Reading Excercises

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.


C Magazine’s “Poetry” Issue


Cover: Tanya Lukin Linklater, excerpt from “The Harvest Sturdies,” a long poem in the Slow Scrape project.

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

Artist Project

Midday in the Garden at the Wrecked Beach by Alex Turgeon

On Writing

Meditations on the Art of Reading by Lucy Ives

Book Reviews

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

Exhibition Reviews

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


Talking Back, Otherwise

Nicole Kelly Westman,

Nicole Kelly Westman, “A Temporal Kind of Protest,” undated, from the “Inherited Narratives” project.

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.


Flesh Marble Leaf & Twig

Untitled clay + graphite sculpture, Derek Liddington and cheyanne turions, 2015. Photo documentation by Yuula Benivolski.

Untitled clay + graphite sculpture, cheyanne turions and Derek Liddington, 2015. Photo documentation by Yuula Benivolski.

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.


Eating Bodies: Towards a Consummate Consumption

food garbage

Over the next four weeks, I’m doing the nerdiest thing possible and running a summer session of SCHOOL, an ongoing project coordinated by Jonathan Adjemian and Xenia Benivolski. Entitled Eating Bodies: Towards a Consummate Consumption, it has been co-curated with Leila Timmins and it will explore the political and aesthetic dimensions of the culinary.

What else is food, beyond nourishment? Assigned readings focus on eating as act with repercussions beyond the fulfillment of a basic need. Drawing on texts that operate outside of the sentimentality and machismo pervasive in much food writing, taste will be explored as something conditioned by class, gender, culture and history. Born of a desire to indulge and critically interrogate our tastes, especially as they resonate outward from our own plates, we hope to use food as symbol for human relations, exploring patterns of interaction between and within societies.

Over the course of four weeks, we will read a variety of texts—theoretical and comedic, historical and contemporary, fiction and not. Approaching SCHOOL as an experiment in informal education, please note that we are not experts in these texts, though our curiosity is voracious. Understandings of the texts will be performed collectively, and in addition to generally discussing each week’s theme, participants will be asked to share selections from the texts they find incendiary or spot-on. These observations will be used to guide our conversations.

If you would like to participate, please email quoteschool@gmail.com to ensure that you get readings and notifications. All are welcome and the whole thing is free.

Readings will be sent out in advance of each session by email. We invite all styles of engagement with the texts—mastery is not expected, desired nor possible. Those interested are strongly encouraged to attend all four sessions if possible, but drop-ins are welcome too. In addition to this list of readings/watchings, there will be some fancy bells and whistles—special guests, and things to eat and drink, in true summertime thought-hang style.

Colonial Foodstuffs

12 July 2015, 4 PM

MOCCA (952 Queen Street West)

with guest Jonah Campbell

Reading Jonah Campbell’s “Notes Preliminary to Actually Thinking About an Anti-Colonial Food Writing” from Still Crapulent and Kyla Wazana Tompkins’s “‘She Made the Table a Snare to Them’: Sylvester Graham’s Imperial Dietics” from Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century


19 July 2015, 4 PM

8-11 (233 Spadina Avenue)

Reading Kingsley Amis’s “The Hangover” from Everyday Drinking; M.F.K. Fisher’s “G is for Gluttony” from An Alphabet for Gourmets and “How to be Cheerful Through Starving” from How to Cook a Wolf; and Walter Benjamin’s “Fresh Figs” from his Selected Writings: Part 1 1927-1930.

Cannibalistic Feminisms

26 July 2015, 4 PM

MOCCA (952 Queen Street West)

Reading Jonah Campbell’s “On Nigella Lawson, Impossible Witnessing, and the Reification of Analysis” from Still Crapulent; excerpts from F.T. Marinetti/Fillia’s The Futurist Cookbook; and excerpts from Three Banquets for a Queen, edited by Charlotte Birnbaum; as well as watching Candice Lin’s Tales from the Kitchen: Beggar’s Revenge Chicken.

Art-food and Taste-making

02 August 2015, 4 PM

8-11 (233 Spadina Avenue)

with guest Danielle St-Amour

Reading Martha Rosler’s The Art of Cooking: A Dialogue Between Julia Child and Craig ClaiborneHelen Rosner’s “Christina Tosi Climbs to the Top of Cool Girl Mountain With ‘Milk Bar Life’” from Eater, Carolyn Korsmeyer’s “The Meaning of Taste and the Taste of Meaning” from Making Sense of Taste and Carol Goodden’s “FOOD and the City” from Collapse VII.

Thanks to MOCCA, 8-11 and No Reading After the Internet for their support of these SCHOOL sessions.


The Word As Bait

As a child learning to write, these lessons in script were also the cultivation of a graphomaniac impulse. I would discover the shape of a word and I would write it over and over again, a long list of conjuring things into being, the world taking shape around me by virtue of writing it into existence. Of course, not actually making the world, but making my understanding of it. And still, to this day, this is how I lure meaning from experience and observation, how the struggle to precisely name the electricity of living is imperfectly resolved: in the translation to language, in the passage from hand onto page.

Although I write primarily for some semblance of emotional and intellectual order, what was first adopted as a survival strategy has become a professional tactic: my writing practice prefigured the central methodology of my curatorial practice. When I look at art, I need language to know what I see, to understand what I feel. Texts—essays, dialogues, incendiary screeds—oftentimes accompany the exhibitions I make. I do not intend them to function as explanation machines, but maybe the writing can encourage a slowness in contemplation. Curating is an opportunity to contribute to discussions around aesthetic and performative strategies that address the complexity of shared social spaces. My hope is to use language to linger in this process of self-reflexivity, the imperative incumbent upon myself foremost.

If writing is bait for my own construction of meaning, then maybe the word can be bait for yours.

Compositionally, my predilection towards language structures the way I propose relationships between the components of an exhibition, where I am less concerned with history than I am with poetry and dialogue. The strategies I use to arrange objects in space I have learned from those I use to organize ideas on the page—synonyms for the sea do not make a poem (or, not necessarily), and neither does a collection of objects, whatever material or thematic repetition they may perform together, make an exhibition. As the poet and activist Jackie Wang has said, to create a space for the imagination is to create a container for the un-containing and un-leashing of desire. The container should facilitate generative encounters and provide a ground on which energizing and magical experiences can take place. For me, the art is always in what happens during the encounter, for writing is first and foremost ENERGY and CONNECTIVE TISSUE—a relation. Its not the textual objects but the bond that matter.” [1] A concern for language has taught me to pay attention to the spaces between things, to pay attention to the invisible but felt relation. Although all exhibitions ask to be read by their audience, by prioritizing strange intimacies and interruption I think a different kind of reading becomes possible—less about the right kind of scholarship, more about promiscuous curiosity. What is the bond that is being made through encounter? I cannot predict it, though I work to generate it.

The Iof the exhibition is an assemblage of the artistsworks, spatial conditions and social context, a kind of collective thinking that tends toward narrative. But the Iis unruly and speaks out against itself. It continues to talk after my back is turned, rewriting itself through encounters with its audience. If my first job as a curator is to compose, to write, then the reciprocal expectation is to heed the dialogue that rises, to find myself reading the traces that remain. My earliest impulses to write brought the world into existence. What is brought into existence now, or what I hope I am doing through this cultural work, is to encourage what might be delicate to come into the form of something more robust, giving ideas material form so that they make take root in others. And we will be bonded.

[1] Wang, Jackie. “Aliens as a Form-of-life: Imagining the Avant-Garde.” In The Force of What’s Possible: Writers on Accessibility & the Avant-Garde, eds. Lily Hoang & Joshua Marie Wilkinson, 325. Lebanon: Nightboat Books, 2013.


A Specific Poetic Literacy

In Susan Howe’s The Spontaneous Telepathy of Archives (2014), she quotes Robert Duncan on the specific capacities and compulsions of poetry:

The secret of the poetic art lies in the keeping of time, to keep time designing or discovering lines of melodic coherence. Counting the measures, marking them off, calculating the sequences; the whole intensified in the poet’s sense of its limitation…one image may recall another, finding depth in the resounding (17).

Which she later follows with her own theory:

Poetry has no proof nor plan nor evidence by decree of in any other way. From somewhere in the twilight realm of sound a spirit of belief flares up at the point where meaning stops and the unreality of what seems most real floods over us (63).

Where they first seem to counter each other—Duncan’s suggestion of poetry as order, Howe’s claim that the poetic moves against imposed logics—they come to echo each other in their measurement of poetry’s force residing in its capacity to mirror in a way that exceeds the image itself. For Duncan and Howe, the reflection engendered through the poetic use of language is somehow greater than the thing it describes.

This more than cannot be for the poet alone: to read these texts means to apprehend both an appearance of an event and a performance of it, where correlation does not strictly hold. To read poetry, on these terms, means to feel the space between the thing itself and the effects of contact with it. The intuition of this discrepancy must be a reason why, to write. The apprehension of this discrepancy is, then, a specific poetic literacy.