An Archive, But Not An Atlas
April 27–June 2, 2019
Alex Jacobs-Blum, Curtiss Randolph, Camille Rojas, Eve Tagny
Curated by Liz Ikiriko
On view: April 27–June 2, 2019 / Opening reception: Saturday, April 27th, 1–3pm
“An archive, but not an atlas: the point here is not to take the world upon one’s shoulders, but to crouch down to the earth, and dig.”
— Allan Sekula
An Archive, But Not An Atlas is a group exhibition that explores personal and social histories as they are unearthed through movement, gesture, language, and land. Four emerging artists address unconscious memory as it is embodied across generations and geographies. Through photography, performance, and film, the artists’ knowledge is rooted in observing subtleties expressed in familial, domestic, or cultural locations.
For many marginalized people the denial of dominant culture to acknowledge inherent, embodied knowledge, acts as a form of erasure. The trauma experienced by the denial of intrinsic relationships to self and land becomes a silencing force, muting creative production. Art critic/historian Hal Foster writes of the incompleteness of the archive as a bridge between the found and the constructed, the factual and the fictional, the public and private. To accept this amorphous state is to accept multiple ways of knowing one’s past, present, and future. An Archive, But Not An Atlas makes space for these four artists to cultivate power and presence through body and land as they converse with history.
An Archive, But Not An Atlas is a Featured Exhibition of the 2019 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, and is presented in dialogue with Developing Historical Negatives, curated by Gabrielle Moser for Gallery 44. These thematically linked exhibitions investigate how artists engage the archive to question experiences of belonging, displacement, and situatedness in the Canadian landscape. Mining both personal and institutional narratives, the projects activate overlooked and marginalized histories, drawing attention to their ongoing resonance in the present.
Opening Reception and Curator’s Tour with Liz Ikiriko
Saturday, April 27th, 1–3pm
Join us in the gallery for refreshments and a curatorial walkthrough of the exhibition (tour will start at 1:30). See below for location and accessibility information.
System of a Gesture by Camille Rojas
Saturday, May 11th, 1–3pm
Free public premiere of System of a Gesture, choreographed by Camille Rojas. Performance will take place outside Youngplace; in case of rain, an alternate location will be announced closer to the date.
Reading Groups at Gallery 44 and Critical Distance
Saturday, May 18th, 12-3pm, at Gallery 44 and Saturday, May 25th, 1–3pm at Critical Distance
Join curators Gabrielle Moser and Liz Ikiriko in a conversation about the gestures artists and researchers use to activate the photographic archive. Reading out loud from performance studies scholar Diana Taylor’s book, The Archive and the Repertoire (2003), and photography theorist Tina M. Campt’s book, Image Matters (2012), the group will meet across both gallery spaces to consider the “archival choreographies” deployed by artists to develop alternate histories from private and public collections.
Free but please RSVP to coordinator@
LOCATION and ACCESSIBILITY INFORMATION
Critical Distance is located in Suite 302 at Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street btw Dundas and Queen Street in Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood. Google Map
Artscape Youngplace and Critical Distance are fully accessible by Ontario standards, with a wheelchair ramp at the 180 Shaw Street doors, an elevator servicing every floor, and a fully accessible washroom on every level. The nearby 63 Ossington bus on the TTC is wheelchair accessible. All stairwell installations will be viewable from accessible locations.
ABOUT the ARTISTS
Alex Jacobs-Blum is a band member of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory of the Lower Cayuga Nation and Euro-Canadian. She dissects what it means to live in-between two worlds. With a focus on Indigenous-settler reconciliatory relations, she employs ironic storytelling as an act of survivance to deal with the conflicts of assimilation and cultural dominance. Jacobs-Blum has exhibited nationally at the University of Ottawa, Woodland Cultural Centre, and the Centre for Social Innovation, ON and shown internationally at Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea. She holds a Bachelor of Photography from the Sheridan Institute of Technology (2015).
Curtiss Randolph (Toronto) is a multidisciplinary artist working in film, performance and photography. Having grown up in theatre environments, the elements of stage production are influential to his practice. Randolph uses traditional analogue and digital photography to experiment with non-linear forms of personal storytelling. Randolph holds a Bachelor of Photography from Ryerson University (2018).
Camille Rojas (Toronto) is a multidisciplinary artist working with film, photography and dance. Shifting her position between camera operator and subject, she documents dancing bodies as a form of deconstructing the emotional fungibility of public and domestic spaces. Rojas holds a Bachelor of Photography from Ryerson University (2017).
Eve Tagny (Montreal) is a multidisciplinary artist working with photography, video, writing and environmentally focused installation. Her practice is focused on mending traumatic disruptions through nature. Her work has been shown in Canada and abroad. Her photo book Lost Love, was the recipient of an Honourable Mention from the Burtynsky Grant and has been on display as part of her first solo exhibition at Never Apart Centre in Montreal. She also was shortlisted for the 2018 Contemporary African Photography prize (CAP) and was the recipient of the MFON Legacy Grant. Tagny holds a BFA in Film Production from Concordia University and a certificate in Journalism from the University of Montreal.
ABOUT the CURATOR
Liz Ikiriko is an independent curator and photo editor. She has worked on national publications including The Ethnic Aisle, Toronto Life, Macleans and Canadian Business. As a curator she has organized exhibitions with BAND Gallery, Wedge Curatorial Projects, Sheridan College and the National Music Centre. She has juried and reviewed portfolios at the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, the Flash Forward International Competition and the Contemporary African Photography prize. She currently teaches at Ryerson University and is an MFA candidate in Criticism and Curatorial Practice at OCAD University (2019).
THANKS to our PARTNERS and FUNDERS
Contact Photography Festival and the Toronto Arts Council
Critical Distance is pleased to present An Archive, But Not An Atlas as a Featured Exhibition of the 2019 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, the largest annual photography festival globally, with over 200 exhibitions and events from May 1-31 in greater Toronto.For more information on this exhibition and the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, visit their website. We are also grateful for the support of the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council in making this exhibition possible.
LINKS / UPDATES
News, press, publications and more information.
Canadian Art |
images, top: Eve Tagny, Jeannette Tagny, née Mapokam Kandoum, 2019; Camille Rojas, System of a Gesture, 2017; bottom: Alex Jacobs-Blum, Onákdo:t, 2018; Curtiss Randolph, Over the Balcony from series My Father’s Son, 2017.
Links / Updates
News, press, publications and more information.
An Archive, But Not An Atlas
Catalogue texts October 3, 2019
INTRODUCTION by Curator Liz Ikiriko
My research into what constitutes an archive began when Gabrielle Moser invited me to create an exhibition in dialogue with her show, Developing Historical Negatives that was presented at Gallery 44. My initial ideas considered historical archives as being anchored in institutional collections, often colonial in nature and clinical in presentation. There is an antiseptic quality to viewing an artifact under glass, devoid of its original intent that can make the artifact appear lifeless as a dissected frog in a high school biology class.
Reading Tina Campt’s Listening to Images and Diana Taylor’s The Archive and the Repertoire sparked ways of thinking through the role of historic collections and also provided ways of reading what comprises an archive. Can an archive be embodied, performed, shared, enacted on the land? Is an audience necessary? Does an authority need to sanction its historic qualities? Does an archive breathe?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of archive is: “a place in which public records or historical materials are preserved.” An Archive, But Not An Atlas presented unruly and corporeal histories that challenge classical notions of what constitutes an archive. The archive is alive in the body, memory held in muscle and through the rhythm of hands hitting hands in schoolyard games. The archive is alive in the natural world, bones buried deep on the land where trails were once traversed, and by rivers that continue to move water past official borders that attempt to erase histories that cannot be removed.
When most lives are now at least in-part lived virtually, connected over wifi signals through email and social media, the desire to touch, feel and experience a tangible world becomes necessary. I wonder if cloud technology ‘saving’ our photos, videos and data has transformed our reliance on the stories that have been spoken, carried and shared through generations of friends, family and cultures? An Archive, But Not An Atlas rattled and rallied to bring remembrance back to the body.
Artists Alex Jacobs-Blum, Curtiss Randolph, Camille Rojas and Eve Tagny presented embodied performance, relationships to land and oral histories shared between generations as a way to celebrate and praise the visceral, thriving, expressive knowledge we all carry within us.
CATALOGUE ESSAY by Magdalyn Asimakis
“An archive, but not an atlas: the point here is not to take the world upon one’s shoulders, but to crouch down to the earth, and dig.” – Allan Sekula
An archive is a collection of fragments. Each piece speaks, migrates, performs, and is performed. Its name is loosely used. It indexes its environment but maintains its self-possession. It is primary but not self-evident. And, when one of these fragments is pulled out of an archive and critically mobilized, it can bring it closer to its multifarious meaning. This approach is taken up in the practices of artists Camille Rojas, Curtiss Randolph, Eve Tagny, and Alex Jacobs-Blum. Each artist examines their own personal, familial, and cultural archives by distilling fragments for performative examination. Recalling the above words of the late artist and educator Allan Sekula, these artists do not attempt to define the archive, but instead “crouch down to the earth, and dig.” This quote – the entirety of which inspired the title of this exhibition – notably incites the body. The act of crouching and digging in contrast to reading an atlas is vivid and suggests the need for work: to take a new stance, to touch, to uncover, and to then read.
This is apt when considering the practices of the aforementioned artists for whom the embodied nature of archive is centralized. Most visibly perhaps in System of a Gesture (2017), a film by Camille Rojas that indexes around the clapping games children play. Rojas, who has a background in classical ballet, choreographed this filmed performance which centres on the hands and arms of the dancers and expands to the rest of their bodies, both in relation to each other and individually. Their meticulous gestures consider seemingly minute forms of learning that are embodied, growing and evolving over time. The film opens with a triptych of vistas rhythmically depicting school architecture, the setting for both this film and the exhibition presenting it. As part of the curatorial program, and almost impossibly fitting, curator Liz Ikiriko extended the exhibition temporally and spatially using the square section of asphalt in front of the former school where the gallery, Critical Distance is housed. There, Rojas and two dancers performed a revised iteration of the original choreography in a two-hour performance, thus expanding the work beyond the boundaries of its own archive.
Embodied learning is also echoed in Curtiss Randolph’s photographic series My Father’s Son (2017-19), which is set at Bathurst Street Theatre in Toronto, a space Randolph grew up in as the son of the theatre’s owner. For this series, Randolph created the character “GG Jangles”, an overt reference to Bo Jangles, a character dear to his father. GG is a combination of Randolph’s father, a dancer, and the artist himself. In each photograph, Randolph, as Jangles, carries out various tasks to produce his one-man show in the Bathurst Street Theatre: administration, lighting, and, of course, acting. He struggles in the process, and the result is unknown (or, in other words, not photographed). In this performative series Randolph explores both environmental and genetic inheritance through a fictional narrative, and grapples with the intersecting forms of embodied labour that occurred in that space. The photographs themselves are dramatic compositions that reflect the narrativization of this archive.
By contrast, Eve Tagny’s multimedia, multi-work installation searches for familial narratives through the photographic and oral histories of her relatives. Archival portraits are carefully placed on the walls and amongst scattered cinder blocks and dried flowers. Photographs and text have been reprinted on silk panels and carefully draped. On the ground, Tagny projects her film LA’À (2019) onto a group of the blocks that have been stacked up and arranged into a small corner wall with mud. The choice of materials collapses the symbolic and the literal, embracing the messy, embodied nature of a family archive that is still living. Tagny explains, “The body bears, but also becomes, the concrete manifestation of invisible histories and traumas.” While Tagny loosely traces a narrative from her own life in Québec to her grandmother Jeanette Tagny’s, in Cameroon, she simultaneously eschews the distillation of a singular narrative, leaving loose ends untied and poetically embracing unanswered questions.
A departure from the above works, Alex Jacobs-Blum’s project Onákdo:t (2019) meditates on traces of the past on the landscape. Jacobs-Blum’s photographs centre on monuments and land-markers that she came across in her travels from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory of the Lower Cayuga Nation, where part of her ancestry originates, to Ithaca, New York. This path commemorated her Haudenosaunee ancestors who, as members of the Iroquois Confederacy, were water keepers and would traverse this pre-border trail that linked communities from Lake Ontario to Ithaca. Jacobs-Blum gives particular attention to the durationality embodied in this act, as evidence by her portraits of the land and the markers on them. The latter are small specks on the landscape, but serve to memorialize conflicts of colonialism and development that continue to reverberate. The interaction of these narratives is significant to Jacobs-Blum whose heritage is also European-Canadian, and whose practice is concerned with living in between cultural worlds. For An Archive, But Not an Atlas, her photographs and video projection were dispersed throughout the gallery, stairwells, and main floor lobby subtly echoing her interest in the duality and in-betweeness of her personal heritage.
There is a fragmentary rhythm to An Archive, But Not an Atlas, as each work probes its subject through several vistas. The extreme variance in material and visual approaches between artists ensures that a visitor can never rest, nor confuse one artist’s work for another’s; everywhere you look, a different question is being posed. The modest dimensions of the gallery necessitate the works being in close proximity to one another, unsettling spatial ease. This is the crux of the spatial argument: archives are multiple, their components distinctive, and the fragments should exist in their contradictions and not offer singular answers. This is especially the case when attempting to grapple with embodied experiences. In his essay Photography and the Limits of National Identity, Sekula writes of a photographer who, as she stares at a mass grave, realizes she is looking at something that history has not memorialized. She proceeds not by searching in familiar, bureaucratized archives, but by searching for ones that are unseen and buried. She crouches down to the earth and digs. This act is variously taken up by Rojas, Randolph, Tagny, and Jacobs-Blum, who all attempt to draw out something that is hidden in their own archives, and that they themselves are trying to see.