…And Other Such Stories

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As the 2019 edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial enters its final days of programming, I am reflecting on a conversation I had with biennial co-curator Sepake Angiama and cultural worker Vincent Tao that was published in the accompanying catalogue. Entitled “Unceded Territory: Historicizing Vancouver,” we collectively considered what it means to call a place home when that naming of a place is built upon historical and continued dispossessions. This condition is true for Vancouver as it is true for Chicago. The narratives of each city divert in their specificities, but many structural elements remain common, that commonality foremost an ongoing settler colonial project that frames land and life as resources to be voraciously consumed. As the year turns, as the decade too, I consider Vince’s observation in our conversation that “histories are destroyed through the process of gentrification and development … these narratives are hidden beneath the monumental, in the spaces we call the everyday, the vernacular.” I also consider the biennial’s banner of ...And Other Such Stories. And I wonder what is possible when stories are returned to, recovered, shared anew, what kinds of listening would be needed for what has been buried to resound, and I look forward to coming days, to a kind of modest relation that I can labour with, one that might account for what has come and prepare for what is coming.


Rerouting History


This summer, I spent a very hot afternoon with some of the smartest people I know, thinking about inheritance and what obligations we must try to observe in carrying histories forward, however aligned or maladapted they may be to who we understand ourselves and others to be.

Convened by Deanna Bowen, I sat with John Hampton, Peter Morin, Lisa Myers and Archer Pechawis on a stage at the University of Toronto. On the occasion of the Hart House’s Centennial, Deanna was invited by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto to examine the foundations of racialized cultural identity in Canada, and as our point of departure we took The God of Gods (1919). Written by Carroll Aikens, this play uses the architecture of a tragic love story to describe the horrors of war, but in a way that inscribes an all-to-familiar racial violence: in all of its performances, in Canada and abroad, white actors in red face were centre stage, a formal echo of the play’s derogatory ideas about Indigenous people and cultures. Deanna has taken our conversation from that day and articulated it as a new video work that will be part of her upcoming exhibition at the Art Museum entitled God of Gods: A Canadian Play.

As described in the press release:

The play is steeped in primitivism, a manufactured construct that positioned Indigenous cultures as naïve precursors to European civilization. In the past, The God of Gods has been presented as an example of seminal Canadian theatre, and it continues to be celebrated as an important play in Canadian history. Bowen’s project visualizes the social and political networks that, in the early twentieth century, came to shape long-lasting and deeply entrenched ideas of Canadian culture.

It is too easy to single out the play as abhorrent and aberrant from our contemporary perspective. More useful, and as Deanna’s exhibition will work to reveal, is the way that these logics were and are prevalent throughout our Canadian cultural institutions and social formations. In this sense, one of our obligations to history is having the clarity and bravery to chart the ways that racism is a foundational component to the long arm of history, from then to now, so that it might be possible to root social and interpersonal relations in new kinds of logic, kinds that don’t confuse surface with substance. Critical conversations about what we understand as Canadian culture is one way to begin.

I look forward to seeing the final video work as part of the exhibition. Knowing Deanna’s practice, I am sure that the archival and contemporary materials she will draw together will provide insight into the writings of histories, and how this work is continually maintained or unsettled in the present. And as the exhibition encounters it publics, I look forward to continuing to interrogate how aesthetic forms are complicit in—or can resist—the ways that social and political power in Canada dispossess Indigenous individuals and communities.

God of Gods: A Canadian Play will be on view at Art Museum at the University of Toronto from 04 September – 30 November 2019.



Countervailing at the Margins

I was thrilled to read Kiran Sunar’s recent article “Countervailing at the Margins: Acts of Refusal in Simranpreet Anand’s ਮੈਂ ਇੱਥੇ ਹਾਂ (i am here)” in the latest issue of Rungh (volume 6 number 2). Reflecting on a performance work by Simranpreet Anand that was presented as part of FUSE: A Conjuring at the Vancouver Art Gallery in November 2017, Sunar beautifully describes the material and conceptual conditions of Anand’s project, reading it in dialogue with the gallery’s concurrent exhibition program (specifically Portrait of the Artist: An Exhibition from the Royal Collection) and as an act of resistance to it.

Critique has become subsumed within gallery procedures, enveloped alongside the retention of more highly patronized canonical collections. Galleries hire educators to re-educate against their own spaces, re-instating centres of imperialism while re-engaging margins of otherness. These, while fraught, provide spaces for voice and an alternate call and response. Invited curatorial counter-script is becoming an increasing phenomenon as institutional galleries realize that their approach to what constitutes art and the artist (one that maintains whiteness, men, and empire at its core) has to be examined. The curatorial re-scripting is necessary and adds value.

The question becomes: is this enough?

The situation that Sunar describes, of education departments re-educating against their institutions is obviously not ideal—art institutions would do well to have this re-education be systemic rather than piecemeal—but in the meantime, work will be done. Anand’s performance is a generous and transformative kind of engagement, one that acknowledges conditions as they are and then provides an alternative to them. It is important to note that education departments and curatorial counterscript cannot unsettle the conditions of the entrenched power of the art world without artists to work in concert with.

Or, in response to Sunar’s question, the presentation of project’s like Anand’s in spaces like the Vancouver Art Gallery is not enough. But, in amplifying work like Anand’s through reviews like Sunar’s, agency roots.


Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded)


I can’t tell you how excited I am for the opening of Nep Sidhu’s Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded), a solo show featuring mostly new works that I have had the privilege of curating. This thing is a true labour of love!

Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) focuses on Sidhu’s politicized use of textiles to conjure coalition beyond the structures that currently shape civic society, taking the 1984 massacre of Sikh people in India as its foundation. Known as Operation Blue Star, this military event resulted in the death of thousands of Sikh people—a religious minority in India—as well as the deaths of many others. Orchestrated by the Indian government to counter militant activist movements that sought to address the impoverished economic, social and political conditions of life for Sikh people in India, the raid unfolded at the Harmandir Sahib, a Sikh holy site.

Sidhu’s exhibition departs from this recent history to assert the resilience of Sikh people, both as a testament to their faith and as a response to inhumane political brutalities. Commemorating the spiritual role of tending to life in common, he has created a new body of work that includes a major tapestry, Medicine for a Nightmare (2019), that continues his When My Drums Come Knocking They Watch series. By examining to the cultural role that percussion plays across cultures as a symbol of inheritance and becoming, Sidhu conjures a beat that carries ancestral connections forward in time. The exhibition also includes a new sculptural work, Formed in the Divine, Divine of Form (2019), that is charged with exemplifying the practices of community responsibility that characterize Sikh temple kitchens and cultivate cooperation through the practice of seva (selfless service). As gestures of memorialization, Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) participates in a continuum of material and memorial practices that seek to redress the 1984 massacre and the engineered attempts at erasure of the Sikh communities that followed it.

Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) also features works produced in dialogue with artists Nicholas Galanin and Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, frequent collaborators of Sidhu’s.

Join us at Mercer Union on Friday, 08 February 2019 at 19:00 and consider how it is that you build relationships to the past, and how history is reformed through the habits and practices of everyday life.


Entertaining Every Second


Tonight in Saskatoon, Entertaining Every Second opens at AKA Artist-Run Centre.  The solo show features the work of Life of a Craphead, which is the collaborative practice of Amy Lam and Jon McCurely, and it has been curated by Su-Ying Lee and myself. It’s an exhibition that looks critically at how racialization circulates through cultural production. In particular, the show labours to interrupt how determinations of aesthetic value can obscure the social repercussions of a work’s circulation in the world, especially when that work might perpetuate racist stereotypes. In this sense, Life of a Craphead are taking on the works of other artists. However, what makes this show especially powerful are the ways that Life of a Craphead direct that critical impulse back at themselves, interrogating their own intimate, familial and artistic inclinations. It will make you laugh (maybe) and it will make you cry (probably).

As part of the exhibition, Life of a Craphead have instigated a relationship between AKA and the dumpling house next door, Jin Jin Cuisine. Starting tonight, and persisting until either organization ceases to exist, AKA will collaborate with Jin Jin to cater their openings. AKA is located in the historical Chinatown neighbourhood of Saskatoon, a part of town that, like many Chinatowns across Canada, is undergoing a process of gentrification. In some small way, the hope is that this relationship can be mutually sustaining. Plus, the food is crazy delicious and AKA is lucky as hell to get to serve Jin Jin’s food, from now until eternity.

Join us tonight! The opening starts at 8PM, but perhaps you wanna check out Julie Oh’s artist talk next door at PAVED Arts first, which starts at at 7PM.


I continue to shape


Nicholas Galanin
“Things Are Looking Native, Native’s Looking Whiter,”
2012. Giclée. Courtesy of the artist.

A long time in the making, I am thrilled to share information about I continue to shape, an exhibition I have curated that will open at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto this September. Produced under the tremendous guidance of Barbara Fischer, this exhibition will feature works by Maria Thereza Alves, Cathy Busby, Justine A. Chambers with Deanna Bowen + Ame Henderson + Jessica Karuhanga, Nicholas Galanin, Maria Hupfield, Lisa Myers, Mickalene Thomas, Joseph Tisiga and Charlene Vickers.

Expanding upon a longstanding interest of mine, the central concern of this exhibition is how the propositions embedded within artistic practices can act as gravity around which new ways of being in relation can coalesce. Consider this: history, like all stories, is told slant, subject to distortion by those with the power to represent it. In the telling, certain characters are foregrounded and certain power dynamics are obscured, leaving certain other characters—their perspectives and experiences—cast out of this immortal glow. And yet, it seems that aesthetic practices bear a specific capacity to transform the sediment of history into something moving once again, to puncture what seems solid, to redirect the light.

I continue to shape looks to the practices of artists as a means of working toward futures otherwise. By challenging colonial habits and tending to the labour that such re-orientation implies, these artists envision expanded aesthetic and political narratives, alternative forms of community building and belonging, and propose survival strategies up to the tasks at hand in shaping a world more tender, more just and more unsettled than the world we have now.

If you are in Toronto this autumn, please join me at the opening on 05 September 2018, 6–8 PM, which will feature a performance by Charlene Vickers. The show will remain up until 08 December 2018, with a robust slate of public programs along the way, including activations, talks and workshops.

Come and let’s consider how else to understand our role in upholding or dismantling the structures we have inherited, and how we are capable of shaping personal and cultural relationships anew.

Happenings, SBC

Curatorial Residency at SBC Gallery

For you brilliant curator folks who have ever dreamed of living in Montréal/Tiohtià:ke and dreamed of working with a nimble institution to make paradigm-shifting projects happen, let me direct your attention to this: SBC galerie d’art contemporain’s call for Curator(s)-in-Residence.

We encourage submissions from practitioners who demonstrate a sustained commitment to the advancement of social justice in their work. We encourage programming that holds anti-colonial practices, collective practices and pedagogical practices as fields of action; that centres methodologies of shared accountability and care; and that actively resists inherited colonial legacies, systemic racism and gender discrimination. Reflections on institutional responsibility and accountability are encouraged.

My relationship with this institution has transformed me, and I am thrilled to be part of the jury for this residency. Perhaps this place and this opportunity could transform you too…

Considerations, Happenings

“Picking Up a Long Line” in Afterall Journal

So long ago now, I remember picking up a copy of Afterall—a journal that showcases in-depth considerations of the work of contemporary artists, as well as essays on art history and critical theory—from the University of British Columbia bookstore. I picked it up because I was someone who loved language and wanted to know more about art, and this was the one art mag that featured more words than pictures. I still have that copy kicking around, so many years later, so many different homes and different cities later.

And just this month I received the latest copy of Afterall in the post, which features an essay I have written about the practice of Rebecca Belmore. In the nerdiest way, that young women of before is thrilled today to see my writing in those pages. It has been a total honour to engage with Afterall’s editors, and the invitation to consider Belmore’s practice could not have come at a better time. The essay, entitled “Picking Up a Long Line,” charts the ways that Belmore’s practice has provided an anchor for feeling my way through all the awful shit that #MeToo and Times’ Up and Not Surprised have brought to the surface, socially and intimately. Not that any of this is new, but that it has been hard to find my way sometimes. As I say in the essay:

Belmore reminds us of our complicity in the unfolding of stories like this: what duty do we have to bear our suffering on each other’s bodies? How to carry the burden that trauma produces? These questions resonate with stark clarity today. What to do with the public accounting of how power and violence are wielded to demean others? What to do when the naming begins, both the naming of perpetrators of these violences and the naming of those whose lives have been altered by them?

In Belmore’s practice, I am reminded that this kind of social grappling and reconfiguration has been going on for a long long time, and that although the correlation isn’t perfect, that something like Not Surprised needs the long history of Belmore’s practice to be possible at all. Like so much else in life, it is the labour of BIPOC women that lead the way in making an otherwise possible. That young women of before, and this woman I am now, cannot be more thankful that there are such fierce precedents for how to be in relation to what can no longer stand to be.

Happenings, SBC

Ashon Crawley’s “The Lonely Letters”

Ashon Crawley, Otherwise Possibility, Nancy Ambrose's Imagination number 2 (2017).

Ashon Crawley, “Otherwise Possibility, Nancy Ambrose’s Imagination number 2″ (2017), mixed media on canvas, 36″x48”.

I am headed to Montréal this weekend for an event with the phenomenal Ashon Crawley entitled The Lonely Letters: On the Hammond B-3 Sense and Sound Experience. Collaboratively programmed by myself and Pip Day, The Lonely Letters will be hosted at SBC Gallery as a preface to SBC’s upcoming programme, which will be rooted in the practices of care, study and deep listening, while considering the potential and limits of institutions. If you are around Montréal on Saturday afternoon, come join us…

The Lonely Letters is an in-progress text of autobiofiction in which writer and philosopher Ashon Crawley collectively considers the relationship of quantum theory, mysticism and blackness through an engagement with the noisemaking practices of Blackpentecostal spaces. In focusing on the relationship between the Hammond B-3 organ and sense and sound experience, Crawley will perform a meditation between friends, and between would-be lovers, about how the performance of and the listening to the Hammond B-3—and its chord changes, arpeggios, volume, timbre and tone—can elucidate experiences of black social life. The Hammond B-3 organ is an under-thought instrument, despite its presence in Blackpentecostal spaces before church services begin, throughout their duration and after their end, punctuating the sounds of praise, prayer and preaching. Building on the work in Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (2017), this performative lecture will attempt to build connective tissue between what might seem to be disparate ways of thinking worlds known and unknown—the religious and the scientific, the noisy and the musical—with hopes of considering the epistemologies of quantum physics as Blackpentecostal.

Ashon Crawley is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. His research and teaching experiences are in the areas of Black studies, performance theory and sound studies, philosophy and theology, and Black feminist and queer theories. His first book, Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (Fordham University Press, 2017) is an investigation of aesthetics and performance as modes of collective, social imaginings otherwise.



OAAG Curatorial Writing Award

A couple years ago, Heather Anderson and Sandra Dyck of the Carleton University Art Gallery reached out to see if I’d be interested in writing a catalogue essay for an upcoming mid-career retrospective of Meryl McMaster‘s work. Meryl’s photographs have often compelled long and slow looking, and so I was excited to say yes and have a formal opportunity to put language to the way her images work on me. As things go, it turned out that the other essayist for the catalogue was to be my dear friend Gabrielle Moser. We travelled to Meryl’s studio together and spent a day in midst of stories with her, spinning two complementary but distinct takes on Meryl’s practice for the publication. Although we were looking at the same pictures and heard the same stories, I learned so much from Gabrielle’s framing and analysis of Meryl’s practice. And so, the sweet ending to this story is that Gabrielle and I were jointly awarded the Ontario Association of Art Galleries‘ award for curatorial writing (2000–5000 words) for our essays that appear in the Confluence catalogue.

Said the jurors: “[Gabrielle Moser’s and cheyanne turions’s] essays reflect complementary texts that examine Meryl McMaster’s process and elaborates on the artist’s self discovery through photography and performance, shedding light on how these two mediums intertwine in the artist’s work. The two texts are constructive and open-ended analyses of the in the makingness of the artist’s practice.”

Here’s to more thinking and making alongside each other…