The Gathering

John Boyle-Singfield


The film The Gathering and the eponymous exhibition, focus on the relationship between bureaucracy and the arts culture. Specifically, this work portrays art as an anti-bureaucratic endeavour that is paradoxically essential to maintaining the ‘administrative state’.

The short film produced during a residency at AXENÉO7 features a series of clips depicting a trip between the offices of the Canada Council for the Arts and a store specializing in role-playing games, playing cards and fantasy novels located on a street adjacent to the Council building. This process advances the symbiotic relationship — ideologically speaking — between the two institutions, even though they are organizationally quite different.

Fantasy universes and administrative structures

For Boyle-Singfield, fantasy worlds are a powerful metaphor for our sublimated relationship with the administrative structures of our societies. While role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons allow players to become barbarians, sorcerers or priests through epic adventures, they seem to be far removed from any kind of administrative formality. And yet, these platforms involve an impressive number of forms, charts, character stats, saving throws and a variety of inventories. It is therefore perhaps unrealistic to imagine a fantasy world without the spectre of bureaucracy. The gratuitous violence of this Game of Thrones-like universe becomes a psychological escape from our constitutional state and also reminds us that a bureaucracy-free reality could never actually exist.

Magic: The Gathering

Borrowing its name from the famous collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, the exhibition highlights the bureaucracy on which the art world is built. The term Gathering refers not only to the collecting of information but also to the endless administrative meetings held in the Canada Council offices.

The art world is therefore in a catch-22 situation. Despite the increasing professionalization of artists according to an entrepreneurial logic, artistic practice is invariably perceived by society as a romantic and poorly paid endeavour. This fabled “cursed entrepreneur” figure responds to authorities by playing a conflicting dual role and is forced to bend to bureaucratic logic and sovereign violence. At the same time, such individuals must project themselves as embodying the opposite of this bureaucracy to give society the fanciful negation it needs to be satisfied.

While he does not deny the poetic aspect of role-playing or the artistic profession, Boyle-Singfield seeks to underscore the ideology to which artists and culture in general are subjected. By depicting the violence of an administrative apparatus and a culture steeped in artifice, The Gathering turns around the mirror of hypocritical attitudes based on the bureaucratic/financial complex.

John Boyle-Singfield completed his master's degree at Concordia University in 2020. His work explores notions of language and exhibition through a practice blending performance, video, installation and Net art. Boyle-Singfield introduces a complex interplay of representation of various kinds of power through the art object he produces. He uses his succinct interventions, which are often laced with humour, to create a space for reflection on the aspects of joy and violence depicted in his work. John Boyle-Singfield recently exhibited his work at the artist-run centres AXENÉO7 (Gatineau, 2020), La Chambre Blanche (Quebec City, 2019), Folie/Culture (Quebec City, 2019), VOX (Montreal, 2018), DARE-DARE (Montreal, 2017), L'Écart (Rouyn-Noranda, 2017), and the Whitney Museum (New York, 2016).