "largely exempt" from "skeptical scrutiny." Dennis Cooley, for example, in his book, The Vernacular Muse, refers to this overthrow of modernism as a "de-centering," which enables the reassertion of the vernacular: "The measure of speech, then, sub-versively conceived, resides with you, rises out of what you know most immediately, an intimate sense of your place and your people—the words you feel most at home with." Within this narrative, terms such as "region," "place," and "local" denote a radical re-orientation away from the modernist preoccupation with "universals," "abstraction," and "time," especially as exemplified by Greenberg in the conclusion to his famous essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" of 1939, in which the temporal objective of the modernist avant-garde is defined as keeping culture moving in a time of ideological confusion and violence. However, the question arises as to whether the mere inversion of a symmetrical logic, by which time is valorized over space, unintentionally reasserts the authority of that logic. More specifically, to what extent can one ask whether the response of an artist, such as Joe Fafard, to the colonizing universalism of Greenberg results in the creation of a straw man that enables the emergence of the local, but at the expense of a critical dialectical engagement with the modern?
The ensuing revolt of the postmodern era against the power of dominant art centres and critics to dictate the aesthetic merit of modern art to the periphery was clearly enunciated by Fafard in 1970, when he argued that artists should "make art out of their own experiences, from our own feelings about things, and that they should be coming straight out of life, instead of from a lot of intellectual garbage that is sounded by art critics and leading artists. . . . [Art] should be coming straight out of life." Therefore, Fafard argues, "we should abolish the reverence that we have for outsiders [and authority]." Peter White, who co-curated an exhibition of Fafard's work with Matthew Teitelbaum, notes, "To Fafard, Greenberg was the flashpoint for alienating tensions and divisions within his own community, an 'anti-Christ' whose message, made without compromise, was that community is irrelevant to art." Teitelbaum observes, "What Fafard feared—no, resented—was a sense that judgments about works of art could be made without regard for the particular, the intimate, or the personal. He questioned judgments which could be made only on the basis of theoretical or universal principles; he questioned the outsider's authority." While Fafard's emphasis on the regional particularity of Regina and Saskatchewan as a counterweight to the hegemony of New York is not consistent with all of the artists represented in this exhibition, Fafard does draw our attention to the fact that the issue of regionalism was, in part, based on geography; but, in another measure, it was also based on the particular voice of the artist to disavow the aesthetic standards of modernism in favor of a more individual and particular approach to representation. Thus, these two tangents to the idea of regionalism, as expressed by Fafard, provide a flexible example, though certainly not the only one, of a regionalism whose broad definition could encompass many of the ceramists in this exhibition, even those disavowing any particular loyalty to a specific geographic region but affirming the role of the subjective artist within the environment of late capitalism.
Ultimately, it could be argued that the rapid expansion of clay practices in Regina at the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s was a response to an earlier moment of modernist hegemony, which had already been usurped by the cultural logic of late capitalism that was emerging at the same time. Greenberg, the Regina Five, and the Emma Lake Artists' Workshops provided convenient straw men for postmodern regionalism to oppose. The social critic Slavoj Zizek, in a critique of postmodern practices of deconstructing the "essentialism" and "fixed identities" of modernism, notes, "Far from containing any kind of subversive potentials, the dispersed, plural, constructed subject hailed by postmodern theory . . . simply designates the form of subjectivity that corresponds to late capitalism." For Zizek, the radical "deterritorialization" of modernity under late capitalism that enabled the regional and local voices of the margins to achieve exposure, was also the "ultimate power" that undermined "the traditional fixity of ideological positions (patriarchal authority, fixed sexual roles, etc.), [which in the current historical epoch had become] an obstacle to the unbridled commodification of everyday life." Despite the exaggerated quality of Zizek's prose, he does raise the possibility that the optimism which underlies many of the cultural strategies of resistance to late capitalism is unwittingly complicit with a process of radical deterritorialization that passes as one of the hallmarks of criticality within the postmodern era. For a moment, however, what the clay practices of Regina did embody, in a very different manner from the Regina Five and the Emma Lake Artist's Workshops, was an attempt to articulate and bear witness to the collective nightmare that Zizek has described as "the unprecedented homogenization of the contemporary world." However, in conclusion, I find that Zizek's heightened state of pessimism overlooks the more nuanced and critical, though perhaps equally austere, stance of the legacy of critical Marxism, as embodied not by Clement Greenberg, but rather by another cultural critic, Theodor Adorno. Adorno's famous adage, "Both [modernism and mass culture] are torn halves of an integral freedom, to which however they do not add up," can be applied to the dilemma of modernism and its postmodern opponent in the age of late capitalism. These dire arguments take a necessary critical umbrage at any effort to escape the historical dilemmas of the current age by either retreating solely into "Art" or seeking a premature sublation of art into life.
 Quoted in Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1996), 20.
 George Hartley, The Abyss of Representation: Marxism and the Postmodern Sublime (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2003), 205.
 Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983). For a useful discussion of the transition from regionalism to modernism in the United States, see Erika Doss, Benton, Pollock and the Politics of Modernism: From Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).
 For a good introduction to the rise of spatiality within postmodernism see: Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-And-Imagined Places (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996); and Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (London: Verso Press, 1989). See also Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth, Sequel to History: Postmodernism and the Crisis of Representational Time (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
 John O'Kane, "Postmodern Negative Dialectics" in Sean Homer and Douglas Kellner, eds., Fredric Jameson: A Critical Reader (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 154.
 Quoted in Matthew Teitelbaum and Peter White, Joe Fafard: Cows and Other Luminaries 1977-1987, exh. cat. (Regina and Saskatoon: Dunlop Art Gallery and Mendel Art Gallery, 1987), 50.
 For further discussion of the relationship between pragmatic liberalism and the new public arts funding of the 1960s, see my article, "Between Avant-Garde and Kitsch?: Pragmatic Liberalism, Public Arts Funding, and the Cold War in the United States," which is forthcoming in the Canadian Review of American Studies.
 Canada's linguistic duality, which differentiated it from the United States, was particularly suited to an inclusive cultural strategy that balanced regionalism and regional elites within a national confederation. Attempting to walk a fine line between internationalism and nationalism, especially with the threat of a Quebec separatist movement, many Canadian liberals, along with Trudeau, turned (perhaps not surprisingly) to the closest model of governmental aid for the arts that was at hand: the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the United States. The obstacles to the establishment of a federal funding agency for the arts in the United Sates, including the charge that state supported culture was too socialist, were bypassed by measures introduced under the aegis of the Kennedy administration.
 See Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism (London: Verso Press, 1972).
 O'Kane, 154.
 O'Kane, 156.
 Maria Elisa Cevasco, "The Political Unconscious of Globalization: Notes from the Periphery" in Sean Homer and Douglas Kellner, eds., Fredric Jameson: A Critical Reader, 102.
 The process of re-mapping the history of the Emma Lake Artists' Workshops, as well as involvement of Clement Greenberg with the Regina Five and Saskatchewan, was begun, in part, with an exhibition that was curated by art historian John O'Brian. See John O'Brian, ed., The Flat Side of the Landscape: The Emma Lake Artists' Workshops, exh. cat. (Saskatoon: Mendel Art Gallery, 1989).
 Quoted in Kaplan, 180.
 Hartley, 266.
 Social theorist Fredric Jameson has argued that the antinomial logic of space and time that is pilloried by many postmodernists as a reflection of the binary bias inherent in modernity is still present within postmodernism itself. John O'Kane has noted that for Jameson, "The mutual exclusion of these empty, ahistorical categories is a construction which legislates incommensurability, an absolute inability to connect and synthesize contraries." See O' Kane, 161. The implication of this argument I have used to question the valorization of space over time.
 Quoted in Kaplan, 145.
 Dennis Cooley, The Vernacular Muse: The Eye and Ear in Contemporary Literature (Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1987), 204.
 Interview with Joe Fafard recorded in John D. H. King, "The Emma Lake Workshops, 1955-1970: A Documented Study of the Artist's Workshop at Emma Lake, Saskatchewan, of the School of Art, University of Saskatchewan, Regina from 1955 to 1970" (bachelor's thesis, University of Manitoba, 1972), 193.
 King, 319
 Teitelbaum and White, 23.
 Teitelbaum and White, 10.
 Slavoj Zizek, quoted in George Hartley, 289.
 Quoted in Hartley, 269. In this regard, cultural historian Andreas Huyssen has written, "The American postmodernist avant-garde, therefore, is not only the end game of avant-gardism. It also represents the fragmentation and decline of critical adversary culture," cited in Kenneth Frampton, "Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance," in Hal Foster, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Port Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, 1983). One of the key Canadian theorists of Western Canadian prairie regionalism is George Melnyk, who argues in a 1981 publication for a linking of regionalism to the progressive socialist tradition. See George Melnyk, Radical Regionalism (Edmonton: NeWest Press, 1981), 20-21.
 Theodor Adorno, "Letter to Benjamin" in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Art in Theory: 1900-1990 (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 522. Writing at the end of the postmodern era and eighteen years after the publication of his book, Radical Regionalism, George Melnyk notes that his hope for a radical and socialist conception of regionalism in Western Canada "had fallen by the wayside with a whole grab bag of leftist ideologies from social democracy to left-wing nationalism to communism." Thus he concludes, "The quest of radical regionalism and the creation of a society based on an ideology of indigenous socialism has become history." See George Melnyk, New Moon at Batoche: Reflections on the Urban Prairie (Banff: The Banff Centre Press, 1999), 142.
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