By Valérie Frappier
September 13 — December 16, 2018
Wherever we find ourselves on this planet, the moon is a celestial presence shared by all. It orbits around the earth unbiasedly, at its own measured pace, regardless—it would seem—of events taking place beyond its orbit. What can be learned when we align ourselves with the moon? What shifts when we pay attention to its cyclical ebbs and flows, it’s rhythmic waxing and waning? The group exhibition “epistemologies of the moon” at the Art Gallery of Guelph, curated by Lauren Fournier, takes this celestial satellite as its point of orbit, exploring the embodied and political ways of knowing it activates.
The show features seven artists—Chief Lady Bird, Katherine Boyer, Gillian Dykeman, Maggie Groat, Reka Lauren Ramachandran, Zoë Schneider and the Yerbamala Collective—who summon the moon as a feminist symbol to reflect on our contemporary condition, while also convening around it as a modality by which to envision the future. In her introductory wall text, Fournier explains that this renewed activation of the moon-as-feminist-symbol has been propelled “given our varied and complex relationships to the land, and pressing issues of decolonization and sustainability.” These considerations are importantly taken up through both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives, highlighting shared ecofeminist concerns. The first work shown in the exhibition is Chief Lady Bird’s Self Portrait As the Moon, installed as a billboard down the street from the gallery in front of the Aboriginal Resource Centre on the University of Guelph campus. This work claims space, contextualizing the show’s knowledge-sharing as taking place on Indigenous land, whilst also pointing towards genealogies of the moon that predate settler presence.
The moon is conjured by the artists as a way to shed light on processes made invisible. Within the indoor gallery space at the AGG, Chief Lady Bird’s second featured self-portrait, Kinship With the Sky, juxtaposes the artist’s figure over a Muskoka cottage lake scene—here speaking to ongoing land dispossession within the settler colonial project. Despite this, the artist faces into the distance, resolute, her profile echoed in the shape of the crescent moon. In The Invisible Tides of Day Moon (Waxing, Full, Waning, New), Katherine Boyer depicts the phenomenon of the “day moon,” often unseen in the light of day, through beadwork, another process often made invisible as women-coded labour. As a form of craft usually passed down over generations, Boyer here activates “the moon as a grandmother figure.” The gesture of emitting light is quite literally enacted in Maggie Groat’s and Reka Lauren Ramachandran’s works, where each artist meditates on how astral light manifests here on earth and, specifically within Groat’s Moonlight Reflectors or A Proposal for Returning Moonlight Back to the Moon how we can find reciprocity within these processes.
In the midst of experiencing the works, I wonder to what level we can measure the effect of the moon on earthly entities. For instance, if we know that human bodies are made up of approximately 60 percent water and if we know that the moon controls the oceans’ tides, how could the moon not also have a physical, visceral effect on human bodies? Zoë Schneider manifests these embodied considerations in Moon Pools, a circular installation of eight concrete bowl-shaped casts, each recreating a lunar phase with various crystals, rocks and teas inside of them. She codifies the waxing moons with appetite-inducing tea and almond oil, and the waning cycle with weight-loss enhancers. This dialogue between phases of the moon and transformations within the physical body are also echoed in Groat’s collage Subtle Bodies > 1, 7, 14, 21, 28, which depicts an image of a circular egg, highlighting the link between a 28-day menstrual cycle and the cycle of the moon.
In Gillian Dykeman’s two video works, she offers tangible visions of a feminist future. In Moon, we learn that the year is 2112, that the patriarchy is being dismantled, and that the decolonization of the landscape is being sought in tandem with the decolonization of the self. In Dispatches from the Future Feminist Utopia, Dykeman playfully activates notable earthworks—such as Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty—as portals towards decolonial futures. The video is shown on a loop, and as it loops back to the beginning, the narrator asks: “What is it like to wake up in the feminist utopia?” I mull over this question and reflect on the exhibition as a whole. Curated together, the works certainly envision one day answering that question, interweaving their considerations of the moon as a liberatory symbol towards manifesting decolonial feminist futurities. The works ultimately assert that when we collectively align ourselves with the moon, we ground back into the body, into timeless and embodied ways of knowing and being on this planet. Traversing space and time, these mutual formulations of an ongoing and renewed alignment with the cosmos and the earth instilled in me a deep sense of hope.
Crossing the room towards the exit, I flip through the Yerbamala Collective’s Sanctuary Summoning Spellbook, which places this feminist future within reach through their call-to-action prose. I pause on this revolutionary-rousing passage:
RISE UP & TAKE DOWN THEIR MONUMENTS IN THE NIGHT
MOONLIGHT IS OUR CHAOTIC TRANSMOTHER
RISE UP WITH THE TIDES & TAKE OUT THE FASHTRASH
I am electrified.