Art Gallery of Burlington opens How to Read a Vessel today

The AGB unpacks the Permanent Collection (literally and figuratively) to discover the untold stories of an institution and its vessels.

“We’ve all heard about the sticks and spears and swords, the things to bash and poke and hit with, the long, hard things, but we have not heard about the things to put things in, the container for the thing contained. That is a new story.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction

Harlan House, Chris Broadhurst Night Landscape Vase, 1991. Thrown porcelain, glaze. Donated by Joan Bennett, 1998. Designed by Paul Cavanaugh.

Over the last 38 years, the AGB has amassed the largest comprehensive collection of contemporary Canadian ceramics in the world. Totalling over 4,000 works, the collection ranges from functional ware to sculptural installations. Open from September 10, 2021 to January 9, 2022, How to Read a Vessel is an experimental exhibition and communal site of learning that openly discusses the challenges and excitement of holding, caring for, and exhibiting this object-based, craft-forward permanent collection, while continuing to develop a vision that incorporates critical social practice at its core.

The assembly of programs and projects by artists and curators Tara Bursey, Suzanne Carte, Ness Lee, Su-Ying Lee, Myung-Sun Kim, Ivy Knight, and Christine Saly-Chapman has been conceived of in response to two key texts: Elizabeth Fisher’s “Carrier Bag Theory of Evolution,” which proposes that the first tool was a container, rather than a weapon, thereby feminizing concepts of early society; and, by extension, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” which applies the container approach to stories, arguing for an expansion of the types of narratives and outcomes that are made visible beyond the finality of a singular weapon-wielding hero.

With these texts as a guiding force, the exhibition examines how a collection of vessels speaks to an unaccounted and unrecognized history of women’s ingenuity and labour in the arts. How to Read a Vessel unpacks the matriarchal history of craft production and the AGB’s own institutional beginnings by bringing its ceramic vessels out of their vaults and into public space, alongside newly commissioned pieces and an array of international artworks. It is a non-linear, queer exhibition exploring the vessel as language, lineage, containment, nourishment, and archive. Within it, art objects become metaphors, or mnemonic devices, to discuss the colonial constructs of collections and their histories.

Featuring: Marissa Y Alexander, Althea Balmes, Anong Beam, Francisca Benítez, Tamyka Bullen, Nicole Clouston, Bojana Coklyat, Rania El Mugammar, Sameer Farooq, Shannon Finnegan, Naoko Fukumaru, Shaya Ishaq, Beatriz Paz Jiménez, Joon Hee Kim, Myung-Sun Kim, Ivy Knight, Vanessa Kwan, Ness Lee, Pamila Matharu, Primal Studio, Noe Martínez, Mark Menjivar, Peter Morin, Lisa Myers, Haruko Okano, Karla Rivera, Jamie Ross, Sin Wai Kin, Stephanie Singh, Nurielle Stern, Amina Z. Suhrwardy, Isola Tong, Camille Turner, Adam Williams, Kendra Yee, Z’otz* Collective, and work from over 550 AGB Permanent Collection artists.

Ivy Knight, Jugs & Cans, 2021. Bottle and yarn. Courtesy of the artist. Designed by Paul Cavanaugh.

Ivy Knight’s vessel contribution, Jugs & Cans: A Reaping, is presented in the Lakeshore Gallery. This exhibition is a collection of over 150 empty vessels; jugs, cans, bottles, and boxes, collected from women in food across Canada and the United States. In gathering the containers Ivy collects the stories and struggles of the cooks, bakers, food writers, restaurateurs, and servers who opened, emptied, and used them. She lovingly enrobes them in crocheted vestments to hold the donor’s voiced realities in a brightly coloured, protective shield of craft.

Ivy’s exhibition spills out of the gallery and into a vintage fiberglass 1974 Trillium Trailer parked outside the AGB’s Lakeshore entrance. House of the Three-Time Loser is an installation looking at how craftwork, housework, and aging are read as the ways in which women are seen to fail in heteropatriarchal society. On view from September to November, we welcome you into the home of a middle-aged, crafty woman. We celebrate you, three-time loser.

On Saturday, January 8 @ 2:00-3:30 pm (EST) Vancouver-based artist Naoko Fukumaru hosts a Kintsugi presentation where she discusses embracing weakness and fragility, working with broken pottery to create new works, and understanding the evolutionary life of ceramics. In conjunction with AGB’s How to Read a Vessel exhibition, this talk explores Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending pottery with a special tree sap dusted with gold powder to highlight restorations. The talk addresses the differences between Western and Japanese Kintsugi practices, as well as the origins, influences, materials, and processes.

Artists and activists Bojana Coklyat and Shannon Finnegan introduce the basics of alt-text web accessibility, explain how it has evolved, and offer the possibilities of alt-text as poetry in a workshop on Monday, October 25 @ 6:00 – 8:00pm (EDT). Participants explore the selectivity of words, the subjectivity of the audience, descriptive tone, and representation. This two-hour workshop increases awareness about alt-text; its online presence and uses for people with low vision, blindness, or cognitive disabilities who use screen-readers to access content, its potential for creative expression, and how it influences web accessibility.

How to Read a Vessel is supported by a series of artist-led workshops facilitated by Althea Balmes, Anong Beam of Beam Paints, Nicole Clouston, Stephanie Singh, Kendra Yee, and Z’otz* Collective (Nahúm Flores, Erik Jerezano, and Ilyana Martínez). This educational program, curated by Tara Bursey, uses the form and concept of the vessel as a departure point to explore ecological stewardship, storytelling, ritual, collectivism, and self/community care through hands-on encounters with ceramics, comics, papermaking, drawing and painting.

Registration is required for all education and public programs, visit to reserve your spot.

How to Read a Vessel has been generously supported by Susan Busby, Louise Cooke, Four Corners Group, Jane Depraitere, Danyliw & Mann, Pam Lavery and Robert Redhead, and The Schreibers.

The AGB is supported by the Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the Canada Council for the Arts. The AGB Community Garden is funded by the Government of Canada’s Healthy Communities Initiative. Educational outreach programming is presented in partnership with Reach Out Centre for Kids ROCK Hub, Our Community Cares, and Positive Space Network (PSN), Burlington.

Art Gallery of Burlington is proud to acknowledge that the land where it is located is part of the ancient Dish With One Spoon Treaty and also the Brant Tract Purchase, Treaty No. 3 3/4 of 1795, and it is grateful to the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and the Six Nations of the Grand River for sharing this territory. The Art Gallery of Burlington is located at 1333 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, Ontario.

1333 Lakeshore Road Burlington, ON L7S 1A9


Colleagues in the media are invited to connect with:
Laura Buisman, Marketing Coordinator
905-632-7796, ext.304
Exhibition guided tours available upon request