Reflections: Plug In ICA

Akimbo is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2024 with a monthly series that draws on our rich archive of clients, critics, and contributors to reflect on the accomplishments of the past and look toward future possibilities. Our third installment features Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art.

Plug In ICA’s Executive Director Allison Yearwood answered our questions.

Plug In ICA building at 460 Portage Avenue

What are some of the gallery’s highlights from the past twenty-five years?

Stan Douglas, Luanda-Kinshasa, 2013, video still from film installation

One highlight that may go unnoticed because of our name was our transition from an artist-run centre to an ICA in the early 2000s. This honour comes with the fact that we are one of the oldest ICAs in Canada at 52 years young.  Past exhibitions of note include Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, Buffalo Boy and Belle Sauvage, My Winnipeg, Entering the Landscape, Patrick Cruz: Titig Kayumanggi (Brown Gaze), Send Your Child to Art School, and Luanda-Kinshasa. We are also proud of ongoing projects such as our Prairie Art Book Fair, Interpreting [Interrupting] Youth, Summer Institute, and STAGES Biennial programming. Another highlight was that the touring exhibition I’m Not Your Kinda Princess with our commissioned installation Stones From My Kokum’s Garden led to Lori Blondeau’s nomination for the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Art.

What has changed for the gallery over that time, and what is your current programming philosophy?

Jonathan Jones, untitled (infinity), 2011, installation from the exhibition Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years

The most considerable change is who is considered “allowed” in the gallery canon. Those who could not be invited to sit at the table are now seated. Additionally, there has been major progression within the sector in understanding the diverse range of experiences, voices, and pluralities in which one comes to their practice or worldviews. Our programming philosophy expands on these ideals, fusing the dialogue of what has been critical and what is becoming critical within contemporary art. We care about developing relationships with the community and art practitioners at all levels, and making space for art production while maintaining the humanity of artists and curators. Responding respectfully through artistic expression is a key goal for those we share space with.

Describe a couple of your upcoming exhibitions that you’re particularly excited about.

Judy Radul, Live Lecture Streaming Podium: I am Not a Cat, 2024, installation view

Our current exhibition, Judy Radul’s Live Lecture Streaming Podium: I am Not a Cat, is a real feat of innovation, bridging technological devices, machine learning, performance, and current social conventions in a single show. It is an exciting collaboration with an under-lauded BC-based artist showing in Winnipeg for the first time in her over-thirty-year career. She was also the lead faculty for our inaugural Winter Institute. Having Judy unpack her exhibition’s complex themes alongside other faculty members was a return to one of Plug In’s core activities: the interrogation of contemporary art.

A Place of Memory: Contexts of Existence, curated by Irene Campolmi and originating from Musee d’art de Joliette, is an upcoming exhibition that will extend into our next Summer Institute program. In response to renowned Canadian artist Jean-Paul Riopelle, Campolmi examines how context is informed by time, place, and memory. The show will encompass a renewed focus on women and nonbinary voices in contemporary art, featuring artists Jane Jin Kaisen, Linda Lamignan, Dala Nasser, Silvia Rosi, and Samara Sallam – which is very exciting for us.

What is your vision for the future of the Canadian art scene?

Interpreting [Interrupting] Youth program photo

My desire is to see more Black Canadian Diasporic artists not only in the Canadian art scene but globally.  There is an overrepresentation of the African American experience in ideas surrounding “Blackness”, and there is a hidden story that needs to be shared with everyone to understand better that racialized experiences are not monoliths. We all have to do the labour to comprehend others’ diverse stories and representations better. Exercising intersectionality and exploring the complexities of dialogue will inevitably strengthen the sector’s overall ability to compartmentalize challenging perspectives and allow us to be vulnerable together.