May 11 – September 2, 2019

The philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote that one becomes a person by inserting herself into the world through action and speech.  Arendt also believed that an active process of thinking was the ‘means by which someone constitutes himself into a somebody, a person or a personality.’  It is also possible, in Arendt’s formulation, for someone to refuse these requirements of personhood, by refusing to think and to act.

The modern French word, personne, may indicate both someone and no one; person, in English, indicates both an individual and a citizen with inherent rights and freedoms. The word person derives from the 13th century Old French persone meaning “human being, anyone, person.” It derives from the Latin persona which meant a “human being, person, personage; a part in a drama, assumed character,” which was originally “a mask, a false face,” such as those made of wood or clay worn by the actors in late Roman theatre.

This exhibition considers contemporary challenges to personhood effected by forces like social media, surveillance technologies, the influence of Big Data and the reputation economy, and the marketing language of ‘personal brand.’  Person/ne considers alternatives to these systems, through artistic practices that may be seen as sites of agency in Arendt’s terms, and examines how artists consider contemporary ideas of personhood, agency and compassion.

For Arendt, a person is also a citizen, ready to think or act on behalf of an ideal, a desire or another human being. What then calls one into such personhood, and therefore, into public life? Often it is love—of an idea, of another person, of a set of ethics, values or aspirations. These acts of personhood can also constitute acts of care. Within a contemporary environment, how is it possible to remain attuned and ready to act?

In their processes, methods and conceptual practices, the works in the exhibition respond to a range of 20th and 21st century sites of personhood and citizenship in Arendt’s sense, crossing geographic and psychic borders and demonstrating the agency of taking action through art making. They are alternatively meditative, declarative, political and insistent.  The works reveal acts of care, or cognizance of its lack in the micro- and macrocosm, through narratives from both ordinary life and major political rupture. From fictional portraiture or portraits that themselves bear witness, love letters, tapestries, storytelling, the documentation of crossing national borders, or in the care of remembering—histories, relationships, events and people.  The artists’ works also may affect a meditative pause in a set of behaviours or a narrative of history—opening a gap into which something revolutionary emerges at just the right moment.

Works are drawn from Griffin Art Projects Residency Artists and private collections in Vancouver; artists in the exhibition include Sonny Assu, Stephan Balkenhol, Christian Boltanski, Sophie Calle, Leon Coupey, Stan Douglas, Duane Linklater, Yevgeniy Fiks, Sima Khorammi, Shawn Hunt, Emily Jacir, Mahdyar Jamshidi, Zoe Kreye, Ann Newdigate, Ricarda Roggan, Norman Tait, Stephen Waddell, Ai Wei Wei, Janet Werner, Lam Wong and Sislej Xhafa.