It was great to catch up with you and R in Winnipeg in February. Visiting Plug In and the WAG reminded me of how much I miss the essential pleasure of an exchange about art before art. Clint Roenisch’s Eli Langer exhibition would have been an antidote to the usual bunch of second-rate shows any time, and when Ontario’s emergency orders were still novel, Clint welcomed a private visit on a Tuesday afternoon. With everything closed, Langer’s paintings from LA around the turn of the century, through the aughts, blotted local mediocrities and lifted my spirits.
A labyrinth is distinguished from a maze by its lack of dead ends and by its unicursal paths. The traveler is easily disoriented by the winding path, moving against their intuition and sense of direction. In the concentric circles and hairpin turns, the walker moves along a line that bends in on itself. Traditionally, one starts their walk on the outside of the labyrinth moving circuitously toward and away from the centre until they arrive, almost by surprise. Similarly, Julie Oh’s work moves with the turns of the labyrinth, but it starts at the centre. It takes you along in looping turns toward and away from the specificity of the heating blanket or the prescription bottle until this known thing is strange, known, strange, and known again. The work of the labyrinth is embodied work; it makes an internal world into physical space. Similarly, so is navigating Oh’s Tunnel, Air, Mother—a body of work that confounds, conflates and takes pleasure in the already messy binaries of mother-daughter, parent-child, caregiver and receiver, intimate and communal, personal and public. Rather than imagining a spectrum—a straight line—between fixed positions, the work in this show travels the curves and loops between them.
On her Instagram account, Summer Emerald asserts that she is the “World’s Hottest Doomsday Preacher.” Her Internet presence alone possesses the sort of authority that makes me unwilling to question this. For almost a year, I have been vigilantly watching the Montreal-based artist prophesize the apocalypse to her Instagram followers. Appropriately, my visits to Emerald’s Instagram page became more frequent after being placed under government-mandated social isolation in my gloomy basement apartment at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
“If I want to imagine a fictive nation, I can give it an invented name, treat it declaratively as a novelistic object, create a new Garabagne, so as to compromise no real country by my fantasy (although it is then the fantasy itself I compromise by the signs of literature). I can also—though in no way claiming to represent or to analyze reality itself (these being the major gestures of Western discourse)—isolate somewhere in the world (faraway) a certain number of features (a term employed in linguistics), and out of these features deliberately form a system. It is this system which I shall call: Japan.”
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.
Does air change in a war zone? I mean the nature of air itself—its tactile, sensible qualities. If so, are you able to describe it? Is it denser upon the skin? Does it carry sensation, time?—does it bear a smell? If so, of whom?
There is a moment in a gust of wind that precedes a rumbling stormy sky, when I suddenly feel different. A sudden restlessness comes over me, a sense of longing for a place that does not exist, perhaps buried in the ashes of a village destroyed by merchants seeking to sell human flesh. The electric, tense change in that moment recalls magic to my skin, an embodiment of the magic of the Zabat, a Black woman’s rite of passage. For a moment I feel ancient, powerful, and lonely—as if I’ve forgotten something important and I’m on the verge of remembering it. (1)