tofeelclose at AKA, online

By Kim Neudorf

tofeelclose is an ongoing exhibition of digital commissions curated by Tarin Dehod and organized by Dehod and Derek Sandbeck of AKA artist-run in Saskatoon. The premise for the exhibition speaks of a space of reflection where artists can “lay bare obsessions, wade through the mundane,” and “look for ways to feel close.” Many of the contributing artists (twelve as of the writing of this review) work in collaborations expanding from initial conversations and shared interests towards sprawling pseudo-archives, while others focus on singular digital and research-based work that branches out of or scales down larger, long-term projects. For the most part, they find ways to adapt to the conditions of an online format, even when creating alternatives to artwork yet to be realized in physical spaces.  

Jaime Black and Lindsay Delaronde, When Land and Body Merge, 2020, video still

Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay’s still-life photographs reference the continual appearance of Saint Sebastian through art history. In an accompanying audio narration, the artist maintains that the enduring “accessories” of Sebastian’s martyrdom, such as the arrows which pierce his body, are visceral moments of touch in contrast with an expression and pose both “pained” and “blank.” This obliquely picks up on how the photographic tributes transmute those fleshy “points of contact” into restrained, measured gestures wherein corporeality is decidedly absent.

Less being-with-at-a-distance, Carrie Allison’s audio recording of her beadworking process places the listener within the space, texture, and rhythm of making and working. Surfaces, movements, materials, and the surrounding birds, air, wind, and faraway traffic are made audibly and vulnerably real. As sounds shift and fluctuate, the supposed “silence” of making vibrates with drama felt within the body, removing internalized expectations of time measured by devices and routines that contribute to disembodiment. There is a remarkable sense of sound-as-movements becoming sentences, continued by wind and birds, that seems to mirror the existing collaborations and living rhythms of being in and with land. Katherine Boyer’s videos of skies recorded in real time and Erika DeFreitas’ attempts to hold and capture the movement of light further embody ideas of being in relationship to the changing and shifting nature of natural phenomena. Jaime Black and Lindsay Delaronde’s collaboration explores these relationships in poetry and performance, wherein the movement of bodies are also the movements of the ground, air, light, and trees. Black and Delaronde mirror, respond to, and enact the shape and presence of the land and each other.

Eve Tagny and Emii Alrai, Adornment, 2020, video still

Eve Tagny (an occasional contributor to Akimblog) and Emii Alrai’s collaboration finds points of contact within the enduring ideas and activities surrounding the garden and landscape. Through performance, research, and writing, which the artists reflect on in video conversations, specific strategies of disrupting colonial and capitalist systems of value emerge, such as questioning the categorization of and access to nature and gardening, and investigations into what histories are removed or hidden within the idea of landscape. The artists reflect on their own relationships to land, such as feeling emotionally attached to it despite its historical connections to racism and exploitative labour. They explore the idea of carrying and inheriting landscape through one’s body, making connections to diasporic existence within shifting and unstable ideas of “home.” The search for a way to enact this plurality is particularly poignant in a video performance by Tagny, wherein the artist slowly moves in gestures that mimic a maypole. In these movements, Tagny speaks of ways to both materialize and transmit new relationships to nature and land by “becoming something else.”

Working through the vast amount of research, artworks, and textual conversations of Maggie Groat, Jessica Groome, and Tiziana La Melia is an undertaking curiously at odds with the ofttimes impactful and generous output offered by their collaboration. A grid of images leads to thirty-three collections of further research within a meandering spectrum of ideas about nature as found, utilized, or returned to in ways spanning recovery and connection, to privileged activity in the midst of a pandemic, to flowers as queer emblems of survival. A conversation begins to emerge about what gardens are for and who designates these values, as well as what it might mean for those of Settler-Colonial ancestry to try to cultivate and introduce non-native plants to the land. In contrast to Tagny and Alrai’s approach to researching gardens and land, Groat, Groome, and La Melia’s project is largely taken up by conversations about the day-to-day practical and logistical labor of gardening in suburban/urban settings, as well as associated texts and ideas often buried within opaque or decontextualized fragments, thus becoming part of a general aesthetic of research as atmosphere. One collection, designated as a “LONG LONG DISTANCE POEM” includes collage, photography, drawing, painting, textiles, found objects, and instructions – all taking off in their own directions. The line, “images and garden related art stuff ex from garden gossip,” emerges, echoing an overwhelming, perhaps unintentional, thematic of circuitous content creating an obscuring affect that often feels both insular and inaccessible.

Shellie Zhang concludes the artists’ commissions with historical images and text meant as a prelude to a postponed exhibition in AKA’s physical space. Resounding questions emerging from Zhang’s research explore erased histories, such as when historical images, motifs, and symbols are utilized by institutions that fail to do the work to dismantle harmful legacies, therefore reinforcing messages and narratives of othering and racial violence. Zhang’s texts focus on instances such as how the CDC’s use of a Chinese motif contributed to a narrative of fear directed against Chinese and East-Asian communities surrounding the arrival of Covid-19. She stresses that this is part of a much larger history and culture of erasure and xenophobia, and that it is necessary to practice an attunement with these histories to counter the way museums and corporations continue to define and profit from those narratives. Zhang’s points of contact most closely align with Tagny and Alrai, wherein to feel close in this moment, especially as artists, is inextricably tied to questions about what that means, who has access, and how we might “see how to live with one another” by closely engaging with how “we,” our homes, and our values are simultaneously “in motion” in the present while part of a much larger series of stories and visual histories in the past.

toofeelclose continues beyond its original exhibition dates as an online archive.

Kim Neudorf is an artist and writer based in London (ON). Their writing and paintings have appeared most recently at McIntosh Gallery, London (ON); DNA Gallery, London (ON); Paul Petro, Toronto; Franz Kaka, Toronto; Forest City Gallery, London (ON); Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, Kingston; Evans Contemporary Gallery, Peterborough; and Susan Hobbs Gallery, Toronto. Instagram: @kimneudorf