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BC MUSEUMS & GALLERIES: SFU Galleries – Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber’s The Templeton Five Affair, March 1967

BC MUSEUMS & GALLERIES: SFU Galleries – Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber’s The Templeton Five Affair, March 1967

May 12, 2016

by Barbara Matthews

Could it be that the lessons of the street are exhausted, out-dated, and likewise the teachings of the window? Certainly not. They perpetuate themselves by renewing themselves. The windows overlooking the street is not a mental place, where the inner gaze follows abstract perspectives: a practical space, private and concrete, the window offers views that are more than spectacles; mentally prolonged spaces.[1]

Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber’s The Templeton Five Affair, March 1967 investigates the fragmentation of collective agency in the university. The Bitter and Weber installation at the Teck Gallery in SFU’s Harbour Centre campus from June 3, 2015 to April 30, 2016, is part of the larger exhibition Through a Window: Visual Art and SFU 1965-2015, that looks back on 50 years of visual art history at SFU. The exhibition’s title references the chapter “Seen from the Window,” in French Sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis (1992), in which he observes the polyrhythms of public life from the privacy of his apartment. Bitter and Weber also draw from Lefebvre in The Templeton Five Affair, particularly his concept that architecture is defined by social interaction.[2] With the open view of Vancouver, the installation confronts the functionality of the city” its regularities, flows, and rhythms” a space that systemizes the production of busy bodies, defined by social interactions that are at once technological and in constant surveillance. Lefebvre’s ideal is perhaps a vanishing one.

Why is social interaction within a “public” architectural space so private and secure? In this installation, many tensions arise as one becomes entangled in a “public” space overcome by the private, a space that denies agency.

The Templeton Five Affair consists of five large panels wallpapered with a photograph of students gathered on the multiple levels of the Academic Quadrangle that surrounds Convocation Mall. It documents a key moment in Simon Fraser University campus politics and student activism. In March of 1967 five SFU Teaching Assistants led a demonstration outside Templeton Secondary School demanding academic freedom in response to the high school students that were suspended for distributing a publication that mocked a teacher’s view of poetry. [3] The TAs were penalized for organizing the protest and this escalated into the student demonstration at Convocation Mall, a space that was conceived of by architect Arthur Erickson as intimate and unifying. This conflict became known as The Templeton Five Affair.

Bitter and Weber duplicate the photograph and situate the two images facing each other. Each version is distinctly scaled and edited. In one photograph the demonstrators are whited out from the architecture. In the opposite image, which is cut into four panels, the concrete architecture of the Academic Quadrangle is erased, leaving the demonstrators to float in space. These ghostly images are a reminder of many contemporary conditions: the disappearance of activists from university campuses, the tension between authority and academic freedom, and the hyper-policing of public space.

To look back on the last 50 years of SFU is to also think about the ways in which neoliberalism has annihilated the collective agency of the university.

The tension portrayed in the The Templeton Five Affair also draws to mind the 2014 Burnaby Mountain demonstrations against the Transmountain pipeline, which produced a direct confrontation between SFU students, faculty and authority. In a time where collective agency is slipping away, this moment was pivotal and energizing for university campus politics. The Burnaby Mt. occupation signified the reclamation of sovereignty, a resistance to authority.

The contemporary affair that exists between the private and the public is in constant flux, largely conditioned by the policing of actions. Bitter and Weber’s installation is a reminder that collective agency is becoming more fragmented than ever before but that it has not vanished or gone away. It is while looking through the windows of the Teck Gallery, a ‘mentally prolonged space’, that we can continue to think deeply about social interaction. To return to Lefebvre, the lessons of the window are not exhausted.

[1] Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis, pg. 33
[2] From the Teck Gallery vinyl text
[3] http://www.sfu.ca/archives2/PDFs/ResearchGuideCampusPolitics1v0.pdf

*re-posted with permission from http://www.sfugalleriesblog.ca