Decolonizing Spaces, Public Art, Curatorial, Museum and Publication Models will focus on curatorial, critical and artistic projects. Curator Haema Sivanesan (Glenbow Museum) will present notes from her essay, “Unsettling” the Forest as a Canadian Nationalist Imaginary: Consent, Consultation, and (Re)conciliation in Leila Sujir’s “forest! documents”; Sunny Kerr (Queen’s) will offer methodologies of decolonial curatorial practices at the Agnes Etherington Art Center; Barbara Clausen (UQAM) will suggest how to embody exhibitions and activate archives. Charan Singh (Kingston University) will present his creative research informed by HIV/AIDS activism and queer politics. Diyar Mayil (MFA Concordia) will present her works on migration, questioning the nuanced and contradictory dynamics inherent to the relationship between hosts and guests; and Concordia MFA alumni and Colombia-Canadian duo, Laura Acosta and Santiago Tavera will present their recent media installation projects that explore perspectives of the “other” and spaces of dislocation.
Bios and talk description
Haema Sivanesan (Director, Leighton Studios and Program Partnerships, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity) has held leadership and curatorial positions in public art galleries, artist-run centres and festivals around the world. Her curatorial work focuses on non-western, post-colonial and transnational art histories. Her essay, “Unsettling the forest as a Canadian nationalist imaginary: consent, consultation and (re)conciliation in Leila Sujir’s Forest!” was published in the Journal of Transcultural Studies, (University of Heidelberg, 2019). In 2018, she was the recipient of an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York, Curatorial Research Fellowship; and in 2016, the recipient of a Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, Hong Kong, multi-year research and exhibition development grant for the project In the Present Moment: Buddhism, Contemporary Art and Social Practice (Figure 1 and Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2022). Recent book chapters include, “Chrysanne Stathacos and Charwei Tsai: The Mandala” in Religion and Contemporary Art: A Curious Accord, Rachel Hostetter Smith and Ronald Bernier, eds, (Routledge, 2023 in press), and “Charmion von Wiegand’s Vision of Modern Buddhism” in Charmion von Wiegand. Expanding Modernism, Maja Wismer, ed, (Prestel, 2021). Recent exhibitions include, Charwei Tsai: The Eye is the First Circle (2021-22), Imagining Fusang: Exploring Chinese and Indigenous Encounters(2019), Fiona Tan: Ascent (2019), and Supernatural: Art, Technology and the Forest (2018).
a discussion based on her publication in the Journal of TransculturalStudies (Vol. 11 No. 2, 2020)“Unsettling” the Forest as a Canadian Nationalist Imaginary: consent, Consultation, and (Re)conciliation in Leila Sujir’s “forest! documents”
Leila Sujir’s ongoing stereoscopic 3D and Virtual Reality media art project, forest! documents is situated in the old growth rainforests of the South Walbran Valley of Vancouver Island, on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Pacheedaht First Nation. Taking place more than a century and a half since the settling of Vancouver Island by British colonizers, which was soon followed by successive waves of immigration by Chinese, Japanese, South Asian, and other laborers, Sujir’s project comes up against the effects and consequences of settler colonialism in the forests of Vancouver Island, and reveals the complexities and paradoxes of Canada’s mandate for (re)conciliation with Indigenous peoples. This paper explores Sujir’s process of artistic collaboration, works with a range of Indigenous, community, and artworld stakeholders, and draws on a heuristic methodology to navigate complex community and inter-racial dynamics. Sujir adopts a methodology of person-to-person conciliation as a means to mitigate Indigenous–settler tensions, developing this approach into a methodology of friendship as a means by which to secure a transparent working process that is accountable to the Pacheedaht First Nation. This in turn enables the artist to develop new transcultural understandings and a new picturing of the forest. This paper closely examines Sujir’s process in the development of two works—Forest Breath (2018) and Aerial (2019)—detailing both the difficulty and the importance of artistic collaboration in working towards an ideology of (re)conciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Sunny Kerr is a male settler of Scottish and Irish descent living and working in Katarokwi/Kingston, Ontario. As Curator of Contemporary Art at Agnes Etherington Art Centre with adjunct teaching appointments at Queen’s University, Kerr thinks with the experiences, provocations and potentials of art and the uneasy legacies of culture amid the urgencies of racist violence and climate change. He continually tries to contextualize and put his work in reciprocal dialogue with inventive artistic thinking-making. His recent Drift: Art and Dark Matter exhibition brought four artists of national and international stature to an underground astroparticle physics lab. The artists’ aesthetic approaches to events of being, relational epistemologies and global environmental collapse inform their discussions with specialists around the search for dark matter. The related publication is forthcoming from K. Verlag. Kerr completed his doctorate in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University and questions curatorial thinking with graduate students in Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies, Department of Film and Media.
Using project images, Kerr will discuss two recent Agnes forays into decolonial curatorial work. First, Along the Way: Decolonial Ecologies Playgroup prototypes “playgroup” methods combining mentorship and artistic work through social support systems and reciprocal exchange. The group tries to model its methods on the flows and ecosystems of interconnected waterways—instead of on the history of museum practice. In this project we connect artist mentor and Indigenous cultural carrier JP Longboat (Mohawk-Cayuga, Turtle clan, from Six Nations of the Grand River in Southern Ontario), with two other Haudenosaunee artists and five settler artists from the region. With partners at a biological field station and the municipal level, the group explores the complex ecosystems of several key sites, and undertakes research toward new forms for reciprocal work with communities non-human and human, seen and unseen. Second, A guest + a host = a ghost invited artist researchers to engage in informal study and imagine new forms that investigate, claim and change space in the historical Etherington House. Hospitality is complicated. It isn’t merely a matter of inserting comfy chairs for hanging out—not yet. First an institution needs to start dealing with its ghosts (that is, dealing with structural racism, economic oppression and ableism, historical and ongoing). For A guest + a host = a ghost, Dylan Robinson and Kerr initiated a diverse investigative commons that would generate methods and forms in response to the sounds, colours, textures, decor and spatial organization of Etherington House.
Barbara Clausen (Associate Professor, Art History, and Associate Dean for Research and Creation and the Faculty of Arts, UQÀM) is an independent curator, living and working in Tiohtia:ke/Mooniyang/Montreal, Canada. During the Summer of 2023 she is the Chillida Chair Visiting Professor at the Institute of Art History at Goethe-Universität Frankfurt.
Since 2000 she has lectured and written extensively on the historiography and institutionalization of performance-based art practices and the discourses surrounding the politics of the body and the archive, articulated through the site specificity of the exhibition.She has over the last ten years curated and collaborated on numerous exhibitions and performance series in Europe as well as North America. She is a co-applicant member of Hexagram UQAM Network and member of the Worlding Public Cultures Montréal team (2019-2021, SSHRC and FRQSC). From 2015-2019 she directed the research project An Annotated Bibliography in Realtime: Performance Art in Quebec and Canada (FRQSC) in collaboration with Artexte, as well as Keeping it Live : Performance Art Between Archive and Exhibition (2018 – 2022 (SSHRC). She is the Curatorial Research Director of the Joan Jonas Knowledge Base and is currently co-editing a monograph on Joan Jonas, published by the Dia Art Foundation in New York in 2022. She is the author of Babette Mangolte. Performance zwischen Aktion und Betrachtung (Edition Metzel, 2023) and co-editor of the monograph Joan Jonas: next move in a mirror world (Dia Art Foundation, 2023).
Embodied Exhibitions and Archives: Some Thoughts on Memory, Agency and Affect
As part of her research Barbara Clausen will discuss the evolvement and impact of performance-based art practices in the visual arts as an increasingly fluid medial entity that oscillates between affect driven agency and conceptual site specificity. Looking at the work of a.o. Tanya Lukin Linklater, and Jimmy Robert, Clausen will think about the interplay of the performative with the archival and the curatorial as they unfold continuously through their enactments and stagings, challenging the institutional spaces they work with. This presentation will discuss how each of their distinctly site specific and interdisciplinary practices investigate how the performativity of immediacy and absence can become a source, medium and site of knowledge transfer – for interacting with and rethinking the past within the present in critical ways.
Charan Singh (Lecturer, Kingston University, London UK) lives and works in New Delhi and London and is a PhD alumni from the Royal College of Art. His practice is informed by his involvement with HIV/AIDS activism and queer politics in his ‘pre-English language’ life. He uses photography, text and video to explore the importance of storytelling and translation of queer experiences. His video work “They Called it Love, But Was it Love?” was commissioned by Visual Aids (New York) 2020. The Third Gender, Pforzheim 2021. His recent show titled “Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh” was held at Brixton Library in February 2020. Other exhibitions “Dissent and Desire” has been seen at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi, India 2018, at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston, (catalogue) 2018, and at SepiaEye, NY 2017. He was awarded Magnum/Photo London Award 2016, and a FIAR residency (NY 2017). His portrait series “Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others” was featured in The Photoworks Annual (UK) in 2017.
Going Sideways: learning to leap
My practice has been documenting the lives of working class, effeminate queer males in Delhi, who came of age in the early 1990s just as HIV/AIDS arrived in India known as Kothis, and Hijras; a queer sub-culture. Since then, these communities have rarely been seen outside an HIV/AIDS context and have been reduced to mere survival stories. Therefore, in my presentation, I will be focusing on refusal as a political gesture to grand narrative institutionalized forms of oppression, and by deploying storytelling as a tool for resistance. It will also mark that these identities are blurred, and that they are complicit in caste and class struggles. My use of images and stories as symbolic gestures point towards the fragmented nature of queerness, a discourse which has been overtaken by neo-colonial narratives.
Diyar Mayil (Artist in Residence, Studio Arts, Concordia) is an artist working in sculpture, installation and performance. Comfort, discomfort, adaptation, and the acceptance of different bodies in both public and private are recurring subjects in her practice. Her work has been supported by Canada Council for the Arts, Conseil des arts de Montréal and has been shown at La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse, Printemps numérique, Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, NARS Foundation in NYC and Centre Clark in MTL. Upcoming commitments include Solo exhibitions at Circa Art Actuel and Articule in Montréal. She holds a BFA from Concordia University, where she has recently completed her MFA. She is the 2022 Laureate for the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Fellowship in Contemporary Art. Originally from Istanbul, she now lives and works in Montreal.
Hosting / Hospitality The uncomfortable feeling of not belonging manifests itself in nuanced ways in people’s lives, but for some this discomfort is constant and inescapable. I have never felt the urgency to think about the discomfort of being a guest more than this moment in which the whole world is witnessing an increase in the number of people forcibly displaced. According to UN statistics, by the end of 2019 close to 80 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide and the numbers are at a record high. 80 million people became guests and consequently a larger number of people became hosts to those who were displaced. Power, giving, concealment, acceptance: the rich, nuanced and even contradictory dynamics inherent to the relationship between hosts and guests offers a field of exploration within which ambiguity and discomfort reign.
Laura Acosta and Santiago Tavera (MFA alumni, Concordia) are Colombian-Canadian artists based in Montréal. Since 2017, their collaborative practice forges an intersection between Tavera’s investigation of virtual technologies and interactive environments in relation to the body, with Acosta’s exploration of identity through textile structures and performance. Through this, they create site specific immersive experiences and expanded performances in which the audience questions their own position within a space. Their collaborative projects have been supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and Le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, and presented in Canada at Optica, Centre d’art contemporain, MAI-Montréal, arts interculturels, Articule, and SUR Gallery, as well as Internationally at the International Images Festival of Manizales and the International Symposium on Electronic Art-ISEA.
Dislocation and “Other” Spaces The roots of colonialism are deeply ingrained in violent executions of power, exclusion and extraction, and the repercussions of this manifest in how we regard ourselves, others and the environment around us. Therefore, decolonizing spaces is a question of re-thinking the dynamics between bodies and the spaces they inhabit, moving towards non-hierarchical, intersectional and community based ways of perceiving the world. Through the transdisciplinary installation series The Novels of Elsewhere,
Colombian-Canadian artists Santiago Tavera and Laura Acosta use their personal experiences of migration as a catalyst to question how exploring the perspectives of the “other” can be an opening to engage with processes of de-colonization. This work is inspired by how groups that represent “the other” such as the bipoc, queer, migrant or disabled communities, propose a view of the world that is displaced yet multiple, emergent and in a constant state of becoming. Through the combination of non-linear storytelling, site specific video and sound, along with textile sculptures and performance, this collaborative project uses the sense of displacement as the method for creating immersive and interactive experiences. Within this series of installations the artists combine different technologies with corporal interactions to create ecosystems where viewers question their own position within a space.