Editorial 45: Repetition – Michèle Pearson Clarke

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REPETITION, as in:

– The act of doing or saying something again
– The recurrence of an event
– A recitation or recital, especially of prepared or memorized material
– A training exercise which is repeated in series
– A rhetorical device to add emphasis, unity and/or power
– A reproduction, copy, or replica 

“repetition itself creates bliss… to repeat excessively is to enter into loss, into the zero of the signified.”

                                                            —Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text

For this issue of NMP, I gladly took the opportunity to invite artists and writers to examine and explore the pleasures of repetition. While repetition is often framed as monotony or drudgery—particularly under the cultural conditions created by late capitalism and neoliberalism—I find myself wanting to think more instead about the gratifying and productive functions of repetition in artistic practice, creation, and consumption. Questions that I am preoccupied with include: What knowledge gets produced by repetition? What affects get produced by repetition? What are the different uses and functions of repetition within contemporary art practice? What is at stake in works that repeat? And I am profoundly grateful to this issue’s contributors for indulging me with these insightful and thought-provoking answers:

Featured on the cover is an image from I too question the flowers (2016), one of several photographic series depicting repetitive performative gestures by conceptual artist Erika DeFreitas. Working often with her mother, DeFreitas’ practice explores the influence of language, loss, and culture on the formation of identity. In Rest / Repeat, Senior Curator at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery Crystal Mowry talks with DeFreitas about the recurrent presence of inheritance and habitual grieving in her work.

In her essay Collecting Time, Winnipeg-born moving image artist Leslie Supnet outlines the use of repetition in her animated work, and reflects on the meditative and cathartic aspects of the animation process. Supnet punctuates these thoughts with three recent short works, giving us a more detailed look at her brilliant and stunning hands-on process.

Sally McKay is an artist, art theorist, curator and Assistant Professor of Art at McMaster University. For NMP #45, she explores the impacts of repetition in inter-species communication, embodied cognition, online interaction, and an animated gif by artist Lorna Mills, in the most perfectly titled essay ever, Watching YouTube with the Cat.

As writer and therapist Ricky Varghese explains in the introduction to his conversation with artist Francisco-Fernando Granados, shortly after I invited them to discuss the role that repetition has played in framing Granados’ art practice over the years, Granados’ father passed away. This singular event shapes Repetition, Pleasure, Mourning, an exchange “grounded through personal anecdotes, reflections on artwork, and theoretical perspectives that contextualize the gesture as both a queer and aesthetic phenomenon always already in dialogue with the experience of profound loss.”

With Repetition as Performance Art, NYC-based artist Ayana Evans pairs video documentation of a May 2016 performance of her work, Stay With Me, with an artist statement focused on this project, in which she does jumping jacks and aerobic kicks in high heels, full makeup, and a gown for two to three hours. Evans clearly shows us how this performance best exemplifies her use of repetition to convey a feeling and to reach her own personal meditative state.

Inspired by artist Jimmy Robert’s 2015 work Untitled (Fragments), poet and activist Phanuel Antwi meditates on the repetitious cycle of violence directed towards black men in the Americas in The Dead Can Love Us Too, a new poem written in response to my plea that he contribute to this issue. As Antwi muses, “At the same time it is my attempt to cough up something lodged in my throat that won’t come out, a clot, a curse, a catastrophe, maybe even a charm, too.”

Artist Aleesa Cohene and filmmaker and writer Elizabeth Knafo have been conversing regularly since becoming friends in 2015; here they share some excerpts of that ongoing correspondence with In and Out of the Frame: Smell and Hegemony, drawing connections between scent, speaking up, and Cohene’s work process.

Finally, a note of much-needed caution from writer and curator Amy Fung. Since discussing the notion of an “entitled aesthetics” during a panel presentation and then publishing a section of that presentation, in Untitled (I never expected this term to hold so much resonance), Fung reflects back on the term as it has taken on a life of its own, resonating with a vast multitude of peoples and perspectives. In this bridge piece, she asks us to consider the ways in which power and privilege remain intact when artists and curators choose only to repeat the celebrated aesthetics from decades past. 

And with that, let me express my deepest gratitude and most heartfelt appreciation to each contributor to this issue. Thank you for taking the time to share your work with us all, and for the immense thought, care, and tenderness that you put into your submissions. Thanks also to Mél Hogan, M-C MacPhee and Andrea Zeffiro for inviting me to be guest editor of this edition of No More Potlucks. Having graced this publication previously, it was an honour and a joy to be given the responsibility of bringing an issue of NMP to life. Much respect to all of you for doing just that, over and over, as you head towards your tenth and final year.

Michèle Pearson Clarke