Here's a drawing Jeff Wall made as a teenager in the 1960s for the Vancouver Sun. The Sun reprinted it and other drawings last week after Wall received the Audain award for Lifetime Achievement at the Vancouver Art gallery on Thursday. Did Michael Audain, the condo developer who funded the award, include as an achievement the fact that Wall crossed a picket line while presenting himself to his students and the world as a Marxist?
A fellow instructor in the SFU Center for the Contemporary Arts never forgot about Wall crossing that picket line. It was during a conversation about SFU's sexual harassment history -- he was mum on the sexual harassment issue -- that he interjected this tidbit more than once. The hypocrisy of it still bothered him years later.
The strike the Theatre instructor was referring to would have been "before my time" at SFU, says the woman who dropped out of SFU due to sexual harassment. But she wasn't at all surprised to hear that Wall had crossed a picket line; she too had seen such tendencies in him. She saw them at a meeting between Visual Arts professors and students to discuss a pending general strike known as "Solidarity", which took place in the mid-1980s to protest the right-of-centre Social Credit government in British Columbia. When faced with the dilemma of whether he and his fellow professors would strike, Wall said emphatically, "It's illegal for us to go on strike!". It was her impression that he was rationalizing an intent to cross a picket line and come to work while workers province-wide were engaged in a general strike. She was struck by such an attitude on the part of a Marxist. "I told my friend [E.S.] what Wall had said. [E.S.] had been a Marxist when he was younger but he wasn't anymore." E.S. told her that she should have pointed out to Wall that most striking has been illegal at one time or another but that hasn't prevented workers from taking that action.
In the end though, a group decision was made that the entire Visual Arts Department would go out in support of the general strike. She believes the decision was actually made by representatives from all departments in the Center for the Contemporary Arts -- Visual Arts, Theatre, Acting, Music, Dance -- but she can't say for certain. "I didn't pay much attention to what was going on in other departments", she says. "I remember walking into studio class one afternoon and Greg Snider was in the entrance way and he announced that they were all going out the next day [when the general strike was to start]." He seemed "hyped up" about it.
Wall would possibly deny having crossed a picket line. It would be one man's word against another. Who ya gonna believe? Wall or the Theatre instructor who couldn't shake the memory of it?