How can we create the conditions for intimacy, solidarity, and nourishment while we’re apart? How can we break bread and share knowledge over a virtual table? Meals for a Movement, an online project organized by Koffler.Digital, shows us how answers to these questions might take shape. Transcending the typical online exhibition through an intimate audio format, the project’s three sound pieces invite the viewer to share invaluable space with BIPOC women artists and activists. Launched in February 2019, its works have only gained relevance since. When I first began writing about Meals for a Movement in March 2020, social distancing orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic made the project’s online format feel suited to the current moment. Then a global uprising against systemic racism and police brutality began its resurgence, and Meals for a Movement’s lessons in metabolizing resistance became more resonant than I could have anticipated.
A warm sensation arises inside of me as I step into the Joan Goldfarb Visual Arts Study Centre. Originally a storage space for artwork that has recently been converted into a small gallery as part of a pilot project, the space is small and cozy. The gallery is well-lit by large circular lights hanging from the ceiling, the light warm and soothing as opposed to glaring in the way white cube galleries sometimes are. There is an interplay between black and white in the space, the exterior wall on the left-hand side of the gallery is painted a matte black that instantly draws the eye. A rug on the floor and the comfortable-looking couch just off to the side serve as an invitation to linger, adding a sense of intimacy to the space.
I surprised Zoe Koke at an exhibition of hers in an East Vancouver multipurpose space. She didn’t notice me immediately, so I watched as she remedied an unwanted peekaboo of wood and canvas behind a piece of tapestry that was a part of her installation. Her movements reminded me how long it had been since we last occupied the same place—during a Montreal winter in a repurposed basement that smelled of Dove soap. Her practice became suddenly present and I half-visibly paced between her photographs occupied with thoughts on wellness, the physical materiality of being, and how a practice of writing images embodies resolution but retains layers of distortion. Days after the opening, she and I walked the Boundary Bay shoreline of the Tsawwassen First Nation with our eyes peeled for fragments of shell burnished by the water and sand.
The exhibition, Between Ice and Earth which took place last summer at Xpace Cultural Centre, celebrated a close-knit community of Indigenous OCAD students, transcended barriers, and vibrated with a palpable uneasiness. The showing by Ana Morningstar, Dehmin Osawamick Cleland, Megan Feheley, Laura St. Amant, Amanda Amour-Lynx, Ben Kicknosway, Kaya Joan, and Tom McLeod addressed frustrations about the expectations of Indigenous art and the pressure of being makers inheriting Indigenous and settler cultural legacies. The artists responded to the familiar theme of relating to the land and space of Tkaronto, but with a distinct anxiety about anthropogenic pollution, the climate apocalypse, and how the continually degrading health of the land affects Indigenous protocols, ceremonies, and material practices. This angst presupposed our current political climate, while offering an antidote of community solidarity—a fundamental element which should not be ignored.
My friends shudder when I bring up the story of when I bit into a glass as a young child. As the story goes, I could barely see past the table at a restaurant, surrounded by indolent chatter from my family. In the middle of the meal, as my father recalls, he heard a terribly conspicuous “tok” sound—my family looked over in horror to see my teething mouth closed over a wine glass, little hands clasped happily around the stem. I may have simply been practicing being a sculptor with an unconventional method, because when they pried my mouth open, out came a perfectly intact piece of glass. Read More
“Science does not have a monopoly on empiricism,” historian David Topper once noted, arguing that empirical matters are, in fact, “germane to all visual imagery.” (1) Recognizing the role of visual images in the production of theoretical knowledge means understanding that their value extends beyond mute illustration to their unique capacity for discovering and articulating new information. An elegant case in point is trigonometric parallax—the “gold standard” of geometric measurements—first developed by Hipparchus (190-120 BCE), and still used by today’s astronomers for determining the moving edge of our expanding universe. (2) Whereas distance measures the spatial difference of two points, parallax derives distance through the mediation of a third: observing a distant object while alternating between two lines of sight, one can measure the apparent shift in an object’s location. Read More
To be guided by soft signs requires listening on a subtler frequency than usual; attending to what’s quiet and shimmering beneath the surface impressions of the mind. This is not an easy task in New York City, where everywhere are threats of sensory aggressions, sirens, and structurally established determinants of where to walk, where to stand, which exit to take, and where to cross from one corner to the next.Read More
In the early 2000’s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency under the United States Department of Defense working on social forms of Artificial Intelligence (AI), began to develop machine-learning agents that could cognitively engage with each other, their environment, and essentially ‘learn’ from their experiences in a simulation. During one simulation, two learning agents named Adam and Eve were programmed to know some things (how to eat), but not much else (what to eat). They were given an apple tree and were happy to eat the apples, but also made attempts to eat the entire tree. Another learning agent, Stan, was introduced and wanted to be affable, but eventually became the loner of the group. Given the natural development of the simulation—and a few bugs in the system—Adam and Eve began to associate Stan with food and one day took a bite out of him. Stan disappeared and thus became one of the first victims of virtual cannibalism. (1) Read More
Ana Mendieta’s work embodied the complexities of nature, sovereignty, and taking up space. In Libertad, shown at Dazibao in Montréal from September 7 to October 19, 2019, French-Colombian artists Karen Paulina Biswell and Laura Huertas Millán appear alongside Mendieta to examine the sensual and material forces that impact the experiences of women, and the function of freedom for those who pass between being subjects and ‘objects.’ However, to limit this reading of the show within the confines of womanhood and female agency would be incomplete. Weaving through conceptions of home and belonging, and a determination for survival, the artists expose a slippage of race, nation, and gender that is inherent to all identity: concepts unable to be fixed within immovable categories. Together, the works comprise a criticism of the systems of knowledge that justify domination, as well as the essentializing gestures that equate women with nature. Read More
When I moved into my new apartment this past November, I started hanging up the bits of ephemera I’ve collected along the way: a framed, embroidered bouquet of pink flowers, two large nude monochrome prints I made in that one elective at university, and a certificate. It’s printed on thick paper, feeling substantial enough to be of some importance. At the top, in gold text, it reads “The Department of Optimism is Proud to Honour” with my name italicized and underlined, all in red (my favourite colour). It then reads, “In recognition of your helpfulness, selflessness, excitability and meekness. You are a wondrous listener and your soft nature makes all around feel comforted. You’ve been likened to Anna Wintour and Jackie Kennedy. You are graceful.” The certificate is officiated with a gold sticker, embossed with the text, “DEPARTMENT OF OPTIMISM”. There’s a space at the bottom of the document stating who nominated me. It’s anonymous, although there is only one person who would liken me to Jackie Kennedy. I think about them, and the complexities and history of our relationship. I find it strange that they’ve also likened me to Anna Wintour, unsure to feel insulted or complimented, but overall, it’s amusing. After sharing this tender moment with the piece of paper in my hands, I then put it up on the wall next to my degree, and chuckle at their similarity in appearance.