Outposting, Edgings Towards Art and Science

An Interview with Charles Stankievech

“The DEW Project,” installation view, confluence of Klondike and Yukon rivers, Yukon Territory, Canada, 64°03’ N, 139°27’ W.

Charles Stankievech is not inclined to leave things as they are. In his multivalent role as artist/researcher, writer/publisher and critic/curator he has taken things, ideas and institutions and proposed that they function in different ways. In his practice a book becomes an exhibition space; field research assumes the form of a gallery installation; a geodesic radome stands in as a surrogate sculpture; and the character of the Canadian North transforms from no man’s land to nomad’s land. Everything is migratory; language, identity, categories.

Stankievech himself has been involved in a constant migration. Born in Okotoks, Alberta and educated in Montreal, he moved to Dawson City in 2007, where he became the founding faculty member of the Yukon School of Visual Art. He stayed for five years developing projects that incorporated his inquiries into the intersections between art, architecture, research and theory. During that period he travelled to Berlin where he and his partner, Anna-Sophie Springer, started K. Verlag, a publisher interested in hybrid relationships between bookworks, lectures and exhibitions. In 2012 he moved permanently to Berlin, the base for his ongoing research trips to countries around the world where he conducts the aesthetic experiments that form the core of his artistic practice.

Ghost Rockets World Tour: Charles Stankievech, 2010, limited edition of 50 hand silkscreened 4 colour poster, numbered and signed by the artist, 19.5 x 27.5 inches. Printed by Studio Bongoût, Berlin, 2010.

His best known projects are Magnetic Norths, an exhibition at the Leonard & Bina Belkin Gallery in Montreal in 2010, the DEW Project (2009) and the Ghost Rockets World Tour in 2009–10. “Ghost Rockets” took its conceptual framework from a rock tour; over a 12-month period Stankievech, in the combined role of researcher and guerilla artist, launched rockets at various international sites that were instrumental in the history of ballistics. Each of the dozen launches was paired with a rock song that responded to the place, a sort of sonic mapping.

The DEW Project and Magnetic Norths underline his fascination with the idea of The North, a location that has particular resonance in the Canadian imagination. In the former, he “sounded” the actual landscape; in the latter he relocated and transformed that landscape into a gallery exhibition with works by Thomas Edison, Buckminster Fuller, Glenn Gould, Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland, the N.E. Thing Co., R. Murray Schafer and Lawrence Weiner, among others. For him, the white cube of the gallery became a stand-in for the minimalist arctic landscape. His North is both a laying down of an historical place and a projection of a fantasy space, a cartography that combines real things with imaginative possibilities. Because its dimensions are sublime, it is the dwelling place of the heroic and the monstrous. In the popular imagination, both Superman and Frankenstein are sojourners in the North. Northeners are outliers, as Stankievech argues, using the outpost to define and locate the centre.

Charles Stankievech has been the artist-in-residence with the Canadian Department of National Defense; at MuseumsQuartier in Vienna; at the Altantic Center for the Arts in Florida; at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas; with the artLAB_San Servolo in Venice; and at The Banff Centre. He was a nominee for the Sobey Award in 2011 and was recently included in “Oh Canada”, the mammoth exhibition of Canadian art at MASSMoCA.