A Note from the Curators Towards the 2021 Biennial

On kinship, collectivity, conspiracy

In 2019, the central question driving the inaugural Toronto Biennial of Art, “what does it mean to be in relation?,” emerged from the climate crisis and an increasing need for kinship. In 2021, this idea of relationality (and its attendant disconnects) continues to be a guiding principle in a moment of great uncertainty. Moving from the shoreline of the first chapter of a two part Biennial, 2021 will follow the tributaries and ravines, above ground and hidden, which shape this place, extending those interconnections and expanding notions of relationality. 

The curatorial team of five (Candice Hopkins, Clare Butcher, Katie Lawson, Myung-Sun Kim, and Tairone Bastien) is coming together as a collective to think, listen, (un)learn, and move alongside one another; shaping and realizing our vision together through these challenging times of global pandemic, political upheaval, and climate crisis. Existing belief systems are being tested and challenged, potentiating the possibilities for change. As we breathe together, we conspire. So risky in viral times that “collective breath” creates a climate of its own, a curatorial ethics.

Collectivity supports a modality through which Exhibitions and Programs can look to new forms of kinship – with each other, with our collaborators, with the non-human, with ideas, beliefs, and perspectives. As curators, we are presently generating a lexicon – a shared vocabulary – which ground our thinking together and ongoing processes of exhibition-making, programming, and learning. 

From November 2nd – 15th, 2020, we will come together with artists and participants in an experimental and research-focused virtual residency – Rabbit Hole: Pod Theory – based on the framework of a pod system in transformative justice practices. With an ethos of community care, the residency is facilitated by Ange Loft and Syrus Marcus Ware to explore protocols and practices of collectivity at this moment in time. Residency participants include Camille Turner, Dana Prieto, Eric-Paul Riege, Jorge González, Roxanne Fernandes, Vanessa Kwan, and the TBA curatorial team, with guests Sebastian de Line and Mata Aho. The residency is in partnership with grunt gallery and Black Lives Matter – Toronto (Wildseed Fellowship Residency).

For further details on the residency program, click here.

On belief and fugitivity

In this second chapter of the Biennial, as a way to introduce artist projects, programs and the terms in our growing lexicon, we expand relationality to consider the role of belief, particularly in a moment of political division and when identity politics is being reshaped based on ideologies. Belief is how people relate to the unseen world, how we grasp or make sense of the unknowable. It is around certain beliefs that people congregate, manifested through the creation of myths, stories, and ceremonies. As old systems of belief that define our present world collapse, we see a possible escape.

Through this, we follow the tributaries of the lost rivers to consider how the movement of water models a methodology, a means of moving with and through what at first seemed impenetrable. And like how water finds its way through the tiniest of cracks (or even an opportunistic virus,) we press through into other worlds, slowly and persistently eroding exploitative systems. Water is fugitive, it doesn’t abide by borders or boundaries, and with this it uncovers another channel to follow. In the vein of elemental disruptions, Judy Chicago turned to pyrotechnics in the late 1960s in an effort to feminize the atmosphere of hyper-masculine Land Art. The atmospheres initially took place in cracks and fissures in the land, the whirling plumes of brilliantly coloured smoke softening the landscape and eventually disappearing altogether. In 2021, Chicago will produce a new atmosphere for Toronto’s shoreline.

In an expanded idea of place, we commissioned Ange Loft to author the Toronto Indigenous Context Brief in 2019. A document initially drafted for organizers and for artists, it disrupted the belief in settled narratives, shifting the layers of official and unofficial histories to add new ones. This document has inspired a new book, the aptly named Treaty Guide for Torontonians, to be published in 2021, that extends relationality from the social to the judicial.

On migration and literacy

Unearthing polyphonic histories embedded in the shoreline and along hidden waterways uncovers relations between non-humans and humans, living and non-living beings. And as water flows from one point to another, so too we think about the movement and migration of people, animals, and microbial life, and the ideas, beliefs and perspectives that travel with them. Nadia Belerique will present a work that considers the movement of goods is a constitutive part of migration, tethering people and places across oceans and land. Alternating between transparency and opacity, industrial and domestic, Belerique’s materials speak of relations maintained and troubled by distance, desire, memory, and forgetting.

Reading those material and migratory traces against the grains of archival narratives and colonial cartographies, requires other kinds of literacy. Lawrence Abu Hamdan explores the legal terms of immigration processes writ large across spaces between nation-state borders. Co-commissioned and presented in collaboration with Mercer Union, Abu Hamdan will present a body of work that draws on recent border disputes in the US, and the divisive impact of Order 13769 (a.k.a. the Muslim ban), deciphering the symbolic and legal potential of these interstitial and fugitive spaces.

Curated by Candice Hopkins, Clare Butcher, Katie Lawson, Myung-Sun Kim, and Tairone Bastien

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