School for the Movement of the Technicolo(u)r People at Gallery TPW, Toronto
By Letticia Cosbert Miller
Whether you blame it on Virgo season, grant application cycles, or the beginning of the scholastic calendar – the busyness of fall always sends me into a tailspin, and this one particularly so. What with Toronto’s inaugural citywide Biennial, Nuit Blanche and its continued Scarborough incumbency, and, not to mention, the dozens of independent exhibitions opening throughout the month, choosing an after-work or weekend cultural activity is an exhausting exercise in itself. I’m not going to tell you how to spend your precious leisure hours but Gallery TPW’s School for the Movement of the Technicolo(u)r People offered me a dose of art that is just the antidote for my autumnal anxiety.
This is the sort of exhibition that resists explanation and possibly even description (after all, it’s billed as a public school/dance studio/project/exhibition/artist exchange), but it is my job to try. In its layout, aesthetics, edifice, and composition SMTP resists many of the conventions you will encounter on your art excursions this fall. First of all, you will walk into the gallery and wonder whether you should not be there, whether it’s a construction site, whether a condo is going up and the gallery coming down. You will be asked to take off your shoes. There will be carpets (brown, almost exactly the colour of my skin), black mirrors, face mounted photographs, and overlapping videos. There will be nothing in the way of “beauty” (read: neocolonial-white-heteronormative-patriarchal-beauty); instead there will only be shadows, gaping holes, banked lumber, empty chairs, and post-it notes with fragments of MLK.
As I walked around the spaces (there are many) I tried but failed to make up my mind. What is this? Why is it such a mess? No, it doesn’t work. Wait a minute, I really love that. Oh, I see. But why here? I had been reduced to some sort of artworld TikTok Kombucha Girl. This is not the kind of show that tells you what it is. And I’m not certain that it is anything without the dancers and movement artists who quite literally created this space and animate it weekly with workshops and performances. Speaking of which, SMTP is helmed by California-based dance artist and professor taisha pagget in collaboration with visual artists Ashely Hunt, Kim Zumpfe, Seika Boye, and WXPT Toronto – a dance company whose members are Ella Cooper, Rodney Diverlus, Bishara Elmi, Aisha Sasha John, Ashley “Colours” Perez, and Danielle Smith. The Toronto faction features names of dancers and movement artists you will certainly recognize from Summerworks performances, various Black community organizing groups, or attending workshops throughout the city.
SMTP clearly states its motives for literally destroying, rebuilding, and inhabiting TPW’s space: “What is a Black. Dance. Curriculum. Today?” And “dance,” as you will quickly deduce, does not only refer to the repertoire of human movement in the performing arts, but also the unpredictability and fluidity of the Black experience in Canada and America. Whether the exhibition’s motives are achieved and to what degree, I will leave the deciphering and decision-making to you. As I’ve implied, you ought to attend a workshop to get the full experience (I will, anxiety and all). What is much more interesting, imo , is what this public school/dance studio/project/exhibition/artist exchange is trying to be, and what it is attempting to reveal about the ways we (in the contemporary arts) use space. How far are we willing to go to make space? What are we willing to give up? What are we willing to demolish? What will we rebuild?
Letticia Cosbert Miller is a Toronto-based writer and editor, and is currently the Director of Koffler.Digital at the Koffler Centre of the Arts. She 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.