Duet | William Robinson | January 20 to March 3, 2018


Created in collaboration with Erin Schwab, Shane Brown, and Joel Waddell, Duet combines and distorts the Canadian and USA national anthems through compositional re-arrangement and redaction. The resulting work consists of a new multipart musical piece for two voices based on conflating the scores of "Oh Canada" & "The Star-Spangled Banner" into various levels of abstraction. The work was spurred by Robinson’s recent relocation to the United States from Canada. The work strives to negotiate national anthems as musical monuments and their malleability as sonic and ideological structures deserving of deconstruction.

Exhibition Essay: Anthems Un/sung By Erinn Beth Langille

William Robinson’s Duet is a piece of music created from the American and Canadian national anthems, played between speakers and at a distance from each other, like two fence posts facing off in a borderland. A compositional booklet shows the graphic breakdown of the composition, and if you like, you can follow along. The original scores for “O Canada” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” are treated first as physical objects, on which Robinson has drawn in order to change their patterning, resulting in mutations of sound, rhythm, and pitch. The subsequent score is sung a cappella, recorded, and further digitally manipulated: stretched, distorted, doubled, augmented, and peppered with electronic effects. In their final recording the anthems are still recognizable, and while skeletons and shadows of their former selves, maintain consistent ‘known-ness’ and inherent power over the listener. A powerful echo, which, coupled with their disruption and reconfiguration in the gallery, interrupts a clear notion of the anthemic and calls into mind the anthem as a potential site of protest.

A common thread in his practice, it was perhaps not surprising that Robinson chose to examine and play with the musical scores of the national anthems of Canada and the United States. After a lifetime in Canada, the last 17 years in Halifax, Robinson moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey to attend Rutgers University for his MFA. As I had also moved from Canada to the US in the Trump election year (I landed in New Orleans) we reflected on shared experiences over the last six months as Canadians living in the US. I wondered if Duet provided an opportunity to explore metaphors for the relationship between the neighbouring countries, or touch on the rise of recent Nationalist and White Supremacist groups and the desire to “Make America Great Again”. We talked about the roles of protest and monument in colonialism and civil rights. Robinson was curious how I felt living a few blocks from the now-removed confederate monuments in New Orleans, the Jefferson Davis monument and Gen. P.G.T Beauregard monument, which stood outside the New Orleans Museum of Art. We agreed that the empty pillars, like plinths in a gallery in the absence of old objects and in wait for new, signalled necessary change.

We also discussed Colin Kaepernick, and his use of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a site of resistance, and it led me to reflect on Robinson’s practice more broadly and his inquiries into how monuments, buildings, and music might provide architectures for new meaning. So how might music be an architecture of protest? The most obvious example might be the protest song, whereby lyrics speak to injustices or reveal prejudices. African American blues singers protested discrimination and other issues, like Lead Belly’s “The Bourgeois Blues” or Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, and folk singers of the 50s and 60s discussed Civil Rights, the War, and unions. However, alterations can reflect all matter of opinion. In 2016, at an MLB all-star game in San Diego, one of the Canadian Tenors was fired when he changed the lyrics of the Canadian anthem and held a sign in support of “All Lives Matter”.
The interpretation of a familiar tune can also be confrontational.  It can be stretched, distorted, played irreverently, played to a rhythm or slant of an underrepresented voice, or a particular genre or musicology can be employed to call notice. Jimmy Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, or Marvin Gaye’s 1983 NBA All-Star Game performance come to mind as versions that reflect cultures historically ‘unsung’ by the country.

This is also where I would locate Robinson’s work and the techniques he uses to create meaning, as in Duet. In the case of Kaepernick, while the music itself had not been altered, its framing as part of a traditional event with defined structural elements (standing, bowing, holding hand over heart, singing along reverently) was disrupted. In Duet, Robinson is interested in the many layers of potentiality in music—how it can be created, manipulated, and melded as a sonic art, but also, as an architecture. The anthem is its own kind of monument, and like the monuments in New Orleans, its structure can be dismantled. 

Erinn Beth Langille is an award-winning writer who has published in National magazines, newspapers and journals. She has degrees from Dalhousie University, the University of Essex, and two from NSCAD, and is currently an MFA Fiction candidate at the University of New Orleans. A past participant of several residency programs, she is co-founder and creative director of The Lemon Tree House Residency in Tuscany, Italy. Her ekphrasis poem "Take Away The Bells", a commission by the artist William Robinson, was cast as a bronze plaque and displayed at the National Gallery of Canada from October 2016 to February 2017. 

William Robinson

William Robinson lives and works in New Brunswick NJ (USA) and Halifax NS (CDN). As a multidisciplinary artist, Robinson creates installations that combine sculpture, sound, video, performance, musical composition and printed matter. The work he creates is situational, frequently responding to specific buildings, sites and objects. Influenced and directed by his interest in sound, performance art, musicology, architecture and photography, Robinson engages collaborative and poetic processes that divulge the unexpected logic, design and history of specific sites and locations. These sites are usually close to home.

Thumb Through | Jade Yumang | October 27 to December 9, 2017


Jade Yumang’s artistic practice focuses on the concept of queer form traced through the summoning of historical amnesia, by means of myths, scandal trials, obscenity laws, and filmic tropes. Thumb Through is a series of sculptures that reference a 1972 legal scandal in New Jersey where police officers, without warrant, entered a gay bookstore and seized publications that were deemed obscene. Each sculpture in the exhibition represents a page from an issue of My-O-My, a 1970s North American gay erotic magazine that was used as evidence in the case and compared to an unauthorized weapon. For Thumb Through, Yumang scanned and printed the issue on fabric page-by-page, combining them with contemporaneous materials to construct abstract sculptural forms that evoke the forthcoming visibility of queer desire.


Exhibition Essay: Thumb Through: Jade Yumang and My-O-My
“If men were angels no government would be necessary.” James Madison, Federalist No. 51.
- Case document excerpt, New Jersey v. Shapiro, 1973
In July of 2012 I bought Jade Yumang a vintage gay porn magazine on Fire Island. A pop-up shop in Cherry Grove, New York was selling high quality reprints of 1970s stud mags like Dynamo! and HONCHO, along with island knick-knacks and some belongings from the estate of Rue McClanahan (God rest her soul). I immediately thumbed through a few issues, grabbed two or three, and ran back to the house to proudly flaunt my finds and offer a few gifts. The magazine covers were reprinted in a sturdy glossy plastic laminate—no doubt a material response to the flimsy, fading paper covers of the 1970s that clung to their staples with all the commitment of a short-term relationship. Two of the magazines were more traditionally hardcore: locker room scenes, hikers in denim cut-offs with tall striped tube socks and hiking boots, leather scenes, that sort of thing. The issue I had in mind for Jade was far more romantic and unimaginably colorful.
Printed and distributed in the early 1970s, My-O-My Volume II focused exclusively on two male models in a studio whose sexual narrative unfolded over the course of the 32-page book, at first intimately kissing and undressing page by page before eventually succumbing to one another for several more pages. The models were set against lush monochromatic backdrops of what can only be described as deeply timely colors for the 1970s: rust, ochre, sea foam, deep mauve, avocado green. Solid backdrops of color cast focus on the rich textures and character of each man’s garments and their pink and peach bodies in various states of passion and undress.
My-O-My also had another life as material evidence in New Jersey v. Shapiro, the Superior Court trial of Edward Shapiro and Milton Nerenberg after two police raids of their bookstore, Action Auction, in 1972. At question frequently in the suit was whether indecent material had any “redeeming social significance.”[1] What is remarkable about the language in the case is that it refers to the content of the magazine as “nude males making love to one another,”[2] which in descriptive terms is actually quite sweet. (The title of the other magazine obtained from the raids was Togetherness.) Apart from this, the case language makes no other mention of the magazines’ sexual content, apart from their “obscene” nature. These notions of speaking around bodies and transforming desire into something harmful are at the center of Jade Yumang’s Thumb Through series.
Consistent among the 32 objects, which vary in form and content for each page in My-O-My, is the use of page scans printed in archival ink on cotton and wrapped around long tubular forms, like pillow-soft porcupine quills. Some hang from or jut out of vintage fabrics and objects, resembling—or fastened to—fringe, tube socks, and refashioned garments from the early 1970s. Others like Page 28 (2015), bright and colorful and collected in a corner, offer sewn-cotton candy echoes of Felix Gonzalez-Torres piles. Like Felix’s practice and the pornographic images in My-O-My, Yumang’s works transfer intimate emotion out into the public realm.
The magazine’s retro design features, like typesettings, borders, layouts, and ads for back issues of other magazines in the series, frame the desire on adjacent pages. The edges of the artist’s sculptures pay careful attention to this detail. Fabric borders and underbellies of objects flaunt fringe, long strands of fibers, satin rope, and smooth patches of leather, recalling both nostalgia and biological features of organic creatures. Each sculpture’s tendrils appear both soft and dangerous, wielding a tender and uncertain harm. Like the models in My-O-My, works like Page 10 (2015), Page 12 (2015) and Page 5 (2016) themselves appear to be in states of undress, with zippers revealing inner layers, teasing and unveiling their private contents.


For a time that summer on Fire Island, Jade was tucked away in a basement studio designing and sewing elegant garments of white tulle that resembled diaphanous dragon spirits made of slender clouds. Objects in Thumb Through find echoes of these queered monster-forms, combining intimacy and absence, perceived potential harm and soft surfaces. Neither Jade nor I were yet aware of the power—and the redeeming social significance—of this random porn mag. Looking back it seems fitting that it was a gift from the island. (Had the nude men in the pictures cruised these beach forest paths? Were their ashes underfoot?) In Yumang’s careful hands, the intimate layers of these queer, quiet histories are shed one by one, transformed into something strange—and strangely powerful.


[1] State v. Shapiro (Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division (Criminal) January 26, 1973), Law.justia.com 300 A.2d 595.

[2] Ibid.

By Evan Garza

Evan Garza is Director of Public Art at Rice University. In 2011, he co-founded Fire Island Artist Residency in Cherry Grove, New York, the first residency program in the United States exclusively for LGBTQ artists. Garza served as Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin from 2014–2016 and was Exhibitions and Programs Director at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from 2011–2014. He has organized and curated several exhibitions internationally and his writing has been published by HyperallergicFlash ArtART PAPERS, and Artforum.com

Jade Yumang

Jade Yumang’s work primarily focuses on the concept of queer form through sculptural abstraction, installation, and performance. He received his MFA at Parsons School of Design with Departmental Honors in 2012 and his BFA Honors in University of British Columbia as the top graduate in 2008. He was born in Quezon City, Philippines, grew up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, immigrated to Vancouver, BC, Canada. He is currently a sessional instructor at the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia. He is also part of a New York-based collaborative duo, Tatlo, with Sara Jimenez.
His works have been exhibited internationally, including, Brooklyn Museum, NY; Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY; Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY; ONE Archives, Los Angeles, CA; International Print Center New York; Invisible-Exports, New York, NY; The Center for Book Arts, New York, NY; Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany; Equity Gallery, New York, NY; Box13 Artspace, Houston, TX; Eastern Edge Gallery, St. John’s, NL; The Kitchen, New York, NY; Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, Havana, Cuba.

In Blood and Bone | Alana Bartol | September 8 to October 14, 2017

In Blood and Bone asks how dowsing might shift our relationships to natural resources, technology, and place, while examining remediation, care, and the reliability of information. Dowsing or ‘water-witching’ is a form of divination used to locate ground water, oil, sites, and information. Last year, the Orphan Well Adoption Agency (OWAA) began investigating new methods of remediation through the practice of dowsing at abandoned oil well sites in Alberta. From September 8 - October 14, 2017 the OWAA will have an off-site office at TRUCK Contemporary Art. Oil well adoptions will be facilitated throughout the exhibition. Learn more at: http://www.orphanwelladoptionagency.com/

Click here for a two minute preview of Alana Bartol's video work, Total Field, 2017. 
In Blood and Bone is supported by funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Exhibitiion Essay: an aware form of care

In Blood and Bone is a compilation of Alana Bartol's many multifaceted constructs; its result is similar to a corporeal body. This body—an accumulation of different organs, which in turn are different facets of Bartol’s work—reaches out into the world in a multitude of ways. The body works and in doing so makes this body of work.
First, there is the Orphan Well Adoption Agency (OWAA), which walks the line between a real functioning not-for-profit and a fictitious organization. The OWAA, like any adoption agency, busies itself with matching orphans, in this case orphaned oil wells, with people that will act as their caretakers. While at a first glance, the OWAA may seem the penultimate step towards a reconciliation with the land and its peoples, Bartol knows the reality to be far more complex; she knows this to be but the first step of many*. In actuality there may be no final step towards a reconciling but instead a resolve to actively care with awareness.The OWAA is a radical step in envisioning—stepping out of fantasy and into a messy reality. The responsibility inherent in privilege is only performed if a person puts their agency into action, and this is something that Bartol clearly is devoted to doing in this exhibition. Bartol utilizes her privilege granted from the exhibition version of In Blood And Bone to draw attention to the hazy grey area between real organizations, performance within fine visual art. This in turn is a tool to consider what it would be like if we entered a realm focused on care.
Also exerting the pushes and pulls of a physical body is Bartol's water dowsing practice, a second tenet of this exhibition. Dowsing, or water witching, is the practice of using a pendulum, dowsing rod, or forked stick to determine the location of water or other rare minerals. Water witching itself is contentious and controversial and is seen by many to be a dubious practice, though it has been practiced for over a century to successfully find water. To practice this, the dowser must ask the rod yes or no questions. Bartol also has a blue uniform for dowsing and uses Ganzfeld goggles, which renders the user's vision blank, making her as susceptible as possible to the whims of the dowsing rods, and responses to her questions. The dowsing rods are tools of the field worker but they also relate to the third and final element of In Blood and Bone,  which comes flying into the gallery and becomes an entity of its own. Black vinyl neckties made of garbage bags, representing corporate culture, patriarchy, and evil spirits in general, which haunt the land and places where these orphaned wells reside. The dowsing rods themselves are installed to animate the dispersion of these ties, and this is represented in both the installation of the neck ties in the space and the animated video in the gallery’s front room.
The great pleasure of a body of work like this is that it offers viewers a space to consider the gargantuan and contentious issue of the oil industry within Alberta in a completely different manner. The absurdity of the ties that bind corporate structures to the land is intimated by the black neckties, which add an element of humour. The laughter that follows can both confound and disarm people to discuss socially and politically charged subjects which can be very difficult to address within the economic systems that we have created. Bartol poses the questions, “How do you get people to connect to issues that are overwhelming even if they are relating to them personally?” and “How do you shift a perspective so that the contentious and uncomfortable topic of oil can be considered?” If this exhibition is to serve as a starting point in which Bartol begins her inquiries, she does so by first listening, processing, acting, and persisting—with care.

Essay By: Ashley Bedet
*A consideration she is aware of given Bartol’s history of incorporating walking into her practice. See A Woman Walks the City Limits, 2016. 

Ashley Bedet came back to Calgary, where she was born. Bedet is the product of many very different worlds reproducing, meeting difference, and then reproducing again. That makes her the product of at least four distinct separate paths. She graduated from NSCAD University in 2014 and has been slowly making and showing work since.

Alana Bartol

Alana Bartol comes from a long line of water witches. In her art practice, she explores visibility, transformation, and survival by negotiating the boundaries of our relationships with the non-human world and each other. Through performative, research-based, and community embedded practices, her site-responsive works propose dreaming, walking, and divination as ways of understanding across places, species, and bodies. Her participatory works invite others to engage in acts of trust, inquiry, care, and improvisation, while making visible unseen forces that shape our world.
Her work has been presented and screened nationally and internationally at various galleries including PlugIn ICA (Winnipeg), ARC Gallery (Chicago), Karsh-Masson Gallery (Ottawa), Simultan Festival (Romania), Museo de la Ciudad (Mexico), Access Gallery (Vancouver), InterAccess (Toronto), Art Gallery of Windsor, and Groupe Intervention Vidéo, (Montréal), amongst others. Recent residencies include The Banff Centre, Neighbourhood Time Exchange, The City of Calgary's Public Art residency Open AiR, and the Santa Fe Art Institute. She currently lives in Calgary and teaches at the Alberta College of Art + Design.

Visit Alana Bartol's website to learn more about her practice and projects: http://alanabartol.com

The Stridents | Andrea Roberts | June 2 to July 15, 2017


The word strident comes from the Latin stridere meaning to “utter an inarticulate sound, grate, screech”. It is in a family of words that connote harshness of breath, a kind of deathly sibilance. Today we are more familiar with its use as a slur for a woman who can't take a joke, a killjoy, someone whose entire being has come to embody the idea of shrillness itself.
The Stridents is at work here, in the political alchemy of breath, sound, language, and bodies; the exhale of loss and the hissing of refusal in the context of neoliberal capitalism. Informed by the contradictory freedoms found by hermetic medieval nuns and the sooty ground of early sound recording techniques, these works explore ritual lamentation and retreat as shadow forms of feminist resistance. Full of repeating patterns, elemental quatrains, drone and vocal incantation, this grouping of prints, sculpture, and sound installation entertains the magical desire inherent to mourning: to impossibly undo that which is done.

Exhibition Essay: The Stridents

merchant, light, lavender, tongue 1

In the Middle Ages, church architecture, including stained glass windows and altarpieces, could be read as a collectively experienced book. The church was an intellectual center, not only for the scholarly monks, priests, and nuns but also for the public. Then, as now, artists employed history and mythology as parable for the present. 

In The Stridents, Andrea Roberts’ words are sculpted into laser cut fabric mounted on silver powder coated steel structures, as though backed with the grisaille mesh patterns of stained glass windows and confession screens. Telling a story, recording a vision, writing a history, is to be caught somewhere between life and death, between lamentation and faith. Say it Ain’t So articulates this temporal tension between preservation and loss, referencing one of the earliest methods of sound recording, the phonoautograph and its use of soot to index sound. These gentle grouping of words recall alchemical formulas, printed on paper surfaces lamp-blackened like the aged walls of churches (and the phonautograph’s acoustic diagrams). 

gold, rue, amethyst, hair

Modern sound reproduction, beginning in the nineteenth century, was believed to split sources from their auditory copies, signalling the act of recording as enclosure. Jonathan Sterne has argued in his history of sound recording, that “the history of sound implies a history of the body.” 2 As in the history of modern optics, acoustic technology frequently modeled technological form after parts of the human body, positioning sound reproduction as an erstwhile history of shifting understandings of phenomenological experience. 

As Sterne has outlined, the hierarchy of the senses has a lengthy history, with religious texts frequently outlining a division between spirit and letter. The voice (and its sensual counterpart, hearing), is prized for its transcendence, the written word (and corresponding vision) damned to earthly decay. The technology of church architecture, designed for acoustic resonance and vibrational transcendence, acts to preserve holy sounds in perpetuity. 

mine, vesper, tansy, sulfur

Anchorites, the most extreme religious lives of the medieval period, were recluses who lived their lives enclosed in stone rooms. The life of the anchorite has been referred to as a kind of spiritual warfare modelled after religious figures such as St. Anthony, who in around 285 banished himself to the desert in an act of divine sacrifice. Through a small and aptly named window, a squint, those confined could converse with passersby. Both men and women were enclosed, although historians have found evidence that much larger numbers of women undertook the ceremonial enclosure—a rite to signal the anchorite’s passage from one life to another. Through self-knowledge gained from withdrawal towards a greater knowledge of the divine, anchorite women were renowned for their spiritual visions, both auditory and visual. Held just out of sight, the visual experience of devotion could be replaced by sound.  Hearing the voice of the anchorite through the wall was to journey from one spiritual world to another, an act of intellectual exchange and bodies held at a distance.

gasp, sigh, hiss, rale

Roberts’ A mirror for recluses, trades visual refraction for sound, blending the auditory elements of spiritual retreat with droning resistance to the monotony of order. As Roberts has described, the recording foregrounds sibilant sounds (like s, z, f, ch). Also called stridents, these tones represent a challenge to modern sound recording—a refusal of fixity in the auditory surplus of the hiss. Defined variously as urgent, grating, and just simply too much, these sounds show us the shape of regulatory order. 

lithium, milk, melamine, rose

To consider the history of a technology is often to remove it from its altar, that is, to show its perseverance as a concept before and after its physical and named form has come into cultural consciousness. I suspect Roberts’ knows this, for here a word is a sound is a technology is a recording is a built object. 

total insolvency, there is gold dust

Roberts’ investigation of the history of retreat paired with that of modern sound recording comes through to us as an archaeology of technology, loss, and the desire to transcend our bodies becoming ciphers of the divine—or at the very least, something of permanence beyond capitalist reproduction and technological obsolescence. 

So mote it be?


1 Word groupings in italics borrowed (in order) from Andrea Roberts, Merchant Light (Say It Ain’t So #3) 19.5” x 27.5,” Ink and lampblack on paper, 2016; Gold Rue. (Say It Ain’t So #4) 19.5” x 27.5,” Ink on lampblack on paper, 2016; Mine Vesper (Say it Ain’t So #6) 19.5” x 27.5,” Ink on lampblack on paper, 2016; The Stridents #1 (sigh, gasp, hiss, rale) 93” x 30” x 12,” Fabric, steel, 2016; Lithium Milk (Say It Ain’t So #5) 19.5” x 27.5,” Ink on lampblack on paper, 2017; The Stridents #2 (total insolvency) 80” x 20” x 23,” Fabric, steel, 2016; The Stridents #3 (there is gold dust) 64” x 36’ x 1,” Fabric, wood, steel, 2016.

2 Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: The Cultural Origins of Sound Production (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 12.

Thanks to Janique Vigier and Jessica Evans for their comments on this text.

By Emily Doucet


Emily Doucet is a writer and PhD candidate in the Graduate Department of Art at the University of Toronto. She holds an MA from University College London and a BA (Honors) from the University of Winnipeg. Her current research explores the history of photography and the technological imagination in nineteenth century France. Her doctoral research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She writes about contemporary art for publications such as Border Crossings, C Magazine and Canadian Art online. 

Andrea Roberts

Andrea Roberts is a Winnipeg based multidisciplinary artist whose practice incorporates sound, print, sculpture, video, and performance. Roberts has exhibited and performed at galleries and festivals internationally, with recent shows at Plug In ICA (Winnipeg), Film Pop (Montreal), CT-International Print Biennial (Santiago de Cuba), aceartinc (Winnipeg), Whitdel Arts (Detroit), and SomArts (San Francisco). Roberts writes on issues of sound, technology, gender, and the voice, and has performed in a number of noise and experimental music projects including their solo project VOR. A recipient of the Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Award, Roberts holds an MFA in Sculpture from California College of the Arts (2014) and a BFA Hons. from the University of Manitoba (2011).

The Future Behind Us | Romeo Gongora | March 24 to May 13, 2017


The Future Behind Us documents the outcomes of an experiment in collective forms of creation that took place in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2013. Initiated following an invitation from Kin ArtStudio, a cultural platform created in 2011 by the artist Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo, the project intended to develop local structures of self-production through the collaborative building of a science fiction film with a group of young Congolese artists.
The resulting science-fiction pilot tells the story of Zai, a young girl who must save the world in the year 3010 with a product called Perinium. The story deals with the historical, political, economic, and cultural contexts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, implemented in a dystopian world. 
Perinium was initiated by Romeo Gongora and made in collaboration with: Monica Toiliye, Glody Buhendwa, Asaph Kyalondawa, Serge Basila, Erick Okele Baya, Flory Sinanduku, Pagna Bula Bula, Joska Kayembe, Giselle Mayanga, Deogracias Kihalu, Bob Kayambe, Dorcas Kazamwali, Cepha Dunia Kazamwali, Melissa Mwenyemali, Prospero Ndoko, Michel Benito, Asia Nyembo, Serge Basila, Tshisekedi Mutambayi, Isaac Sahani, Diamas Diakota, Moise Kasongo, Ange Swana, Baras Benito, Nabu Zengo, Nelson Makengo, Gloire Ndoko Swana, Bob Mukendi, Michel Ekeba, Daril Miela, Melissa Mwenyemali, and Moise Mulumba. Perinium was produced by Kin ArtStudio (DRC).


Exhibition Essay: The Future Behind Us

The Future Behind Us revisits a collective project initiated by Romeo Gongora in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in March 2013. Each artwork and object in the exhibition enacts a series of subtle shifts, ruptures, and translations across time and space, re-presenting and relocating the project from Kinshasa to Calgary.
The project in Kinshasa
Romeo Gongora’s research-led practice involves the creation of temporary situations, each uniquely structured around collective creative, critical processes of production. In line with this approach, and in response to an invitation to be a facilitator for a workshop at Kin ArtStudio in Kinshasa, he proposed to collaboratively produce a science fiction film, from scratch, over the course of a three-week residency.
Kin ArtStudio - a cultural platform set up by artist Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo - produced the annual ‘Master Art’ workshop as a fluid, alternative education program offering young artists the opportunity to work in close collaboration with an invited international artist. A group of around 14 young artists from DRC took part, and the pilot film, Perinium, was created over fifteen days of production.
Before arriving in Kinshasa, Gongora kick-started the collaborative process of producing the film by creating a sci-fi literary competition, circulating a poster via Kin ArtStudio’s online networks. Two of the winning entries later formed the basis of the script for the pilot film and its title, Perinium.
The film was written, directed, and screened within three weeks. Working with little to no budget, the team self-selected their roles, producing DIY props, soundtracks, and costumes in the lead-up to the shoot. The shoot itself took place over three days and was edited right up to the final hour before its first public screening.
The installation in Calgary
The installation, The Future Behind Us, at TRUCK Contemporary Art translates the experience and process of shooting on-location in Kinshasa from different angles and perspectives; offering a sense of the energy of the city whilst reflecting the wider socio-political contexts that informed the making of the film.
A series of questions thread in and out of the work throughout the space: What do we do with the past? Is it possible to re-present an artwork that was based as much on process as on final outcomes? If the film was a project defined by collective work, how can it be exhibited?
The film: a pilot
The central installation and screening framework at TRUCK echoes the structure of the bar in Kinshasa where the film was first shown. The site, which is a meeting point for locals in Kinshasa, becomes a communal point in the centre of the gallery. These two moments are connected by the film banner, hung here in the space but originally printed to advertise the event in Kinshasa.
The photographs
Romeo Gongora took a series of images in what he describes as ‘gaps of time’ whilst travelling through the city; in the midst of producing the film on route to and from Kin ArtStudio and the Academy of Fine Arts where he was staying throughout the production. They act both as a counterpoint to the moving images of the film, and as contemplative imprints of Gongora’s subjective experience of the city.
The process
Gongora’s mode of creating communal, creative, critical projects is inspired in part by the theories and praxis of Brazilian radical pedagogue Paulo Freire; and equally by artist collectives from the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, to name a few, the Mousse Spacthèque, the Fusion des Arts group, and the Fondation du théâtre d’environnement integral, as well as the periodicals Parti Pris and Liberté. His recent project Just Watch Me (2014) transformed the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery into a social club. For the duration of the show the space became a radical site of production, dialogue, collaboration, and collective creation. Taking similar starting points, but expanding beyond the walls of a gallery space, Commun Commune (June 2015) was a month-long experiment that brought a disparate group of strangers together to temporarily experience life in a commune.
The process-based project in Kinshasa took a similar approach: while Gongora initiated the film, his role gradually shifted within the group from catalyst to collaborator, from instigator to interlocutor. In his own words, “over time, the project became horizontal”.
While these subtle processes of negotiation, which played out within the dynamics of the group behind-the-scenes remain invisible, for Gongora they are integral to the work. For this reason, the film Perinium was first screened at the 10th edition of the Bamako Biennial of Photography in Mali (2015), as a collectively authored project.
The Future Behind Us represents a new departure for Gongora, as an exhibition presented as a solo show rather than a collaborative project unfolding within the space. And yet, the performative act of staging the exhibition in itself involves the creation of a temporary space for collective, creative, critical, and transformative processes of reflection. A workshop taking place on March 25th, 2017 - almost exactly four years to the day since the pilot film was originally screened - loops back to Gongora’s collaborative impulse and takes a step further in this direction, feeding back into the exhibition with science fiction objects created by visitors for future use in the space, for the duration of the show. 

By Lily Hall

Lily Hall is an independent curator and writer based in London. She holds an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London, UK (2012) and a BA in English Literature and Art History from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK (2007). Forthcoming curatorial projects include Surface Tensions: Pavla and Lucia Sceranková, at Pump House Gallery in partnership with Czech Centre, London; and Soft Walls, curated in collaboration with Mette Kjærgaard Præst and Daniela Berger at Museo de la Solidaridad Salvaldor Allende (MSSA), Santiago de Chile (both 2017). 

Romeo Gongora

Romeo Gongora (Canada/Guatemala) is an internationally active visual artist. He has collaborated with the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal (Canada), Open School East (England), Rencontres de Bamako (Mali), HISK (Belgium), CCA - Lagos (Nigeria), Festival Belluard (Switzerland), Centre of Art Torun (Poland), Centre Makan (Jordan), Despina (Brazil) and Kin ArtStudio (DRC), among others. Gongora has participated in residencies at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten (Netherlands, 2007-08), the Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Germany, 2009), and Acme Studios (England, 2016). In 2009 he published the exhibition catalogue Volkskunsthalle in collaboration with video artist Aernout Mik; Bernhart Schwenk, curator at The Pinakothek in Munich; and Gökce Yurdakul, a sociologist at The Humboldt University of Berlin. In 2016, Gongora was invited to speak at the Media@McGill's international colloquium Aisthesis and the Common: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere, which took place at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal.

Obsolesence | Group Exhibition | January 13 to March 4, 2017


Obsolescence is a curatorial project by Mohammad Rezaei featuring the work of Brynn Higgins-Stirrup, Colwyn Paddon, Justin Somjen, Jim Verburg, and Joy Walker.
Obsolescence brings together five interdisciplinary artists from different generations, practices, and parts of the country to explore varying notions of communication. Process, time, and space provide the foundation for deceptively simple works, which address the complicated and layered nature of language and meaning-making. Visually connected by their translucence, the work included in Obsolescence offers symbols, layers, gestures, and methods of exploring the complexities inherent in each piece, and in dialogue with another.  Each artist subtly excavates these complexities through (often) emotional, personal, and intangible means.
For thousands of years, gestures, sounds, marks, what is said, and what is not said, the look, the gaze, and the longing that leads u to look for meaning, have led humans to look for ways to communicate their wants as well as their needs. This perhaps, being one of the distinct features that separates us from animals - the fact that we look for ways to communicate that goes beyond survival - has been a subject of much exploration in arts, culture, and literature.
Language is made, changed, evolved, and forgotten and with it the symbols and the marks, the way they are used, and their meanings. We’ve given meaning to things where there is none, to make sense of the world we live in - to give logic to the things that are happening around us.
Obsolescence questions how meaning is constructed and conveyed through visual language, and how beings look for meaning and subjects within objects and symbols.
Approaching curation as a conduit for community-making Obsolescence brings together established and mid-career artists alongside emerging artists to allow for a broader interpretation of their individual practices, and to provide interaction (communication) within this cohesive selection of works in order to convey a familiar notion explored throughout the ages.

An Essay on Obsolescence


In an interview following the release of her 2014 album Wanderlust—a departure from her signature sound—British pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor spoke of the album as “something which I really felt like I needed to do. I felt more excited than worried and liberated. I'm really not sure where I'll go from here if I'm honest. It's funny, it's the first time in ages where I'm not sure where I'll be in the next six months or with the next album.”1


If we were to approach obsolescence as an evolution, how would future generations recount the discourse of art in our current time? Would they look to objects made by artists presented in the white cube, in theory a place with aspirations of opening dialogue that is instead oftentimes exclusive, classist, and routinely resisting change? Or would they look to .gifs, memes, and emoji as evidence to track the evolution of language and culture? In 2017, how important is it to make tangible objects to continue the discourse of visual art?


When I started doing research for this project, I was interested in signs made by migrant/illegal workers underneath bridges, tunnels, close to railroad tracks. Lines crossing each other, squares within squares, horizontal zigzags hold meaning of up to a full sentence, indicating the social structure of the surrounding area and its friendly/unfriendly nature. Humans decipher lines that were thought up by other humans because we find patterns within layers to seek meaning in marks.


Merriam-Webster dictionary defines obsolescence as “the process of becoming obsolete or the condition of being nearly obsolete.”2 With this exhibition, I wanted to explore the residual leftovers, the marks left after obsoletion. I look at this process as an evolution, not an end. A gradual fade to white, rather than a fade to black.
This exhibit is an attempt to define meaning within mark making from a very specific educated in the arts socio-economic point of view. It is an exploration of what is not there, more than what is there. The works presented here are process-driven and explore the depth of perception, both literal and metaphorical. They are methods of communication within a world on the brink of collapse. Each piece in its own way embodies an approach of noticing and not noticing. Justin Somjen’s photographs are layers of printed photographs and arranged objects, printed and then photographed again and again and again and again. They are optical illusions made from mass-produced objects, taken out of context when placed within the white cube. Brynn Higgins Stirrup challenges the viewer by making marks that resemble a lost language. Like an archeological discovery, these works are placed within the gallery space asking to be viewed from different angles and in one case, to even be touched. Colwyn Paddon takes the most sentimental approach here, by unthreading and re-sewing thread onto fabric bouquets found in public mourning sites. Jim Verburg takes an architectural approach to defining shadows and perception through layers. Here you are more focused on what is not there than what is there. This is accompanied by the text piece “I Forget That You’re Trying To Interpret All This As Well,” where the most literal approach to the concept is explored. Joy Nina Walker’s drawings pick up where Verburg left off. They are simplistic in nature, symmetrical, and clean. They are forms of communication formed in numbers and measurements.


When I submitted this application almost two years ago, I was younger and the world seemed like a brighter place. I longed for recognition and legitimization. More recently however, most of my thoughts are directed towards the turmoil I see in the world. I’ve been feeling that I’ve fought for something for so long now, only to come to terms with it becoming obsolete. As a queer brown person, I have come to terms with the resentment I feel when I navigate white institutions that insist on seeking their own legitimization via exhibiting what they’ve known over and over and over and over again. I wonder about the value of visual arts in this time; will visual arts be obsolete, perhaps for its inability to be enough when faced with intense aggression? Have tangible objects lost their ability to communicate the urgency of the political turmoil that has taken over the world? Perhaps to me, obsolescence is the acceptance of the inevitable.

By Mohammad Rezaei


  1. http://www.digitalspy.com/music/interviews/a544491/sophie-ellis-bextor-theres-another-dance-album-in-me-for-sure/#ixzz2qZnB5eLV

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obsolescence

Brynn Higgins-Stirrup

Higgins-Stirrup is a multidisciplinary artist working and living between Toronto, Ontario and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to her practice, she is informed by a broad range of subjects from systems of learning to spirituality. Concerned with the tensions between concept and craft, the mind and making; her current practice focuses on labour-based drawing, sculptural and print-making practices. Brynn is currently an MFA Candidate in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. She has attended residency programs at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Banff AB, YYZ Artists Outlet in Toronto ON and the Wassaic Project’s Summer Residency Program in Wassaic NY. Brynn has exhibited across Canada in artist run spaces and galleries such as Forest City Gallery, YYZ Artist’s Outlet, Typology Projects and the Toronto International Book Fair. In 2016 she was awarded an emerging visual artist grant by the Ontario Arts Council.

Colwyn Paddon

Paddon is a Calgary based artist who completed his education at Alberta College of Art and Design, Canada and Falmouth University, England. Paddon’s work has been shown in Canada, England, and Scotand. Paddon is interested in Western traditions surrounding death and the physical traces left by the living during mourning. Using poetics and an interdisciplinary approach in his practice Paddon’s work often materializes longing and forms representations of death.

Mohammad Rezaei

Rezaei is an interdisciplinary Artist, Front End Developer, Curator and Arts Administrator currently residing in Toronto, Canada. His artistic practice is informed by his experiences coordinating and collaborating to make exhibitions happen. Rezaei revels in experimental approaches to making, digital and IRL display strategies, bad tattoos, selfies, and neoprene. Rezaei’s interests have led him contribute to the establishment of several exhibition spaces and art festivals, extensive involvement with artist-run centers and galleries across Canada while maintaining an independent arts and curatorial practice. His recent curatorial projects have been funded through successful grants from Canada Council for the Arts and Toronto Arts Council. Rezaei has exhibited and curated exhibitions nationally in both Commercial and Artist Run Spaces and participated in various Art Residencies including Avalanche! Institute for Contemporary art, TRUCK, Contemporary Calgary, The New Gallery, Xpace Cultural Center, and the Drake Hotel. From 2013-2016, he was the Director of Programming at Whippersnapper Gallery in Toronto.

Justin Somjen

Somjen is a Vancouver-born artist living in Toronto, primarily working with photography and sculpture. His work purposes photography and sculpture together in formal allegories, investigating the relationship between imagery and objects. Justin is interested in style, abstraction, and patterns. His work attempts to simultaneously abandon and embrace photography to arrive at a place where the medium’s essences are tested or revealed. Somjen has shown publicly in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montréal and received a BFA from Ryerson University in 2014.

Jim Verburg

Verburg iis a Dutch/Canadian artist currently based in Toronto. Solo exhibitions include One and Two, at Mois de la Photo à Montréal (2011), Afterimage at Galerie Nicolas Robert (2014, Montreal), What is Missing / What is Seen (widmertheodoridis (Zurich) at VOLTA NY 2015, New York City), and What is Missing / What is Seen Light Becomes Form, The Horizon Rests Into View at the Texas Contemporary Art Fair (2015, Houston).
Recently, he’s been a part of the group exhibitions More Than Two (Let It Make Itself), curated by Micah Lexier at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery (2013,Toronto), Primeiro Estudo: Sobre Amor, curated by Bernardo Mosqueira at Luciana Caravello (2014,Rio de Janeiro), Far Away So Close, curated by Kimberly Phillips at Access Gallery (2014, Vancouver), and Chroma at Inman Gallery (2015, Houston)
His film For a Relationship won the 2008 Jury Prize for the Best Canadian Short Film at the Insideout Film Festival (Toronto), and was nominated for the Iris Prize (UK). His book O/ Divided/Defined, Weights, Measures, and Emotional Geometry, was awarded by Dazibao (2013 Montreal) and was recently shortlisted for Best Printed Publication at the Gala des Arts Visual (2014, Montreal). Work from the publication was featured by Art Metropole at Art Basel Miami (2013). His most recent artist book A New Relationship Between Reflective Sides was launched this past fall (2015) at the New York Art Book Fair, at Moma Ps1.
Upcoming projects include The shape this takes to get to that, the grid, it’s interruption, and the possibilities that exist, a large public art installation for the city of Ottawa, a choreographed work for the Toronto Dance Theatre, a book project with Fw: Photography in Amsterdam, and solo exhibitions at Galerie Nicolas Robert (Montreal), and Rodman Hall Art Centre (Brock University, St Catharines Ontario).

Joy Walker

Walker is a Montreal born, Toronto-based artist whose work takes the form of sculpture, video, drawing and printmaking. Her approach is guided by intuition and is marked by a strong interest in process, materiality and play. Most recently, her work has centered on line and the possibilities it offers for exploring illusion through simple manipulations that alter and animate the viewer’s perception of space, light and shade.
Her work is held in The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the National Gallery of Canada, the corporate collections of BMO-Bank of Montreal, Grant Thornton, and TD Bank and numerous private collections.  She is also the programmer of *QueenSpecific, a window gallery on Queen St West in Toronto and is represented by MKG127 in Toronto. 

Performagraphic | James Luna | October 22 to November 26, 2016


Performagraphic presents a powerful collection of photographic and video works created between 2010 - 2014, referencing his artistic career of over 30 years. In Performagraphic, the viewer finds the merging of Luna's performance ideals into photographic stills that exist as much more than documentation but rather standalone images addressing cultural identity, representation/history, and the spiritual world.
Approaching his work head on, with biting humour and irony, Luna's powerful works transform the gallery space into a battlefield, where the audience is confronted with the nature of cultural identity, the tensions generated by cultural isolation, and the dangers of cultural misinterpretations from an Indigenous perspective. Performagraphic is more a lesson in expressive bodywork than that of standard photography presentation. 

Exhibition Essay: The Epistrophy[i] of James Luna

James Luna — his name should be whispered in reverence by all performance artists everywhere but also should be screamed through the halls of every museum. James Luna is a Puyukitchum (Luiseño), Ipi (Degueno), and Mexican-American performance and multimedia installation artist living on California’s La Jolla Indian Reservation. He has been at the forefront of performance art and its intersections with and influence on photography and media installation since he first stepped into a museum as a living exhibit in the 1970s. Trained by Dutch conceptual artist, Bas Jan Ader, Luna uses psychology, a keen eye to the contradictions contemporary ‘Indian’ people live under colonialism, the aesthetics of a painter, and a fearlessness in “airing our dirty laundry.”

The diptych Apparitions 2 shows the complexity of Luna’s strategy of juxtaposition in his photographic work. For this series, Luna uses self-portraiture as a contemporary Indigenous man paired with anthropologically situated photographs of potential ancestors. Apparitions 2 has Luna mimicking the photo of William Ralganal Benson, circa 1936 and held at Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California. Benson was an expert basketmaker, the evidence of which he displays in his hand. In the anthropological discourse surrounding him he is described as follows:

Benson was fortunate enough to have lived his boyhood years during the last decade in which Eastern Pomo speakers enjoyed a more-or-less traditional lifestyle. By the 1870s, the social and environmental disruptions caused by a growing local Anglo-American population would make traditional life impossible, as the lifeways of local Indians became increasingly marginalized.[i]

Benson, along with his wife, exhibited at the St. Louis Fair as an expert basketmaker in 1904. In the Apparitions series, Luna draws parallels between his practice of performing ‘Indian’ for contemporary art crowds and historical figures who also performed their artistry for crowds at world fairs and museums. In Apparitions 2, the clock he holds gives a clue to his critique. While the archival photos show a fascination with an authentic ‘Indian’ culture from pre-contact times, the depicted artists were actually involved in a process of cultural change. Benson made a living from his work and used white expectations of his identity and culture for his own gain. Luna’s photos and performance works’ use of irony do the same, turning societal desire for authentic pre-contact cultures inward by insisting on contemporaneity. In fact, the clock did not stop and Indigenous cultures continue to change and transform as always. The desire to stop time for Indigenous cultures has always meant a denial of place and presence on both the land and in modern societies for current Indigenous peoples. 

Another layer in Luna’s work can be seen clearly in We Become Them, in which he contorts his face into the exact replica of a ‘traditional’ west coast mask. Instead of critiquing the prevalence of desire for west coast art in the white imaginary he reframes the mask in an Indigenous context. As a performance artist, his work is connected to the work of the First Nations who would have used these masks in performance, offering a much longer history to performance art in North America. By using his own body to become the mask Luna draws us into the idea of transformation itself and its potential value in Indigenous cultures. As another kick to the knees of old school anthropology he questions: if the masks are meant to be performed then why are they behind glass? We might also ask ourselves how our cultures have shifted into Luna’s brand of performance and storytelling and how we should value it as equally about social change and community remembrance.

In Half-Indian Half-Mexican Luna challenges our understandings of racial purity and the stereotypic signifiers of culture. While each of his two profile shots are of the same man (Luna), each can be recognized as either Mexican or Indian because of the proliferation of images we recognize as representative of a culture. In this case, the Mexican mustache and the Indian long hair. When you confront both profiles head on you realize the ridiculousness of our standards of recognition and how easy it is to split a person in half by our desire to know who someone is definitively. When people cross borders literally (US/Mexican border) and biologically it challenges us to see the fear that lies at the assertion of all borders and purities. That same fear leads to violence against the bodies that cross those borders. While we might laugh at the absurdity of such a dual face we also realize the reality of imposing the division of those identities. 

While Luna’s photography is a distillation and continuation of his performance practice it also functions in a similar vein. By having his own body confront the viewer, they can no longer deny his existence. The Indigenous body that has been segregated, exterminated, traumatized, disabled, and confined becomes a site of challenge, power, humour, community, and cultural continuity.

By Wanda Nanibush


[i] Title of Thelonius Monk song. He used it to mean the repetition of sounds at the end of a musical line or phrase. Luna loves Jazz and the title is a tribute to him. 

[ii] Luthin, Herbert W. Surviving through the Days: Translations of Native California Stories and Songs: A California Indian Reader. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002: 261.

James Luna

Internationally renowned performance and installation artist James Luna (Puyukitchum/Luiseno) resides on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in North County San Diego, California. With over 30 years of exhibition and performance experience Luna has given voice to Native American cultural issues, pursued innovative and versatile media within his disciplines, and charted waters for other artists to follow.  His powerful works transform gallery spaces into battlefields, where the audience is confronted with the nature of cultural identity, the tensions generated by cultural isolation, and the dangers of cultural misinterpretations, all from an Indigenous perspective.

Since 1975, he has had over 41 solo exhibitions, participated in 85 group exhibitions and has performed internationally at venues that include the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Canada, and Museum of Contemporary Native Art, Santa Fe, NM.

He has received numerous grants and awards throughout his career and most notably in 2005,  he was selected as the first Sponsored Artist of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian presented at the 2005 Venice Biennale’s 51st International Art Exhibition in  Venice, Italy. In 2012, James was Awarded Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, NM.

Cecil Hotel | Mark Clintberg | September 16 to October 15, 2016


Cecil Hotel (2014-2016) is an exploration of the recently demolished site of hospitality known as The Cecil Hotel, opened in 1912, ordered to close by Calgary’s city officials in 2008, and purchased by the city for nearly $11 million in 2009. The hotel has been considered an “epicentre of prostitution, drugs, murder, and desperation…”[1] by some, and its erasure has since been both contested and praised. This project includes a large-scale modified replica of the hotel’s neon sign and an edition of custom-made pint glasses.

[1] “Calgary’s Cecil hotel a reminder of a time of evil, death, and darkness.” National Post. Posted October 26, 2012. http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/10/26/calgarys-cecil-hotel-a-reminder-of-a-time-of-evil-death-and-darkness/ . Site accessed February 25, 2015.

Exhibition Essay: Goodbye forever: False Absence

Mark Clintberg’s Cecil Hotel is a sculptural artwork and anti-monument for the defunct Calgary hotel of the same name. Until December 2015, the Cecil Hotel was one of only six pre-First World War hotels still standing in the city. 1 It was in a neighbourhood now called the East Village inhabited over centuries by First peoples, settlers, campers, cruisers, labourers, bikers, sex workers, and homeless communities. The Cecil became a gathering place for people needing short term accommodations, people needing company for a night, people looking for a fight. It has a long and storied history.

The work takes the form of a modified replica of the hotel signage, which was visible on the roof of the hotel for decades. As precisely as possible, Clintberg has created a scaled down replica with the same framing, font, colour, and mounting structure, with one exception: the letters are backwards, a mirror image of the original. 

Viewers encounter it first by catching a glimpse through a large industrial door giving way to the gallery space. In addition to mirroring the text, Clintberg plays with its installation. The work is installed “backwards” and on entry, beckons us to view it from the other side. When approached in this way—the only way that the choice of installation here allows—the text is reversed and the tracery of the mounting structure and letters are in silhouette. Could there be another way to approach it? There is only one entrance to the gallery but there are many ways to read this sign. The text is an advertisement that advocates for critical thought. What is perceived as illegible is in fact comprehensible. We can figure this out. 

The mirror image is reflected yet again as the floor’s slight gloss bounces a pinkish/red glow. What’s the right way around? Where should one’s attention and body go? The mirroring and reflection heighten the ambiguity about what the right way is to look at this work—and the right way to look at the Cecil Hotel. What is to be done about places with conflicting stories? What’s the right thing to do? What’s the right way to read not just the text but the ethics of the demolition of this hotel? And what’s an appropriate artistic response to the symbol of a systemic problem? 

The societies we have built for ourselves are uneven, busted systems with which we have to contend. The Cecil was once known as a “gathering place for Calgary’s lesbian community in the 60s, when local softball teams chose the Cecil’s backroom as their watering hole”, an underground haven for a community to convene and celebrate.2 Around the time of its demolition however, the stories told in the mainstream media presented the Cecil as an ugly blight that Calgarians had long wished removed. Some referred to the heritage report that deemed it salvageable while others said the opposite.3 These conflicting viewpoints seem to indicate that while the old hotel had value, it was inconvenient to recognize it and care for its history. Most of all, the stories that are told are of violence and desperation. At least three different major news outlets cited the same statistics: in its final year of operation, police were called 1,700 times and weeks after its bar license was revoked, calls to the area dropped by 91%.4 Why share this repeatedly? Yes, it’s newsworthy, but it also implies that a perceived threat can dissipate like dust settling after a demolition. The repetition of this narrative creates a false absence and erases the stories of community, convening, and celebration. The conflicting viewpoints, opposing details, and drilling of these narratives shows that this place was not as simple as an “'epicentre' of evil, death and darkness.”5

The demolished building stands in for a body being denied. People who used it are perceived as useless, worthless, a blight to be covered up and hidden. The hope to disappear the body of the hotel is a hope to disappear the bodies of the past and recent frequenters of the hotel itself. This characterization of the hotel as a useless body denies the many individuals who were once there, especially those who recently stayed there, because to acknowledge that they are also no longer found at this address would require asking where they went. It wishes them away. As one commenter on the National Post article wrote: “No one likes you Cecil. Goodbye forever.”6

Clintberg could have drawn upon his connections in Calgary to meet with various community groups to discuss the future of the hotel and the now vacant site but he chose not to. In this moment of social practice, city-based research, collaboration, community awareness, and new funding for engagement, many arts organizations, municipalities, and individual creators have conducted community consultations or impact assessments and included community members in the creative process. Artworks that respond to community issues by depending on the community itself for aspects of the material production have mixed results. Sometimes the art enhances the community with a visual expression or the community enhances the art with personal content. Often enough, work made in this way turns out to be a simplistic representation of the community involved because it relies on whoever is available and willing. On rare occasions, both the work and the community are authentically strengthened by the engagement. When city planners or artists use art as a tool or set of instructions to work on lived social issues, this process legitimizes art as having the ability to save a neighbourhood, a city, or a society. Culture can create change and is the backbone of a strong society. But more often than not, this hopeful way of thinking loses its nuances and complexities by focusing on individual artworks, rather than larger cultural movements less limited by time and space. 

Clintberg invites the community into the process after this material production phase. He explains: “…rather than a conversation focused on how to best represent the communities of The Cecil Hotel through the fabrication of an object (or even the planning of events, interventions, or other core strategies of social practice), I hope the conversation can focus on how to spark discussion about gaining representative ground for The Cecil Hotel's communities—with no expected artistic outcome. Cecil Hotel, I hope, will become an initial gesture to return to the present-tense of the Cecil Hotel, which while architecturally absent is still demographically present.”7

This brings us to an important point of public and community contact for this project. There is a set of beverage glasses that have been created with the Cecil Hotel logo. To insist “Goodbye forever” is to let go forcefully. The glasses, which are circulating in bars and establishments around town, ask people to hold onto the memories of the Cecil with a bit more care. Spreading a multiple directly into neighbourhoods in this way points to endings and renewal. The glasses, unless archived, will break eventually through use. The systems we have will also eventually need to be replaced because they too break through use. But the story of the Cecil tells us that it’s not people who need replacing but the systems that define us. 

Clintberg has chosen to be political without being didactic, to be engaging without requiring participation. Art doesn’t need to be instructional to be meaningful.8 This work focuses attention back on form rather than initiating prescriptive learning processes. It does not purport to solve the systemic issues of the city. He does not deal with the quickly shifting landscape of the East Village as though gentrification is an artistic thematic or contemporary issue to be chosen among many. He reveals that focusing on thematics and issues is a problematic and outdated way of making art, of communicating. Instead he shares his work as if to say, “Let’s talk.” To speak to a community this way is to first deeply consider the ethical implications of such a practice. There is nothing for people to do but consider their own choices in the presence of what art reflects.

Essay by: Alissa Firth-Eagland

1  Steve Mertl. “Notorious Calgary flophouse and crime magnet Cecil Hotel could soon meet the wrecking ball.” Daily Brew, October 28, 2012. Accessed August 8, 2016 https://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-brew/notorious-calgary-flophouse-crime-magnet-cecil-hotel-could-183756622.html
2  Ibid.
3  The National Post reported the building as salvageable while most other major news outlets claimed it was not. See Jen Gerson. “Calgary’s 'epicentre' of evil, death and darkness may soon become a frightening piece of the past” The National Post, October 26, 2012. Accessed August 9,         2016 http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/calgarys-cecil-hotel-a-reminder-of-a-time-of-evil-death-and-darkness
4  These statistics were quoted in the National Post, CTV News, the Calgary Sun, Yahoo! News, the East Village Free Press, and avenuecalgary.com.
5  Jen Gerson. “Calgary’s 'epicentre' of evil, death and darkness may soon become a frightening piece of the past” The National Post, October 26, 2012. Accessed August 9, 2016
6  Ibid.
7  Email dialogue with the artist. August 16, 2016.
8  Nato Thompson has recently written about the role of art today as instructional, which places experiential limits on moments with art. In his essay “Living as Form” from the Creative Time hardcover (2012) of the same name, he says: “In a world of vast cultural production, the arts have become an instructive space to gain valuable skill sets in the techniques of performativity, representation, aesthetics, and the creation of affect. These skills sets are not secondary to the landscape of political production but, in fact, necessary for its manifestation.” Thompson’s point that citizens of all walks of life can become political actors if they come into contact with the right art and walk away changed is simplistic and prescriptive of art’s potential. Art can be meaningful without being instructional. People can form their own opinions, learnings, and rebuttals to art (or not) without needing to acquire a set of art viewing skills with the goal of manifesting a political expression. One can simply experience art.

An independent cultural producer, curator, and writer based in Guelph, Alissa Firth-Eagland explores flexible, creative, nurturing, place-based projects. She volunteers in her community, acts as a program consultant to Canadian not-for-profits, and writes about relationships between people, culture, and place. She believes our experiences with art tell us important stories about our selves, our sense of belonging, and our communities. These are stories to be shared.

Mark Clintberg

Mark Clintberg is an artist who works in the field of art history. He is represented by Pierre François Ouellette art contemporain in Montreal, Canada, and is an Assistant Professor in the School of Critical and Creative Studies at the Alberta College of Art + Design. He earned his Ph.D. in Art History at Concordia University in 2013. His doctoral dissertation was nominated for the 2013 Governor-General's Gold Medal. Several public and private collections have acquired his work, including the National Gallery of Canada, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Bank of Montreal, TD, the Edmonton Arts Council, and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. He has upcoming projects with Root Division (San Francisco, group exhibition), and the Foreman Art Gallery at Bishop's University (Sherbrooke, solo exhibition). He was Shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award for the region Prairies and the North in 2013.