Burning Glass, Reading Stone 5: A Rest

Jon Sasaki, A Rest, 2016-20. Archival images courtesy the Chicago History Museum and Carol Martin, Dance Marathons: Performing American Culture in the 1920s and 1930s (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994). Performance cinematography: Lee Henderson and Jon Sasaki.

Burning Glass, Reading Stone 5: A Rest
Jon Sasaki

February 16–March 14, 2021

Four image pairs have been adapted from a performance originally commissioned by the Toronto Dance Theatre as a choreography for a solo dancer. Archival photographs on the left side of the images document moments of exhaustion during Depression-era dance marathon contests in the 1920s and 1930s, in which the male participant is asleep while being fully supported by his female partner. For A Rest, dancer James Phillips re-enacted those poses as a cycle of endurance feats, holding as motionless as possible for extended durations. Stances that are restful when buttressed by a partner become unsustainable stress positions that cause the solitary body to strain. The poses progress in terms of difficulty, culminating in a final posture that is anything but restful; struggling against gravity, the dancer’s body shakes and finally collapses. This is a dance comprised of involuntary movements, charting the forfeiture of control as fatigue wins out over the performer’s skill and training.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, these images—produced well before the virus’s discovery and global spread—take on new significance. Fatigued bodies straining against their own precarious positions become legible as stand-ins for the cumulative effects of depression, isolation, remote working and learning, job and housing insecurity, and ongoing social and economic collapse. In the performance images, the absent support figure gestures to the often unseen, undervalued, and gendered work of affective and caring labour: frontline healthcare, childcare, eldercare, janitorial, grocery, and domestic work that is risky, chronically underpaid, and overwhelmingly reliant on a labour force of women (with Black and racialized women making up a significant proportion of the workforce). Amidst widespread unsteadiness, how can we bring our reliance upon one another into view?

Visit the Blackwood Gallery website for documentation, an interpretative video tour with Educator-in-Residence Laura Tibi, a response by a Reader-in-Residence, and more to be released throughout the series.


Reader-in-Residence Program

Across the eight-part lightbox series Burning Glass, Reading Stone, the Blackwood Gallery activates a Reader-in-Residence program that brings readers into dialogue with each image set. This month, the Blackwood is pleased to welcome artist Faye Driscoll into dialogue with A Rest.

Adapting the familiar artist’s residency format to one that focuses on practices of reading—reading an exhibition, reading a text, reading as interpretation—each Reader-in-Residence will respond to a series of works presented in the Blackwood’s lightboxes. For each four-week image set, a Reader responds to the series in the form of a reading, set of images, performance-for-the-camera, score, or other experimental interpretative form (distributed via the Blackwood’s website). Bridging local and international respondents, including artists, poets, humanities scholars, and scientists, the Reader-in-Residence program creates a network of sustained engagement with Burning Glass, Reading Stone, and encourages the development of new dialogic and interpretive possibilities in a time of quarantine.


About Burning Glass, Reading Stone

Part of an eight-part lightbox series
Collectively curated by current and recent Blackwood Gallery staff
September 8, 2020–June 27, 2021

Oscar Santillán, process image of lens from Solaris, 2017.

Activating four outdoor lightboxes in public space on the University of Toronto Mississauga campus throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, Burning Glass, Reading Stone explores the conditions, technologies, and spaces of spectatorship that mediate our engagements with the world—physical and virtual. The lightbox program features eight sets of images: each provides a distinct testimony borne of a particular mode of observation or narration.

Distributed across a University campus still navigating social distancing protections necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the lightbox series responds to COVID-19 as a rupture that brings both public space and digital media under examination. What habits of looking has social distancing concretized? What wakefulness to the already existing inequities and gaps produced in our mediated environment is required? What responsibilities do images ask of us? What responsibilities do they occlude? How can various regimes of looking (scientific, testimonial, documentary, intimate, science-fictional) refocus collective attention?


The Blackwood Gallery gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the University of Toronto Mississauga. We would also like to acknowledge the support of the University of Toronto affinity partners: Manulife, MBNA, and TD Insurance. Lightbox infrastructure is supported by the UTM50 Anniversary Fund, established to showcase the innovative, collaborative spirit of UTM.

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Blackwood Gallery
University of Toronto Mississauga
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Mississauga, ON L5L 1C6

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Please note: The Blackwood’s gallery spaces are currently closed to the public. Burning Glass, Reading Stone is FREE and open to the public, and accessible 24 hours a day in four outdoor lightboxes across the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus. Some movement throughout the campus is required—ramps and curb cuts are in place across the University premises.

Please respect social distancing protocols while on campus.

Image descriptions:
1) A composition of two images. On the left is a black and white photograph of a couple on a dance floor. The woman is standing up and holding her partner around his waist, and the man is resting on the woman’s chest. On the right is a colour photograph of a single performer in the same pose as the man in the photograph on the left.
2) A circular image appears in the middle of a black background. In it, an out-of-focus desert scene appears upside-down. The handmade quality of the lens producing this image is readily visible, with many streaks and imperfections on its surface.