Annie Wong

Facebook Hacks, Chats, and the infiltration of Teens in My Life

kiam you bitch

Over the past two years of working with Mammalian Diving Reflex, most of my social life has been spent hanging out with the Torontonians[i], a group of youth based in Parkdale, an underserved neighborhood in Toronto. Our recent collaborations include monthly dance parties in the neighborhood, a teen residency at the art-centric Gladstone Hotel, and a few pop-up performances for the Art Gallery of Ontario. But most of the time, we usually hang out in the office (our shared space), go for a bite, do homework together, or walk around the neighborhood for hours.

My relationship with the youth is not entirely unique: I am part of a larger network of ‘adult friends’ made up of connections in the arts community that the Torontonians have garnered over the course of five years collaborating with Mammalian. Whatever we do and who ever we work with, we go at lengths to foreground the Torontonians as our collaborators, friends, and peers in an effort to spark intergenerational friendships between art professionals and the teens. This is one of Mammalian’s core principles as a means of lending social capital within the city’s often-exclusionary cultural industry.

As part my practice, the teens and I aren’t just work colleagues: they’ve become some of my closest friends over the years. A motely crew of about 10 youth, Chozin Tenzin, Sanjay Ratnan, Nerupa Somasale, Virginia Antonipillai, Kiam Liam Bellisimo, Ahash Jeeva, Isabel Ahat, Dana Lui, and Kathy Vuu, they do not only occupy my attention at work, they have infiltrate my life, dominating many of my social channels of communication (text messages, email, online chats). Facebook is a telling indicator of the extent to which they have become a part of my own social identity. Between the hours of 6pm – 10pm, I am usually on Facebook chat, exchanging phatic gestures with a few of the youth, often in the form of random emoticons, rants, or fart jokes.

In the first year of working with youth, a series of bawdy Facebook status-hacks, unmistakably the handiwork of the teens, attracted more ‘likes’ and comments from my friends than my own status updates. The hacks made such an impression that their proximity to me extended offline and into conversations between myself, my roommate, boyfriend, sister, and close friends––who began to ask questions about them. Over the course of our various collaborations, my Facebook platform is now concentrated with photos, comments, and activity related to the Torontonians. This abundance of activity is slowly acclimatizing the audience of my Facebook profile who are beginning to understand the Torontonians less as “teens first” per se, but as my equals, members of an art collective, and most importantly, as my friends.

Worms in my poo sanjay hack Virg fb hack

Anonymous Dude

[i] In 2010, 14-year-old teen and former Mammalian collaborator, Sanjay Ratnan, approached Mammaliann Diving Reflex requesting artistic programming for young people in Parkdale. In response, we formed a collective called The Torontonians, a group of youth we have worked with in the neighbourhood ever since to create performance, video and other cultural products, devise mentorship programs, and build a network of artists, arts organizations and young people across the city. Visit their blog here.


About the contributor: Annie Wong is an artist, arts educator, and writer. Her work is conceptually diverse and explores various practices such as experimental pedagogy, endurance as performance, and relational aesthetics. She holds a BA in English Literature and a Master’s Degree in Communication and Culture from York University. She is currently the Young Mammals Director of Mammalian Diving Reflex and collaborates with young people to create socially engaged art. For more information, please visit: mammalian.ca


Gretchen Coombs and Ted Purves

Of Other Places*

We talk frequently, despite being half a world apart––through texts, Skype, on buses, in cabs, and at conferences (lots of these over the last few years…). We always exchange names of exciting projects. We ponder the ways such work can be taught, the limitations of a canon, of sanctions, of efficacy, and codifying this sort of work. We also talk about our children, and sometimes ice cream.

We decided to not start a new conversation for this blog, opting to just open up the ongoing one to a wider audience.

Chicago in place

We waded through the thick snow after a tedious day at the annual conference of the College Art Association 2014 in Chicago. We cabbed across the city to Jane Addams Hull-House[i] for the “social practitioners” spaghetti bolognaise dinner, the first of two; the second after November’s A Lived Practice Symposium. We encountered a legacy thick and celebrated, like a historical park or a living history exhibition. Somehow, the history of Dewey and Addams, of social service and settlement, is conflated with contemporary art. Hull-House has become metonym for the aspirations of a generation of artist activists in Chicago and beyond. A social history heterotopia: at once real and at the same time abstracted and virtual.

San Francisco in place

Our first conversations were about San Francisco and its current and historical legacy as a site of progressive cultural values and vanguard art practices, and the relationship––if any––to the Social Practice MFA at California College of the Arts (Gretchen as a student; Ted as the newly appointed leader of Social Practice). We looked at the spectrum of its genealogy: Gómez-Peña’s radical pedagogy, the SF Diggers’ influence on Amy Franceschini’s Future Farmers to Tom Marioni’s salon (and career) revival in the wake of participatory art’s ubiquity in The Bay Area.

What about place and revolution?

Simple questions beg for complexity. What do place and revolution even mean? These two questions are remote from each other––they live apart. They imply a relationship exists or is in some sort of dialectical drama with time and place.

Aligning art with revolution contains a fundamental contradiction (Ben Davis). Contemporary art, as a practice, as a preoccupation, and as a philosophical pursuit binds itself tightly subjectivity and freedom. Any classical (i.e. Marxian) notion of revolution (that would be Revolution with a capital R, not just some sort of change or shift) must, by definition, be accompanied by unified class struggle––no authors allowed. A community of practitioners working for social change, well that shifts the tide in favor of a heterotopia: existing in a world, outside a world, and critical to both.

And place… how do we navigate a place now? Everyplace is two, four or six places at once––as we check a screen when we walk down a crowded sidewalk, reference a navigation program when we are getting a coffee, read a historical marker. Certainly the social and the public exist in a place, but that place is layered, and we have to account for this layering. It no longer suffices to say a place is singular historically, physically, or practically.

Place has been hijacked by placemakers, and the horizons multiply.

If art is to produce revolution in place, then it may be necessary to pluralize everything. Everything. Revolutions and places, layers of revolution in multi-places, networks of tentacles spreading out into the vast expanse….to establish those heterotopias, tangible and hidden. We make our palimpsests: in communities of our own making, situated in worlds both real and imagined, layered with discourses, networks, hopes, dreams, instances of provocations, percolating revolutions, with time for coffee, a ride across a city, and friend requests…

We will continue the conversation again, as we will both be there, again, in all the Pittsburghs, all at the same time.

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Photo: Ted Purves

*Titled after Michel Foucault’sOf Other Spaces, Heterotopias.” Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité 5 (1984): 46-49.

[i] Jane Addams (1860-1935) was an American social activist and suffragette. For more information please see http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/hull_house.html


About the contributors: Gretchen Coombs lives and works in Brisbane, Australia where she teaches in the School of Design at Queensland University of Technology. Her interests include art and design criticism/activism, specifically recent practices that challenge social structures within urban contexts. Her research involves artists, collectives, educators, and curators who are immersed in new ways of practicing art that intervenes in social and cultural processes to imagine new political subjectivities. Gretchen’s ethnographic research will culminate in a book entitled The Lure of the Social: ethnographies of practice in contemporary art (Intellect 2016).

Ted Purves is a writer and artist based in Berkeley, California. His public projects and writings are centered on investigating the practice of art in the world, particularly as it addresses issues of localism and power, systems of exchange, and critical occupations of social forms. He produces socially-based projects in collaboration with Susanne Cockrell under the umbrella name of Fieldfaring. Their most recent project, The Red Bank Pawpaw Circle, a large public planting project, was completed in Cincinnati, Ohio in Fall 2012.

Purves was the founder of the MFA concentration in Social Practice at California College of the Arts in 2005, and is currently the Chair of the MFA Fine Arts Program. His book, What We Want is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art, was published by SUNY Press in 2005. An expanded edition––What We Want Is Free: Critical Exchanges in Recent Art, co-edited with Shane Aslan Selzer, was published by SUNY Press in early 2014.