“NOT MY HERITAGE”: Conversations on New Identities / Voices in Conservation hosted by Carleton University

Saturday, April 23 Carleton University will convene conversations on conservation

Last year I attended an engaging symposium on heritage conservation put on by Carleton University Students. Last year’s theme was Unsettling Heritage. This year the conversation will be focused on New Identities / Voices in Conservation and will pose the questions:

  • Whose heritage are we conserving?
  • Whose heritage is being unrepresented or underrepresented in the heritage conservation discourse of the 21st century?

“This theme aims to critically address missing identities and voices in the heritage field and/or highlight alternative stories and perspectives in heritage conservation.”

“In recent years, the identification and conservation of cultural heritage resources—the built environment, cultural landscapes, or intangible heritage—by heritage professionals, has needed to expand and broaden its understanding of community histories to address the plurality and the multi-narratives that exist in our communities. Events such as: the release of the Final Report on Residential Schools by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Occupy movement, the protests for gender equality rights, the push for youth engagement in civic duties (voting), and the global issue of refugees and immigration, have recently highlighted some of these ignored or unknown identities and voices that exist, and which have been underrepresented or unrepresented in the field of heritage conservation.” Read more…

Online registration closes tomorrow at noon. Tickets will also be available at the venue door Mill Street Brewery, 555 Wellington Street, Ottawa.

View Full Schedule Here

WHERE: Mill Street Brewery, 555 Wellington Street
WHEN: Saturday, April 23 from 9:00 am to 4 pm
COST: $15 Students / $45 General Admission (Online Registration) $20 Students / $50 General Admission (At the Door)

C MAGAZINE REVIEW: Jolene Rickard speaks on Indigenous Cultural Resurgance and Wampum at the Creative Time Summit Venice Biennale

C Magazine looks at the curatorial presentation of the issue of Citizenship at the Venice Biennale.

The Winter edition of C Magazine is out. Inside the pages is a review I wrote on “Questioning Citizenship at the Venice Biennale.”  Here is a little sneak peek: 

I attended the Biennale this past August with The Power Plant’s delegation of artists and curators from Canada to take part in the Creative Time Summit (read CREATIVE TIME SUMMIT AT THE BIENNALE: Mixed Bag Mag arrives in Venice)It was an amazing time where we as creative professionals looked at ways we can critique and improve the Biennale culture from the inside. Along with the opportunity to meet other cultural provocateurs from around the world I also had the opportunity to meet Okwui Enwezor, the curator for the 2015 Biennale “All The World’s Futures.”

This edition of C Magazine is on Citizenship and features: 

“Derrick Chang, Victor Wang on the 12th Bienal de la Habana, Yaniya Lee on citizenship and Canadian art criticism, Krista Belle Stewart, Scott Benesiinaabandan, David Garneau and Cathy Busby responding to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, and Justin A. Langlois, Amanda Shore, Rinaldo Walcott, Leah Snyder, Elle Flanders, Tamira Sawatsky and Adrian Blackwell questioning citizenship at the Venice Biennale; plus an artist project by Tyler Coburn. Also included are reviews of exhibitions and books, as well as our regular sections On Writing by Critical Art Writing Ensemble, Inventory by Bambitchell and Artefact by acqueline Hoang Nguyen” Read more…

To purchase or download the digital version click here.

From the Creative Time Summit Venice 2015 website: 

“As the Director of the American Indian Program and Associate Professor in the History of Art and Art Departments at Cornell University, Jolene Rickard is primarily interested in issues of indigeneity within a global context. Her recent projects include serving as the advisor for “Sakahàn: 1st International Quinquennial of New Indigenous Art” at the National Gallery of Canada in 2013, conducting research through a Ford Foundation Research Grant in 2008-11, participating in New Zealand’s Te Tihi Scholar/Artist Gathering in 2010, and co-curating the inaugural exhibition for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. in 2004. She is from the Tuscarora Nation (Haudenosaunee). Her book,Visualizing Sovereignty will be published in 2016.”

Watch all the Creative Time Summit 2015 Venice presentations here.

 

CREATIVE TIME SUMMIT AT THE BIENNALE: Mixed Bag Mag arrives in Venice

Mixed Bag Mag joins Artists & Curators from Canada at the Venice Biennale.

Mixed Bag Mag has been invited by The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto to participate in the Creative Time Summit 2015 at the Venice Biennale. The Creative Time Summit’s theme this year is “Curriculum” and “throughout the Summit, conversations on curriculum will examine the social, infrastructural, administrative, and private conditions under which knowledge is produced and intertwined with social contracts.”

Mixed Bag Mag’s coverage will focus on how art has the potential to change the way we engage with social and political issues. With the appointment of Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor as the head curator, this year’s Biennale has taken on a more political tone. He is the first African to be in this position. He has pushed the discussion around immigration and economy using the vehicle of art. I will be exploring his curatorial approach to engaging with the intersections of art, politics and commerce.

10 Artists from Canada will also be attending along with The Power Plant Delegation.

“Each of these artists will share their distinct perspectives on the relationship between art and social change, either by delivering Summit-style presentations on their work, or by leading roundtable discussion groups exploring issues central to their practices.” Read more on The Power Plant’s websie…

The artists participating are:

• Adrian Blackwell (Ontario)
• Deana Bowen (Ontario)
• Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge (Ontario)
• Jen Delos Reyes (Manitoba)
• Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky, of Public Studio (Ontario)
• Justin Langlois (British Colombia)
• Duane Linklater (Ontario)
• Nadia Myre (Quebec)

Thank you to The Power Plant for this opportunity. Also thank you to each of organizations that made it possible for this trip to happen! Thanks to Galerie SAW Gallery in Ottawa for their support.

Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

 

CANADA, MY HOW YOU’VE CHANGED: Shine A Light at the National Gallery of Canada illuminates landscapes dramatically transformed

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky, 1990 (© NGC)

“Shine A Light, Cast A Shadow”

Canada is known for its tradition of depicting resplendent and majestic landscapes but the inspirational legacy passed down by artists like those in the Group of Seven aren’t echoed by the contemporary artists featured in the National Gallery of Canada’s show of new acquisitions.

The vignette of Lawren Harris’ North Shore, Lake Superior, as seen from the Gallery’s water court and framed by rose granite walls, shares with us a vision of the Great White North as a pristine place. Now the more North you go the more you experience the impact of global warming. The Inuit populations located in Northern Canada are the canaries in the coal mine of climate change. The situation is dire and artists in Canada have responded.

I entered the Shine A Light exhibit at a different point each time and each time I was confronted by works that overwhelmed me with a sense of dread. Artists used to celebrate this land. Now artists like Edward Burtynsky, David McMillan and Isabelle Hayeur scatter themselves across the globe to photograph how human populations are manipulating, extracting and polluting their environments often beyond the point of no return.

Edward’s work is by far the most familiar. His command of composition is always breathtaking, even exhilarating because of the scale of the photographs. They suck you in. They are cinematic making you feel a part of the terrain. He places you at ground zero, he’s like the Weegee of the environmental crime scene and you can’t look away.


Isabelle Hayeur, Death in Absentia II, 2011 (© NGC)

David McMillan and Isabelle Hayeur are lesser known but have equally challenging content. David photographs Chernobyl and Isabelle the dead waters of America. The discombobulating viewpoint of Isabelle’s photographs drown you. David’s work brings back the ghosts of the cold war, the stuff of children’s nightmares and threats of nuclear winters. Glasnost saved us from a global moment of disaster but nuclear technology was still devastating for many Russians. His work provides a document of disaster that irradiates how our modern material culture is forever stuck in some plastic purgatory that’s going to be hard to get out of.


David Hartt, Awards Room at the Johnson Publishing Company Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois, 2011 (© NGC)

The content of David Hartt‘s photography in Stray Light, also about location documentation, is aesthetically more palatable, you could even say seductive. Instead of cold war ghosts you feel a guilty sense of nostalgia for that time before the OPEC crisis, a time when North Americans thought there was no real harm in living large. The video component of Stray Light takes us into the building of the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) former home of Ebony Magazine. As the video transitions smoothly from room to room, accompanied by the lush music of jazz flutist Nicole Mitchell, because of what I witnessed en route to David’s work I can’t shake off a sense of foreboding.

The African sculptures made of wood and stone seem confined in the plastic fantastic world of JPC. People move in and out of the scenes hedged in by office structures that conflict with the softer movements of their bodies proceeding through the space. Watching the final moments of the iconic Ebony in it’s place of conception is like entering a crypt in a necropolis that lures you with its beauty. It feels like the oxygen is going to be sucked out of the building and eventually the space will become a time capsule shrink wrapped for the archive and searching for its final resting place.

Geoffrey Farmer, Leaves of Grass, 2012, Courtesy of the artist, Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver and Casey Kaplan, New York (© NGC)

My initial response to Geoffrey Farmer‘s Leaves of Grass was “this is obscene.” After more time spent with the work my response was still “this is obscene.” His process (a team spending countless hours cutting and pasting), the content (17,000+ cut outs from 5 decades of Life Magazine) and the final presentation (100+ feet of archivally problematic paper, grass and glue) illustrate the absurdity by which we hold on to the past. We collect, categorize and create hierarchies of meaning that allow for justifications of all kinds. We trap ourselves in a constructed story from which we can no longer budge. Leaves of Grass is an absolutely breathtaking piece but as stunning as it is, the work is suffocating. There is too much to take in with no place for the eye to rest; a well executed entanglement of wicked questions. Do our strategies for classification make perfect sense? Are they nonsense? How do they really help?

Junk culture. That is what we are left with and this is the legacy that many of the contemporary artists in this show are trying to illuminate.

David Armstrong Six, The Radiologist, 2012 (Courtesy of the artist and Parisian Laundry. Photo: Matthew Koudys)

The shadowside of Readymades

“Combining found objects with a variety of materials – plaster, plywood, steel, rebar – his sculptural explorations merge the raw and the readymade into aesthetically intriguing and ambiguous compositions.” (sited from Shine A Light catalogue)

David Armstrong Six continues in the tradition of the readymade but Duchamp and the Dadaists weren’t working at a time when people had to be concerned about an impending environmental crisis. Bricolage takes on a different meaning when we are at risk of burying ourselves alive in a rubble pile of our own making. Maybe ‘l’art pour l’art’ is no longer enough to redeem the materials.

An Te Liu, Aphros, 2013 (© An Te Liu. Photo: Dustin Yu)

This is the question that An Te Liu seems to be trying to tease out as he works with casting the materials that accumulate from our post-modern predicament with packaging. Arranged like collection of Brâncușis, the five pieces are beautiful to behold but lack the life force that Brâncuși’s pieces, made of wood and stone, exhale. Rendered in ceramic and metals they give the impression of impotence like the materials they reference, materials that will persist in the environment without the capacity to be generative.

From the room with the David Armstrong Six’s readymades and An Te Liu’s towers you can look out across the Donald R. Sobey Family Gallery and view Luke Parnell’s Phantom Limbs from above. Here yet another graveyard is encountered. The 48 wood carvings laid on the ground are made to represent the homecoming of the ancestors when the Haida Repatriation project succeeded in having ceremonial objects and human remains returned to Haida Gwaii from private and public collections. Luke gave each carving a different expression. Contained under cases of plexi some look understandably pissed.

The Shine A Light catalogue, arranged alphabetically with each artist’s name, ends with the work of Lawerence Paul Yuxweluptun and a 2 page spread of his painting Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky (see above). This work hasn’t been publicly viewed for nearly 2 decades. Now seems like the requisite moment to bring it out again to remind us that in those 20 years we haven’t transitioned forward with many solutions. Instead we see a global trend to become more entrenched with ‘pie in the sky’ ways of living. Suffering with the collective trauma of watching our world come to the brink of disaster do we brush off our artists as Chicken Littles? Because the sky is indeed falling, our ozone layer is literally breaking apart into pieces.

large abstract drawing of large round shapes in a dark background

On the back wall of the 2nd floor is The Arsenal, a work by Jutai Toonoo. It is a large scale oil stick drawing of T cells. He created the work at a moment when he was trying to understand the pathology of the cancer his mother was stricken with. The helpful T cells fight against viruses, bacteria and diseases.

Our material culture is replicating faster than stage 4 cancer. It metastasizes in places as topographically different as Chernyobyl, Nunavut and India. The micro T cells, as the subject of Jutai’s work, are metamorphosed into a macro landscape that covers a large expanse across the Gallery’s wall. The allied cells shine like a phosphorescence glow in an inky black sea. After the challenging content of Shine A Light his work highlights hope. We are in need of an arsenal of solutions to push back the chaos. Encoded in the DNA of the planet are the cellular memories that can transform a landscape in crisis.

Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.

INTERSECTING THE CITY: Urban Fabric at the Textile Museum Toronto shows how the natural and constructed co-exist


Queen. Image provided by Scott Norsworthy.

“Urban fabric as a metaphor for the city” ~ Deborah Wang

“The artists in Urban Fabric: Portraits of a City engage with the interwoven hard and soft dimensions of the city from multiple perspectives; their photographs, paintings, sculpture, film, and pattern-making create a portrait of a city, often taking Toronto as their subject.”

This year’s Toronto Design Offsite included an interesting partnership between TO DO and the Textile Museum. Urban Fabric: Portraits of a City, curated by TO DO’s Creative Director Deborah Wang (pictured right) traversed the intersections of what comprises a city – “the built environment, webs of individuals, and the social, technological, and economic processes that produce a particular urban framework” as well as the insertions / assertions of nature.

The exhibit featured stunning photography by Scott Norsworthy that included the West End of Toronto. Hard isolating walls of bricks, unbroken expanses of asphalt and a multiplicity of electrical wires were softened by gentle light blanketing the concrete jungle with air and sky. Sheila Ayearst‘s series of Concrete paintings also contained a softness despite their subject matter. The canvasses, in varying shades of gray, had titles like Beaconsfield Concrete, again recalling the West End and its rapid development.

“Holes in the urban fabric, these sites speak to the city as an evolving network of development, appropriation, redevelopment, undoing, and neglect.” ~ Scott Norsworthy

(top to bottom) Dundas, Dupont, and Dupont. Images provided by Scott Norsworthy.

“Visitors in search of escape instead encounter.” Jessica Craig

Jessica Craig’s large projection of a location along the Don Valley revealed the lushness of a green Toronto that doesn’t just exist as an unattainable Shangri-La in our imagination.


Don Valley #212 (2012). Image provided by Jessica Craig. 

“Long protected from intervention by floodwaters and topography, the ravine defies construction and therefore profit: it is a fracture in an otherwise unified urban fabric.”

Jessica’s photographic work considers the concept of “terrain vague” and in her essay Landscape off the path she writes:

“Terrain vague is Ignasi de Solà-Morales’ term for abandoned spaces within a city that exist outside the common social realm and are often perceived as empty.”

These transitional spaces, because of the ambiguous mystery they offer city dwellers, hold latent potentiality as places of enchantment and restoration. “The value of the still unaffected land – and the relief it offers to a highly developed city – is difficult to quantify” but there is a sense that spaces, such as these, are seen as necessary in order to restore some sort of balance to the rigid confines of the constructed city.

(top to bottom) Don Valley #212, Don Valley #132, Don Valley #240 (2012). Images provided by Jessica Craig.  

“Roots are the first kind of textile.” ~ Scott Euson

For artist Scott Eunson plant roots are like fibers as they shoot up and spread out and the city is like fabric in that it is made up of many single “elements [fibers] that cooperate with the whole” as it rises up and moves out across the landscape like a rhizome. He spoke on how we often talk about the city as though it is a textile “neighbourhoods are knit together” or “densely woven.” He took wire and wood along with roots and bent metal, all found on walks through the city, to loop and twist a typography into place.

His piece Material Map – Toronto represents the complexity of urban spaces and their intertwining of newly digitized and still naturalized realities. The city is where we are often forced to locate our busy lives but not without letting go of our desire to feel our natural-ness now and again. As skyscrapers rise we haven’t completely forgotten the call of the waves. The shoreline always beckons us to return to some ancient cellular memory. Below the foundation of the city lies what was once the Glacial Lake Iroquois, what’s left now named Lake Ontario which means “Lake of Shining Waters” in the Wyandot language.

I like that this piece presented without judgement. In the assemblage there is no warning about the eradication of nature due to the city, the metal wires are able to co-exist with the natural. Despite the entanglement there is a type of order and an absence of hierarchy. The wood and wire take turns coming up between the foreground from the background, at times each receding, other times bending or breaking out of the grid.

The shape of the work represents Toronto as it is contained by the borders of the Humber River on the West and the Don River on the East. A few wires and twigs grow out past the North, West and East boundaries but at the shoreline of the Lake all halts, deferring to the great body of water that lies to the city’s south.

For me this piece is hopeful suggesting that there can be a resolution between the requirements of a city with all of its systems and our urban yearning for woods and water, that the existence of one doesn’t mean the end of the other.

Perhaps we can wrap ourselves around the notion that balance is not beyond our imagination and our quest to discover where it lies in the urban space is the taut thread that snaps everything in place.

Urban Fabric closed on January 25, 2015. Read more about the show on the Textile Museum’s website.

Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.

 

ALEX & ALMA: Alex Colville Retrospective closing this weekend in Toronto & Alma Duncan next weekend in Ottawa

Alex Colville was never an artist I considered as an interest. The experience of viewing the Art Gallery of Ontario’s current retrospective of his work left me considering otherwise.

Alma Duncan was never an artist I even knew to consider but her painting Young Black Girl (1940) is one of my favourites in the AGO’s collection. I had no knowledge of Alma at the time but I was drawn to the demure painting that used to hang in the round room to the right of the Old Masters Collection along with a Picasso from his Blue Period, and a pulsating Kees van Dongen. The room held a rotation of portraits and this enigmatic and somber piece made me return again and again.

Now the painting hangs at the Ottawa Art Gallery for one more week. It is positioned on the wall that intersects Alma’s bold self-portraits that greet me with a commanding series of stares.

There are many ways to conceptually enter into both the Alma and Alex exhibits but my pathway into understanding their work more deeply is through the relationships that they each present.

ALMA DUNCAN: The relationship one has with oneself. 

Alma’s portraits of herself are entirely different than my introduction to her work through her subject of the black girl who sits slightly askew and closed off from the viewer. In each painting Alma positions herself squarely, looking beyond the frame to her audience. It’s as if she is daring those who might question her authority as an artist. She began painting at a time when the art world offered little opportunity for female intervention into male dominated spaces. Even as she paints her young self with braids bound at their ends with red bows (Self-Portrait with Braids, 1940) there is a clear message she sends as she stands affirming her right to participate. She paints herself wearing a pair of trousers instead of a skirt. When I encounter this row of paintings with such a strong female presence my thought is that I am disappointed that it took this long for me to find her.

In the main room, behind one dividing wall, are her renderings of mines and the machinery of industry from her time spent documenting a developing Canada focused on trade and resources; on the other side abstracted sketches of grass and landscapes softened with snow. We can see how far she travelled in her journey to explore her visual language but its when I enter the second room and experience the blood red wall upon which her Woman Series (1965) is hung that I have a longing accompanied by an intense regret that my younger self didn’t experience these at an earlier moment in my own odyssey.

I would have loved to have experienced her boldness in my youth when looking for creative and conceptual heros sheros. The clean cut demarcation between the black and the white is not set in opposition to each other but rather as a compliment from one to the other.

They are magnificent.

As I come closer I sense a movement in the shimmering of the strokes. It reminds me of the shadowy depictions of the Shroud of Turin also known as the Shroud of Christ. But this analogy is not quite right. Rather than a covering used for the dead I realize it reminds me more of a vibrating sonogram where you can detect a pulse, a heart beat, a life. This is why I find them so magnetic because as I walk towards a particulate one that draws me close I see the defining outline of a woman’s torso reflected upon itself emerging from the inky deep. Although she moves from realism in her early work to this period of experimentation with abstraction in the 60s the strength and intensity of that young woman with the braids and red bows is the anchoring attribute we find repeated here.

Alma’s work may visually change, flux and bend but the explorative relationship she has with herself as a female artist is what moves me. It’s why I find myself coming back to this newly discovered piece over and over again not wanting to say good-bye.

ALEX COLVILLE: The relationship one has with their lover and life partner.

When I am at the Alex Colville show its also a female relationship that grounds me into the exhibit. I make a few laps around the rooms, weaving in and out of the crowd, to finally sit down somewhere mid-point and watch a short film. The video is narrated by Alex’s daughter Ann Kitz and in a few short minutes she poignantly shares with us the timeline of her parents lifetime of love – a 70 year excursion that ends the way it began – together. Alex died just weeks after his wife’s passing.

Exploration by going deep instead of wide.  

After experiencing World War II in his role as a war artist and documenting the liberation at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp it seemed like his marriage, which took place right before he left for war, became the stabilizing factor upon which he was able to build a career alongside raising a healthy family. The partnership with his wife, Rhoda, also an artist, gave him a solid foundation after experiencing the uprooting tension of conflict.

It was through this relationship Alex was able to arrive at both his signature technique and his recognizable aesthetic. Of the painting Nude and Dummy (1950) seen below he reflects that this was when he accomplished what he called his “first good painting.” From this piece we are able to see what is about to come down the road.

His visual journey doesn’t traverse the same distance as Alma’s trajectories. His way of rendering his compositions remains uniform throughout his career. He doesn’t become driven to aesthetic extremes; his loyalty to his signature style allows a deeper exploration into the psychological subtleties of the human condition. Alex’s work was about looking and then re-looking at a location or a person you know so well to find both the consistencies and the anomalies that open up a contemplative space.  He was quoted as saying that “only by living in a little place for a long time can one build up a sort of extensive body of complex knowledge and understanding of what goes on.”

Alex is known for his compositions that convey foreboding messages of something disruptive beyond the horizon but in seeing many of the his works based on Rhoda there is also an undeniably playful spirit that comes through these images of this woman, his wife. We see her at leisure with the figure we can interpret as Alex in the background close enough to be at her call but far enough as to not disturb her relaxation; we see her with her pets and her children and playing the piano while her aging husband sits close by. Over their lifetime Alex portrays her nude and exposed but accessible in her humanness, flaws not banished for the sake of the artist reflecting a perfected muse. She is real and charming, a crisp outline of paint separates her from the background but because we never fully see her face this woman still manages to maintain complexity surrounded by mystery.

Her head is lost inside of a canoe that she portages to another place; she stands with acceptance, a body shaped by age, in front of the old grandfather clock in their home. The image I come to love the most is of Rhoda defiantly naked and flipping the perspective of the world upside down, the cat as a casual witness. I feel it illustrates the adoration Alex had for this woman, at once his muse and the mother of his children. I can sense a chuckle from him and hear laughter from her as she gingerly makes her way down to plant her feet back on the ground. Headstand (1982) becomes the image that I end up visiting again and gain and the one final time to say farewell as the show closes its doors.

Thanks to the AGO & the OAG for providing an opportunity to view the life and work of two important Canadian artists.

Alex Colville closes today Sunday, January 4 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
Alma: The Life and Art of Alma Duncan (1917 – 2004) closes Sunday, January 11 at the Ottawa Art Gallery, Ottawa.

All above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

 

WHOLE LOT OF H’ART: A New Show of H’Art Ottawa Artists Opens at Ottawa Art Gallery

A whole lot of H’Art at Ottawa’s OAG.

Meeting with the Thursday Group of H’Art of Ottawa right before heading into the holiday weekend was a great idea. If anyone knows a thing or two about being thankful and present in a moment of appreciation it’s these women. Open arms welcoming me and lots of parting hugs as I said my goodbyes is what I got from the women who are part of one of the Ottawa Art Gallery’s current exhibits – Open Spaces.

It’s been a busy year for H’Art. Along with the show at OAG some other members are part of the Breaking Barriers show at the Diefenbunker. H’Art was also the inaugural show (Turning the Page) at the new Gallery 101 space and H’Art artist Irene Beck exhibited at SAW Gallery.

In Open Spaces each artist of H’Art’s Thursday group got a chance to dive into the online archives of the Firestone Collection for their inspiration. OAG is now the custodian of the collection that was begun by O.J. and Isobel Firestone, an Ottawa family that valued Canadian artists. They began collecting in the 1950s and their collection expanded to 1,600 works of art. The artists in the collection include names like Emily Carr, Paul-Émile Borduas, and Rita Letendre – names that show the diversity of background and style of artists working during the 20th Century in Canada. Rotating selections from the collection are always on view at Ottawa’s City Hall Art Gallery (the current home of the OAG Annex) and at OAG’s Firestone Gallery (where this exhibit is being held) but this show engages with the collection in a unique way. Each artist was asked to pull from the collection work that they would combine in a grouping with their own.

3 women dressed up at art opening

Curator Stephanie Nadeau (Curator of Public, Educational and Community Program at OAG) had already spent time volunteering with the women and had a strong rapport with the artists prior to the production of the show. Her special connection with the artists (Malinda Caron, Anna Coulombe, Jenny Francis, Carol Gregory, Christine Hammond, Jessie McComb, Debbie Ratcliffe, Alexa Vanveen, and Mandy Wellman) was evident the moment she stepped into the H’Art studio at the Bronson Studio last Thursday. It had only been a week since the opening but they expressed how much they were already missing Stephanie and her positive presence in their art practices.

Young woman holding a colourful painting of abstract feathers

Signature saying Jessie McComb

Under Stephanie’s guidance the women explored the digital archives to find works that spoke to them. Sometimes the searches were straightforward and other times more serendipitous. For Jessie McComb, who loves the ways ducks form V patterns as they fly, a random photo from a Google image search became part of her grouping that also includes works by Jacques de Tonnancour, A.J. Casson and AY Jackson. In a vitrine Jessie partnered Florence Wyle’s small plaster and iron casts Totem with her collection of rubber ducks. For her birds are the most beautiful thing and on Thursday she showed me a stunning new work of a circle of feathers looping back into each other.


Signature that says Jenny Marie Francis

An older work by Jenny Francis (The Smiling Pig) includes her signature motif of repetitive lines. The same lines are echoed in one piece she chose for her grouping – Norval Morriseau’s Bear-Fish. Jenny is a quiet spirit but her work is complicated and layered. Worlds inside worlds – you could spend hours exploring her visual vocabulary.


Signature that says Debbie Ratcliffe

Debbie Ratcliffe (aka “The Dragon Lady”) likes to construct elaborate narratives in her paintings that are informed by the novels she reads.  I love Debbie’s technique of grounding the images that build her story on top of an inky background. The way she renders her colourful compositions to involve her storytelling articulates her outgoing personality. What I found interesting about the choices she made was that for how detailed her own work is are she decided to pair her pianting with simple compositions – two paintings of landscapes (Alan Collier’s Near Squamish, B.C as well as H’Art artist Malinda Caron’s Mexico) and two paintings of homes (Alan Collier’s On the Spit, Homer, Alaska and Bay St. Lawrence, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia). For Debbie the image of a home is symbolic of life.

Collection of paintings on gallery wall

Signature that says Malinda

Malinda Caron selected an AY Jackson drawing of an iceberg because it made her recall a beautiful memory she had of seeing icebergs on a trip she took. It’s lovely piece that I have to say I much prefer over Jackson’s sketch! Malinda was really touched by her experience working with Stephanie, who she says is like a big sister. Along with working with her “big sister Steph” Malinda appreciates that each week she can create alongside her best friend of almost 15 years, Alexa Vanveen.

Signature that says Alexa

Alexa Vanveen’s way of engaging with the collection was to include a sound component. Some of the other ensembles include audio of the women sharing background about their work but here, in front of Alexa’s choices, she encourages us to have a seat and pause for awhile. Beatles tunes pump through the headphones while viewing Philip Surrey’s Listening to Music and three of Alexa’s own pieces – The Great Blueberry Pie, Strawberry Cheesecake with Lemon Squares and Music is My Life!

Relax for while and enjoy the space she has created for us to sit with the work.

Collection of paintings on gallery wall
Image of woman holding a colourful painting of butterflies

Signature that says Carol Gregory

Carol Gregory rediscovered her love of architecture and passion for buildings. As a child she was an avid reader on ancient architecture. Her choices from the Firestone Collection were works of small buildings against expansive horizons but in the works she produced after engaging with the collection she reflects the contemporary reality of how Canada has shifted from a rural population to an urbanized one. Her buildings are bigger and in Happy Day in Old Montreal the horizon is completely erased from view.

Signature that says Anna

Anna Coulombe is another H’Art collective artist who is interested in both landscapes and cityscapes. Her paintings are vibrant. She works with a gorgeous palette we don’t often see used to depict the landscape of Canada. I applaud Anna’s breaking with tradition and seeing the world through rainbow-coloured glasses! You can understand her selection of Marian Scott’s Quebec Fields from 1932 – kindred spirits connecting to each other through lines, form and most obviously colour!


Signature that says Mandy Wellman

Mandy Wellman asks us “Imagine that the sunset came close to you?” On the gallery wall beside her striking drawing of a section of the sun’s rays the question is written and posed to us. The work that she showed me at the studio was a collection of drawings on paper that incorporated great use of lines so it is of no surprise that she selected two Marian Scott works (Untitled, 1968 and Untitled, 1969) to partner with her own.

Signature that says Christine Hammond

The biggest hugger of the bunch is Christine Hammond and much like Debbie, she is a storyteller as much as she is a painter. Her paintings are filled with an array of animals going about their business. Illustrative in nature, she paints what she loves most! “I had a lion fetish as a kid and still do!”

One of the curatorial decisions Stephanie made with the assistance of the group was to have the signature of each artist cut in vinyl and placed on the wall. Another way that delineates each woman’s grouping is a band of colour at the base of the wall. Each artist decided on the colour that would represent them. A decision was also made to include audio of the women’s voices speaking to us about their practice, their passions, and their memories. The group process resulted in these meaningful details that allowed for each artist to mark the space in their own individual way resulting in nine distinct vignettes of nine wonderful women.

Before we left the studio that day the group presented Stephanie with a painting they knew she admired because it reminded her of organ pipes (Stephanie’s dad is in the organ business!). “Stephanie you are someone we trust more than anyone and you are always welcome here” Christine shared from her heart then the rest of the group chimed in with their praise for a woman who has become near and dear to them.

And along with their presentation to Stephanie came numerous farewell embraces. Through them and their process as artists we can learn a lot about warmth of the human spirit. Their openness and the generousity in the space they provide is both their asset in life and the gift they give to us.

Thank you Jessie, Jenny, Debbie, Malinda, Alexa, Carol, Anna, Mandy and Christine for a great morning!

Ladies – I will be back!

Open Spaces continues at the OAG until Jan 4, 2015.

Find out more about H’Art on their website as well as Facebook and twitter @HartStudioOtt.

Writing that says "Imagine if the sunset came close to you"

THE ART OF WAR (AND PEACE): Curator Magda Gonzalez-Mora at Fort York Toronto for Nuit Blanche 2014

Past history and present tense invoked with installations at Fort York, Toronto. 

Today we know of Fort York as the (barely visible) small patch of green space that buffers the expansive condo development that now grinds against the north and south sides of the Gardiner and barricades us from a view of the sky.

In 1793 the plan for a garrison was put into place by John Graves Simcoe. At the time, Niagara was the capital of the province but Simcoe felt that Toronto was a more suitable place for a naval base that would protect the area from the possibility of an American attack. Soon after, it was decided to move the base again – to Kingston – but a community had already developed around the area and by 1800 there was a residence built for the lieutenant-governor on the site.

In the spring of 1813 the Fort was attacked by the Americans. Both the Indigenous nations of the Mississaugas and the Ojibwa assisted Canadian and British forces to keep the Americans at bay but in the years the followed Fort York was continually attacked and occupied by American Forces. Eventually, due to the victory of the British in the War of 1812, Fort York became a more stabilized community that grew to become the settlement that was renamed Toronto in 1934, from the Kanienke’haka (Mohawk) word Tkaronto meaning “the place in the water where trees are standing.”

Two centuries of peace have passed but the site still remains to commemorate the battles and lives lost.

It has also become a great place to showcase dramatic and large scale art and performance.

Luminato does Fort York.

In 2012, as part of the commemoration of the 200 years since the war of 1812, Luminato staged a massive art install at the Fort called “The Encampment.”

Marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812, The Encampment is both a luminous large-scale art installation and a kind of metaphoric archaeological dig—one that unearths not physical artefacts but long-buried shards and strands of human experience. Conceived as a “temporal village,” the installation comprises 200 A-frame tents pitched on the grounds of Fort York, which fell to U.S. forces during the war. Each tent contains an installation by one of 200 artistic collaborators, selected via an open call for contributors. Each creates a visual representation of an aspect of the war’s civilian history, gleaned from research into real-life stories of family, love, loss, survival, patriotism, collaboration and betrayal. Visible at a distance from several downtown locations, the massive assemblage of tents presents a wondrously glowing sculptural landscape. Explored at close quarters and through social activations, it offers poignant insights into the lives of ordinary people swept up in the epic drama of history.” More info…

Kaha:wi Dance Theatre participates in remembering and honouring the lost lives.

In 2013 The City of Toronto commissioned Kaha:wi Dance Theatre to create a site-specific performance for Fort York that would also travel to Woodland Cultural Centre and Old Fort Erie.

The Honouring pays homage to First Nations warriors of the War of 1812, featuring Onkwehonwe families who sacrificed to protect Haudenosaunee sovereignty, culture and land.” More info..

Now in 2014, Nuit Blanche has put curator Magda Gonzalez-Mora (Before the Day Break Zone) in charge of creating a (safe) space that reflects on socio-politics, security, pluralism, and of course war.

black stroke

BODY OF WAR, 2010 by Isabel Rocamora (Edinburgh, UK)
Video Installation

“Body of War reflects on how man becomes a soldier through the relentless repetition of acts of violence. What happens to the psyche as it learns to transgress social principles and integrates the willingness to kill? Set in the geography of the Normandy Landings and punctuated by testimonies of retired and serving soldiers, a mis-en-scene of visceral hand-to-hand combat is gradually deconstructed. The viewer is invited to engage in the relationship between human intimacy and the brutality of war choreography.  

Body of War is as much an ode to the human inside the solider as a question of military structures.” More info…

Image from www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca.

black stroke

CHIC POINT by Sharif Waked (Nazareth, Palestine / Israel)
Video Installation

Chic Point ponders, imagines, and interrogates “fashion for Israeli Checkpoints.”

Male models expose body parts – lower backs, chests, abdomens – peek through holes, materials and standard clothes are transformed into pieces that follow normative fashion standards while calling them into question. Chic Point bares the loaded politics of the gaze as it documents the thousands of moments in which Palestinians are forced to undress in the face of interrogation, as they attempt to move through the intricate and constantly expanding network of Israeli checkpoints.” More info…

Image from www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca.

black stroke

ASCENDANT LINE, 2009 by Wilfredo Prieto (Havana, Cuba)
Installation

“The work is an attempt to explore world orders that defy geo-political definition. A red carpet-flag allows the audience to experience the glamour of walking down the catwalk, while unexpectedly being confronted with different political ideas regarding the fall of a totalitarian system.” More info…

Image from www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca.

black stroke

MELTING POINT, 2014 by LeuWebb Projects (Toronto), Jeff Lee (Toronto), & Omar Khan (Toronto)
Light Installation

“Located on the original shore of Lake Ontario, Fort York was built for defense. Over time, the Fort has stood its ground against enemy advances, expressways and condos as the lake’s edge has pushed further away. Situated in this context of protection and resistance is Melting Point, a sound and light based installation. Melting Point stocks a pair of cannons with an artillery of glowing good feelings, in the form of sparkling tributaries of light pouring from the mouths of the old weapons. Accompanied by a chorus of rolling waves and trilling harps, the work lays a defense agsinst the swirling market forces beyond, countering hard with soft and dark with light and creating a safe space for Art.” More info…

Image from www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca.

black stroke

Also on the Fort York site for the Before the Day Break zone is work by one of my favourite Toronto artists, Bruno Billio, whose piece Familia (seen above) was definitely my top choice for my Nuit Blanche 2013 experience.

FAMILIA 2013 

“Mismatched chairs are gathered from households for re-creation of the moment of a family function. Initiated by the audience, the movement of these objects creates the sounds of a family shuffling their chairs into position at the table.

The mirrored floor captures the physical reflections of the audience and the chairs, imbued with personal nostalgia, thus becoming the medium that retains and reflects private experience and memory.” More info…

BRIGHT BUNDLE 2014

“Bright Bundle is a light sculpture ablaze with pulsating light and sound representing the past and present of growth, prosperity, culture and the future. Set in the centre of Fort York, this 1000 metre ribbon of LED lights will glow and pulsate in a golden-white colour seen from a distance and beckon audiences from surrounding pathways towards it to bath in the glow of  its pulsating  lights and sound.” More info…

Wishing everyone a safe (and dry) night!

NOTE: Ascendant Line & Melting Point will continue to be on display until October 13.

Before Day Break contemplates a sensitive artistic practice. Evoking the complexity of life itself, artists from diverse regions will offer singular perspectives in an attempt to cover different angles of reality. Through these practices they enable the audience to turn the ordinary into extraordinary artistic memory. Like the pixels in a photograph, human relationships, religion, socio-political and cultural behaviour are among the themes used to present a deeper message that speaks to the universality of the human experience. Motivated to challenge and surprise the viewer’s expectations, this vibrant environment will invite reflection on contemporary history, while juxtaposing it to Canada’s quest for inclusion and plurality. All of this leads to satisfaction of the eye and the intellect.Before Day Break defends and trusts the restorative power of art.” More info…

black stroke

 All images above by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted. 

THE END OF THE KARA WALKER EXHIBIT AT THE DOMINO SUGAR PLANT: The Complex Relationship between the Collective History, Memory, and Lived Experience and Those Unwilling to Share the Burden


Sometimes demolishing the past doesn’t change the present.

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:

A Subtlety

or the Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant

In the time that has passed since writing my article on Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” (WHEN ART DEALS WITH THE DISTASTEFUL: Kara Walker at the Domino Sugar Factory) more articles have come forward critiquing the exhibit.

On June 30 “Why I Yelled at the Kara Walker Exhibit” was posted in The Indypendent. This powerful article touched on several issues that I felt needed to be addressed. I applaud the writer, Nicholas Powers, for punctuating the space with an action that wasn’t a planned intervention or a performance piece. It was a unprompted visceral response – an appropriate (re)action.

In his article he asked a very important question – what is the role of the curator? I ask – when the curator knows that they are putting out work that is loaded, even potentially volatile is it acceptable for them to just step back and let things play out? Do curators have an obligation to facilitate dialogue and create a safe space for emotional release?

Many people found their experience in the physical space to be quite painful “Black Pain, White Laughter” as Nicholas puts it. The online experience provided an almost unchallenged area for people to act ignorantly – even racist and misogynistic.

Should Creative Time (the team behind “A Subtlety”) have immediately stepped in to address the racism and misogyny? In both spaces they could have intervened. There was an opportunity for a whole other dialogue to take place that would perhaps have lead to more understanding and empathy therefore more respectful behavior.

“It was like a sleeping beehive had been kicked over”

Nicholas called out people for the types of photos they were taken at the back of the sphinx, the location where much of the problematic behaviour has occurred. A Creative Time curator, in an effort to distance the organization from his spontaneous intervention, asked him to tell people he was not part of Creative Time. He writes:

“ A friend cut in, saying loudly that I didn’t have to say shit. They got into a debate that heated up into a verbal fight. Visitors came up to me, some saying I was wrong; others saying I was right.

…It felt great to confront the “white gaze,” the entitled buffoonery of the visitors. But why did we have to?…wasn’t the job of Walker or at least Creative Time’s staff to curate a racially charged artwork? Yes, Walker has the freedom to express herself. Yes, Creative Time has the freedom to organize it. But what do you expect will happen if you put a giant sculpture of a nude black woman, as a Mammy no less, in a public space.

…Instead of challenging the racial power dynamics of white supremacy, Walker and Creative Time, in their naivety or arrogance, I don’t know which, simply made the Domino Sugar Factory a safe place for it.”

For me, that is where the installation failed. The safe space that was created was for those who needed to be challenged the most. The historical dirt, literally baked to the walls of Domino Sugar Factory, was sanitized – much like the process of whitening sugar, a process that requires crushed up bones to do the bleaching. The act of allowing people to document the art with cell phones, cameras and a hashtag also allowed people to mitigate their experience of the work by not being fully present to what was in front of them – the ugly truth and the shadow side of sweet consumption. Instead, the Sugar Sphinx became a tourist trap; like flies to sticky paper people got stuck to the spectacle but emotionally never moved beyond.

This work should have been about collective mourning of a disturbing past and collective consideration as to how our current lifestyles still support modern day slavery.

Malik Thompson writes in his piece “Kara Walker’s Desecrated Cemetery for Blackness”:

“One of the worst things about my experience with the Kara Walker exhibit in Brooklyn was the lack of space available for me to mourn the devastation of Blackness, nor appreciate its power. There were white bodies everywhere I turned; white bodies laughing, white bodies posing for pictures, white bodies giving me strange looks as I solemnly shuffled around the warehouse, white bodies overflowing the space, white bodies spilling into my physical and mental space…

I became uncomfortable, realized that even though this was obviously a cemetery, a place of remembrance and mourning for how Blackness has been distorted and destroyed throughout history, the pain I felt would always take a backseat to the comfort white people seek in lies. In that moment, I began remembering what violation felt like.”

Malik and two friends decided they needed to intervene in the space between the mammy’s breasts in an attempt to reclaim it.

“I suggested to my friends that we pose in front of the mammy sphinx holding up the Black Power fist, with a picture of us doing so to be taken by our white chaperone from our youth organization.

As we stood there, with our fists defiantly raised to the ceiling, the mostly white people in front of us became much quieter, they seemed offended even. Khadijah says she heard people whispering, “It’s not about that…”. One white man gave us a look of bemused indignation, rushing to the space we had just claimed as our own after our picture had been taken, only to pose for yet another smiling portrait in front of the mammy sphinx. Perhaps he did that to prove a point, a point sprung from the murky waters of privilege and ignorance.

And my spirit sank lower into my gut; I could feel it dragging me down towards the molasses-resembling-blood splattered ground.”

The lightness of whiteness and a burdenless history

When one reads the comments in Stephanie Wyatts “The Audacity of No Chill: Kara Walker in the Instragram Capital”  the good ol’ ‘reverse-racism’ argument starts to bubble up. She called out white people in her article and that, is just not socially acceptable, even in the context of art speaking on Black Slavery. If this is not an appropriate time when is it?

Stephanie, a Black woman, had to bear witness to jokes about “sugar tits”, “big ass” and “sweet lips” as her racialized body stood in front of sculpture of another racialized body. The sexualized talk directed at a lifeless sphinx (as her own physical presence was ignored) was talk also aimed at her. As the human being standing next to the the ones saying such things she should take it personally.

I stood in front of a sugar boy carrying a huge basket oozing what began to look more like blood than molasses. I looked to my right and a white kid was licking one of the boys while his parents stood there unfazed. I walked over to get a full-on, yet still-distant view of the giant sphinx. Two seconds later, my eyes exploded and I was crying all over myself.

I obviously didn’t expect to start crying, but it happened and I let those tears run free. I was snapped out of my sob by a white guy yelling, “This is boring!” Tears for my ancestors turned into hot, angry tears. “

Stephanie’s response to all of the callousness, built up upon other times she has had to bear witness to people acting with insensitivity, lead her to write:

…I’d gotten the sense that deep reverence may not be white people’s spiritual gift. But where’s the respect? How do you not realize that you are currently standing on sacred ground and staring the sickness of our country dead in the face?”

All of these articles are written by African Americans. I didn’t come across any other articles of this type, speaking to a visceral and painful experience, written by anyone that wasn’t Black.

Whiteness / ‘lightness’ is a privilege. It gets you a pass in a lot of places. It shouldn’t get you a pass on ignorant behaviour. The Mammy Sphinx and Sugar Babies speak to a mutual history, slavery exists in the collective memory(s) and the weight of it should be shared. Unfortunately A Subtlety” demonstrated that many people still see it as a burden belonging only to Black people.

Whether we like it or not, history has intimately intertwined us all and the unknotting shouldn’t have to be done solely by the people who can trace their ancestry back to those who survived the Middle Passage.

Both the physical and online spaces that A Subtlety” provided were spaces where white people could have at least helped to carry the burden. Instead the actions of many led to the piling on of more weight.

A Subtlety” exposed that the not so subtle expressions of racism exist even in places created for homage to its impact.

The Black female body is never neutral. She can never rest.

“Experiencing Kara Walker”

“I walked into the exhibit feeling alone and I walked out of the exhibit feeling lonely. To be a parody and a parent. To be a black woman and pun.

It is here when I decide that I will bring my daughter next weekend. She should know how to arm herself against a world that never considers her skin, her ancestry, her people. She should know her body is always up for discussion, whether she initiates the conversation or not. She should know her pain will always be greeted with a whimsical  patronizing hand.

She should know how to celebrate, defend and demand her own song and rich history be acknowledged and honored.”

~ Chelcee Johns


All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

WHEN ART DEALS WITH THE DISTASTEFUL: Kara Walker at the Domino Sugar Factory

Creative Time presents “A Subtlety” in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I make a scattered dash to get to the Kara Walker exhibit in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Hot day, with an intense late-spring / almost-summer sun blasting me and the pavement I am pounding. I get lost then located. I turn the corner to see the longest lineup I have seen for art in sometime.

Kara Walker. A big sign makes it clear this is an event!

“At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:

A Subtlety

or the Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant”

 

Once inside the Domino Sugar compound there is a long march into the factory where another blast of heat hits you. This time it’s combined with a sweet smell.

The immediate feeling is of being overwhelmed. The scene is fantastic! Honey coloured light dappling a cement floor textured by the wear and tear of once busy workers. More texture on the rusted out walls that offer a palette of cobalt blues and deep muscovado browns. Beyond the crowds, at the far end of the factory, this gorgeous, towering, powder-white statue rises up – intense with her omnipresent stare.

But then your eyes adjust to the dim warehouse light and your nose notices that the once inviting smell has turned into a toxic sweetness. The scent becomes more rank as you move closer to the sugar sphinx. It mixes with dust and hot human sweat. It doesn’t smell good and the scene that at first seemed stunning loses its charm as you notice you are surrounded by statues of small children, barefooted and barely clothed, standing so they reach slightly above the level of your heart. They each hold a gathering basket. Although they are fixed in their location they seem to multiply and move because as groups of sightseers wander off another child emerges through the dusty light.

It is these children that become the most haunting part of this installation. Constructed from resin and covered in molasses, their bodies leak onto the concrete floor leaving a puddle of black gummy moisture that traps your feet. The dark slick reflects back the faces of the meandering masses that approach the bodies like they are curios.

They are fascinating. Their technical production makes them close to life-like despite the fact that their heads loom too large on their spindly frames. Some even seem to smile but you can’t be sure if it is the case because their face may have shifted as the molasses melts.



The crowd bends to see them face to face, the crowd comes close to touching, but only the little ones, without socialized inhibition, reach out. As they do their parents snap photos, telling them to hold still and smile.

What becomes even more curious then the sugar statues is how the crowd reacts. Met with the visual reminder of the slave trade people pose with the sugar babies flashing a tourist’s grin.

When confronted with the sweetness of life gone sour what should be our appropriate response?

I wonder why they smile in a scene that, if you pause for a moment to think of the reasons Kara Walker’s sugar mammy and molasses children have been constructed in this space, is distressing. At the edge of the East River, for over 150 years, the Domino Sugar building was used as a processing plant for the imported cane that came to America from the colonies. Blood sugar –  a term used to demonstrate how the sugar trade was bound to the slave trade yet the crowds want to be memorialized with the look of pleasure on their face.

It’s not that the crowds seem unsympathetic to the histories Kara references. Racially mixed (albeit predominately white), I am sure the majority are aware of what they are witnessing.

So how do we commemorate our experiences with art that is meant to be challenging? As we ram head on into the digital (sur)realities of the 21st Century have we stopped to think about our decorum when we bear witness to problematic subject matter? Have we been educated on how to be critical; have we considered how to be respectful?

Historically cameras were restricted in art spaces but now, often, they are allowed. With a population that is snap happy and needing to share they were there what does this mean for the way we now interact with art?

Are we in the actual moment or does the camera mitigate us from needing to be fully present in those times when we are confronted with difficult realities, realities that may even challenge our lifestyle choices?

We are primed from a small age how to interact with a camera. Like the parents instructing their curious kids, we are told to ‘smile’. Should there be times when we ask ourselves, is our documentation appropriate? Could there be a better way for us to use this ubiquitous technology we have access to?

Upon entering the exhibit a sign reads “Please do not touch the artwork but do share pictures on social media” and the hashtag #KaraWalkerDomino supplied.

As I write, the trending content for this tag is Jay-Z, Beyoncé and their baby daughter Blue. They have been spotted on a Father’s Day outing to the Brooklyn location.

Besides Beyoncé (and the occasional off-colour comment alluding to the Sphinx’s sexualized nudity), the tweets are mostly of people expressing how impressed they are by the artist’s work but the opportunity for a more expansive discussion, even if only in 140 characters is missed.

People seem willing to participate in the spectacle but are they willing to participate in active change?

This sweet stuff is serious stuff.

Kara Walker’s work is not just a memorial to a past travesty. Everyone’s sweet tooth is still sucking bodies into modern slavery and bonded labour. The syrup that drips from the statues of the children is like a living organism that marks the space in real time. The legacy of the sugar trade is in our present moment.  When the Domino Sugar Factory is finally demolished, clearing way for condos, what will have changed?

Social media exposes where we are at culturally. The evidence left behind by hashtags demonstrates that there is much work to be done around how best to digest what we should find distasteful.

Inside our pockets are powerful tools. Technology has given us the means to not only discuss our reactions beyond our immediate circle but also archive them for a future population of new users. We each have the capacity to participate in building extensive and transformational legacies around the art that impacts us.

When the molasses evaporates and powdery dust swept away what remains?

Hopefully an expansive documentation of how people were deeply moved by the work and a record of thoughtful interactions in 140 characters or less.

#KaraWalkerDomino

#ModernSlavery

 #Sugar

“A Subtlety” is presented by Creative Time.

 “Over the past four decades, Creative Time has commissioned and presented ambitious public art projects with thousands of artists throughout New York City, across the country, around the world—and now even in outer space. Our work is guided by three core values: art matters, artists’ voices are important in shaping society, and public spaces are places for creative and free expression.” Read more on Creative Time

The exhibition continues through until July 6, 2014.

Hours:
Fridays 4–8pm
Saturdays 12–6pm
Sundays 12–6pm.

& FYI – be prepared for a long line up!


black stroke

RECOMMENDED READING ON KARA WALKER AT THE DOMINO SUGAR FACTORY:

EDWIDGE DANTICAT: The Price of Sugar

“Midway through Candide, Voltaire’s famously naive protagonist enters Dutch-controlled 18th-century Suriname, where he encounters “a negro stretched upon the ground, with only one moiety of his clothes, that is, of his blue linen drawers; the poor man had lost his left leg and his right hand.”

“Good God!” exclaims Candide, who proceeds to ask the man why he’s in such terrible shape.

“When we work at the sugar-canes,” the man answers, “and the mill snatches hold of a finger, they cut off the hand; and when we attempt to run away, they cut off the leg; both cases have happened to me. This is the price at which you eat sugar in Europe.”

We still eat sugar at a similar price.

And not just in Europe, but all over the world.”

Read more of Edwidge’s essay…

black stroke

SHAILJA PATEL: Unpour

“White sugar has always been for rich people. White sugar has always been guest sugar, company sugar, sugar for public display. Parlor sugar…

…It takes bones to get sugar white. Thousands of pounds of cow bones burned to bone char are used to bleach sugar in processing plants. My Hindu parents, for whom beef was the ultimate taboo, did not know this when they proudly displayed white sugar lumps in their silver sugar bowl…

…Some of us take our sweet dirty. Extracted. Not poured.”

Read more of Shailja Patel’s Unpour…

black stroke

JAMILAH KING: The Overwhelming Whiteness of Black Art

“The overwhelming whiteness of viewers isn’t unique to Walker’s exhibit. There are more than 17,500 museums in the United States that are visited by 850 million people annually, the vast majority of whom are white. Art, particularly when it’s commissioned and it’s covered in important publications like the New York Times, is often seen as the exclusive domain of white folks. Museums, dating back to their modern origins in the 18th century, were usually built by wealthy white patrons and enjoyed by middle and upper class European families. In the American context, they served a specific purpose for opening up and exploring a new continent, according to Ford Bell, head of the American Alliance of Museums who was quoted by NPR in 2008. People of color — their customs, their cultures and, in the infamous case of Sara Baartman, their bodies —  were usually the object of those white gazes. But in recent years, as the country’s demographics have shifted in favor of a so-called majority-minority, the art world has made great strides in featuring the work of artists of color. It’s hard to imagine any work by an artist like Walker or Carrie Mae Weems, at the Guggenheim 50 years ago.”

Read more of Jamilah King’s article…

black stroke

CAIT MUNRO: Kara Walker’s Sugar Sphinx Spawns Offensive Instagram Photos

“…Meant to serve as a commentary on the sugar cane trade, and a cultural critique of slavery and perceptions of black women throughout history, the work is part Sphinx, part racist Mammy stereotype, and is coated in sugar. It features exaggerated features including breasts, a bottom, and a vagina. As Walker told artnet News, “Nudity is a thing, apparently, that people have a problem with; not slavery, or racism, but female bodies, or bottoms.”

And sadly, she is correct. While few appear to have responded to the work with charges of indecency, some visitors have been unable to stop themselves from mocking and sexualizing the work, uploading photos pretending to cup its breasts or tongue its buttocks. This gross behavior has, understandably, struck a nerve with feminists and racial equality activists alike. Yesha Callahan of The Root writes, “History has shown us time and time again how a black woman’s body was (and sometimes still is) objectified. From the days of the slave trade to even having black butts on display in music videos, the black woman’s body seems to easily garner laughs and mockery, even if it’s made out of sugar.”

Read more of Cait Munro’s article…

black stroke

RESOURCES ON MODERN SLAVERY AND HOW TO CREATE CHANGE:

Walk Free

Not For Sale Campaign

Made In The Free World

Do you know your Slavery Footprint?
Find out by taking The Made in the Free World Survey


Images of Kara Walker “A Subtlety” installation by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.