Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell


Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto by Legacy Russell cover. Photo via Verso Books.

By Pauline Nguyen

Legacy Russell opens Glitch Feminism, a part-manifesto, part-art criticism essay collection, by bringing us back to her early teens growing up in New York City. At twelve years old, she christens herself with the online username “LuvPunk12” — a cyborgic meeting of worlds: an “away from keyboard” (AFK) reality and an online digital reality. In reading Russell’s personal history as a Black queer femme experimenting with their selfdom, we’re thrown back to our own first forays into the internet, from first usernames to direct messaging platforms — all existing alongside our AFK names and relations.

Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto by Legacy Russell. Photograph by Pauline Nguyen.

Published in fall 2020, Glitch Feminism is a pocket-sized book and a fairly quick read. The twelve short chapters all circle back to Russell’s central argument: to embrace glitch, as failure and refusal, is to move towards possibilities for other ways of being, worlding, and collectivity beyond the logics of the gender binary, capitalism, and neoliberalism. Russell, who’s a celebrated curator, spotlights contemporary artists who they argue are putting glitch feminism into practice. Russell emphasizes queer, trans, and Black artists such as Juliana Huxtable, Kia LaBeija, and Shawné Michaelain Holloway. Glitch Feminism embeds itself into the realms of art, criticism and curation, queer and feminist thought, Black studies, digital cultures and new media, and critiques of capitalism.

Legacy Russell, author portrait by Andreas Laszlo Konrath. Courtesy of Verso Books.

Glitch Feminism continues the legacies of cyberfeminism and cyborg feminism by evoking questions of how the complexities of embodiment, so entwined with experiences of gender, queerness, and racialization, extend into digital realms. How can glitch, which at its core is refusal, be reworked as something wonderful in our feminist, queer, and anti-racist utopic envisioning and collective mobilizations? What does it mean to embody glitch, to embody malfunction?

How can glitch, which at its core is refusal, be reworked as something wonderful in our feminist, queer, and anti-racist utopic envisioning and collective mobilizations?

Glitch Feminism firmly maintains that digital, online worlds are as real as AFK, offline worlds. The belief that “in real life” (IRL) is solely physical and AFK is to discount the very realness of our online selves and interactions. In fact, as Russell demonstrates, the digital realm and the online realm are deeply intertwined, the boundary between them dissolving, with us travelling seamlessly through this expansive, multidimensional reality. As such, the bridge between the two is bountiful with productive refusals and potential for world-building — beyond the gender binary and its restrictive categorizations, resisting surveillance capitalism, through the queering of digital space.[1] Alongside this grounding argument is the understanding that all technology is architected by people under neoliberal capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy; thus, it is never neutral, always political. This continuity between online and offline spaces means that we can program errors, breakdowns, viruses into the fabric of such multidimensional worlds.

The White Pube, Instagram post, courtesy of The White Pube.

As a conceptual framework, glitch reconfigures the typically pejorative way we view failure, brokenness, and the refusal to function. Instead, as Russell convincingly invites us to do, glitch should be welcomed — “the error a passageway” to constructing better worlds.[2] This is because, and here Russell situates glitch feminism in queer-of-colour theory by quoting José Esteban Muñoz: “…this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing.”[3] Russell draws on Shaadi Devereaux’s analysis of social media as a tool for marginalized women to reach each other, build collective support, and engage in conversation where they might usually be excluded in AFK domains.[4] To break, to dismantle, to fail fantastically in the face of a machine that expects us to keep carrying on as if it isn’t stifling and isn’t programmed to reward some and marginalize others. It is to carve fissures in existing, oppressive systems and its limitations on who we might be and what realms we might inhabit.

As discussed in the chapter “Glitch is Cosmic,” we as embodied beings are multitudinous and constantly becoming, never static and singular in our identities. A person’s virtual avatar is as real in cyberspace, or the “digital real,” as their offline self.[5] We can travel beyond what we typically think of as a body (that becomes gendered) to consider our virtual selves. To break through the confines of what counts as a body is to destabilize the dualistic delineations of normativity imposed upon bodies, including binary gender categories. If the body is “inconceivably vast” like the cosmos, then to queer is to expand potential for being, because, recalling Russell’s reference to Muñoz, there are gaps that must be filled, a queer ethos of yearning for more.[6] To glitch is to disrupt systems, sledgehammering holes into taken-for-granted logics of oppression — a queering in itself. Glitch is queer, queer is cosmic.

Victoria Sin, Performance at “Glitch @ Night” organized by Legacy Russell as part of Post – Cyber Feminist International, 2017, ICA London, courtesy of ICA London, photograph by Mark Blower.

The chapter themes seamlessly flow into each other and consistently circle back to the core ideas of productive refusal, expanding definitions of embodiment, and queer futurity. The chapter “Glitch is Remix” continues along the lines of disrupting what it means to have a body. Here, Russell faces the question of data and surveillance capitalism head-on by bringing in examples that glitch biometric technology and experiment with strategic visibility. This is key because visibility can be dangerous, especially for those considered non-normative or non-conforming under white supremacist, heteropatriarchal capitalism. The epigraph to the chapter “Glitch Ghosts” is a line by poet Richard Siken: “Imagine being useless.”[7] To be useless to the system, to skirt the line between legibility and illegibility (to whom?) and render oneself unreadable to surveillance technology, to evade the oppressiveness of naming and categorization when being is cosmic: Russell brings light to these issues through the lens of refusal.

Russell thoughtfully frames every chapter around case studies of artists, writers, and fellow cyborgs who practice refusal and embody glitch — a perfect brew of glitch feminist theory and praxis. The extensive epigraphs at the very start of the book plus the ones that open each chapter take the form of both quotes and images, introducing us to those who’ve engaged with the themes at hand before Russell: Etheridge Knight, Mark Aguhar, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Ocean Vuong, E. Jane, T. Fleischmann, and so on. These spotlights and epigraphs certainly shine in Glitch Feminism, acting as Russell’s odes to fellow feminist, queer, trans, and racialized disruptors who’ve impacted their work.

Lil Miquela, courtesy of Brud.

There are some aspects to watch out for when reading this firecracker of a book, many of which have to do with who the target readers might be. The level of audience familiarity with online culture and human-computer interaction that Russell assumes is quite high. From terms like “avatar” and “GIF” to the opening lines where Russell tells us her first online username, this little book doesn’t devote time to defining what she means. The introduction works (and really well at that) for some readers because it thrives on relatability — the quick recognition that LuvPunk12 is a name Russell used on the Web. In a similar vein, other terms that are arguably academic are not unpacked either, such as “digital affect” and “living archive.” Glitch Feminism isn’t marketed as an academic text, though it does bare some academic framing. So, who is this book for? Will those born into the era of networked digital media read Glitch Feminism with an existing understanding of feminism, critical theory, and new media? (Even TikTok is mentioned.)

Glitch Feminism is a monumental publication in its (re)framing of glitch as feminist and as the power of “no.” It’s a timely release with well-chosen artists spotlighted (Russell is a curator after all!), with Russell’s art criticism angle bringing a fresh focus to thinking about the space of potential between intersectionality, data capitalism, and digital technology. Many of the themes Russell brings up greatly overlap with trans literature, such as the dilemma of visibility, (il)legibility, ethics of the archive and (mis)labelling, and the body; there is room here to further bring trans perspectives into Glitch Feminism. These essays hold great relevance to women and gender studies, queer and trans studies, anti-racism, critical encounters with archives, digital humanities, contemporary art, new media and visual/screen cultures, community-engaged arts, and so forth. If you’re interested in any of these areas or looking to read an intersectional take on embodiment, what it means to have a body in a digital age, and what it means to be connected, Glitch Feminism is highly recommended. Embodiment is time and time again positioned as parallel to glitch — both are ongoing, both hold potential for expansion and reconceptualization in tandem with each other: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a body. And one is not born, but rather becomes, a glitch”.[8]


[1] Legacy Russell. Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (London: Verso, 2020), 47.

[2] Russell, 113.

[3] Russell, 22.

[4] Russell, 125-126.

[5] Russell, 124.

[6] Russell, 41.

[7] Russell, 63.

[8] Russell, 145.

Respect Your Elders: In Conversation with Biju Belinky

Biju Belinky. Drawing based on a 1993 photograph by Del LaGrace Volcano. 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Interview by Adi Berardini

Based in Brazil, Biju Belinky is a visual artist and illustrator who recreates historical queer photographs, reinterpreting them into colourful and vibrant illustrations. Belinky captures the tenderness of these relationships, depicting the queer romance throughout history that has always existed but is often rendered invisible by society. Often sensual and emotive, her drawings bring fresh energy to the historical photographs of the LGBTQ+ community of yesteryear.

Biju Belinky studied at Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion. Before working as a visual artist, she worked as an arts and culture journalist for seven years, which aligned with her interest in queer archives and documentation. Belinky also finds inspiration in tarot and magic, her drawings inspired by the bright colours and pastel palettes of animated shows and vintage Japanese advertisements. In the following interview, they speak more about drawing inspiration from historical queer photographs, overcoming self-doubt, and their creative process.

Biju Belinky. Self Portrait. 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I am drawn to how you recreate historical and contemporary queer photos and create new energy and vibrancy to them through colour and line work. Can you speak more about your practice and why you use these historical photos and references? Do you have an example of a favourite photograph (or era) that you’ve recreated?

To talk about how I started working with that kind of subject matter, I would have to go back to four years ago, when I went through a long period of time not making art at all because it fucked with my self-esteem a lot. I just had a lot of issues with thinking everything I did was not good enough. But I could see that not doing art was also fucking with my brain, so I decided that I was going to challenge myself and force myself to finish things without thinking too much about it. And I knew I had to do it working with something I thought was beautiful constantly so that I was sure that my brain couldn’t go “this isn’t interesting anymore.”

I initially drew from my personal collection of images of queer love and affection that I had saved on my computer from previous research I had been doing for a while, and I started creating artwork from there. From then on, I kind of noticed that this subject was just an endless source of inspiration, and the documentation on it varies so much, from tender to sexy and affectionate. [There are] so many different expressions of queerness and women-loving-women relationships and through that, I had found a way to express myself through my art in a way that didn’t make me suffer. 

It was a cool exercise to find these photos and the history behind them. You end up finding more about these photographers that worked throughout the centuries, these images that were lost through time. For a while, I was interested in more Victorian photographs and women seemingly in love in vintage photos from the 1920s and the 30s. It was quite interesting spending a long time thinking “Where does this photo come from?”, “What’s their relationship?”. And the stranger one to research: “are these women together or are they sisters?”, because oddly sometimes you’d find a photo where you think that they’re definitely a couple, but you do research and find out that they’re actually sisters. 

I always try to research a lot and find sources, to make sure I’m representing people correctly, [which] allows me to develop my practice more. Once I became more comfortable with drawing regularly, I started adding colour and I started figuring out again what I wanted to experiment with and the [types] of images I wanted to see in my work. From then on, I started to add different vibes to the images. When I started doing bright, colourful monochromatic representations of the black-and-white photos, it was fun to look at the photographs and think of what colour this makes me think of in a completely subjective way. I couldn’t explain why [one] feels pink or [one] feels purple. I’m not going to say it’s the aura of the photo because it’s not. It’s just me looking at the photo and feeling it. Like this thing feels yellow and so on.

My work and the images I draw from are not all soft, I hate describing them as soft. But they do exist at the intersection between sensual and tender. I’ve had long arguments with people about this because some people are like “your images are sexual.” And they are, but they aren’t, I’m not making explicit erotica. Even the images that are more overtly sexual where [the subjects] are naked or half-naked, have tenderness and sensuality to them. They’re not geared towards creating the sort of “Oo you’ll feel hot and bothered by this” feeling. If you find them sexy that’s cool, but at the same time for me, there’s more of a tenderness to it and I try to communicate that with my pieces.

Biju Belinky. Drawing based on a chloe atkin’s photograph from Girls Night Out. 2020.

That’s interesting. I wonder since they are queer images too, how that influences how sexual they seem. 

Yeah, people hypersexualize my work a lot. I’ve had quite a few commenters, especially men, come up and be like, “Oo sexy, threesome,” just that kind of gratuitous bullshit. If you want to consume sexy content geared towards straight men, there’s plenty of it out there. This work, my work, is not for them.

I think seeing my work as purely sexual kind of stems from the same type of thought where people see queerness as something that’s purely linked to sex and that’s it. Of course, sex and romance are a part of it, but queerness is such a complex, whole identity. So, for people outside of the community to just try to narrow it down to “oh it’s about who you want to bone,” feels reductive.

If queer women see it as super sexy it’s cool because it’s self-representation. But when it’s straight men projecting, fetishizing, and commenting weird stuff then it always makes me really uncomfortable. There is this skewed way of thinking that if something is queer and it involves women, it’s perceived by men as inherently sexual and often performative “for them.” So yeah, I think there is a hyper-sexualization of my images because they represent queer women being affectionate in a variety of ways. At the same time, thankfully my art has seemed to reach mostly the people it’s meant for.

Biju Belinky. Drawing based on an image printed on postcards by Steven Meisel for the SAFE SEX IS HOT SEX 1991 initiative, organized by the Red Hot Organization. 2020.

I think it’s good to have that sense of softness and tenderness in your work. I was drawn to it since it highlights that queerness has always existed by going back to the archive.

I think a lot about queer elders and older LGBTQ+ people and how many of us got the chance to meet older LGBT people that were around us growing up. It’s such an important reference to have and I didn’t realize how important it was until I met someone over the age of 60 who was a married woman with a wife, and I was like “you have so much knowledge in life.” I think this absence of role models doesn’t happen only because of the silence around sexuality but also the fact that almost an entire generation of LGBTQ+ people died throughout the 80s. There were so many major losses during that time that it just became commonplace to not know older LGBTQ+ people.

One time, I was showing my cousins some of my drawings. Only the very tame, appropriate ones, mostly from Victorian times, and with their mothers’ permission. My one cousin is around thirteen and the other one is around ten and they asked to see the drawings since I had been working on them nearby. My 13-year-old cousin was like, “how come none of these people are old? How come so many of them are so young?” And I was like, “well it’s hard to find photos of older LGBTQ+ people to draw. I’d really love to do that but it’s hard to find people above a certain age that you can draw. And in this era, people were often made to get married after a certain age, even if they weren’t in love.” And she [said], “That’s sad, I hope that you can find many pictures of old people and that you [can] draw them soon again.” 

I was emotional about that because she was rooting for there to be older queers. I never expected that at all. I [thought] how do I explain to this young child the horrible, horrible things that might have happened? I was coming up with ways in my head to explain it in a way that was simple but also was true.

I think that growing up as queer people in the 90s, we didn’t see cheerful representations of queerness. We saw the struggle, you see the trauma, you saw people coming out and then how their parents now hated them. But we hardly ever saw affection for the sake of affection, in all their forms. I mean, small acts between queer people are revolutionary in themselves. But at the same time, it’s nice to just see yourself represented in something soft and loving without feeling like it needs to be a statement all the time. 

It’s nice too because a lot of the narrative in mainstream media is about coming out or trauma. I don’t want to say there’s a shame, but there’s stigmatization to queerness. To see that queer joy, does bring you so much joy.

I just want to see happiness; I want to see queer happiness and show as many sides of it as I possibly can and as many different types of relationships and kinds of people as I can because I feel like there’s not enough of that out there. I mean other artists are doing this kind of stuff, but when you look at other media like movies or TV shows it’s still so rare for you to be able to watch a film where the characters are queer and in love and that’s that, a film where you don’t have to watch a straight relationship for two hours just hoping for the side plot to be kind of queer. Sometimes you want to watch something sweet and soft and it’s not about suffering or about shame. Violence might happen in the street, that’s a reality, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been afraid at one point or another. But it’s exactly because of that reality that I feel like my illustrations exist in a space outside of that, where violence is not a concern and there’s just this mutual understanding between the viewer and me of what the illustrations are and what they’re representing.

As much as we know this, logically, our history has been erased so many times that sometimes it’s good to remember that queer people have always been around, they’ve always been affectionate.

There’s a lot of art that I want to make about queerness that is a lot more painful or might be more complex in the way it develops and builds. But to have a space where I’m just able to see, especially when you look at older photographs, that queer people have always been around, is amazing. As much as we know this, logically, our history has been erased so many times that sometimes it’s good to remember that queer people have always been around, they’ve always been affectionate. People kissed and hugged and had sex and everything else, for centuries. Queerness is not a side note in history, an imaginary bond we project today between “best friends” from the 19th century, it exists, it is registered. Its evidence is scattered throughout history and lives on even after so many attempts to wipe them out. It’s nice to be able to bring all that memory back to the surface through my work and to consume that for myself through my research.

Biju Belinky. The Lovers, 2021. Photo courtesy of the Artist.

Who are some of your artistic influences and artists you look up to?

I love anything by chloe atkins, her photos are amazing, and she did the Girls Night Out photography book. That photobook has such sexy and fun photos of nightlife. You can see that the people in the photos are so into each other, and drawing-wise it’s such a cool series of photos with so many dynamic poses. 

I also love the archival work that Gerber/Hart does. They have an online database of queer everything, they have zines and photography and stuff. They’re such a good reference, whenever I’m stuck, I always scroll down their website and Instagram [to find] inspiration. 

I’m really drawn to colour, not only in my drawings but also in the tarot series. I love the aesthetic of 70s and 80s Japanese advertisements for toys. They’re so bright and in your face, while still combining pastel tones with everything else. That is such a huge inspiration for me. As for artists that inspire me, there’s Nanaco Yashiro (@nanaco846) who’s a Japanese artist, there’s also Choo (@choodraws) – they do very dynamic comic book-y scenes. Choo can draw clutter like no other person can. 

A lot of artists I’m inspired by have a unique voice to [their work]. I feel like I can see what type of person they are since they have such a clear visual language. Having that language [as an artist] is a huge ambition of mine. There’s an amazing wood engraving artist who does images of lesbian couples, Gessica Ferreira (@gessicaferreira100). There’s also Katie Aki (@miss_luckycat), Peter McAteer (@pete.ey), Anna Dietzel (@anna.dietzel), Helena Obersteiner (@helenaobersteiner), Savanna Judd (@heartsl0b), Joanna Folivéli (@foliveli), and Ing Lee (@inglee).

Biju Belinky. Spooky Girlfriends. 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Do you have any advice for emerging artists who are just discovering their style and sensibility as an artist?

I’m an emerging artist myself – but a huge thing for me was a conversation that I had with one of my best friends, Helena, when I was initially getting back into writing. She has built her whole practice on the idea of mistakes and how accepting mistakes [can be one] of the best things that can happen to you. It was so important to talk to her and accept that my work isn’t going to immediately look the way that I want it to look. And it’s in the path of trying to make it look the way that it does in your brain that you’ll find the best things about your work. There’s a big way to go between your brain and your hand. When the image in your head is not doable hand-wise, you should just try to do it anyway—You’re never going to know what you find unless you try. That reaffirmed the phrase, “better done than perfect” for me. I tend to be a perfectionist, but I can’t let my frustration stop me from finishing things. 

Another piece of advice I have is don’t be afraid to take breaks. I think we live in a culture where people want to consume things at way faster pace than what we produce things in. It’s okay to rest and take time for art. There’s a huge benefit of recognizing and respecting your limits. Do you, but don’t die trying to do you. Take breaks when you need them since it takes a lot longer to recover from burnout than it does to just stop once in a while.

Do you have any other future projects that you’d like to share?

I am currently working on my store that [has recently opened]. I will be including my art and an entire series on tarot cards. I am working on a zine with 20 other female artists in Brazil in the UK. It’s about myths about vengeful and raging women from across the world. We’re looking into feminine anger and stories of mythical creatures that are [based off angry] women. We’ve been working on it for a year and it’s in its finishing stages now.

[My friends and I] just opened a tattoo studio called Arachne (Arachne.tt). named after a mythical woman. The three of us have different levels of tattooing, I’m still starting out and practicing on willing victims. It’s all original designs by primarily fine artists in the language of tattooing. If you’re in Brazil come and get tattooed by us!

You can view more of Biju’s work on her website or Instagram.

Mother, Earth, Air: Yulia Pinkusevich and Sakha Aesthesis at MPAC

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich. Installation view 5, MPAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich

MinEastry of Postcollapse Art and Culture

July 23 to September 29, 2021

By Mia Morettini

“As far as my identity is concerned, I will take care of it myself. That is, I shall not allow it to become cornered in any essence; I shall also pay attention to not mixing it into any amalgam”.[1] In his famed work The Poetics of Relation, Caribbean scholar Édouard Glissant raised an impassioned defense of personal opacity as an opposition to a prevailing liberal ideology, one that absorbs and assimilates difference into its multicultural quilt. As Glissant insists, while there is a need for mutual understanding and respect across cultures, this understanding cannot be found through assimilation. In fact, insisting on difference, on a relational opacity, opens space for a truly radical coexistence built on irreducible contrasts that colonialism has long sought to iron out.

I first encounter Yulia Pinkusevich’s Sakha Aesthesis from this position. Crafted in the slow, solitary beginning months of the COVID-19 lockdown, Pinkusevich’s installation reflects a singular and deeply personal perspective — one best approached with opacity in mind. Her visual lexicon approaches the surrealists; unnaturally pastel skies frame dreamlike, fluid forms. I immediately imagine Hilma Af Klint’s mystic abstractions lining the walls of the Guggenheim and attempt to follow what visions this artist might be summoning. But Pinkusevich’s work shudders past this relation, disrupting my index of her work into the art historical amalgam in which artists like Af Klint now firmly reside. 

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich. Installation view 6, MPAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I am humbled by scale. Six-foot-tall viewers are dwarfed by the saturated blacks of her imagery, pulled close into mysterious elliptical orbits. A challenging opacity permeates the odd figural and narrative glimmers scattered throughout. In one piece entitled Tree of Life, 2021, a disembodied mouth suspended in scream bursts with a radiance delineated by pale pink sunbeams forming a saintlike corona around it. In another piece, Mother Spirit (ije-kut), 2020, a triumphant, flag wielding figure on horseback confronts a walkway that bends unnaturally skyward. The eye dances across these vibrant, organic, and finely detailed shapes only to be stopped short by crisp, geometric lines that divide the compositions and sever their narrative potential. 

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich. Installation view, MPAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The exhibition text questions: “Can the ancient enunciate the present?”. I read Pinkusevich’s conversation with MinEastry of Postcollapse Art and Culture (MPAC) curators Ilknur Demirkoparan and Vuslat D. Katsanis, in which she cites her research into Gaia theory, a scientific theory adopted into the Western canon in the 1970s. The hypothesis posits that Earth operates as one large, complex organism sustained by interactions between both organic and inorganic material. Regularly woven into the multicultural amalgam through buzzword-ridden “everyone must do their part” incentives (see: Starbucks banning plastic straws), Gaia theory finds roots in Indigenous knowledge. This knowledge re-emerges with frightening urgency in the weeks since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared a “code red” on impending environmental collapse. Pinkusevich heeds this warning and insists on space for ancestral knowledge, offering glimmers of personal history and Indigenous Siberian Sakha tradition to re-center a decolonial framework. 

The influence of these combined practices is immediately evident in Pinkusevich’s use of omniscient perspective representing the three central Sakha spirits—Mother, Earth, Air—that are carried with the individual throughout life. In this context, I feel the ova and womb filling the oxygen of Mother Spirit (ije-kut), 2020 and Tree of Life. I see Earth Spirit’s light graze the pinks of a baby’s blush, ribboning across the composed surface as tendrils of a tree’s roots carve a vascular pattern. Struggling to shake my post-Enlightenment vernacular, I see light above and beyond a horizon — composing a horizon, slipping beneath a horizon — as the promise of futurity or absolute truth. But any sense of grounded linear temporality in these paintings is unstable, trembling with an almost extraterrestrial levity.

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich. Installation view, MPAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Undulations of the Earthy Spiny Serpentina Making the World, 2021 call again to a sense of fecundity, to the garden, to the feminine. While its title speaks to a literal, reality-building enormity, the serpent itself is surprisingly mundane. Sculpted from biodegradable materials sourced from Pinkusevich’s own garden, its Jim Henson-esque face hovers mid-air, a casual, bemused expression revealing neither the historically-indexed predator nor temptress, but a figure approaching a companion—a co-inhabitant of the room. Glissant’s opacity finds harmony with the serpent. In contrast to the density of the images, the serpent’s gentle curvature around a too-silver air duct again guides the eye to yet another horizon beyond the pictorial plane, shattering the carefully composed gravity of Pinkusevich’s paintings.

Previously noted affinities between Pinkusevich’s work and other artist-mystics are only glancing, nestled on aesthetic similarities. Pinkusevich’s work finds home with MPAC for this very reason. MPAC provides Pinkusevich the space to insist on opacity, to celebrate the unique positionality of her work which, bolstered by the curators’ careful interpretation, reaches beyond the essentialist realm of aesthetics and into the experience of aesthesis. Wrenching discussion away from surface-level visuals, aesthesis denotes a sensuous and experiential relationship to art—one that resists formal classification or definition by adhering to a wider range of subjectivities. This range opposes a colonial amalgam and is essential to MPAC’s mission to explore contemporary art from the perspective of East Europe and Central and Western Asia post-1989.

Sakha Aesthesis by Yulia Pinkusevich. Installation view, MPAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Pinkusevich’s overlaying sense of humor within Sakha Aesthesis is one such opposition. While confronting an alarming present and a violent past, Pinkusevich admits her work is also, “about love and life; there’s hope in it. It’s also silly and there’s something a little funny about it”. I’m reminded of Bakhtin’s carnival—that which is immersive, joyous, and communal. That which confronts Order from societal margins, declares itself in a moment of “relational becoming.” That which sends a tremor through linear temporality. If Bakhtin floats in these well-lit walls, he bounces off the earth-colored serpent vertebrae and unassuming face. He lifts from the moments of pale pink fluidity in the paintings, from the silhouetted shoulders of the horse-drawn hero.

Activist and author adrienne maree brown asks in her 2017 text Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, “How do we cultivate the muscle of radical imagination needed to dream together beyond fear?”[2] Following brown’s query, the hope that necessarily radical imagination can build a new dream, Pinkusevich proposes an elevation of heritage, humor, and humility as a multi-sensory site of imagining. She constructs a space of exploring how hidden knowledge may unveil healing possibilities between ourselves and the opaque, ancient, and re-emerging earthly systems at play.

Sakha Aesthesis is on view until September 29, 2021, at the MinEastry of Postcollapse Art and Culture at 2505 SE 11th Ave Suite 233 Portland, OR 97202.

Mia Morettini is a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist and writer. She is recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her curatorial and written work has been shared with Holly and the Neighbors, a grassroots arts  collective based in Chicago, and most recently at the Smart Museum’s 2021 Health Humanities  in Times of Crisis symposium.


[1] Édouard Glissant, The Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1997), 192.

[2] adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (AK Press,  2017), 59.


Sidney Mullis is Your Long-Lost Imaginary Friend

Sidney Mullis, The Town Between My Toes. Sand, wax, raw rigatoni and shell pasta, pleather, black food coloring, olives, carrots, olive pits, cotton string, resin, wire, wood, paint, rocks, teddy bears. 2019.

By Anna Mirzayan

For an artist interested in the possibilities of space, it seems fitting that Sidney Mullis’ studio is in the basement of a converted church. As we go through the doors down to her studio, the journey still invokes hallow memories. Small ornate windows stand alongside large arched wooden doors— there is even a gargoyle carefully watching as we pass. Mullis’ studio itself is a modern steel and concrete rectangle in premeditated contrast to the aesthetics around it. Most of the space is taken up by several of her large and bizarre installations that seem to reach out as you enter, inviting you to touch their points, joints, and protrusions. Her materials are carefully tucked away in buckets beneath large shelves and tables littered with smaller works. One table houses a sewing machine, surrounded by scraps of the black pleather she is fond of using.

Sidney Mullis. “Shrine for my Pocketed Youth.” Sand Murmurs/Tongue Pockets/Thumb Secrets Installation Shot. Bunker Projects, 2020.

Daughter of an army father, Mullis moved around a lot as a child. She spent her childhood years in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina, and attended undergrad in Virginia before moving to Pennsylvania, where she now resides, for her MFA in sculpture. In the rural South, the gender roles and scripts assigned to her weighed heavily, and she became very attune to how social expectations changed and became more rigid as one aged. This first awareness informed the interest of roles and expectations that she now attempts to point out and subvert in her work. As a teacher of both studio art and art writing at Penn State, Mullis is keenly aware of the position of authority she occupies in the classroom. As in her art practice, she attempts to break down these power dynamics and focuses on having fun in the classroom. As a teacher, Mullis said she quickly learned that the worst thing she could do in adult space was “be childish,” so she asked herself why can’t silly “be here,” in this space?

Sidney Mullis. Purple Bush with Knuckle. Sand, wood, paint, string, handmade paper pulp made primarily of kid’s construction paper and gravestone dust. 2021.

Her work focuses primarily on recreating childhood spaces where one is free to create and imagine, asking how we learn the rigid roles we perform as adults and why we acquiesce to them so readily. She uses craft materials and processes, like sand, paper pulp (as in Purple Bush with Knuckle), Styrofoam and dried macaroni, along with unusual materials like gravestone dust (which she uses as a binder), and insists on doing everything by hand, to evoke the playful creation of childhood. Figuring out the processes for using the materials is itself a recreation of childhood play. The sand that makes up large pieces like Three Thumb Secret Keeper harken back to sandboxes and sandcastles and are part of Mullis’ goals of making landscapes as play spaces. The ingredients for the treated sand itself are kept under wraps like a childhood secret. The small spheres she uses as embellishments are made from individual wax grapes that are filled like molds and then cut apart one by one— a super laborious process that evokes the tension between play and tedium.

Sidney Mullis. Sand Murmurs/Tongue Pockets/Thumb Secrets. Bunker Projects, 2020. Installation Shot.

Mullis stumbled across one of her more macabre materials by accident. She was looking for somebody to drill rocks she collected to use as counterbalances for her trees and thought to try a longtime family-owned gravestone carver as a last resort. They broke every rock. However, the carvers were using leftover gravestone dust to cast small sculptures (one of them even made teeth for dentists on the side) and offered Mullis as much of it as she could carry. Mullis says she was fascinated by the joyful way the carvers created new objects from leftovers. Although losing a life is not quite the same as losing a tooth, both processes create some form of existence from death. “Parts of you die, parts survive,” says Mullis. Life is full of transformations. Her use of materials like gravestone dust to make playful objects reminds us that childhood is linked not just to joy but to loss as well. It is important to memorialize the dark and the difficult, and not to paint childhood with the rosy brush of nostalgia.

Her use of materials like gravestone dust to make playful objects reminds us that childhood is linked not just to joy but to loss as well.

Sidney Mullis, Altar to Resurrect my 7-year-old Self. Handmade paper pulp, gravestone dust, wax, sand, dry rigatoni and manicotti pasta, pleather, black streamers, discarded teddies, olive pits, paint, wire, shells & coins from childhood collections. 2017-2019.

Mullis makes sure to lean into the dark and the strange in her work. The center of her studio is populated by two large trees merging into an arch. The denizens of the “Forest” are made of starfish-like pillows made of black pleather. Because of the sensual material, adults who wander through the wood often read sexual innuendo into the works, associating them with queerness, leather, and BDSM. Mullis explains that she was more interested in the disorienting juxtaposition between the objects as pillows and their spiky appearance; however, she is also quick to remind us, pleasure is playful.

The works oscillate between attractive and repulsive, strange, and familiar. Some tower over the viewer, creating the scale of childrens’ vision, while others are toys that are strewn about the space, waiting on the ground to be discovered. The studio is an alluring sand and paper monument to the dwindling arts of childhood imagination, in both its joyful and nightmarish valences. Moving through Mullis’ invented spaces is a surprisingly intimate experience. She hovers on the periphery, allowing me to discover at my own pace. In the end, she gives me a small resin and gravestone dust keychain—one of a set made by squeezing the material until an impression of her hand remained— a memento mori, she says.


Weaving it all on the Dancefloor: A Discussion with dani lopez

dani lopez portrait. Courtesy of the artist.

Interview by Harper Wellman

There is something eternal and necessary about textiles — Clothing, canvas, tapestries, and tools are just a few of the almost universal applications of textile work. For dani lopez, textiles are at the center of an artist practice that transforms an ancient and ubiquitous undertaking into a modern and personal endeavour. Her work entwines weaving, text, and modern iconography with queerness, camp, pop culture, and personal experience, generating a body of work that is both sincere and relatable. After studying at the University of Oregon for her BFA, and later at the California College of the Arts for her MFA, lopez has continuously shown at a variety of spaces, including Tropical Contemporary, Amos Eno Gallery, and the Frank Ratchye Project Space among others. As her work continues to evolve, the personal experience expressed in lopez’s early work has amalgamated into an expression of queer collectiveness, creating a cohesive body of work in which ongoing themes are given space to exist and evolve in time and various incarnations.


dani lopez,(for the ACT-UP dykes who cared for their gay brothers while they were dying of AIDS), film still from BPM (Beats per Minute) Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing 36 in. x 18 in. 2019.

Can you tell us a little bit about what attracted you to textiles? You describe your work as a sight of both regret and redemption. Can you elaborate on that for us?

When I discovered textiles, it was the start of some soul searching. I was working with a fibers professor who is an out, Black man. I have often said that meeting and learning from him was a lot like a gay friend taking you out and showing you the ropes. I didn’t come out until my early 30s. Textiles gave me the space and time to process my life and why being straight felt so damn hard. Weaving was the meditative space that slowly unravelled the fact that I couldn’t stay in the closet anymore. I knew I was queer for over a decade, but thought, well if I like men too, why make it harder on myself? (This is something many bisexual women are familiar with). I can’t separate my coming out from discovering textiles. They are inextricably connected. My coming out late in life has so much regret tied to it. For a long time, there was also shame connected with that regret—Now I see that regret as an opportunity. I can attempt to redeem myself or atone for all the times I chose a man over a woman/non-binary person. Now, I’m giving myself back that lost time, the lost opportunities, the lost hook-ups, and those lost loves with the work I make and how I make it.

dani lopez, i want to be her/i want her. synthetic hair, muslin, fabric paint, cardboard 60 in. x 24 in. 2017.

dani lopez, your sinner in secret. handwoven fabric, cotton yarn dyed with commercial dye, crochet thread, dowel, finials, curtain tie backs 67”x108” 2016.

When looking at your work, there is seemingly a shift over time. Your early work, such as pieces like i want to be her/i want her, 2017, and your sinner in secret, (2016) are much softer and femme, evoking ideas of magic girls and comfortability. Your more recent works, DYKES ON THE DANCEFLOOR, 2019, are tonally darker and almost mysterious. There is also a shift, seemingly from the personal experience to the experiences of a community. How did this progression happen?

While the focus now is on the larger project, DYKES ON THE DANCEFLOOR, I shift back and forth from community-minded work to personal work. The shift is a big one and it came from the desire to see myself in culture and to also illustrate how and where other queer women could find their stories in the world. Coming out later in life is often compared to a “second adolescence” and that has been true for me. I was searching, desperately, to find stories that looked like mine or just to see stories of queer women in general (beyond The L Word). So, once I found those images, I decided to commemorate them, to celebrate them, and to adorn them. The progression always starts as a small question or idea that begins to grow and evolve, and if it becomes big enough, I start to pursue it. Often, access to resources and limitations of space have a bigger impact on the work than I’d like. With DYKES ON THE DANCEFLOOR, I had just finished grad school and lost access to the loom I worked on. I moved into a small studio and I wondered to myself, well, okay, what do I make now? What’s that saying? Necessity is the mother of invention? In my case, it was true.

dani lopez (for the trans dykes who never felt safe enough to come out), still from tv show Euphoria. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing 36 in. x 18 in. 2019.

Pop culture plays a big role in your practice. Euphoria, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Robyn are just a few references you have made throughout your career. Why was it important for you to consciously include and highlight queer, and queer-claimed, media and performers in your work?

I’m so glad you picked up these references because I often wonder if anyone is catching these signals I’m throwing out into the world. I would say personal and cultural research are at the crux of my practice. We find ourselves, as queers, looking out into the culture that at times doesn’t reflect much back. So, when I do find these signals being sent out to queer folks, I feel compelled to continue to push that signal forward. How far can these signals reach? Will someone feel connected to me or my work because they see a certain signal or clue? Artists love to leave little clues around in their work for certain audiences and having it picked up on is truly such a joy to me. It’s an acknowledgment, it’s a nod, it’s an “I see you,” which is what I’ve always wanted, being a straight-presenting queer woman. I’m not “visibly queer” (whatever that even means), so I am constantly trying to signal to others that yes, I am one of you.

We find ourselves, as queers, looking out into the culture that at times doesn’t reflect much back. So, when I do find these signals being sent out to queer folks, I feel compelled to continue to push that signal forward.

The dancefloor is another recurring theme, and I know personally, the dancefloor and clubs are often safe spaces for queer communities. How have you dealt with the loss of physical queer spaces throughout the pandemic, both personally and within your practice? Now that those spaces are opening again, what are you most looking forward to having back in your life?

Personally, it’s been a huge blow to the sense of community. [I miss] the sense of abandon, joy, and research that happens for me at a dance club. Within my practice, it means that I have to do other sorts of research and looking. Whether that’s through mainstream media, music, literature, or critical theory, I’ve continued to look and attempt to find others to talk about this. I’m still not ready to be in a club space, enclosed spaces still make me really nervous, and I highly doubt I’ll be going to a club until next year. For me, that just means more reading, more research, [and] more conversations. I miss the dance floor so much, but safety is important to me. But when I am ready, I’m just hoping to see joy, excitement, and lots of queer desire.

Finally, what can we expect to see from you in the future, and where can our readers find you online?

You can expect more work! The DYKES ON THE DANCEFLOOR series will get more sculptural and strange. I just got a grant to help with the exploration of that project. By the end of the year, I should have my own loom (!), so you’ll be seeing new weavings too.  Next year I am in the Bay Area iteration of Queer Threads curated by John Chaich, which I am so excited to be a part of. I will also be talking queer textiles with another artist, Liz Harvey, on Textiles Arts LA this September.

You can find more of dani’s work on Instagram at  @dani___lopez___, or at www.danilopez.us.

The Affect of Social Intimacy: Mélanie Matranga’s 0,1,2,3,4

Mélanie Matranga’s 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 

Nottingham Contemporary

Saturday, 22 May 2021 – Sunday, 31 October 2021

Mélanie Matranga, 0,1,2,3,4 Nottingham Contemporary, 2021. Installation shots, Stuart Whipps.

By Sophia Arnold

In Frames of War, Judith Butler explores the notion that surviving in the contemporary world is only possible due to the “social network of hands”[1] that supports, raises, and recognizes life, and in the current Coronavirus pandemic, it has never been more clear that this is the case. Mélanie Matranga’s exhibition 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 at the Nottingham Contemporary, her first solo show in the UK, is a stark reminder of Butler’s sentiment and an enriching break from the daily broadcasts of impersonal, popular jargon of the global economic instability caused by the pandemic.[2] Highlighting, both explicitly and tacitly, how care, community, and intimacy are essential in our daily lives, the exhibition evocatively invites the viewer to reflect on personal and societal pre-pandemic connection and speculate what our lives may look like post-pandemic, after the immense loss and instability of the past year and a half.

The sensuality, companionship, care, and connection that is omnipresent throughout the exhibition, yet simultaneously eerily absent depending on the room you are in, is the embodiment of the pandemic; it evokes what we, on an individual and societal level, have been deprived of in the name of safety and the effects of isolation. After a year of virtual exhibitions, Matranga’s exhibition was the first I had seen in person for what felt like a lifetime. Moreover, in conjunction with this already amplified initial viewing experience, I am writing and ruminating on my multiple ensuing visits to the exhibition while isolated in Canada’s legal hotel quarantine requirement, therefore heightening its impact. Curated by Olivia Aherne, the show is resoundingly pertinent at this moment; an effigy to all that has been lost since the early months of 2020.[3]

Mélanie Matranga, 0,1,2,3,4 Nottingham Contemporary, 2021. Installation shots, Stuart Whipps.

When first entering Matranga’s exhibition, you are welcomed into a model of the Nottingham Contemporary’s office kitchen, adorned with fruit and flowers that will slowly rot away until the end of the exhibition’s installation.[4] This materiality embodies one of Matranga’s main ideals for an exhibition: “to try to escape the notion of artworks as dead things in the exhibition”[5] in an almost ironic way, as the installation wilts with the passing of time. The kitchen itself, dimly lit and with an ambiance of abandonment, conceals a miniature replica of the artist’s own living space within one of the tenebrous cupboards. Matranga’s use of scale and temporality, suggests an almost heterotopia through the layered, juxtaposing environments, linked through their jarring absence of the human presence that would usually embody the spaces. This austere atmosphere is only heightened by the security guard sitting at behind you, waiting to ID you before entering the next room.

Mélanie Matranga, 0,1,2,3,4 Nottingham Contemporary, 2021. Installation shots, Stuart Whipps.

After proving to the guard that you are 18 years or older, visitors are guided through a door to a lightless room, with four socially distanced seats, to view Matranga’s video work, People (2021). The 25-minute black and white film, separated into parallel and conjoining storylines by the classic film countdown numbers, enters you in the minutiae of individual universes, exploring the social relationality of different couples and groups.[6] An illusion of historicity, created by the old-fashioned aesthetics, undulates throughout the film with stark reminders of the present social dynamics and almost prophetic scenes, of what friendships and communities could become, breaking through the aesthetics of the staged time period. 

The video work’s storyline seemingly jumps between different character’s environments and the complex interactions that take place inside them, despite the work being filmed in the artist’s apartment.[7] As Jon Day notes in Homing, “homes… provide the still, stable point around which our thoughts and lives orbit. But they are also thresholds: places we must depart from before we can fully understand what they mean.”[8] The minutiae of conversation explored in People wordlessly articulates how our homes have changed over the past year, from spaces of sociability to isolation and loneliness, and the running thread through the exhibition, of the eerie emptiness we have experienced during the pandemic, is once again brought to mind now that we have temporally crossed the ‘threshold’ from the pre-pandemic life portrayed in the video. From social gatherings in Matranga’s apartment to tarot card readings, to couples engaging in a multitude of sexual activities, to intimate confessions and reflection, the viewer is pulled into the characters’ world and home, whether that be a person or a place.

The shattering moment in People happens is when one of the characters starts to display symptoms of the virus that we have become all too familiar with, and the insular bubble the visitors are lulled into by watching the characters in the video, safe from the world of COVID outside of the museum space, immediately breaks. At this moment, I couldn’t help but call to mind what Achille Mbembe called “the hour of autophagy.”[9] We have been sheltered from death, but the pandemic has brought a global reckoning, an explosive reality-check for those who have been’ ‘business as usual’ for decades. This was also brought starkly into mind when I revisited the exhibition a month later and all of the aforementioned kitchen flora was wilting down to their final moments, reminding us not only of the pandemic’s egregious, awful consequences but also of the intrinsic tie between nature and people that has become a recurring theme as we battle the climate crisis.

Mélanie Matranga, 0,1,2,3,4 Nottingham Contemporary, 2021. Installation shots, Stuart Whipps.
Mélanie Matranga, 0,1,2,3,4 Nottingham Contemporary, 2021. Installation shots, Stuart Whipps.

When entering the third and final last room of Matranga’s exhibition, the visitor enters a kind of effigy to this binaristic nature/human rhetoric: harsh plastic covers hanging from the ceiling with more decaying roses scattered on top, plastic-wrapped clothes, and mattresses as an installation in the center of the room, with more flowers under the plastic. It almost reflects the separation of humanity from the natural environment, as if we are outside of the decay and we can contain the spread of contamination. Yet at the same time, the bagged clothes and mattress, with cut-out felt the word ‘COME’ under the plastic in the center of the installation, could be a re-enactment of a crime scene, a liminal space, so silent, still, and sterile. 

However touching this work is for myself and potentially a large percentage of the population, it is hard to ignore the fact that the artist’s experience, portrayed specifically in People, inside a large Parisian apartment, is not the reality for those that Butler has described as ‘transient,’ debilitated and precarious before the pandemic began, with the pandemic only exacerbating the inequality and ostracization of certain societal groups.[10] Matranga captures a moment of upheaval and dissociation in a very postmodern way of individual storytelling and unique experiences. However, with a pandemic that is universal, affecting every being on this planet, and yet the burden of which is not universally felt, the video work remains within a specific socio-political reach. 

Mélanie Matranga, 0,1,2,3,4 Nottingham Contemporary, 2021. Installation shots, Stuart Whipps.

Despite the above, the slow ease of restrictions, the entire process of being able to go to a museum after months of restrictions, and the immense changes we have seen in the past year and a half, is paralleled by the installation of Matranga’s work; the trough to the peak of normality, sociability and loneliness, all separate affective curves the visitor is travelling through, intertwining in an almost emotional rendition of the government statistic graphs presented to us every day on the news. In contrast to the art that has been created during the pandemic that asked what it means to be alone, this exhibition asks what it means to be together, navigating ‘unprecedented’ times through affect; an urgent question that opposes the cold spirit of economic jargon.

As a closing reflection, I was completely overwhelmed with how this exhibition, in the short space of a two-hour visit, helped me understand and retrospectively reflect on how the extended, slow, enduring, measures taken over the past year and a half immensely affected myself and my community. I left empty, deflated, heartbroken, for all those who have been lost to the virus and all the connections severed the chances that were lost for interpersonal and societal care indue to the pandemic, but also optimistic that one day we could return and understand the importance of sentiment and the community that raises, cares, and shelters us. Now that we have crossed the “threshold” from our pre-pandemic experiences of home and community, and soon have the ability to create the infamous ‘new normal,’ Mélanie Matranga’s exhibition 0,1,2,3,4 provides a pertinent frame of reflection for an individual’s “social network of hands.”[11]  

[1] Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (repr., London: Verso, 2016), 14.

[2] “Mélanie Matranga: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4”, Nottinghamcontemporary.org, 2021, https://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/whats-on/melanie-matranga/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen, “Melanie Matranga”, Kaleidoscope, 2018.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Mélanie Matranga: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4”, Nottinghamcontemporary.org, 2021, https://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/whats-on/melanie-matranga/.

[8] Jon Day, Homing: On Pigeons, Dwellings and Why We Return (London: John Murray Press, 2019).

[9] Achille Mbembe, translated by Carolyn Shread, “The Universal Right to Breathe”, Critical Inquiry, 2020, https://critinq.wordpress.com/2020/04/13/the-universal-right-to-breathe/.

[10] Judith Butler, “Capitalism has its Limits,” Blog, Verso Books, 2020, https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4603-capitalism-has-its-limits.

[11] Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (repr., London: Verso, 2016), 14.

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s Black Trans Archives

Colonization of the digital space

By Virginia Ivaldi

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley. Black Trans Archive (2020).Installation Shot. Photo courtesy of the artist.

While digital archives have existed since the internet, the digitalization of art during the pandemic feels like a quick and (too) easy response to this global crisis. This rush towards digitalization has created only flat commodities, undermining the work of artists that have long since relied on the internet to develop and broadcast their work. Virtual spaces, for example, have been used by creatives to give context to the speculative queer theory of fluidity. The post-internet era destroys the boundaries and dualities that have always been challenged by the LGBTQ+ community — online identity, indeed, is inextricable from offline identity and virtual and physical spaces melt in the reality of everyday life. Because virtual spaces have been used by members of the LGBTQ+ community as an alternative to a reality that discriminates them, digitalizing all art and life to respond to a health emergency means to colonize the foreign space of the ‘other’ for the benefit of the dominant classes (white, cisgender, bourgeois).

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s work seeks to archive Black Trans experience and discuss gender and colonialism in online and offline spaces.  The artist employs virtuality as a place for self-narration, which is not limited by a physical body defined by chemical, anatomical, and social fixities. Brathwaite-Shirley’s archives are fully interactive, combining film and gaming, poetry, and music. More than an archive, Brathwaite-Shirley’s artworks are a full world designed to hold Black Trans ancestors, those who have been hidden and buried, “those living, those who have passed, and those that have been forgotten.”[1] Moreover, the archives are interconnected by the notion of Trans Tourism that explores the cultural politics of “din[ing] on Black Trans trauma.”[2] The artist states, “Throughout history, Black Queer and Trans people have been erased from the archives. Because of this, it is necessary not only to archive our existence, but also the many creative narratives we have used and continue to use and to share our experiences.”[3]

Everyone is welcomed to explore Brathwaite-Shirley’s artwork, however, the archives will confront the viewers with their identity, creating multiple experiences that differ depending on the viewer’s identity. Every project by Brathwaite-Shirley starts with a questionnaire about gender and identity as a legitimate form of security against Trans-tourism, to avoid whoever engages with the artwork to consume Black and/or Trans trauma as a commodity the labour of being studied.

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley. Black Trans Archive (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

In Black Trans Archive (2020) the artist offers the possibility to explore the archived material after the viewers identify themselves. The storyline of this project unfolds differently depending on whether one identifies as 1. Black and Transgender; 2. Transgender or 3. Cisgender. As a cisgender individual, through entering Brathwaite-Shirley’s universe I am faced with my own privilege and historical fault, rather than with Black Trans trauma. The cisgender player is requested to assist the construction of the archive by using his/her privilege to help the Black Trans community both in the day-to-day and in the resurrection of their ancestors. Task 1 asks the player to resurrect a Trans-Black ancestor while Task 2 asks to help a Black Trans woman walk around undisturbed.  Brathwaite-Shirley explains “My work often has terms and conditions which require you to centre Black Trans people, because if you don’t centre Black Trans people, you are not welcomed to view my work.”[4]

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley. Black Trans Archive (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Resurrection Lands (2019), is an ongoing archive project that blends queer and postcolonial theory, aiming at resurrecting Black Trans ancestors. However, the project does not ruminate upon Black/ Trans traumas but aims to resuscitate Black Trans ancestors and create a speculative universe that can hold them. The viewer is introduced to Resurrection Lands by a mechanical voice saying “ […] how is it possible to store you in a place that once erased you, so we decided to build this place the Resurrection Lands, an archive designed for you, by others like you […] People found out that we had brought back our Black Trans ancestors and wanted to meet them, so few designed a way for those to access the archive, but not everyone that used the archive had good intentions […] it was misused, hacked, re-appropriated […].”[5] This introduction points out an earlier attempt of cis-gender/white people to invade the sacred space of the Other; the burial ground is a space that some want to explore for their own profit.

In 2021 (two years after the artwork was developed), during the COVID-19 pandemic and after the BLM/TBLM movement exploded, Resurrection Lands assumes new meanings that point to the threat of obsolesce looming over digital art resulting from the over-digitalization of every art form during the lockdowns and the repercussions of using civil rights as an online trend. In Updating to Remain the Same, Wendy Chun describes how updates save things by destroying and writing over the things they resuscitate. The writer explains “what it means when media moves from the new to the habitual–when our bodies become archives of supposedly obsolescent media, streaming, updating, sharing, saving. New media as we are told exists at the bleeding edge of obsolescence. We thus forever try to catch up, updating to remain the same. Meanwhile, analytic, creative, and commercial efforts focus exclusively on the next big thing: figuring out what will spread and who will spread it the fastest.”[6]  Describing politics of colonialism and ‘otherness’, Brathwaite-Shirley’s archives attempt to protect themselves not only from the cultural politics that exploit Black Trans trauma, but also from a new reality built on consumerism dynamics. In front of a reality forged on constant updates, fast-consumerism influences the danger for ‘resurrected’ individuals to be used as a disposable commodity and later being re-buried under millions of data – created for the sustainability of the main class (and of the art luxury market).

Brathwaite-Shirley’s archive projects create a world that can resurrect and hold Black Trans ancestors. While still struggling to bring all the ancestors back to life, the archive project is already threatened by the possibility of being re-buried under millions of data once again, cancelled by constant updates. In 2021, after the lazy decision of digitalizing the world to sustain it as we know it, Brathwaite-Shirley’s artwork highlights a new invasion of privacy, of space, of storage. It symbolizes a loss of trust – there is no solidarity in exploring Black Trans experience, only personal satisfaction. While Black Trans individuals are circulating new discourses, the society they try to change is already thinking about the next big thing.


[1] Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Black Trans Archives, 2020.

[2] Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, “Dining on trauma: Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley talks trans-tourism, motherhood, & being a “Freaky Friday everyday” interview by Tamara Hart, AQNB, August 10, 2020, https://www.aqnb.com/2020/08/10/dining-on-trauma-danielle-brathwaite-shirley-on-trans-tourism-motherhood-and-being-a-freaky-friday-everyday/

[3] Meet the “Artist:Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, QUAD, last modified October 26, 2020, https://www.derbyquad.co.uk/about/news/meet-artist-danielle-brathwaite-shirley

[4] “Meet the Artist: Danielle-Brathwaite Shirley”, QUAD, last modified October 26, 2020, 54s: 1m05s, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR56AK7Cr5A

[5] Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Resurrection Lands, 2019.

[6] Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, “Summary” in Updating to Remain the Same, (MIT press), 2016. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/updating-remain-same

Towards a Speculative Future: In Conversation with Maari Sugawara

Still from Dreams Come True Very Much (animation), 2021. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

By Nawang Tsomo

Maari Sugawara is a multi-disciplinary lens-based artist whose intersectional approach and combination of research and art-making explores personal and collective memories of what constitutes Japanese-ness. She recently graduated from OCAD University’s Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design (IMAD) graduate program as “Promising New Artist” for her thesis exhibition Dreams Come True Very Much. In this work, she questions the state of the Japanese identity and how the so-called advancement of technology in Japan harms its citizens. Politicizing the personal, Sugawara pushes the boundaries of media and image-making through speculation, challenging the Eurocentric and patriarchal standards set by the Japanese nation. Now back in Tokyo, Sugawara and I have this conversation, via frequent emails, amidst the controversial Tokyo Olympics.

NT: Maari, can you discuss your background and what brought you to art-making?

MS: Growing up as a racialized, queer, Autistic, Japanese woman in England from the age of ten, issues of marginalized identities became central to my research. I have been particularly interested in what John Caughie calls the “subordinate’s double identification”[1] with see-er and seen; the pervasiveness of exploitation in capitalist and colonialist societies. This led me to become engaged with the intersection of Japanese studies, decolonial studies, gender studies, hauntology, and speculative fiction narratives in my digital medium-based art.

The intention of my ongoing project, Dreams Come True Very Much, is to point toward alternative Japanese future(s) by critically examining the sociogenic codes, which refers to how socio-political relations become materialized to form identities, towards reconstituting the category of “Japanese”. It undermines the sacrosanct position of “Japaneseness” which has been nourished by Orientalized discourses on Japanese culture and nationhood. It also centers on a critique of Japanese data-driven future(s) as being haunted by its colonial past. I illustrate how the traditional categories that are used to constitute identities are categorically interpellated and performatively constituted through discourse and suggest a departure from compartmentalizing identities.

NT: You recently completed your graduate thesis exhibition Dreams Come True Very Much. In this exhibition, consisting of several video installations, you use speculative fiction to imagine Japan in a post-Moonshot world where Japan no longer exists. Can you tell us about this narrative that you’ve created, specifically in the context of the Moonshot Research and Development program initiated by the Cabinet Office of Japan? 

MS: My works are set in the minds of the Avatar-Ms—cybernetic avatars of myself, and my narratives follow a theme of yearning and longing for “Japan(s).” The story takes place in a post-“Moonshot” future, where Japan has vanished after an unspecified man-made catastrophe; no one has seen Japan ever since. The Japanese are scattered around the world. Before Japan vanished, the government established the “Moonshot” program to create “Society 5.0,” a notion of a society that integrates cyberspace and physical space to realize economic growth. Each Japanese was suggested by the government to have ten avatars, and most Japanese multiplied themselves to “improve productivity” and become “more resistant to stress.”[2] The government uploaded individuals’ cognitive information, from birth to the point of bodily death, to machines. Such machines are programmed to think that they are the individuals. Although the program is no longer supported, the avatars live on in the virtual world—including Avatar-Ms, the ten copies of myself. In the virtual world, her cybernetic avatars dream of “Japan(s).”

The colonization of life (removing death from life), is perhaps, the ultimate form of violence.

NT: What does it mean that the avatar-Ms continue to live on virtually?

MS: The Japanese state-owned identities, forced to live forever post-“Moonshot,” are also colonized identities shaped by the Euro-American gaze and maleness. Essentially, the government is attempting to multiply Japanese national identity: with a life’s worth of data from every citizen, the Japanese state can practically eliminate the death of the Japanese people, as information lives forever—identity is information with self-awareness. The government can upload the individual’s data up to the point of their physical death to a machine that thinks it is the individual; thus, Japanese national identity lives on; it can be kept fully intact—in the sense that identities that are saved as “Japanese” data will therefore always be “Japanese”—solving the issue of the nation’s population decline without taking immigrants. In this scenario, a Japanese person, or at least a Japanese person’s identity, can work forever for the nation. The sets of data (people’s identities) will be used by the State to perform tasks. Japan is a self-proclaimed homogenous nation; this program would solidify that claim even further. The colonization of life (removing death from life), is perhaps, the ultimate form of violence.

Installation shot of When I use English: There is a Hole, Waiting to Eat Me, It’s Mouth Wide Open. Like a Vagina, 2021. Photo Courtesy of Artist.

NT: One of the most striking videos in the exhibit is When I use English: There is a Hole, Waiting to Eat Me, It’s Mouth Wide Open. Like a Vagina. Echo Comes Out. There is something painfully uncomfortable about watching a mouth move at that closeness, though I am reminded of a lifetime supply of discomfort that non-native English speakers/learners endure in order to grasp “good” English. Can you explain how this relates to Japanese identity, and how this contributes to a kind of cultural amnesia and self-Orientalization that you speak about?

MS: I was sent to England at the age of ten; my parents’ intention was for me to be educated in a “Western” way and to speak “good” English. Many in Japan believe in the necessity of mastering the English language due to its power but there is also a stagnant phenomenon within Japan that shames those with accents. I believe that this culture of shame is the sole reason why the majority of Japanese people don’t speak English at all which further motivates people’s obsession with “good” English. This is because Westernization, historically, has been seen as the equivalent of “modernization”. This is why Japan remains a country caught in the complicit opposition of being one of the first to “modernize” via Westernization in Asia, yet is still subordinate to Western countries. To sustain the imaginary superiority of Japan, Japan has also been complemented by a third party: an imaginary undesirable Asia which is underpinned by the country’s lingering asymmetrical power relations with other Asian countries. This has been re-asserted with the notion of soft power—the “Japan Brand Strategy”— a self-Orientalizing strategy propelled specifically to induce amnesia towards Japan’s wartime crimes.

How Japan aspires to be ethnically homogenous while wanting “whiteness” is also reflected in its language. For instance, Japan celebrates its ethnic purity, yet hāfus—which in most social contexts refer exclusively to Caucasian-mixed Japanese—are in many ways celebrated in mass media—a practice embedded in social norms. The term, hāfu, is in katakana (a Japanese syllabary system that Japanese textbooks explain to be for foreign loanwords). This textbook explanation regarding katakana frames Western words as “cool” while kango (Chinese-origin words) are defined as Japanese. Kango is codified in Japanese national dictionaries rather than foreign loanword dictionaries. Both the term hāfuand katakana reflect Japan’s historically changing relationships with other countries, such as the US—the dominant power in the West—and China, Japan’s recent economic-political hegemon. Such terms prove that Japan supports a dichotomous, totalizing distinction between that which is Japanese and that which is foreign in order to construct an exclusive national and cultural identity.

NT: Another interesting aspect of this work is that as a viewer and a “good” English speaker, I am confronted here by subtitles spelled out in the International Phonetic Alphabet–words that are quite frankly illegible to me. Could you talk about the significance of acknowledging this in the work?

MS: My intention was to highlight the discreet terror residing inside the acquisition of a new language, especially for ESL individuals—something that I am familiar with growing up abroad. In a standardized English context, ESL individuals’ dialects and registers are incommensurable with the hegemony of “Good English.” ESL students tend to find themselves in remedial classes in Western contexts situated in discourses that contribute to the construction of them as “lesser beings.” The subtitles spelled out in IPA adds pressure to the audience by situating them in the ESL learner’s subjectivity.

I also accidentally highlighted the experience of POC with ASD. As researchers suggest, autism continues to be underdiagnosed in BIPOC. I was diagnosed with ASD at the age of 27. I learnt that autistics fixate more on the mouth than eyes during an emotional conversation because emotionally charged topics (i.e. an English teacher demanding you to say “I saw sixty-six farmers laughing on the phone/farm in front of the mirror while checking that you are not using a Mandarin, Japanese, or Russian mouth position) place a high demand on working memory, which, when a threshold is surpassed, makes rendering information from the eye region particularly difficult.

Installation shot of Dreams Come True Very Much exhibition, 2021. Photo Courtesy of Artist.

NT: It’s interesting that you mention “indirect trauma.” I have recently been consumed with the concept of intergenerational trauma, but a particular kind–the trauma of not-knowing–that I have found myself in. For me, this trauma of not knowing resonates with how you think about 3:11 (the 2011 earthquake). Though you never physically experienced 3:11, you say that you developed an ownership over the memory of the event. How has this memory manifested over time through your work?

MS: This concept of artificial amnesia, or the trauma of not-knowing, was useful in thinking through Japanese nationalism and internalized Orientalism. This refers not only to the identities of Japanese but also diasporic identities; sometimes diasporas are coerced to assimilate or voluntarily white-wash themselves in order to survive. In terms of 3.11, for almost a decade, I had a sense of guilt for not experiencing 3.11 first-handedly. This guilt is perhaps a result of totalization of identity; but I developed a sense of ownership over my “memory” in a somewhat strategic way.

This came from an intention to counter the nationalist, male-dominant narratives embraced by Japanese media which reflects Japan’s ethnocentric and patriarchal socio-political structure, that disavows marginalized groups’ existence, as constitutive of the nation. This structure silences the subalterns—women, non-Japanese citizens, and other minority groups—to establish Japan as a country with a clean record. Japan has a history of doing that regarding its colonial history and war crimes committed in surrounding Asian countries. Through my research, I gained an understanding of the political nature of “memory” itself and that of 3.11. Memory is divergent, reiterative, and multiple. It does not exist outside of the boundaries of herstory. The official record of the 3.11 disaster is largely male-dominated, and this is also tied together with a strong socio-political pressure for Japan to erase the past of 3.11 in the name of “reconstruction.”

NT: How does the current Tokyo Olympics fit into the “Japan Brand Strategy?”

The “Japan Brand Strategy” is self-Orientalizing. It exploits Japanese popular culture through a Western-Orientalist lens. This is a mechanism for national mobilization to revitalize patriotic pride. The Olympics, or the so-called “the Reconstruction Olympics” in Japan, uses this chauvinistic nation-branding to forget the 3.11 and nuclear accident and, by doing so, it forgets the victims of the accident. The government’s use of “recovery” rhetoric or, what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism,”[3] aims to construct a particular imagined post-recovery “Japan” with a clean record. This was done through bribery and corruption. An immense amount of resources that were to be spent on the disaster-hit regions in Tohoku 3.11-affected regions were allocated towards funding the Olympics instead. What the Olympics, which is a super spreader disaster, is revealing, is the utter inability of Japan’s nation-state to protect its own citizens. It shattered the public’s trust in the government almost entirely. Over 80% of Japanese oppose the Olympics this summer. The Olympics also shows how the economic driven “Japan Brand Strategy” not only disavows the existence of marginalized groups as constitutive of the nation, but puts the safety of the entire nation at risk.

nstallation shot of Inhabiting Distant Ghosts, 2021. Photo Courtesy of Artist.

NT: Language is certainly a significant theme throughout this exhibit; from the way you satirize it in When I use English: There is a Hole to your own use of the English language within the elaborate titles of your work. But I am also thinking here of Inhabiting Distant Ghosts, a moving diptych portraying two bodies of seemingly calm waters. In this work, it is your own writing that confronts the viewer with an underlying fear that haunts Japan. You write:

“There has always been a ghost that haunts those who forget and those who leave rice in their bowls.

Perhaps it is Japan.

I feel its presence.

In the morning, the teacups are clean,

the dust on the shelves is wiped,

and the garbage is neatly put away.

At night, I can hear the click-clack of footsteps

echoing as if something is walking through a hectic station.

Sometimes, it leaves the floor drenched,

the shelves overturned.

It makes the doors rattle

when there is no wind

and occasionally shakes the ground.”

Could you tell us more about this collective fear, what this does to Japanese identity, and where you see yourself within this collective fear?

MS: I came across this term, “collective, biological fear” during a conversation with theorist and performance artist Ayumi Goto. It is the collective fear of earthquakes, tsunamis, and radioactive substances released into the sea. These fears haunt the people who experienced 3.11, directly or not. Perhaps, it is the strongest biological bond I have with Japan. This fear, for me, is also tied with intense haji (the concept of public shaming) in Japan which especially has an overwhelming power over women. Japanese women’s sensitivity towards shaming is not natural but is constructed: Japanese schools imbue rigorous notions of propriety into children from an early age, especially to girls. Such sensitivity to public shaming is so intense in Japan that the imaginary gaze—which takes the form of a ghost in my poem—alone tends to generate shame which occasionally leads to self-censorship. What underlies haji is the code whereby individuals are expected to not violate norms.

 NT: What’s next for you Maari?

I’m currently working on a VR/AR/XR project which is an extension of Dreams Come True Very Much. My concern regarding the uprising of ultra-nationalism in Japan and the data-colonized future became twofold, both regarding the colonial past haunting the future. I’m seeking methods capable of breaking silence and producing catharsis, by incorporating contingency of selves into immersive, simulated experiences. I also wish to generate an experience to examine how the user’s understanding of language re-adjusts itself to adapt to a language system that this preordained artificial circumstance presents.

Dreams Come True Very Much is available for viewing on Sugawara’s website. She will also be screening her work as part of the upcoming 2021 Vector Festival at the Toronto Outdoor Picture Show. The project will be exhibited at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre as part of Nuit Blanche 2022 and will be her first solo show in Canada. Currently based in Tokyo, Sugawara is a student at the NEWVIEW SCHOOL JAPAN, where she is experimenting with xR (extended reality) and exploring 3-D space using VR/AR/MR technology. She will present new work at the end of the year.


[1] John Caughie, Playing at being American: Games and tactics In logics of television, ed. P. Mellencamp: (London: British Film Institute, 1990), 44-58.

[2] Cabinet Office, “Moonshot International Symposium Initiative Report,” (December 2019). 13. accessed from https://www8.cao.go.jp/cstp/stmain/mspaper3.pdf

[3] The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. (2021). Naomi Klein. Picador.


Anique Jordan’s Nowing: A Political History of the Present

Anique Jordan, Untitled (2021).Nowing: A Political History of the Present installation shot. Patel Brown Gallery. Courtesy of Patel Brown and the artist.

Patel Brown Gallery, Toronto

May 15 to June 9, 2021

CONTACT Photography Festival Exhibition

By Danielle Taschereau Mamers

Masked, sanitized, and alone, I entered Anique Jordan’s Nowing: A Political History of the Present (2021) at Patel Brown and was met with works of radically different scales. To my right, six Toronto Star newspapers framed in white lined the wall, while eight massive steel silhouettes hung in a suspended v-formation to my left. Uncertain about the steel expanses and drawn into the more familiar task of reading, I turned to the newspapers. An archive of moments from the past year, the white space between headlines, images, and text was filled with handwritten notes that offered an account of the present contesting those reported in the paper.

The questions, lists, and quotations that fill the newspaper pages assert the knowledge and varied affects of experiences of racialized communities. Jordan’s annotative strategy asserts that there is more to say than what is being said, more to ask than is being asked. In doing so, the Toronto Star series—also titled Nowing—forwards Jordan’s ongoing practice of staging interventions in archival processes that erase Black histories from public consciousness. Nowing not only draws its title from Fred Moten’s work but also its method: “to look with love at things.”[1] The annotated pages introduce practices of paying precise attention and reclaiming authority as acts of care in the face of ongoing grief, as well as the possibilities of urgent creation in response to racial violence and deeply unequal experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anique Jordan, Essential, 2021, Archival print on Canson Baryta, 17 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Patel Brown.

Anique Jordan, Edge of Town, 2021, Archival print on Canson Baryta, 17 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Patel Brown.


The Nowing series features photographs of a selection of front pages of the Toronto Star newspaper, taken above the fold from dates ranging from March 30, 2020, to January 10, 2021. Each front page is annotated in black ballpoint pen, with questions and quotations filling the white space between headlines, articles, and images. Drawn from Jordan’s reflections and conversations with friends, the annotations are an archive of ongoing political analysis, unfolding in situ: the images are the accumulated labour of sifting through public policy and mainstream news media discourse from situated experiences. To read the annotations, I stood closer to the framed images than feels appropriate, sometimes craning my neck to the side to see the questions and quotations written sideways along the paper’s borders. As I inched closer to one image, I felt glad to be here in person rather than accessing the work through the gallery’s digital viewing room. It is difficult to imagine reading these annotations carefully without being present with them, without being able to twist my body in the ways the legibility of the compositions requires.

Essential, which uses the 30 March 2020 issue, introduces key questions that recur throughout the series: “How do we deal with the ‘now’ of death? Where do we put things we ought to remember but would rather forget? How do we make sense of something that we know will be historicized but requires immediate attention in order to find a way forward?” In subsequent images, Jordan’s annotations probe the uneven exposures to and techniques of surviving the pandemic in Toronto. Responding to the shifting public health policies of last spring that introduced masking, social distancing, and requested residents to stay home, Jordan’s annotations remind of the challenges poverty poses to staying safe. People still need to work, still need to ride buses, still need to survive in jobs that are labeled “essential,” but workers are treated as disposable. Identifying the gap between public health protocols and the racialized publics struggling to comply, Jordan reflects, “I feel like the province is saying to us, ‘why don’t they just listen?’ [and] I keep thinking, “why don’t you?’” The reflections, questions, and demands Jordan adds to the Toronto Star pages remind us that, as residents of the city, we may all be going through a pandemic, but we are not going through the same pandemic and are not exposed or protected in the same ways.

Anique Jordan, Nowing installation shot, 2021. Patel Brown Gallery. Courtesy of Patel Brown and the artist.

The Nowing series is the most recent iteration of Jordan’s strategy for working with archives. Many of her projects confront seemingly closed texts—from newspapers to municipal planning documents—with a strategy of remediation. Remediation is a practice of representing one medium in another, creating opportunities both for articulating how the represented medium operates and for attending to how shifts in format and materiality affect the use and interpretation of a remediated image, text, or document. Newspapers, public planning documents, and other archival forms that appear in the works selected for the show are frequently treated as immediate—that is, a direct representation or direct way of accessing information that is not transformed through the processes of recording, circulating, and archiving. In Jordan’s hands and the space of public exhibition, the Star and other pieces of media and policy archives appear as partial. Jordan’s annotations generate “elaborated images,” re-inscribing ownership of Black histories and affirm community knowledge over dominant narrations of the political present.[2] Like other forms of elaborated images that disrupt claims to representational authority, these works enact a decolonizing, future-oriented politics of refusal. By annotating and transforming documents into photographs, Jordan recovers the materiality of news and policy documents, probing how unjust worlds are actively made. Insisting on an extended space of engagement, these works also demonstrate how such worlds might be unmade through practices of looking, narration, and refusal.

Like other forms of elaborated images that disrupt claims to representational authority, these works enact a decolonizing, future-oriented politics of refusal.

Anique Jordan. Ban’ yuh Belly series installation shot. Patel Brown Gallery. Courtesy of Patel Brown and the artist.

The Nowing series emerges from a specific place and constellation of relationships, taking on the newspaper’s claim to be a contemporary record of events and analysis—one version of the city’s political landscape. These works expand the practice of record keeping. Jordan refuses to let the nowness or present history of Toronto’s Black and racialized communities be erased from this moment. The reflections, questions, and demands Jordan adds to the Toronto Star pages form a connective tissue between the discourse articulated in the Star and deeper social, economic, and political contexts. For example, in Codes—created with the 02 August 2020 issue—Jordan elaborates on a map of COVID-19 hot spots in the city, using her black pen to outline Neighbourhood Improvement districts. These priority areas were identified by the City of Toronto as needing additional resources to combat high crime rates and lack of services. Continuing to make visible the interrelation of virus exposure and economic abandonment, in Future (from the 10 January 2021 issue), Jordan asks how these areas became hot spots and why they weren’t adequately prioritized before the pandemic. The transformation of the newspaper into first a space of dialogic encounters and then an exhibited record demonstrates the multiplicity of political presents and pandemic experiences in Toronto. Rather than a banal nod to diverse perspectives, Jordan’s annotations record how the policies enacted in one political present—the present of white wealth, gentrified neighbourhoods, and relative protection—have profound impacts on the political presents of hers and other racialized communities across the city.

Anique Jordan. Ban’ yuh Belly series installation shot. Patel Brown Gallery. Courtesy of Patel Brown and the artist.

The Nowing series builds on assertions made by the Ban’ yuh belly series, exhibited in the gallery’s second room. In five self-portraits, Jordan’s steady gaze looks ahead, meeting neither the viewer nor the documents pinned to the black wall behind her. Collected documents point to a history of exclusions and abandonments: the Malvern town plan from the 1960s that excluded a commercial centre, newspaper clippings reporting on gun violence and changes to carding policies, and a handwritten list of administrative language and racial epithets that normalize and trivialize anti-Black violence. Jordan has described the portraits as documenting “the design of structural violence in racialized communities across Toronto.”[3] In addition to displaying this archive, the images ask about the human toll of living through inhumane city planning, ongoing gun violence, and grinding racialized aggressions. Discussing the series with photographer Michèle Pearson Clarke, Jordan reflects that the work affirms her community’s ongoing grief, “giving a place for that loss.”[4]

Future, the final image in the Toronto Star series, continues a line of questioning that moves through the Ban’ yuh belly images and many of Jordan’s previous works. Written and circled in black pen, Jordan writes, “Who gets the right to think of a future?” As I looked at each cover, moving chronologically through the annotated archive, I turned and faced perhaps part of Jordan’s response to her own questions: eight silhouettes cut from raw, grey steel, each nine feet high, suspended from the ceiling with their feet just skimming the concrete gallery floor. The untitled series was created from portraits of Black artists and art workers taken during Mas’ (2016), a performance Jordan mounted in the Art Gallery of Ontario where artists and community members filled the gallery’s central Walker Court, moving in a minimalist choreography as the artist read out the names of Black ancestors drawn from census records and of more recent deaths by gun violence. The steel figures are an archive of the performance—itself a powerful assertion of Black lives and histories in the white space of the gallery. I found the shift in scale from the Toronto Star and Ban’ yuh belly works to the silhouettes abrupt, as were the blank expanses of grey steel in relation to the specificity of Jordan’s handwriting and profile of the two series of photographs. Drawing Jordan’s past performances into relation with the image works, perhaps the figures perform the presence of a few of those individuals who are already claiming their right to think and create futures. Extending beyond human scale, these figures find their precursor in arming by clara (2017), where Jordan used steel silhouettes on a similar scale to mount a monument to Black bodies, survival strategies, and creativity.

The expansive presence of the silhouettes draws attention to how the show presents multiple contexts and structures of violence and unequal exposures to vulnerability, but the show does not make a spectacle of suffering bodies. Jordan protects herself and her community from gazes like mine—white gazes, more insulated from the violence the works document. Bodily autonomy is asserted in other, less-spectacular ways. Jordan’s handwriting is a trace left behind from her hands as they moved across the surface of the newspapers, a record of bodies of her and her community held together in their analysis of urgent political conditions. Her profile in the Ban’ yuh belly photographs is an insistent and challenging presence against an archive of abandonment. Amid the silhouettes, a community fills the room and carries forward Jordan’s challenge. The figures fill in the white space of the gallery, like the annotations that fill the white space of the newspaper pages. Each of the works included in the show activates a technique of making present, of filling in the absences created from the erasure of Black lives and histories from the city’s archives, policy, and public consciousness.


[1] Fred Moten, “Black optimism/Black operation” (presentation, Anxiety, Urgency, Outrage, Hope…: A Conference on Political Feeling, University of Chicago, 19 October 2007).

[2] Laurence Butet-Roch and Deanna Del Veccio, “Elaborated Images as Decolonial Photographic Praxis” (presentation, Visual Research for Social Change conference, online, 15 April 2021).

[3] Anique Jordan, “Anique Jordan in Conversation with Joanna Joachim” (presentation, Discourse in Motion symposium, Départment d’histoire de l’art UQAM, Arprim, and Artexte Montreal, 29 November 2019, recording available online).

[4] Anique Jordan and Michèle Pearson Clarke, “‘Where Does Art Get To Live?’: A Conversation Between Anique Jordan and Michèle Pearson Clarke,” Momus, 30 May 2019, online.

BLOOMDOOMROOM: Face to face with the slow apocalypse

BLOOMDOOMROOM

the plumb

March 12 – April 8, 2021

BLOOMDOOMROOM installation shot, documentation by Alison Postma, courtesy of the plumb. 2021.

By Angel Callander

One prominent outgrowth from the beginning of last year was the rush from European intellectuals to contextualize a burgeoning global health crisis for a frightened global public. Notably, Bruno Latour and Slavoj Žižek connected the pandemic to its already existing relatives in climate and economic crises. Giorgio Agamben, on the other hand, was heavily criticized by colleagues and journalists for his reactionary take on the false choice between health and privacy—neither mutually exclusive nor binary opposites—decrying quarantine as a loss of freedom (proceeding from a cynical and individualist definition of ‘freedom’).[1] Žižek’s book Pandemic!, an expansion on his mid-March essay “Monitor and Punish? Yes, Please!”, was offered for free pre-orders at the end of the same month, and available for eBook download by mid-April. This rush to add multiple voices to dissect a new crisis is characteristic of our oversaturated information economy within a larger system of excess.

Even so, it was smart for leftist thinkers to be quick in shaping a straightforward narrative that connected the dots from systemic exploitation to the Sixth Mass Extinction and something as (quasi-)unpredictable as a pandemic. By attempting to mediate our material processes through knowledge, there was a fundamental truth emerging about how regular people, particularly in the working class, are increasingly broken down to maintaining the bare minimum, to the fight for sheer survival. Horizons of understanding and possibility, cycles of growth and recovery, are all often forestalled by desperation. Solidarity—with each other and our environments—is clouded by obligation and discord.

The group show BLOOMDOOMROOM takes up a response to these problems. Described as “an exhibition about flowering, fruiting, ecological fall-out, late-stage environmental capitalism and art at the end of days,” the show adopts a unique approach in the ecosystem of art shows about climate anxiety and slow apocalypse. On view at the plumb gallery in Toronto from March 12 – April 8, 2021, partially during a spring lockdown, the exhibition uses these themes to tease out the necessary symbiotic relationship of vitality and entropy in all life, aspects of the fundamental dialectics in which all things are constantly in a dance with their own contradictions. It accentuates both the human and non-human dimensions in tandem,showing plant and animal life as equal agents in creative endeavours, while the human dimension fades into the background, revealing itself only through artifacts.

Zooming both in and out, the works in the show invoke larger philosophical and political questions as well as personal inventories of being in the world presently, conjuring a darkness without nihilism or despair.

Contrary to the didactic and moralizing strategies of large institutional shows like AGO’s Anthropocene in 2018, which seek to show ecological ruins that elicit feelings of despair—while also being beholden to not offending the capital interests of museum donors—BLOOMDOOMROOM benefits from the DIY artist-run model, allowing for a more autonomous approach. Zooming both in and out, the works in the show invoke larger philosophical and political questions as well as personal inventories of being in the world presently, conjuring a darkness without nihilism or despair.

Unsurprisingly, Anthropocene did not point to capitalism, instead vaguely referencing “how we, individually and collectively, are leaving a human signature on our world.”[2] Far be it from a large institution to do so, it is probably high time to dispel with the narrative that naming the system is radical, or that the responsibility for causing and consequently solving the crisis should be equally placed at the feet of every person on earth. Accepting that climate change is not just anthropogenic, but, to use Jason W. Moore’s word, capitalogenic (“made by capital”)[3], it is more apt to shift the focus in a different direction. BLOOMDOOMROOM carves out a space to contemplate these multifaceted relationships, aesthetics of transformation, and the value of creatively interrogating the present.


HaeAhn Kwon, The Baroness Model. 1874, 2021. Documentation by Alison Postma, courtesy of the plumb.

HaeAhn Kwon’s The Baroness Model. 1874 (2021) consists of an open suitcase with a working pond pump and small fountain inside, attached to meandering latex tubing and extension cords. As the fountain thoughtlessly dribbles into the suitcase, I imagine an abandoned airport strewn with long-neglected luggage. At once deliberate and involuntary, it is a strange relic. Describing her practice as recombinations of everyday objects, Kwon uses these items to emphasize a tension between our culture of excess and the ingenuity that emerges out of crises. This work emblematizes a certain feeling throughout the show, as though documenting not a human civilization as such, but its legacy through strange, disembodied artifacts, repurposed and repossessed by non-human entities and the passage of time.


Alex Tedlie-Stursberg, Woolly Marker, 2018. Documentation by Alison Postma, courtesy of the plumb. 2021.

Woolly Marker (2018) by Alex Tedlie-Stursberg lingers across the room, producing a similar impression. A tall abstract figure made with a mud-like texture, adorned with tufts of white fur and an artificial schefflera branch, the sculpture has the aura of something made with a distinct purpose and left behind long ago. The neon eyes of Colin Miner’s Untitled (red eye) (2017), one at each end of the room, along with sets of amphibious eyes peering out of Sarah Davidson’s paintings along the walls, follow and keep watch like portraits of ageless mystics as non-human stewards for the space.

Brennan J. Kelly, SUM, 2021, publication, 11 3/8” x 14 7/8.” Documentation by Alison Postma, courtesy of the plumb.

SUM, a broadsheet published by Brennan J. Kelly and available to take away, acts as a companion and sub-exhibition to the show through an archival object. Featuring works by Shannon Garden-Smith, Alex Tedlie-Stursberg, Sarah Davidson, Sonya Ratkay, an interview with HaeAhn Paul Kwon Kajander, and a recipe by Mohammed Rezaei, among other texts and printed works, the publication provides an alternative presentation space for creative experiments. In the same DIY model as the plumb itself, together they demonstrate the types of creative ecologies available outside of the institution.

Susannah van der Zaag, Gloriosa and Hellebore, 2021, Inkjet print on archival paper.16” x 14” framed.
Documentation by Alison Postma, courtesy of the plumb.
Susannah van der Zaag, Untitled arrangement, 2021, Documentation by Alison Postma, courtesy of the plumb.

Susannah van der Zaag contributed a series of photographic prints and a floral arrangement to the exhibition. A farmer and florist, as well as a multidisciplinary artist working in photography and ceramics, Van der Zaag has expressed her mixed feelings about making a living that revolves around the consumption of nature, and the demands for perfection from something so diverse and imperfect in service of a huge aesthetic industry such as floristry. Her prints play out this tension by composing plants she grows with less traditionally photogenic items, like bread, driftwood, and a cracked vase, while the large floral arrangement is left to decay and dry out in the gallery in front of where they hang.

Latour discusses the plight of a Dutch tulip grower, interviewed for the news in an emotionally wrought state at having to discard several tonnes of tulips, as fewer customers around the world meant fewer shipping opportunities. I recall a local news story at the time of a nursery in the Niagara region with the same bent, in which a certain shame about discarding beautiful things—things of nature—meets the fear of economic collapse. Latour notes a camera shot behind the florist of the tulips under artificial lights, not growing in any soil, in preparation to be shipped to the airport and flown on commercial air-freighters. He asks plainly about whether it is useful to maintain this model for producing and selling flowers (of course, it isn’t), following with a phrase that has deeply resonated: “Injustice is not about the redistribution of the fruits of progress, but about the very manner in which the planet is made fruitful.”[4] I would contend it is both in equal measure, accounting for multiple dimensions of our capitalogenic crises in both the environment and the economy.

Since the early to mid-2010s, there has been an influx of texts within the canon of Western science and academia (such as Timothy Morton’s Dark Ecology, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World, Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think, and much of Donna Haraway’s oeuvre from the 1980s onward) that encourage a well-rounded, fundamentally anti-capitalist understanding of ecology as the solution to environmental crisis, invoking the knowledge Indigenous peoples have had for thousands of years. Nevertheless, the prevalence of these ethical discourses has not done much to sway policy makers. Because we live in the empire, theory in and of itself is non-threatening; it is only when knowledge resonates to precipitate a mass movement for serious changes that those with power may have their hands forced.

I have been thinking more about the text Desert (2011), written by a self-proclaimed British anarchist in their late 40s, but otherwise anonymously, and titled as a double entendre: one, detailing the rapid desertification of more regions on Earth through global warming, and two, the desire to desert the society that created this crisis as such. One particular line stands out to me within the scope of this exhibition: “Our lives can be better, freer, and wilder than this… we do our utmost to make them so, not in the ever-after of post-revolutionary heaven, but now.”[5] There are always small opportunities to make each other’s lives more liveable, even amidst collective anxieties and despair. In Pandemic!, Žižek describes an ecological public as “a group of bodies, some human, most not, that are subjected to harm.”[6] Hopefully, we have moved beyond internalizing this as true even if Western society at large does not reflect this understanding. BLOOMDOOMROOM takes this as a starting point, evaluating natural life in its many incongruities, and with the implied viewpoint that recognizing our larger entanglements is the most substantive. 


[1] See Latour: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/downloads/P-202-AOC-ENGLISH_1.pdf; and Agamben: https://www.journal-psychoanalysis.eu/coronavirus-and-philosophers/

[2] https://ago.ca/exhibitions/anthropocene

[3] Jason W. Moore, “Capitalocene & Planetary Justice,” Maize Magazine 6 (Summer 2019), https://jasonwmoore.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Moore-The-Capitalocene-and-Planetary-Justice-2019-Maize.pdf

[4] Bruno Latour, “What protective measures can you think of so we don’t go back to the pre-crisis production mode?” p. 3, http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/downloads/P-202-AOC-ENGLISH_1.pdf

[5] Anonymous, Desert (2011), p. 59

[6] Slavoj Žižek, Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World (OR Books, 2020), p. 97