Productive Discomfort at Xpace Cultural Centre, Toronto

Productive Discomfort at Xpace (presented in partnership with Myseum of Toronto) is the culmination of five workshops that curator and artist facilitator Lauren Cullen led this past fall. She invited seven artists (Susan Blight, Heidi Cho, Kaythi, Seiji, Anne Rucchetto, Jessica Watkin, and James Yeboah) to learn rug-hooking techniques. The workshops took place across the city in various spaces (in bars and coffee shops, on campus). Beyond exploring with technique, each artist was tasked with creating an “unwelcome mat.” This is the idea that first drew me into this exhibition. What if the first thing you encountered when visiting someone’s home was an object that made a different kind of declaration, one that unsettled and reminded you of the discomfort many spaces cause?

Heidi Cho, Recently, 2019, hooked rug (photo: Polina Teif)

All of the rugs on display explore a personal discomfort unique to each artist. Some are hung from the ceiling, others on walls. It is difficult to decide where to begin. A simple, monochromatic, text-based rug draws my attention first. This one is by Heidi Cho, whose interdisciplinary practice typically includes mediums such as silk-screening, animation, and drawing. Her rug explores vulnerabilities from her childhood and adult life, and functions both as an exhortation and questionnaire to herself and the viewer. Are you doing the inner child work? Remember to honour boundaries! Pleasure? Pleasure! 

James Yeboah, Sankofa: The Pursuit of Ancestral Memory II, 2019, hooked rug (photo: Polina Teif)

Another rug hangs, almost obstructively, in the foreground of Cho’s. This one is by the emerging Toronto-based painter James Yeboah. In 2017, in his first solo exhibition, his paintings explored Black masculinity and its decolonization by making space for the vulnerability of Black boys and men. For Productive Discomfort his rug foregrounds his relationship to Ghanaian culture, weaving (hooking) the word AKWAABA with Kente cloth into his rug. Akwaaba is the Twi word for “welcome” and, as Yeboah indicates, his rug is made for and with the African diaspora in mind.

Reading through Cullen’s exhibition essay, I am struck by the activities the artists did as a group, the many locations of their workshops, and their collaboration. The curator writes of field trips and discussions that will make you want to start your own rug-hooking community club, but, most importantly, it will remind you of the importance of surrounding yourself with people who make you feel welcome.

Productive Discomfort continues until March 30.
Xpace Cultural Centre: 
The gallery is accessible.

Letticia Cosbert is a Toronto-based writer and editor, and is currently the Director of Koffler.Digital at the Koffler Centre of the Arts. Letticia studied Classics, earning a B.A. from the University of Toronto, and an M.A. from Western University, where she specialized in erotic Latin poetry. Her writing and editorial work has been featured in Ephemera Magazine, Sophomore Magazine, The Ethnic Aisle, and publications by Gardiner Museum, YTB Gallery, Xpace, and Trinity Square Video. She can be followed on Instagram @prettiletti.