When I met up with Kegan McFadden, he had been working on a short essay describing a murder site at the foot of the Osborne bridge. In 1991 a man was murdered there on gay pride day and found in the river. This essay is just a small piece of the research he’s taking on for a longer book project. He led a tour with participants of the summer institute to this site as an opportunity to share first hand insight into this space of history that many might not know of.
McFadden has been curating independently and publishing writing about other artists for quite sometime now and I was curious about what its like to do that line of work, I imagine their must be an annoying maybe frustrating part to that role most wouldn’t think about. So I put the question to him. He laughs and tells me that it can be frustrating if you are the sort of curator who wants to work with an artist because of a specific art but then have a completely different idea for it that might not be how the artist sees their work. "I’ve had that happened to me. Its more fulfilling to be engaged in someone’s art practice. If you are excited with what they are researching and producing, then whatever they do is going to be exciting in some kind of way for you.”
Over the years his curatorial outlook as considered many approaches — from storyteller to reluctant art historian. He has curated shows about artists taking drugs to make work; artists re-working technologies; artists getting cabin fever; and more recently living memory in our cultural landscape as a counterpoint to the Canada 150 anniversary. He has also been touring the show he curated for Plug In ICA, Yesterday was Once Tomorrow (or, A Brick is a Tool), about magazines produced by artists in Canada during the 1990s he’s and editing an associated anthology that Plug In Editions will put out with Publication Studio later this year. I asked about the inherent freedom in being independent. And he tells me its probably the biggest appeal in being an independent curator. “You don’t have to do something you don’t want to do. You have nothing but freedom. So much that you can drown yourself.” he chuckles.
A specific aspect of research that fuels what McFadden does is found in the anecdote. The tiny bits of detail of a story, occurrence, or history that easily goes unrecognized if not written out altogether. "It is just as important to research the other side, the people that aren’t writing the history books or aren’t in the books, because they still have their stories to tell." It is among reasons McFadden is driven to realize this book length project. The overview of the book will discuss the homophobic violence in Winnipeg over the last twenty to thirty years, through the profile of three murders and the circumstances that led to them. It will also include some visual art work, and ruminate on the city itself, the water, and different politics associated with this place.
For McFadden, investigation by way of excavating through archives has long been a way of accessing histories that go unnoticed or are typically on the margins. But more than that, in order to bring to the surface details that may not be accessible through archives, field-investigation becomes another way to look outside of a set history. He describes this to me: “I sat down there [site of murder] last week, and just wrote a lot of notes describing the place and trying to get a feel for the atmosphere there. How its used now, how people walk through it, the fact that there are lamp posts 25 meters apart, all that stuff might be in a file somewhere but who knows if I would ever find it. But I can actually go there and see it and witness it first had. What I’m hoping to do with this essay is marry those two parts — the archival information and the actual experience of being there on that site.” Though McFadden anticipates the final form of the book taking a few years to reach, it appears to have a rather closely considered outline and the potential to be an important cultural offering.