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Art After Capitalism

Notes from the Inner City Artists' Commune

by Hillary Bain Lindsay

Artist Emily Davidson invites the viewer to imagine life and art after capitalism (Poster: Emily Davidson).
Artist Emily Davidson invites the viewer to imagine life and art after capitalism (Poster: Emily Davidson).

HALIFAX — Capitalism has a way of limiting one's sense of what's possible, says artist Emily Davidson.

"I wanted to make a body of work that spoke to the possibility that capitalism isn't the only system that will ever be," she says.  "I think one of the ways capitalism is most limiting to our imagination is that [we think] that it's either capitalism or the apocalypse."

But according to Davidson, there will not only be life after capitalism, but art too.

A hint of what that art and life might look like is now on display at the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery as part of Activist Ink, a show of socially engaged printmakers.

It is not immediately apparent that Davidson's show is about an imagined future. For anyone who has organized collectively or spent time in alternative spaces, the series of posters and pamphlets are somewhat familiar in their appearance and message.  

"We practice: accountability, self-determination, participation, reconciliation," reads one poster.  

But slowly, it sinks in that one is looking at art for another time.   

Most of the work is signed by, or focused on, the Inner City Artists' Commune.

"When I started the project, I became so overwhelmed by what the possibilities might be, imagining a post-capitalist world," says Davidson.  "In order to create a frame, I imagined this group called the Inner City Artists' Commune, which would be a group of artists living in Halifax."

The collection of posters and pamphlets created by the imagined Commune were made without a computer and with limited electricity.  "The analog printing is a way of nudging people towards the idea that the world would be different," says Davidson.

Different, yet still familiar.  The pieces speak to everything from the role of art, to raising children, to dealing with death.  Some of the pieces refer to a dialogue or disagreement that's taking place within the hypothetical community.

Nothing is spelled out, however, it is up to the viewer's imagination to fill in the details.  Davidson says she did this deliberately: "I want people to be able to see themselves in it, to imagine how we might get there … It allows the viewer to imagine that this could happen in the near future."  

In this way, Davidson tempts the viewer into thinking that life after capitalism may not be as foreign, or as impossible, as one might think.  

"We could make it there," she says.  "That's a life we could live together." 

Activist Ink will be on display at the MSVU Gallery until Feb. 24. 

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Topics: Arts
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