It is an enormous honour to announce that Talking Back, Otherwise—a year-long exhibition I curated for the Jackman Humanities Institute (JHI)—has been selected by Karina Irvine as one of the top 3 exhibitions of 2015. Keeping some very good company on the list (with Tiziana LaMelia’s The Eyelash and the Monochrome at Toronto’s Mercer Union and Kim Boem’s self-titled solo exhibition at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery), Irvine organizes her list around the idea of “Telling Things.” Of Talking Back, Otherwise, she observes that the exhibition “explores the JHI’s annual theme…through asserting the evocative life of things. The boundaries between our past, present and future are questioned within the show by shifting and challenging perceptions of historical and societal narratives. In effect, the artworks actively present alternative modes of comprehending place, reality, identity and meaning-making by talking back. Their configuration, while blending into the institutional framework of the JHI, lends an expansive and refreshing voice to the diversity and complexities of our world.”
The following guest post by Onyeka Igwe is a transcription of her contribution to Running with Concepts: The Geologic Edition. Presented as part of the Singular Metabolism program, Igwe prefaced the reading with a screening of her film Bordered (2012).
Written and originally performed by Onyeka Igwe. Inspired by conversations with Felix Kalmenson, Felix Waterhouse and Calista Feltham.
In my life, there have been several names for what it is that I do or have done or what it is that I am.
The names for the category of personhood that I have advocated for, shown solidarity with and am has constantly changed at the pleasure of an uncaptive audience.
I wanted to collapse all of this and erase the rigidity of our language—a language that creates hierarchies of worth through naming.
I wanted to distill all of the noise into one simple idea—movement.
For me, that is the centrality of it all. When I close my eyes, all I want to do is move. I am one of those people that need to regularly dance, I need to know my body materially and this knowledge only comes from the flex and restraint of my bones, my limbs, my muscles in vibration. I feel most vital after exhaustion when every movement I make is painful, a reminder that my fibres have torn and are in the process of a repair that brings new strength.
I came to an essence in order to advocate for a borderless world. A world without borders requires a leap in the Western imagination or, a decolonial collective remembering.
I see borders in the fences that gird our former commonly held parkland, in signs that tell us where to go, in the categories of personhood that are bestowed on our bodies and reproduced by social organization, in the red dust roads that recall The great scramble for Africa.
I see borders in the drawers in the Ornithology Department at the Royal Ontario Museum. Where behind combination lock lie birds stuffed and preserved.
Birds like the Larus Dominicanus Austrinus or Antarctic Kelp Gull.
This Kelp Gull, a migratory colonial nesting bird, indigenous to the Deception Islands in Antarctica. A first of its kind specimen was killed, captured, classified and transported by British Ornithologist A.G. Bennett in 1922.
This kelp gull has moved from archive to archive, finally arriving at the Royal Ontario Museum at the bequest of the estate J.H. Fleming, a collector of over 32,000 specimens.
This kelp gull lies in stasis, unable to spread its wings to full width and unseen due to its first of its kind status.
This kelp gull is marked through ownership by the several paper tags tied to its feet naming it, in a refined cursive.
This kelp gull is a transnational body, claimed and named, by a practice that conjoined the ownership of territory and fauna as a form of demarcating colonial space.
I see borders in the classification of Fallopia japonica as an invasive species.
Fallopia japonica or Japanese knotweed has been rendered illegal due to the extent of its movement.
Japanese knotweed is a perennial, native to Japan, Korea and China.
Japanese knotweed was cut, named and smuggled out of Japan in specimen form by German botanist Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold. His work as a military physician for the Dutch Empire facilitated his travel and residence in Japan.
Japanese knotweed is amongst some 12,000 specimens von Siebold exported without permission. They were first housed in a small museum in Leiden, Holland, which eventually became the National Museum of Ethnology.
Japanese knotweed, in original specimen form resides in the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew where it was added to the collection in 1850.
Japanese Knotweed now grows across Europe, North America and New Zealand and can all be traced back to the single female plant collected by von Siebold.
Japanese knotweed looks like bamboo and grows illustriously. It is accused of crowding out native species. There is not a 1,500-hectare patch of ground in the UK that does not contain the plant.
Japanese knotweed is the scourge of British gardeners; the cost of its removal has amassed to 3 billion pounds, most notably in the eradication necessary to build the London 2012 Olympic velodrome and aquatic centre.
Japanese knotweed grew furiously in the small strip of unclaimed land between a set of old piano warehouses, that I once called my home, and a shopping centre in North East London. I spent summers pulling it out of the ground and burning it atop bonfires.
I see borders in the procession of lead-out motorbikes followed by armoured cars protecting the CEOs and CFOs of the various international oil and gas companies that slow my travel on the roads of would be Biafra.
Biafra, the oil rich southeastern region of Nigeria that only existed from 1967 to 1970. Oil, a substance birthed from movement at non-human pace.
Biafra, whose mineral wealth was named, categorised and transported globally from 1956 by Shell-British Petroleum.
Biafra where my parents were born, as colonial subjects, in a rural community called, Arondizuogu.
Biafra, whose attempted secession caused a civil war, a war fought on the basis of its mineral wealth, for if Biafra became independent Nigeria’s oil production would have been cut in half.
Biafra starved into submission from the combined forces of the Nigerian government and its British backers.
Biafra where skeletal pot bellied children became markers of global concern, tragedy and aid on televisions across the globe.
Biafra, an imaginative that can’t be mapped and no longer has borders but from which oil still flows.
I wanted to tell you a fable.
At the beginning of the year, when I first moved to Canada, a migration expedited by colonial history and enacted by this Biafran cum British body in a messy tautology, I would walk around the city and experience the ways in which this land, new to me, was changing and moving my body. I would listen to this song and sing at the top of my lungs:
Yesterday I had the immense pleasure of participating in Running with Concepts: The Geologic Edition. Organized by Christine Shaw, the Director/Curator at the Blackwood Gallery, the event brought together scientists, artists and those working in hybrid practices to “engage transdisciplinary debates and studies of the geologic as source of explanation, motivation, and inspiration for understanding and responding to conditions of the present moment.” Alongside angela rawlings, Onyeka Igwe, Julie Joosten and Francisco-Fernando Granados, I presented a program of readings and performances entitled Singular Metabolism.
Geologic time is marked by measurable differences in rock layers, and the idea of the anthropocene stakes itself as a new geologic era meant to describe the profound environmental shifts that human beings have effected since we first tested the atomic bomb, or since the Industrial Revolution, or perhaps even further back, since we began to farm. The timeframe of the anthropocene is not exactly agreed upon, and neither is it agreed upon exactly what the anthropecene is. But regardless of whether we think it strictly adheres to a definition of geologic transformation, or if we think it is merely a useful ideological tool for framing the profound consequences of a shifting climate that humans have brought about, it strikes me as useful that discourse about the anthropocene irrevocably yokes human action and ecological devastation. However, so much talk in and around this proposed new geologic time does not seem to go deep enough to account for the specific human mechanics that have brought about this changing world.
The anthropocene, as an idea, tends to obscure social and political structures of power. In reality, the physical changes it denotes are equivalent to all kinds of deleterious social formations that stem from Euro-American or Euro-Western domination of colonized and enslaved populations, and the systemic disregard of ways of knowing and being in relation that exist outside of the status quo.
This critique is not new. It has been made by Zoe Todd in her essay “Indigenizing the Anthropocene,” which is published in Art and the Anthropocene (2015), and it has been made by James W. Moore in his new book Capitalism in the Web of Life (2015), from whom I borrowed the phrase “singular metabolism” as the title of this event.
Moore’s idea of singular metabolism insists on the deeply enfolded relationship between society and nature. Social crises and ecological crises are not binary phenomena; they are many expressions of a singular but immensely complex upheaval. Capitalism is racism is the potential extinction of life on earth. Or, more concretely, climate change is going to fundamentally alter the conditions of making a profit. And making a life. The event, then, was an attempt to think through how the exploitation of natural resources is connected to colonization, white supremacy and a globalization powered by capitalism. Taking the idea of singular metabolism seriously, artistic responses will be as necessary as economic or ecological tactics in addressing our changing world.
The artists and poets I collaborated with share a concern for how “the anthropocene” functions as a euphemism, and they offered complex interpretations for what might lay beneath this specific deploy of language.
angela rawlings was not able to join us in person but contributed a specially edited video of her project Jöklar, which describes glacial shifts in Iceland through a language game that turns glacier names into affective descriptions of their changing environment. Onyeka Igwe presented her video Bordered and reflected on how migration is an index of social organization that takes different kinds of bodies (human, plant, mineral). Julie Joosten read a trilogy of poems: The Power of Movement in Plants considered Charles Darwin’s experiments with recording the dances of botany and the language he used to describe his findings; If light stabilizing / If to receive a bee mapped colonization through the plant trade; and [Horseshoe shaped drift of silence, its ends pointing downwind] bore witness to the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women through a reflection of social silences through the language of geology. Francisco-Fernando Granados‘s performance involved drawing a line from his shoulder through the tip of his thumb by bringing blood to the surface of his flesh, raising questions about how we construct and claim objects of knowledge, the body foremost.
As I tried to facilitate a discussion afterwards, I found myself weeping. My collaborators are brilliant—this is why I invited them. But I was completely unprepared for how the shift from philosophical consideration to performative embodiment would move me. I’m not sure I totally understand the scale of my emotional reaction, but I learned something profound about the relation between theory and life, and the uncomfortable—but necessary—consequences of refusing that distinction. These performances represented strategies for introducing more nuance into the discourse of the anthropocene and strategies for addressing our shared metabolic condition in ways that do not reproduce the variety of dispossessions that characterize our present tense. It was tough and it was gorgeous.
This winter, in collaboration with #ReadTheTRCReport, No Reading After the Internet will be participating in Reading Exercises, an exhibition organized by Katrie Chagnon at Montréal’s Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery. For the past many years, No Reading has been a project of the collective efforts of myself, Amy Kazymerchyk and Alex Muir.
Whereas No Reading would usually work with an artist to read aloud and discuss texts that had informed their practice, here, instead, we took the opportunity of the exhibition to put No Reading in dialogue with another project that is also concerned with the embodied politic of reading aloud.
#ReadTheTRCReport is a citizen’s initiative generated by Zoe Todd, Erica Violet Lee and Joseph Murdoch-Flowers. This project was developed as a means of making the entire Executive Summary of the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada available online in video format. The report acts as a testament to the “cultural genocide”1 perpetrated by the Canadian state and Canadians upon Indigenous communities, notably by means of the residential school system. The document is meant to shed light on our complex collective history and “to lay the foundation for the important question of reconciliation.”2
In reaction to the publication of the report in June 2015, Métis activist, writer and teacher Chelsea Vowel, launched a call on her blog, âpihtawikosisân, for people to read the document in order to educate themselves on the permanent damages caused by Canada’s colonial history and to critically engage with the TRC’s findings. The video reading project initiated by Todd, Lee and Murdoch-Flowers, serves as a direct response to Vowel’s call, as well as a means to increase the report’s accessibility, to grant it life and to honour residential school survivors. Using social media (Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, et cetera), the trio has invited individuals from throughout Canada and elsewhere (Indigenous and non-Indigenous), to record themselves reading through one of 140 sections of the report, and to share their videos on YouTube. Accessible by searching #ReadTheTRCReport, the videos are integrated within a playlist containing the complete English version of the document.
A productive political exercise, this project is rooted within the current Canadian understanding of the existing relations with Indigenous communities. It testifies to the possibility—or rather the necessity—for each of us to exercise agency through the act of reading.
The dialogue between these two projects will be presented through a series of public readings and discussions that examine the process, structure and form of the report, histories of oral and textual testimony, and the role of literacy in political engagement, scheduled to take place in January 2016.
Within this context, No Reading and #ReadTheTRCReport will think out-loud and collectively about the politics of reading aloud, of political action more generally, and will consider what our projects can learn from each other. Visitors will be invited to contribute to the production of the yet to be undertaken French video edition of the #ReadTheTRCReport.
The exhibition opens on 18 November 2015, and we hope to see you in January, when folks from both projects gather together in Montréal to think + talk + celebrate + share.
1. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future. Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015, 1. Online :http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=890 (accessed October 29, 2015)
2. Ibid., VI.
A few weeks ago, I was reading an interview with the poet and philosopher Fred Moten where he declares that from now on, all the work is going to be collaborative. Or rather, that it has always been and he is no longer going to portend otherwise.
I feel like all the work is collaborative work, it’s just that it comes out under an individual name so the other people you’re in collaboration with are subordinated in a certain kind of way to one’s own name, even though all of those voices are constantly with you and in your head. There’s a customarily solitary practice of orchestrating or organizing all those voices in a particular way, but I think now what I’d like to do is just not even be involved in that solitary practice of composing, or arranging.
Instead, Moten advocates for “composing in real time in common—as an explicit social practice.” Although I was in the midst of a summer road trip with my father when the writing deadlines for the “Poetry” issue of C Magazine passed, the electric conversations between myself and Kari Cwynar and Danielle St-Amour as co-editors, in dialogue with a brilliant cast of writers, were precisely of this sort, compositional collaborations that cannot be undone. Throughout the pages of the issue, there are all kinds of support structures, bolstered by challenges made and taken (the delicate dance of listening made flesh). If there is a burgeoning collectivity that the voices in the “Poetry” issue conjure, I would like to think that it first took root in how the issue was made.
The issue launched last week at ESP (Erin Stump Projects) with readings by Aisha Sasha John with Faraz Anoushahpour; Fan Wu with Julian Butterfield, Prantha Lor, Lena Suksi and Carter West; and Emma Healey. Their performances exposed core concerns of the issue: the politics and performativity of poetry as a mode of enacting life, the refusal to construe poetry and visual culture as separate genres, and the imperative to interrogate one’s participation in systems that otherwise work to make themselves invisible.
The writing in the issue is so good, it will make you want to kick down walls and start fires. Let’s see what we can raise up together from the rubble and ashes.
Get your hands on an issue. I implore you.
C Magazine 127 “Poetry,” guest-edited by Kari Cwynar, Danielle St-Amour and cheyanne turions, focuses its attention on a collection of thinkers looking outside artistic and literary conventions, and beyond the status quo of civic life. Recently, poetry has resurfaced as an engaged and active voice, both to the world at large and within its own borders: rejecting its own supposed avant-garde and writing new histories, creating new spaces.
Taking poetry as a jumping-off point, the work collected in this issue restructures and renegotiates the parameters between word and image, language and meaning. Throughout the issue, the conceit that poetry and visual culture are separate genres is repeatedly undone, revealing new strategies that render visible a politics of world-making.
C Magazine 127 “Poetry” (Autumn 2015)
(Soma)tic Ritual Collaborations by CAConrad
A Positioning, Not a Question by Nasrin Himada
Orality and Action by Hanne Lippard
The Edges and the Centres by Tanya Lukin Linklater
Voices On Her Cures by Tiziana La Melia
The Perfume Recordist by Stacy Doris and Lisa Robertson
For Example (We Have Decided to Become Our Own Posterity): on Arakawa and Gins by Rachel Valinsky
Tore Off by Amy De’Ath
Pissing by Andrea Lukic
Constellation by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
The First Drawing for Reflection Paper No. 5 and The Second Drawing for Reflection Paper No. 5 by Taocheng Wang
Do I have faith or am I stupid? by Aisha Sasha John
Midday in the Garden at the Wrecked Beach by Alex Turgeon
Meditations on the Art of Reading by Lucy Ives
Perfume Area by Laurel Schwulst and Sydney B. Shen, reviewed by Sam Davis
The Animated Reader: Poetry of “Surround Audience” Brian Droitcour, ed.,reviewed by Fan Wu
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson,reviewed by Tess Edmonson
Shirin Neshat: Soliloquy, by Magdalena Miłosz
The 56th International Art Exhibition, Venice, by Randy Lee Cutler
ManWoman: Heart of Longing, by Peta Rake
Laurie Kang: Deferring Diffractions, by Shelby Fenlon
Elizabeth Zvonar: THE CHALLENGE OF ABSTRACTION, by Emma Healey
Julia Feyrer and Tamara Henderson: Consider the Belvedere, by Erica Prince
Them, by Olivia Dunbar
by Robin Simpson
This week, Talking Back, Otherwise opens at the Jackman Humanities Institute (JHI), an exhibition I have spent the last many months working on.
Please join me for the opening on Wednesday, 16 September 2015, from 4-6 PM, at 170 St. George Street on the 10th floor.
The JHI is an incredible space, dedicated to interdisciplinary research in the social sciences and humanities. Each year, the institute sets a research focus and invites scholars from around the world to pursue projects related to that theme, emphasizing the value of collaborative scholarship across academic boundaries. For the last five years, the JHI has also invited a curator to make an exhibition in their research space and I am thrilled to be working with them for the 2015-2016 year.
Within the research thematic of Things That Matter, Talking Back, Otherwise proposes that one way that things can talk to us is by virtue of talking back, when they operate counter to our expectations of them, provoking our ire, desire or surprise. By turns playful and serious, the works in Talking Back, Otherwise utilize a shifting perception of value to comment on the strictures of systems of classification—poking holes, making fun, resisting. In the oscillation between one way of understanding and another, a critique of the normative world is made possible.
The exhibition features the work of Marvin Luvualu Antonio, Valérie Blass, Bethany Collins, Jérôme Havre, Maryse Larivière, Jennifer Rose Sciarrino and Nicole Kelly Westman.
Please visit the exhibition’s website for more information: http://www.talkingbackotherwise.wordpress.com.
I am not an artist. I have never been an artist. But this summer, Derek Liddington invited me to approach 100 pounds of clay alongside him and use the material as a way of recording our conversation.
Our untitled work became part of Flesh Marble Leaf & Twig, an exhibition at 8-11 that included additional collaborative projects Liddington made with Chris Heller and Ulysses Castellanos. Forms were determined through an exchange of rubbing, bending, pushing, clawing and kneading, rendering a physical record of the duration of the conversations, reflecting an interest in the impact of shared memory and the politics of the gesture on an intimate scale.
As we discussed the possibility and politics of cross-cultural translation, I held in mind two wildly different references: the exquisite brushwork of Monique Mouton and that scene from Ghost (1990), you know the one. I can sense both of these cultural quotations in the work when I look at it, but I’m not sure either could possibly be evident to someone regarding the work in a gallery. And such is a lesson about what it means to make, that not everything that mattered can be there to read in the end.
In conversation with artists Stefanos Ziras and Eleni Papadimitriou, whose work was also part of Flesh Marble Leaf & Twig, Liddington described the clay sculptures as democratic negotiations. However, I prefer to think of our work as that of two dictators coming into contact with one another. Liddington proposed we use a material I was completely unfamiliar with, pushing me. I proposed we decorate the clay with graphite, pushing him. There was no vote taken or attempts at consensus, but rather a willingness to accommodate the inclinations of the other despite reservations. Approaching our collaborative object with generosity, I’d say that we hoped to show that the work of translation is not just rendering an idea intelligible in multiple ways, but that sometimes the work of being in contact means making room for something that you can’t understand.