Apr 02

Site-Specific Explores the Politics of Representation and Critical Pedagogy

Spring 2014 – Site-Specific explores the Politics of Representation in art & design and Critical Pedagogy.

Who is represented by art and design that is being produced currently? Who has been and continues to be represented by art and design has become part of the historical canon? Whose histories are taught – and whose are left out? How can we come to a more encompassing practice of representation?

What is critical pedagogy, and what does it mean in an art & design context? How does critical pedagogy influence our ways of communicating and understanding both academically and visually? Similarly, how does critical pedagogy interact with the politics or representation? And how does it all tie together and help us think about curriculum differently?

Click ‘leave a reply’ under each post and share your thoughts, ideas and responses.

Jan 29

Syrus Marcus Ware on: intersectionality, story-telling, and disability arts movements

Syrus Marcus Ware is a visual artist, community activist, researcher, youth-advocate and educator. He is the Program Coordinator of the AGO Youth Program, Art Gallery of Ontario.  Read more about Syrus below.


Image of Syrus Marcus Ware

SITE-SPECIFIC: What’s missing from mainstream discourses of disability? How does this play out within art and design spaces?

SYRUS MARCUS WARE: In my experience, there is a lack of intersectional analysis in mainstream disability discourse. For those of us who are part of multiple communities, who identify with multiple identities, it can be very limiting to articulate our experiences one-dimensionally. We need a disability discourse that talks about gender, that talks about the ways that we experience racialization, that talks about sexuality. We need this because this intersectional approach will make for stronger analysis, stronger research, stronger frameworks for understanding marginality. We also need this approach because it pushes the theory to be what we need it to be: something larger than one-sided analysis, something that helps us change the world that we live in, into something that is built by and for all of us. If we talk about revolution, social change, reimagining the world to look and feel different than it currently does- we need to all be part of that conversation to help imagine something new together. Theory can help push us to this place, but it is essential that it considers the ways in which structural and systemic oppressions are linked and connected.

Within art and design spaces, we can’t limit the discussion of disability to be a question of access. It is about so much more than access! We need to talk about the ways that art and design can help us imagine new possibilities for society, yes for physical spaces and objects- making them useable by all-but more largely to help us imagine completely new ways of interacting with each other and our environments. Art and design needs to be something that talks about difference, that helps us ‘relate across difference’ as Audre Lorde suggests.

S: In the past, you have talked about the importance of creating space for the back stories of artists’ lives in order to understand their work. Can you share your thoughts on the role of social/biographical context in the process of interpretation? What are some critical issues that we should be mindful of in thinking through the politics and ethics of personal narrative and disclosure in art making?

W: When hosting a community advisory meeting with disability communities engaged with the AGO, one of the participants stated that one of the problems with art galleries and museums around disability is that we don’t tell the stories of disability at the core of a lot of artists lives. We may have a large collection of work by artists who are psychiatric survivors, for e.g. but this is not part of the interpretation when showing their work. He urged all museums to consider how to tell stories of disability in our day to day work, when celebrating the lives of artists in our collections. I thought that this was a great observation and challenge to those of us working within these settings.

However, I also have been thinking about the ways that artists with disabilities are often expected to disclose about their experiences of disability as part of their art making process. The act of disclosing is not what is at issue for me- to be clear- but rather the idea that we ‘need to know’ that the artist is disabled as part of ‘understanding’ or ‘appreciating’ their work.

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Jan 28

Renzi Guarin on: inclusivity, technology, and accessibility

 Renzi Guarin is an AV Support Specialist through the IT Services Department at OCAD University.

SITE-SPECIFIC: Tell us about what you do here at OCAD University.

RENZI GUARIN: Our office deals with the circulation of audio and visual equipment for faculty, administrative staff and students.  We ensure that the faculty have the technology to help them teach effectively in our classrooms and that admin staff are properly prepared with tools to aid them with hosting meetings, seminars and in carrying out the day to day operations of the University.  For students, we offer a variety of equipment and services to facilitate their creative projects and curriculum work throughout the year.

Part of my job is to oversee the audio-visual and technology aspects of special events for OCAD University.  In the past couple of years, we’ve worked on various events providing AV support where accessible technology is involved.  Most recently, OCAD U hosted the 3rd Accessibility Camp Toronto conference, an event centered on assistive technology with workshops and seminars regarding the landscape of inclusive and accessible design.

” Whether it is a guest speaker, an exhibition opening, a town hall meeting or even a lecture in a classroom; If everyone is able to come away with the opportunity to become inspired, informed or educated then I think we’ve done our job.”


S: Some people differentiate between accessible media and all other media. You seem to work from the premise that all media is accessible with some ingenuity. Can you comment?

G: Whether it is a Guest speaker, an exhibition opening, a town hall meeting or even a lecture in a classroom; If everyone is able to come away with the opportunity to become inspired, informed or educated then I think we’ve done our job. Ultimately it should be the goal of anyone who organizes an event on campus to see accessibility included in the initial planning stages of the event rather than an after thought or on a case by case basis.  For event organizers, there might be hesitation when thinking about the complications that might arise when including things like ASL interpreters or captioning services, but I think that it is up to us to take that challenge head on and just find a way to be able to provide appropriate alternatives for any setup that is required or asked for.

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Jan 20

Introducing January: Re-Imagining Disability

January 2014 – Site-Specific explores  Re-imagining Disability. What is our current definition and understanding of disability, and how does this limit us? Who do we leave out, and how can we move beyond limited understandings?

Guest Bloggers for January will be Renzi Guarin, OCAD U’s AV support Specialist on accessibility and digital communication, Syrus Marcus Ware, Program Coordinator for Youth Program at the Art Gallery of Ontario on intersectionality in disability studies, and OCAD U students and faculty showcasing how they re-imagine disability in their teaching and creative practice.