Jenn E Norton: Slipstream at Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery

June 26 – September 22, 2019

September 9, 2019 by Danica Evering

Jenn E Norton, Slipstream (video still), 2018. 6-channel video installation, 10:40 min. Courtesy of the artist. © Jenn E Norton.

This text is a response to Jenn E Norton’s exhibition, Slipstream (2018). The exhibition consists of an immersive installation under the same name. A multi-channel video of a dancer wearing a silk robe stretches across six large mirrored video screens, arranged in a ring in the dark gallery space. Bringing together Art Nouveau aesthetics, augmented reality, and 19th-century technologies, Norton considers Loïe Fuller’s (1862 – 1928) often-imitated serpentine dance and mirror room apparatus. A dancer, inventor, chemist, and designer, Fuller is recognized as an innovative figure of both modern dance and projection technology. Jenn E Norton is a Guelph-based artist whose work in interdisciplinary media (video, installation, sound, and kinetic sculpture) often explores technology and design histories, visualizing invisible forces and uncanny imaginaries.

Curated by Linda Jansma and Crystal Mowry, the show is touring through six art spaces in off-centre cities. It is currently at the midpoint, having travelled from exhibitions at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa and Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Halifax. It will continue on to the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia (October 4-January 5, 2020), Kelowna Art Gallery in Kelowna (Spring 2020), and Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina (Fall 2020). This reflection comes out of a conversation with Norton (cross-legged on the floor) within the installation in the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, which runs from June 26 to September 22, 2019.

I. The Circle

Slipstream: a current of air or water driven backwards by a spinning propeller. She has placed six large screens in a ring in a dark room. A dancer in a fluttering silk robe moves around us from screen to screen tossing her arms up and down like great wings. An immense sound circles, a rhythmic chopping. In sprays of white silk underlit by technicolour light, you read shifting forms: flower, cloud, bird, flame, butterfly, wave, snake. Jenn E Norton’s travelling exhibition spirals into the past, returning to dancer, chemist, stage designer, and inventor Loïe Fuller—or perhaps pulling her into the present, or both. Norton explores Fuller’s serpentine dance. Part skirt dance, costume, and early experimental projection surface, it was central to Fuller’s popular stage performance at the Folies Bergère in the late 1800s. I am reminded of Janet Cardiff revisiting Tallis’ 40-part motet. A circle is a container, to be inside it feels holy. The video rises and falls; it has the narrative crescendo of any good performance. Yet the beginning bleeds into the end. Being born is a little like dying. Can a loop have a beginning?

Jenn E Norton, Slipstream (installation detail), 2018. 6-channel video installation, 10:40 min. Courtesy of the artist and the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. Photo: Tyler Young © Jenn E Norton

II. The Gap

Before I talk about the screens first I need to tell you about the spaces between them. My eyes follow dancer Katie Ewald’s video presence as she crosses the screen, and then there is space, a moment in time when “she” exists in the gap. I can’t see her, she has disappeared from the screen. But she is there, running for a few heartbeats (with the eccentric small-stepped gait Fuller was famous for) through the space between. As we sit cross-legged on the floor, Norton tells me about Zeno’s paradox. Zeno imagined an arrow in flight. In each given instant we look at it, it is occupying a space at rest, motionless. Time is entirely composed of instants. As the arrow flies from the archer’s crooked fingers to thud taught at the target’s trembling heart, it flickers in the air through dozens of instants: points of stillness that we understand to be motion as we draw a line in the gaps between. Video itself is a set of still images that we read as motion in the aggregate. A gap bridged by a cognitive leap.

III. The Mirror

No one true. The screens are slick, shiny as a mirror and showing myself back to me as much as they display the video. Surely she has placed six large reflective screens in a ring intending this slippage between my physical standing form and the life-sized dancer. The screens’ placement and surfaces are the second of Fuller’s inventions Norton has drawn into this space: a mirror room patented in 1893. This ring of mirrors (aligned just so) allowed Fuller to dissolve into herself, hundreds of identical women moving in unison. Those who saw her dance in the moment were awe-struck, wondering which was the real person and which the reflection. [1] Flickering between actual and image, suspending disbelief. Unlike Fuller’s mirrors lining up perfectly to create the illusion of an infinitely unfolding mass ornament, [2] these mirrors are slightly oblique. They reflect imprecisely, my reflection ends after three repetitions. There is something humble about this result—a spectacular optical environment (thinking of other mirrored rooms) does not eclipse the experience. These mirrored angles are more oblique, complicating the reading and pulling in those between them.

Jenn E Norton, Slipstream (installation detail), 2018. 6-channel video installation, 10:40 min. Courtesy of the artist and the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. Photo: Tyler Young © Jenn E Norton

Jenn E Norton, Slipstream (installation detail), 2018. 6-channel video installation, 10:40 min. Courtesy of the artist and the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. Photo: Tyler Young © Jenn E Norton

IV. The Invisible

I can’t see the air but Norton and Fuller remind me it’s there. Each sweep of the Serpentine Dance’s giant wing shows its force, guttering and stirring up currents. In sprays of white silk I read other invisible forces which share our space: light, heat, electricity, sound, data, radio waves. A slipstream, a current of air propelled by the dancer’s whirling arms underneath backwards in time. I remember that our bodies are not where our selves end. We extend outwards with each movement, each sound we make pushing molecules in the air. Tiny impacts and gaps, impacts and gaps until it reaches a listener. Covert instants strung together in a long trajectory. Fuller’s invention makes visible the invisible, something Norton is similarly interested in. La fée d’electricité, an electric spirit. I can’t perceive the air’s power, until I push against it.

V. The Grasp

My eyes follow the dancer’s sweeping presence as she crosses the screen, and then one sweep turns into a brushstroke. A thick metallic 3D trace lingers, holding the gesture (though nothing can truly linger in video, and so in a few moments it disappears). It feels in the same vein as experiencing something out of the ordinary in public. Did you see that? These are gleaming tendrils, referencing Art Nouveau’s metals and curves of those who would have been Fuller’s architectural contemporaries. Within the video itself they are very sparing, traces that hint at the many loops and curls visible in an earlier augmented reality facet of the installation that the low light of the exhibition space made technically unattainable. The gesture is fleeting and this trace makes it sculptural, gives it weight and a shape. Like Zeno’s arrow, the 3D trace holds the instant against the fluid passing of time. A moment held then fading.

Jenn E Norton, Slipstream (video still), 2018. 6-channel video installation, 10:40 min. Courtesy of the artist. © Jenn E Norton.

Jenn E Norton, Slipstream (video still), 2018. 6-channel video installation, 10:40 min. Courtesy of the artist. © Jenn E Norton.

VI. The Matter

Can a loop have an end? Carefully, admiringly, Norton both pulls Fuller into the present and returns to the other’s past. It is an earnest, tender connection across time. Genes, words, seeds, inventions. There are many ways to reach the future. Each is unstable. Each portal can be temporary, unexpected, inconsequential, significant, dormant. Fuller was an innovator (mirror room patented), the great-great-grandparent of a field, though for a large part she dissolved into herself. Her arrow has appeared in instants, lit up by scholars, writers, artists, and admirers in the century that followed. Norton is conceptual kinfolk with theoretical physicist Karen Barad, who writes about matter(ing) across time. Barad writes, “remembering is not a replay of a string of moments, but an enlivening and reconfiguring of past and future that is larger than any individual.” [3] Through this multifaceted act of remembering, Slipstream enlivens an active relationship that goes beyond cause and effect. Something more interactive, circular, and relational, it proposes connections across time. A charge. Between solid things—flesh, silk, atoms—and the spaces between them—idea, resistance, imaginative leap. An arrow flickering through time but never reaching a target. An electric spirit, crackling through the gap between cloud and ground.

[1]  Rhonda K. Garelick, Electric Salome: Loie Fuller's Performance of Modernism, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 45-46. 
[2]  Sigfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays (Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag 1963; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995).
[3]  Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), ix.

Danica Evering was born in Cobourg and lives in Hamilton, ON. Through writing, organizing, sound composition, and curation, she works through difficulty and belonging, reaching out intentionally, and complicating narratives. Her SSHRC-supported MA in Media Studies from Concordia questions power dynamics and insider/outsider relationships in social practice through interviews with artists and creative analysis of her own field work. Evering’s semi-fictional writing has taken the form of audiosculptural biographies, soundwalks, and an experimental play. Her analysis has appeared in No More Potlucks, Lemon Hound, Public, and Kapsula, and other publications. She was a founding member of the editorial collective of Publication Studio Guelph, a sibling studio of an international publishing network that attends to the social lives of books, and participated in the creation and development of the Benčić Youth Council, a radical arts education program for youth in Rijeka.

Cold Waters Symposium & Media Arts Festival

Review, August 15, 2019 by Imogen Clendinning

In mid-June I was graciously invited to North Bay, Ontario to attend this year’s Media Arts Network Ontario (MANO) conference, the Cold Waters Symposium & Media Arts Festival. I was contacted a month earlier and invited to participate in the Remote Studios program, a kind of free form residency, artist camp. This two day experiment allowed emerging and mid-career makers and artists from the Northern Ontario region and beyond to meet, collaborate and share their ideas. As part of the residency, artists were given access to a monastery turned arts institution— affiliated with Nipissing University. At the end of the two days, attendees of the media conference were invited to an Open Studio event where the participating residents had the opportunity to share our practices and conceptual framing.

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Tignanelli

On the first day of Cold Waters I met thirty artists from North Bay, Thunder Bay, Sault St. Marie, Souix Lookout and a number of other locations. We shared our backgrounds with one another, our conceptual interests, and discussed the nuances of creating safe space (this is no small feet). This conversation embodied part of my more general experience at Cold Waters 2019: the conference encouraged difficult and necessary dialogue to develop between artists and administrators from across Canada, yet these conversations were often limited by allotting only an hour or two for discussion. This kind of tight scheduling created a tension of feeling; somewhere between optimism and frustration. The fact that these complex issues were being addressed frankly was motivating. Just as I would find myself enriched by one discussion or thought, the hour would end and everything was reset. This often hindered deeper discussion of complex issues. Through powerful group dynamics and well formed panels MANO was able to bring to the forefront several sociopolitical issues, but there was less time dedicated to brainstorming nuanced solutions or possibilities. This critique is not strictly relative to the Cold Water Symposium, I often feel that the strict timelines imposed by the structure of conferences can potentially inhibit thorough discussion.

Over the next two days, I would fruitlessly scour the old monastery for technology or supplies. The overachiever that I am, I was compelled to use this as an opportunity to make something new, something that could in some way respond to this experience and place. I filmed a short video, messed around with an old episode of Star Trek on tape and attempted to make something clever with an Anne Rice audiobook on cassette. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to marry Anne Rice to Star Trek. My error was in attempting to respond to the Remote Studio as a short-term residency, rather than an opportunity to develop a community of emerging makers through this experience. On the final day, thirty artists gathered over two floors. Some gave short artist talks (notably artists Jeremy Saya and Tyler Levesque), some screened short films (including Cole Forest Stevens, who is currently beginning a project sponsored by ImagiNative). Performance artist Tejhler Leadbeater, video/performance artist Katie Huckson and myself set up in the basement and offered more casual drop-in experiences with our arts practices.

During the Remote Studio program I was fortunate to connect with Taylor Jolin, an Ojibwe artist from Baawaating (Sault St. Marie). Jolin is a multidisciplinary artist whose work often explores themes of non-verbal communication, banality and paranoia. Jolin is currently working with The Indigenous Women’s Anti-Violence Taskforce, an Indigenous-led group dedicated to restoring and protecting the honour and value of Indigenous women, 2SLGBTQQIA+ and gender diverse people in Baawaating. I contacted her after Cold Waters had ended. I wanted to speak with another emerging artist about their experience at the Remote Studio, and learn more about their practice.

Jolin had opted to give an artist talk on the final day of the Remote Studio, telling me that as casual as the short residency was, it was the most publicly she had ever spoken about her work. Certainly, this section of the conference allowed artists of different ages, backgrounds and practices to occupy time and space at the Cold Waters Symposium. This led to a feeling of overarching support at the conference; as a young maker I felt that my art was relevant and my labour was respected. Jolin similarly expressed that she was anticipating that the event could help legitimize her practice. The ability to present her work during the conference led to a fruitful peer critique, and the opportunity to network. Jolin says that forming these connections can be so vital to one’s art practice, especially for those who live in smaller Northern communities.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Jolin

One of the more fruitful aspects of the Remote Studio program was the ability to learn about each other’s art making. I was particularly interested in Jolin’s Remote Viewing series. A collection of still images captured by Jolin of different snapshots taken from online surveillance cameras documenting natural environments; what looked to me like a kind of Big Brother tourism. In speaking about the project Jolin said, “Remote Viewing is so nebulous to me right now, which feels appropriate because that's also how I perceive the nature of the surveillance cameras. New ones pop up and disappear every day, the placement of some seemingly arbitrary, but I can't dedicate enough time to track the behaviour to know for sure.” The mysterious nature of these floating cameras is sometimes interrupted by architectural and industrial landmarks like wind turbines, which embody human presence. She states further that, “As an Indigenous person who wasn't raised with traditional land-based teachings I've struggled with my relationship to land and place. I don’t feel connected to the ‘yours to discover’ camping and nationalism narrative, or the land is medicine spirituality.” Her investigation of disparate places speaks to a disassociation with more familiar natural landscape. To Jolin, it is possible that she feels more connected to disparate places than to home. These different relationships with place are vital. One of the more nuanced elements of the symposium was the recognition that artists in the North do not relate to the land in the same kinds of ways, nor do we have idyllic relationships with it.

Near the end of the conference I attended a screening of short films, all created by artists and filmmakers from the Northern Ontario region. I was particularly struck by the wit and honesty at play in Amanda Lindenbach’s video-work Oui, je suis une pute. I contacted her after the weekend had ended to speak about her experience at the Remote Studio program— and to learn more about her film. Lindenbach is a “queer, fat, Mad, (dis)abled, spooning, francophone, sex worker, porn maker and interdisciplinary artist. She is a student of fine arts, sociology and electronics; committed to pleasure activism, neuro-inclusivity, slut celebration and the expansion of video art” (Lindenbach). Similar to myself and Jolin, Lindenbach emphasized the prevalence of this being a unique opportunity to formally present her work to a group of peers of young artists and curators. She says, “So much of my energy is focused on creating, producing, exporting and I rarely take the time to hold and care for the work.”

Photo courtesy of Amanda Lindenbach

In Oui, je suis une pute, Lindenbach uses her form, dramatic lighting and spoken word (spoken French and English subtitle), to recount her experience as a pornography artist and sex worker. The video was born from Lindenbach’s response to a particular critique that referenced her work as a pornmaker and sex worker, rather than the art being discussed. I wanted to know more about the different advantages of using digital media to tell stories and share lived experience. Lindenbach responded by saying that “digital media for storytelling provides a constellation. I enjoy the effectiveness of telling digital stories with image, audio, text and all of the interconnected narratives - conscious and subconscious - that appear within the mix.” The effectiveness of intermedia practice to communicate cerebral function and human experience was used by several artists at the Cold Waters Symposium, including Lindenbach.

I also was interested in the presence of translation in the video. Why include the French language with English subtitles in the film? Lindenbach explained that the video is in French because it is her first language. The process for this piece began with bilingual video journaling in both French and English. “I decided to share the French parts because I first learned sex-negativism and slut-shaming in that language.” Lindenbach’s video piece was one of the only representations of French language at the symposium, and it used language as a marker of identity. Lindenbach’s video used individual history as a mechanism for storytelling, effectively intertwined with stylistic effects, dramatic lighting and the performative.

The Remote Studios program allowed me the opportunity to meet these artists, among many others, learn about their processes and ask questions. The richest aspect of this event was the space and time to meet other young folks who continue to make relatable, challenging and critical work, and to meet arts administrators who are dedicated to collaboration. It’s electric to take a break from a failing art experiment, to then stumble into an invaluable conversation about funding a media arts project, or to enter a discussion investigating the importance of decolonizing the artist-run centre. Every lunch break was a mind warp.

At Cold Waters the respect for diverse opinions, culture and lived experience was palpable. This recognition and openness was part of what allowed for these innovative conversations to take place. The event exposed arts administrators and artists from urban hubs to the mind-bending work that is being produced outside of these sectors. In more rural places in Canada, it is easy to feel as though you might slip into obscurity, or as though you are tragically disconnected. MANO’s Cold Water Symposium seemingly celebrated difference, and sought to build a bridge.


Imogen Clendinning is a media artist and arts administrator who lives in Windsor ON, and hails from North Bay ON. Clendinning identifies as a cisgender femme maker whose found-footage videos deconstruct tropes and signifiers used in cult cinema. Clendinning acts as the Programming Coordinator at Artcite Inc., an artist-run centre focused on bringing contemporary arts to the Windsor-Essex region.

Taylor Jolin

Amanda Lindenbach

In Conversation with the Curator: I Can Boogie but I Need a Certain Song at Artcite Inc.

June 2 - July 13, 2019

Interview, July 13, 2019 by Luke Maddaford

Off centre’s Luke Maddaford sat down with Artcite Inc’s Executive Director Lucas Cabral to talk about the exhibition he curated, I Can Boogie but I Need a Certain Song. The exhibition, featuring video work by Amie Siegel, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, Bearbara, Maya Ben David, and John Greyson, explores music as a material and language in artmaking. The exhibition ran from June 2 - July 13, 2019 at Artcite Inc. in Windsor, ON.

Photo courtesy Artcite Inc.

Off Centre: So, the exhibition. Do you want to start by giving a little bit of information about it?

Lucas Cabral: Sure. So, “I Can Boogie but I Need a Certain Song’ looks at how artists use music as a form of language that comes with predetermined understandings and connotations, that ensures an ease of understanding..

OC: Like an entry point for a viewer that maybe isn’t used to art language.

LC: Yeah, there’s a shared experience that is associated with certain songs - or a certain kind of emotional connection. The relatability is there and then you can build off of it, or diverge from it in order to show what you want to show. But at the same time, artists are people reflecting the way that people in general do this. They use music to proclaim or to demonstrate emotion to others about themselves in the world.

OC: Even to show a bit of their identity to somebody right?

LC: Yeah, absolutely

OC: That’s cool. Can you talk about the title for a bit…

LC: Yeah

OC: ...cause I really like it. And I think it’s funny and smart.

LC: So, it kind of runs parallel to the way I make a lot of my own work as an artist, borrowing from song lyrics, metaphors, figures of speech, and playing with them to point out something that is there, but not necessarily the most obvious. And as I’ve been living my warmer weather life and getting into disco and Pride, the song, “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” by Baccara has been coming up over and over again, and within it the singer says, “I can boogie but I need a certain song/I can boogie all night long” So boogie-ing is the engagement or the connection, but the lyrics also acknowledge the personal specificity required to trigger it. It was a nice way to borrow from music to name the exhibition while also pointing to what’s actually happening in a lot of the work itself.

OC: Cool, let’s talk about the work.

LC: The exhibition includes, Amie Siegel who is based out of New York, Bearbara who is a Canadian artist, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsey who is Canadian based now in Scotland, John Greyson, and Maya Ben David from Toronto.

OC: It’s a very wide range of artists, who have very different practices, so it’s really interesting to see them all in one show.

LC: I wanted to show that this is a strategy that’s used to communicate universally, not just specifically about music or the production of music, it’s getting into all kinds of interests. Maya Ben David has two works in the show and both of them are fairly different. One of them is from a series, or an ongoing body of work where she is developing cosplay characters, and that’s Air Canada Gal. In that video she takes the jingle and slows it down and when she does it becomes kind of sexy and alluring and sultry. So she is using music to communicate the identity of this character they are creating, but also at the same time pointing at this romanticization or glamourization of travel and world travel and how ooh-ah-ah travel is, right? Also looking to advertising, all the sexy images of people sprawled out on beaches and the sun beating down and all of that. Applying those tropes to this character through music paints the bigger picture of what this character is. Simultaneously reclaiming, or using it in a tongue and cheek way, to reclaim what she faces online as a woman who is involved in this culture which is a lot of sexism, which is a lot of misogyny. That piece does a lot.

OC: Yeah, that piece is one of my favourite pieces in the show. And I’ve shown it to people and talked to other people about it before and they are on either end of it. They either love it and are totally on board with it, or they have no idea what’s going on and think it’s the weirdest thing ever. So, I guess with that kind of work, it’s interesting to see it in a smaller city, and in a smaller space. I think that you are less likely to get people who are going to be on board with it in a city like Windsor. So, I’m kind of interested in how you feel the exhibition operates in a region like Windsor? Why is it important to put together an exhibition like this here?

LC: I think that’s a hard question to answer, because I’ve only been in Windsor for a few months now. I’m not really sure. But what I think is interesting and what I continue to find satisfying with people coming through the exhibition is I can hear them laugh, I can hear them chuckle, I can hear them sing along or hum along as it’s going on. And it’s a different way, it’s not necessarily what people expect when they come into an exhibition.

OC: It’s maybe a little bit less serious than they expect.

LC: it eases you into it and the humour aspect of it allows you to kind of relate to it more.

OC: It offers another entry point, and there is quite a bit of humour in this show. Like, I think almost all the pieces have an element of humour. Which I think is really nice. Bearbara’s video as well is just like, so funny, but it’s a very serious topic. And I think it’s interesting to put those kinds of things in an exhibition, where they’re not necessarily going to be taken seriously at first, but it’s going to offer somebody another way to engage with it, and maybe they will give it a little more time because they are being entertained as well.

Photo courtesy Artcite Inc.

LC: I think it’s kind of a bit of a back and forth in terms of... we are seeing artists using music to communicate aspects of their identity individually, but on a grand scale, it is everyone. So if you look at the Amie Siegel works, My Way 1 and My Way 2, each one pulls videos from YouTube. The one on the left, young kids, mostly girls singing a track from High School Musical, on the right, typically older men doing My Way by Frank Sinatra. And these things that are large emotional gestures, big public things that have been put online for everybody to see, become very very intimate in this viewing. In combining these clips together, personal becomes universal as clips of performances of the song are combined into 12 minutes of the people all singing the same thing. What is perceived as being this unique independent gesture, when they are all brought together like this, is actually not. Your conviction to sing this song and identify yourself by it is something that everybody else is doing. All these people have done the same thing. So what actually becomes more telling in these snippets, in these portraits, are the things in the background: posters, the pictures, what shirt are you wearing?

OC: One of the things that I really like about that piece is, I find that people posting covers that maybe aren’t even that good online is a really vulnerable thing to do and putting them all together creates this shared vulnerability where it’s no longer just you bearing yourself out online, it’s a thing that everybody is doing and it’s not as scary, it’s more of a cultural phenomenon.

LC: It’s in the way the monitors are facing each other, too. We are made aware that it’s something that develops with us. Like it’s not a juvenile gesture done because you don’t have the language or skills to articulate how you feel. You have this older group who are also doing the same thing and with time and money they invest in better audio equipment. You can see it, they have mics on stands. Where in My Way 1 there’s posters of High School Musical or My Little Pony, on the right in My Way 2, there’s Heineken signs, lava lamps, one guy has a gun hanging up in the background. So shared by these very different types of people with different interests is this idea of using music to effectively communicate what you feel, or what you’ve been programmed or told to feel.

Photo courtesy Artcite Inc.

OC: Definitely. Do you want to talk about Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay’s work?

LC: So Benny’s work was really interesting to me durationally. The video was produced in 2002, and it was paired with a letter that was sold to collectors and sealed. The letter was written to Madonna and explains how through making this video and her music, he was able to kind of understand more about himself and this new experience. There’s an interview online where he talks about when he had heard the song when he moved to Berlin from Canada after a heart break and was at this party and was all, “fuck, I hate Madonna, she’s evil incarnate, but this song is telling my story”

He’s talking about how these things are produced to be relatable and be connected to, but also he’s very aware of the opposition. For this show, the framed work replaces what would normally be the sealed letter. So all these years later, his connection with the work and his connection with the song has changed, shown to us through how the work has changed. The letter which was kind of a personal thing between him and Madonna, he has now taken excerpts of it and made it public. And the first couple lines, “Your lyrics became a tool through which to understand my own experiences...”

OC: I think you could apply that to the whole exhibition.

LC: Yeah, and in terms of feeling loneliness and feeling seen, performing this for 16 individual security cameras. Madonna has never seen him, she doesn’t know him but sang this song, produced this song so particularly that it applied so specifically to him that he feels seen. There’s a voyeuristic part to it. But also, within that he is one of many who has also shared that same experience, right? So it’s doing something not so dissimilar from what Amie Siegel is doing. But in a personal way, looking inward, whereas Amy Segal is looking at this outward trend, spotting what people are doing. Does that make sense?

OC: Yeah, I think it does. Should we talk about John Greyson?

LC: Yes. So this piece and the Bearbara one function a little bit different for me in the way I’ve been thinking about the exhibition. I’m interested in how these interventions into song provide space for personal inflection, personal style, right? But also how music is a storytelling tool like what we saw with Benny.

Greyson hasn’t really spun off a song, he’s taking an existing story and applying music to it, he’s reclaiming that story and using music as a way to do so. Similarly with Bearbara who makes music as Bearbara because she feels that her messages of consent are not received when she is not Bearbara. Somehow as this 8-foot tall purple bear, she is taken more seriously and her message is taken more seriously. So at the tail ends of the exhibition this strategy of interrupting the space instead of the song is different. Thinking differently about how the performer can engage a space and audience.

OC: This one, I also feel is much more embedded in a larger social issue, or maybe something more people would have heard about or be aware of than something like Amie Siegel’s work, or especially Maya’s work. I guess it feels like much more of an established commercial work than some of the other ones. And I think that’s very interesting in that it’s another way of engaging with people. When you have this kind of commercial production of something it gives it clout and people are going to take it more seriously.

LC: Absolutely. And getting more into using music and in this sense, this genre of music, comes with it’s own connotations. Right? It’s an opera, you don’t make an opera about your cosplay character.

OC: Maybe you should.

LC: Well yeah, but using storytelling and this specific mode of music storytelling to position this story is seen as this classic and deconstructing all of that classic-ness through opera and through the visual symbols as well.

Photo courtesy Artcite Inc.

Maya Ben David’s take on the John Denver song in Serenading my Apartment reflects our eagerness to connect with music. She takes this John Denver song which is comparing his love for his then-wife to a walk in the rain, a mountain covered in flowers, all these grand metaphors, and as she sits in the mall and makes this very public, grand, gesture of love and affection for her popcorn ceiling in her apartment, she grasps at straws to actually make it apply to her life. So, she’s like “I’ve never been on a mountain of flowers, but I’ve seen the sound of music and it was this and that and whatever da da-da da da-da da”. All of a sudden you are way lost in this dark hole of trying to make this sound really, really, connect with you. At the end, a clip of Denver reflecting on the song after splitting from his wife saying, “I wrote this song for Annie, but this song is for our children, it’s for this, it’s for that, it’s for this person, it’s for this” and it exposes how widely music actually has to be produced in order to make that connection. You think about the ways that music resonates through you and for what reasons.

OC: Do you have anything else to say about the show?

LC: I’m sure I will after you leave.

OC: I think it’s fantastic. It’s really nice to see all these artists in Windsor. I feel that they aren’t necessarily artists that I would expect to see here, or together in one exhibition, but I think it turned out really well, and it’s nice.

LC: Thank-you.

What Motivates Her? Madelyne Beckles and Allyson Mitchell at the Thames Art Gallery

January 18 – March 10, 2019

Review, June 4, 2019 by Adrienne Crossman

Buzzkill Emotional Gateway(2019). Photo courtesy of GXZ Design Inc and the Thames Art Gallery

Intergenerational dialogues among artists, women, feminists, queer people, and racialized folks are vital for communities to grow and learn – with the hopes of keeping both sides aware of the varying contexts and points of view that stem from coming of age at different times. Throughout my academic and artistic career, my practice has been deeply impacted and informed by the established makers and thinkers in my community who have paved the way not only for the kind of work I make but for my ability as a young queer artist to be taken seriously. The importance of cross generational dialogues, especially within marginalized communities, seems to be recognized as vital to many artists and institutions alike, but how does one go about forging such connections? These kinds of relationships are sometimes addressed through select residencies and mentorship programs, yet many of these opportunities are through invitation or involve a competitive application process.

For Madelyne Beckles and Allyson Mitchell the connection was organic, they are aunt and niece, and their show at the Thames Art Gallery in Chatham, Ontario this past winter was the first time they had collaborated. What Motivates Her? was a two-person exhibition curated by Pamela Edmonds that explored intersectional feminism, sexuality, social stigmas, queerness and race. Both artists work in a number of mediums including video, textile, sculpture, installation and print, and they use humour, while intertwining pop culture imagery with references to literature and theory, to address contemporary anxieties around politics and identity.

Close Proximities (2019). Photo courtesy of GXZ Design Inc and the Thames Art Gallery

Installation view. Photo courtesy of GXZ Design Inc and the Thames Art Gallery

Upon entering the gallery, I was greeted by a set of gold velour curtains – unsure if this plush material was part of the exhibition or merely there to serve an aestheticized utilitarian purpose of keeping out the mid-winter cold. The main exhibition space featured two new collaborative works, Buzzkill Emotional Gateway (2019), an installation of lit disco balls suspended in different coloured macramé hangers hung from the very high ceiling, and Close Proximities (2019), a large-scale video projection accompanied by a soft quilted lounging area. Surrounding these works were individual pieces by both artists. As I moved through the exhibition, Mitchell’s recontextualization of traditional craft and art historical references in works like Venus of Chillendorf (2018), and the personal act of reading as political (Reading Eileen (2018)), provide a contextual counterpart to Beckles’ satirical approach to theory (Theory of the Young Girl (2017)), and the very relatable Search Herstory (2015 ongoing), in which the artist makes public her internal digital monologues through the archiving of google searches.

Venus of Chillendorf (2018), Allyson Mitchell. Photo courtesy of GXZ Design Inc and the Thames Art Gallery

Second floor installation view. Photo courtesy of GXZ Design Inc and the Thames Art Gallery

Apart from traveling across the border to Detroit, What Motivates Her? was one of the most nuanced and successfully executed exhibitions I’ve seen in the region south of London since moving to Windsor in 2016. There are common challenges when exhibiting at a regional gallery located outside of larger metropolitan art hubs. One hurdle is attendance and audience engagement. The Thames can feel quite vast - it is a re-appropriated gymnasium with high ceilings and an open concept second floor. The crowd at the opening was sparse, feeling as if there were almost as many staff members as visitors. The benefit being that I was able spend time chatting with the Mitchell and her partner and creative collaborator Deirdre Logue, and to meet and speak with Beckles. I also had the time and space to intimately engage with the work - a next to impossible feat in the context of a crowded opening. The drawback is in those who did not or could not attend. Understandably, there was another opening taking place in Windsor that evening, and when travelling from out of town, the Thames is most easily accessible by car.

Pagina Ceramic Studies 1-6 (2016), Allyson Mitchell Allyson Mitchell. Photo courtesy of GXZ Design Inc and the Thames Art Gallery

Theory of the Young Girl (2017), Madelyne Beckles.

Another potential barrier is that more politically and/or conceptually oriented exhibitions may run a higher risk of agitating the local population – or at the very least of being misunderstood. Institutions brace for this in different ways. Installed near the entrance of the dark alcove displaying looped video, there was a wall didactic, the text serving as a statement cautioning that some of the works may offend or provoke a range of feelings in the audience, and that the artists welcome a dialogue, but they nevertheless “defend the freedom to create content and exhibit such works anywhere in the world”. I appreciated the sentiment, but found its inclusion odd, causing me to wonder whether a statement like this may incite a reaction rather than prevent one, leading audiences to believe that there is something worth reacting to. Should regional institutions like the Thames be giving their audiences more credit, or was the text in response to a previous incident?

The Whole Woman (2018), Madelyne Beckles. Photo courtesy of GXZ Design Inc and the Thames Art Gallery

The didactic, I later found out, was a compromise made between the artists and the institution and not something that would normally accompany their work. It was prompted by concerns that the brief nudity and inclusion of certain language may not be suitable for all audiences. I see this as a clear example of the need for artists such as these to be exhibited in centres like the Thames and regions like Chatam-Kent (with a population of just over 100 000 and located an hour outside of both Windsor and London).

Mitchell and Beckles both challenge harmful stereotypes and communicate from an intersectional feminist perspective exploring issues surrounding race, gender, and queerness. The success of their work relies in part on how they take on challenging subject matter while creating accessible entry points through use of inviting aesthetics, humour and the recontextualizing of familiar imagery and pop culture. Works such as Beckles’ Search Herstory perfectly encapsulate a specific feeling of millennial anxiety in the digital age, while Mitchell’s practice spans decades of political and art historical discourse while remaining urgent and contemporary.

There is much to be learned by both those who came before us and those who come after. Beckles and Mitchell have the privilege of blood relation, yet intergenerational dialogue is a critical factor in the continual growth and evolution of intersectional politics and the overall prosperity of marginalized communities. Mentorship can prove challenging outside of institutional frameworks, yet it is something we need to continually work toward in our increasing fraught political landscape. In a time that can feel overwhelming bleak, exhibitions like What Motivates Her? provide nourishment while inviting us to have some of these ‘difficult’ conversations in a productive way – to call in rather than call out – something I hope to see much more of in the near future.