Dele Adeyemo – From Long House to Highrise: The Course of Empire

Dele Adeyemo, Detail of From Longhouse to Highrise: The Course of Empire, 2023. Courtesy the artist.

From Long House to Highrise: The Course of Empire by Dele Adeyemo

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The Art Gallery of York University launches From Longhouse to Highrise: The Course of Empire, 2023, by Dele Adeyemo, a multidimensional archive of space critically responding to the fiction of linear development contained in an origin story of North York published in 1986 in the booklet From Longhouse to Highrise: Pioneering in our corner of North York. To unravel this fiction, Adeyemo combines a soundscape of voices from within and in proximity to York University’s Keele campus with architectural projections of the territory, asking what it means to be caught in the course of empire.

Adeyemo states, “From the vantage of the coloniser, the course of empire flows overwhelmingly in the direction of progress and enlightenment. The expropriations and divisions of land find justification in the myth of a linear path of development that is deeply ingrained in the Western psyche and the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves.

“This imaginary is epitomised by the American landscape painter Thomas Cole’s series The Course of Empire, 1833–36, that illustrates five phases in the progress of civilisation: The Savage State, The Arcadian or Pastoral State, The Consummation of Empire, Destruction, and Desolation. The series reveals a paranoid fantasy that lies deeper still, that civilisation is accompanied by destruction. History must follow inescapable phases of development—a self-fulfilling prophecy that will inevitably leads to catastrophe.

“The university campus, the shining beacon of the enlightenment institution in North America, perhaps more than any developed geography, highlights the complexities of this historic narrative. In the United States in the nineteenth century, millions of acres of Indigenous land were sold to endow fledgling land-grant universities. The territory of North York followed a different history and yet it too bears witness to the teleological imaginary of the land as it was violently transitioned from a home to First Nations Peoples such as the Huron-Wendat, to a site of settler agricultural production, through to its position as the location of the higher education institution of York University.

“Through this territory, we are asked to consider what it means to be caught in the course of empire? The project comprises a multidimensional archive of space; a sonic soundscape containing voices from within and in proximity to the university campus paired with architectural projections of the territory reveal the entangled histories of the land, development, and resistance to the catastrophe of empire.”

This new digital artwork was commissioned by AGYU in 2022 under the curatorial lead of AGYU Curator Felicia Mings. Adeyemo was invited to create an artwork focused on the site of the gallery’s new location, and soon-to-be transformation into the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Gallery on York University’s Keele campus.

Dele Adeyemo is a Scottish / Nigerian artist, architect, and critical urban theorist based in London and Lagos. Dele’s research and creative practice explore the architectures of racial capitalism and the contemporary lifeworlds that exist in their midst. Paying tribute to the radical acts of everyday Black life in Africa and the diaspora through drawing, film, sculpture and installation design, Dele constitutes a trans-disciplinary praxis that encompasses these embodied cultures of movement and their circulation to mobilise what he calls “the Black radical spatial imaginary.”

Dele’s projects have been presented at the 18th Venice Architecture Biennale, 2023; the 13th International Architecture Biennale of Sao Paulo, 2022; the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial, 2020; and the 2nd Edition of the Lagos Biennial, 2019. Most recently, he has presented the solo exhibitions Licor-Mãe, 2023, at Sismógrafo, Porto; Residues of the Sweet Purge, 2023, at Capel da Boa Viagem, Funchal; and Wey Dey Move, 2022, at the Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam.

Dele is the recipient of the inaugural JAE Fellowship, the Canadian Centre for Architecture & Andrew Mellon Fellowship, and Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Research Fellowship. Dele was awarded a CHASE-AHRC scholarship for his PhD doctorate entitled Last Dark Continent, which he is currently completing at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

This project emerges from the AGYU’s new digital art program stream. In addition to Adeyemo’s From Longhouse to Highrise: The Course of Empire curated by Mings, recent commissions include The Tourist by Gary Zhexi Zhang, curated by AGYU Assistant Curator Clara Halpern. The AGYU’s first two digital art commissions were generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts through its Digital Strategy Fund.

For further information and press inquiries, please contact Felicia Mings:

Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) is a socially minded not-for-profit contemporary art gallery that is a space for the creation and appreciation of art and culture. It is a supported Unit of York University within the President’s Division. We are externally funded as a public art gallery through the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, local and international foundations, embassies, and our membership who support all of our programs.

The Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) acknowledges its presence on the ancestral territory of many Indigenous Nations including the Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Huron-Wendat. We thank and acknowledge the current treaty holders, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. We offer this land acknowledgement as an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those on whose territory we reside.

AGYU promotes 2SLGBTQIAP+ positive spaces & experiences and works towards being barrier free.

We are committed to anti-racism and working to eradicate institutional biases and develop accountable programs that support Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.

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