Emerging Curator of Contemporary Canadian Art

When I decided to go to university, my choice to study philosophy was the perfect consequence of listening to too many albums by The Doors (and thus reading a lot of Nietzsche), combined with a desire to study science but knowing that I am no good at math. Maybe the logic is hard to follow, but art was not exactly there as a beckon. And yet. Through this funny journey I’ve had around to where I am now, these early impulses have come to deeply inform my curatorial practice and it is still astonishing to me that I get to practice philosophy through the medium of exhibition making, in space, alongside the wild propositions of artists. This is a real joy—the product of so much hard work, privilege and luck.

This week I was awarded the Hnatyshyn Foundation’s Emerging Curator of Contemporary Canadian Art award at a celebration at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. This is an incredible honour. I am so thankful to the Hnatyshyn Foundation, foremost the late Right Honourable Ramon John Hnatyshyn for having the vision to create these kinds of recognition opportunities for cultural workers, and for the board members and staff there who imbue the process with such integrity.

This award makes a huge difference in my life. The prize is awarded to support professional development and the esteem that surrounds the Hnatyshyn Foundation will undoubtedly transform the work I will come to do in the future. This is a pivotal moment. 

To know that the kind of work I have been doing resonated with the jurors, to know that other people think it is a worthy project to think colonization and decolonization and historical inheritance and sovereignty and translation and language and migration through art is heartening . And what a powerhouse jury! It was composed of Daina Augaitis, whose work at the Vancouver Art Gallery in a sense raised me to understand what exhibition-making can be at its most grand; Pamela Meredith, whose work with the TD Bank Group is a paragon of what corporate relationships to the arts can and should be; and Reesa Greenberg, who, as a scholar, was one of the first to consider exhibitions as historical units in need of analysis and this kind of attention is crucial to the kinds of exhibitions I make.

Over the years, I’ve worked with such imaginative collaborators, had the pleasure of engaging the practice of artists who have changed how I see the world, and the joy of generous friendships. Not to mention the sweetness of love that makes everything possible. I’ve also had incredible mentors, some of whom I was able to share the evening with. Here are some of the silly and profound things I’ve learned from the outstanding company I’ve kept…

Pablo de Ocampo is the man who thought to nominate me for the award. He taught me how to be chill in the face of all kinds of challenge and has become one of my best friends. 

Alissa Firth-England and Kika Thorne were the very first people to extend their belief in my capacity as a curator, offering me my opportunities to propose resonances between artworks. Between them, in many different ways, I have learned precision.

When I arrived in Toronto five years ago, Kim Simon and Scott Miller Berry welcomed me and anchored me and supported me in finding a place in this city. They have continued to extend this kind of radical generosity and they’ve become some of my most trusted collaborators. Kim has taught me the value of difficult knowledge and of the importance of saying things that need to be said. Scott has taught me what it means to be a member of a community, how important it is that we nourish each other.

Srimoyee Mitra, through our collaboration at the Art Gallery of Windsor, taught me that the meaning of history is not fixed.

My friends are my most consistent interlocutors, asking me tough questions about my sometimes unnecessarily obstinate ideas and encouraging me in my best ones. They continue to teach me sanity and empathy and fun.

Pip Day taught be not to be afraid of what an exhibition needs to be, regardless of how it seems to fit alongside some Platonic idea of what an exhibition should be.

Amy Lynn Kazymerchyk has taught me what it means to be on a journey of change together and the importance of writing letters.

There so many others I deeply admire who have supported my writing and curatorial practice, including every  artist I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. THANK-YOU. I hope I am able to support all of you in equal measure to the joy you’ve offered me.

I just can’t wait to see what the future holds. 


Talk Show at Nuit Blanche Montréal


Tonight, as part of Montréal’s Nuit Blanche events, SBC Gallery is launching Talk Show, an exhibition and a series of actions, coming together to investigate how the future is produced and how this coming future relates to common struggles to embody the present.

Talk Show is focused on the art and politics of conversation. Organized by el instituto (Mexico City), the sequel expands on the original Talk Show (2012) and its exploration of the roles of the speech act, of the contested figure of the witness, and of testimonials in the constitution of the subject and the configuration of the political.

Talk Show launches SBC’s second Focus Program: Água Viva. This long-term research project emerges out of Clarice Lispector’s 1973 book of the same title and seeks to expand on SBC’s practice of living research: artists, writers, architects, musicians, curators and other cultural practitioners will be invited to think together and to develop projects through and around this extraordinary piece of prose. Dispensing with narrative while dwelling in the “secret harmony of disharmony,” the Focus Program, like Clarice’s Água Viva, seeks to pull at the threads that articulate shifting political subjectivities, modes of address and the complexities between “you” and “I.”

A series of live interviews, performances and talks will be held over the course of the Nuit Blanche evening, enacting on the art and politics of conversation. It’s coming together and confrontation as a certain kind of making. A full schedule of events can be found here.

Alongside these real-time enactments, the gallery will be filled with documents of past conversations, including the only recorded interview with Lispector, a stunning and strange document that betrays her reclusive tendencies while showing her to be irreverent as well.

Upon the invitation of SBC’s Director and Curator Pip Day, I have contributed one element to this constellation of historical materials: this conversation with James Baldwin. Speaking to Baldwin in March 1987, just eight months before his death, British television host Mavis Nicholson interviewed him as part of her afternoon show Mavis on Four. The raw and incomplete footage, which suddenly appeared online in November 2014, shows Nicholson to be a provocative interlocutor, asking frank questions about racialization, religion and sexuality, and Baldwin is an affable subject. And yet, the interview comes to be characterized by his consistent reframing the assumptions embedded in her prompts. In refusing what Nicholson calls “racial prejudice,” Baldwin refocuses agency upon the perpetrator, away from body of the person who must bear racism’s cruelty. It’s a profound point of departure from which to consider Lispector’s prompt from Água Viva: “The next instant, do I make it? or does it make itself?”

I will also be collaborating with Jackie Wang on a workshop in April. It is going to be amazing. More details soon…


Every Name in History is “I”

(I’ve been conducting writing experiments, prompted by Eva-Lynn Jagoe. I’m trying to not be precious about it. Here’s a bit of how I approached her prompt to write a piece in which the grammatical voice shifts.)


Every name in history is “I,” though you wouldn’t know it for the way our stories pass from one generation to the next. If the individual remains, and most often they do not, then “I” is made into an object of the proper name. The complexity of being becomes the simplicity of thing. However awful the repeal of the capacity for narrative may seem, this fate is to be saved from something worse, which is your subsumption into the unnamed masses upon which history plays. If this fate is difficult to bear—your agency inevitably undone—then persistence must be sought outside of historicization. Here, we experience the other as if they belonged to us.

Another interpretation of the claim is possible. If every name in history is I, then each signifier is revivified when we assume it as our own. I am Friedrich Neitzsche who first authored these words to the historian Jakob Burckhardt in 1889, a mere two days after he collapsing in the streets of Turin with his arms around the neck of a horse. I am Jalal Toufic who took Nietzsche’s words for his own in trying to understand the act of murder conditioned by anonymity between a soldier and their enemy in an essay first published in the year 2000. I am the object of address in every “you” or “we” or “their,” performing a restorative kind of magic in answering the offered call. I suppose that poetry is a name for this inverted reification, where the thickness of language compels identification, turning nouns back into verbs. This kind of direct address resists strict interpretation. How do we live within poetry? To live within poetry is to register oneself being addressed. Here we experience the other as if they were us.

The torture of every name in history being “I,” mine, is that history anticipates my name being sung back to me, dead. Nothing registers this loss so deeply as love. How is the form of love reconstituted by history when we recognize that all our electricity will dissipate? Love makes us terrified. Love renders us pathetic. Love is written and rewritten with such regularity as to be utterly banal; history tells us this. Here we experience ourselves as if we were another, our identity unstable and exceedingly vulnerable to the whims of the beloved.

There are many ways of being distant, many ways of being near.


Lines and Nodes


Tomorrow I will be participating in Lines and Nodes, a day-long gathering scholars and artists who study the politics and affects of human-made infrastructures. I will be moderating a discussion to follow a film screening featuring the works of Len Lye (a short PSA made in 1937 that could have been made this year for its formal innovation), CAMP (a terrifying demonstration of the ubiquity of urban surveillance), Larilyn Sanchez (an exploration of globalization through the specificities of death) and Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc (a video questioning the contemporary inheritance of colonization). This happens alongside presentations by Brenda Longfellow, Michelle Murphy, Deborah Cowen and Ursula Biemann. Based on a program presented in New York last year, these considerations of infrastructure, space and resource extraction promise to challenge understandings of how these different aspects of contemporary economic systems are interconnected, and how representation and resistance come together to make change.

Sunday, 22 February 2015
Daniels School of Architecture, 230 College Street, Room 103 (Please use Huron Street entrance)

A full schedule of events can be found here.


Reesa Greenberg Curatorial Studies Award

After the first semester of my studies at the University of Toronto in the Master’s of Visual Studies program, I am honoured to be the inaugural recipient of the Reesa Greenberg Curatorial Studies Award.  Greenberg is giant in the field of art history whose Thinking About Exhibitions (1996), co-edited with Bruce Ferguson and Sandy Nairne, is one of the first attempts to think through exhibition histories. She is an adjunct professor at Carleton University and York University, encouraging new generations of curators, writers, historians and artists to proceed in their professions with curiosity and rigour. I feel very lucky to be connected to her through this scholarship. In a very real way, her support makes my continued education possible. I am so grateful for her vision in this regard, and for my incredible teachers at the University of Toronto—Barbara Fischer, Charles Stankievech, Lisa Steele and others—who work tirelessly to make the Curatorial Studies program a rich field of ideological challenges and formal experimentation, and a place to hone practical skills. I can’t wait to see what happens next…


“The Dispossessed”—Group Reading


For many years now, I’ve been observing the practice and potentials of reading aloud through No Reading After the Internet. As a kind of reading group, the collective encounter shifts the expectation away from expertise (as often happens with reading groups where participants are asked to pre-read) toward improvisation. Practically, the form is one of fits and starts, where the reading is continually interrupted by questions and propositions, posed to the text itself and other participants.

This evening, I am excited to  take part in another kind of reading aloud experiment, a project of Danielle Aubert’s to make a used book audio recording” of the entire book of Ursela K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. Using annotated copies of the book she’s gathered over the years (she has collected over one hundred copies), Aubert is organizing the reading aloud as a performance of the evidence of having been read already. As a group reading and recording of chapter 3 of the science fiction novel, it will include articulations of existing hand-written notes, marginalia and underlined passages.

Previous recordings have been conducted at Ditto Ditto books in Detroit (Chapter 1), and at Labyrinth Books in Princeton, NJ (Chapter 2).

There’s still room for readers, so please do join us if the nerdy inclination of out-loud reading compels you. The great folks at Art Metropole are hosting, starts at 19:00. I wonder what kind of sense we’ll make of it, our voices bearing both the text and ghostly evidence of so many others…

"The Dispossessed" Group Reading at Art Metropole

“The Dispossessed” Group Reading at Art Metropole


FrameWork 1/15

Still from Althea Thauberger's "Preuzmimo Benčić (Take Back Benčić)," (2014).

Still from Althea Thauberger’s “Preuzmimo Benčić (Take Back Benčić),” (2014).

This January, I sat down with Kim Simon and an awesome cast of cultural workers and artists to discuss Althea Thauberger’s latest film, Preuzmimo Benčić (Take Back Benčić) (2014), as part of its exhibition at Susan Hobbs. Like so much of Thauberger’s work, the film layers subjectivities through performativity, the role of the artist brushing up against the agency of her collaborators, where the beginning and end of Thauberger’s direction is unclear. Saelan Twerdy has said of Thauberger’s work (and I referenced it in the conversation that afternoon), that it asks a viewer to consider who authors the roles they feel they must play. Preuzmimo Benčić refracts this question through time and across political ideologies. Filmed in Rijeka, Croatia, with a cast of over 60 child performers, it documents an occupation of an unused factory amidst its real-life possible redevelopment. Having no doubt inherited stories of their parents’ experiences with communism, the children create a drama of the factory in its worker-managed past, where the imagined desires of labourers brush up against the invented agendas of factory bosses and town politicians. Our discussion at the gallery centred around the complexities of what the film made visible and what remained concealed, in terms of its making and its reception. The gallery has published an edited document of conversation here, and though it is impossible to capture the energy and reciprocity at play in conversation through text, the document does capture something about the complexity and resonance of Thauberger’s work. It’s one of her best, in my opinion.