Lou Sheppard: Rights of Passage

Video still for Rights of Passage, 2022. L to R: Tess Martens, Wayne Burns, and Kingchella.

The Art Gallery of York University presents

Rights of Passage
Lou Sheppard

16 September — 3 December 2022
Opening reception: September 16 from 6 to 9 pm

Rights of Passage is a newly commissioned audio-based exhibition by Lou Sheppard. His research-based art practice often critically responds to authoritative texts (environmental statistics, diagnostic criteria, government policy), translating this official data into environmentally responsive site-specific sonic scores. Much of Sheppard’s work is an engaged attempt to highlight the systems and structures of power driving the climate apocalypse. His exhibition for AGYU is an immersive installation featuring an 8-part choral piece responding to Toronto’s river systems.

The riparian zone is found along the banks of rivers—a shifting and amorphous line between water and land. Of both ecological and legal significance, the riparian zone within common law traditions primarily addresses the rights of landowners who occupy land adjacent to rivers. Unstated, however, are the implied rights of non-owners to access such rivers and, perhaps more elusive, the rights of rivers to their own courses. As such, riparian responsibilities (as opposed to rights) protects the passage of water over land and the passage of subjects, human or otherwise, along those waterways. When rivers are lost or buried due to development, the riparian zone is only spectrally present. Rights of Passage retraces lost and endangered riparian zones in the Greater Toronto Area, imagining these liminal spaces as points of queer emergence, places where the lines between urban and nature, access and trespass, and human and non-human are blurred. Rights of Passage, a hybrid series of performances and installations, enacts a symbolic daylighting of buried streams, drawing attention to some of Toronto’s lost riparian zones to consider land use, urban futures, and ecological interdependence.

Lou Sheppard is a Canadian artist, based on the South Shore of Nova Scotia / Mi’kma’ki. Sheppard’s site-specific artistic practice manifests in the form of interdisciplinary audio, performance, and installation-based works. Sheppard has exhibited across Canada, notably in the first Toronto Biennial at the Toronto Sculpture Garden in Toronto; at Simon Fraser University and Access Gallery in Vancouver, BC; at the Khyber Centre for the Arts in Halifax, NS; at PAVED Arts in Saskatoon, SK; and at the University of Moncton in Moncton, NB. He participated in the first Antarctic Biennale and the Antarctic Pavilion in Venice, Italy. Sheppard has been longlisted for the Sobey Art Awards in 2018, 2020, and 2021, and was an International Residency Recipient from the Sobey Art Foundation in 2018. Sheppard holds a BFA in Interdisciplinary Studies from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Sheppard is represented by IOTA Institute.

Rights of Passage is curated by Michael Maranda, assistant curator (publications), with program support by Jenifer Papararo, director/curator, AGYU.

As part of Rights of Passage, we co-produced Lou Sheppard’s contribution to Chapter 3 of You Can’t Trust Music, a digital exhibition curated by Xenia Benivolski for e-flux.com. A vinyl recording with liner notes as exhibition catalogue, co-published with Art Metropole, is forthcoming.

Public programs
Friday, September 16 • 6 to 9 pm
Opening reception
Includes a live performance with Wayne Burns, Tess Martens, and Kingchella at 7:30 pm.

Saturday, September 17 • Noon to 3:30 pm
Do Rocks Listen? Sound walk and workshop with Xenia Benevolski, starting at the gallery and ending at Black Creek. Registration required.

Wednesday, September 28 • time TBC
Online lecture by Timothy Morton, Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University and author of All Art is Ecological and Dark Ecology, on themes related to the exhibition, in particular the “haunting weirdness” necessary for any artwork to be ecological.

Saturday, October 1 • 7 pm to 7 am
Gallery open for Nuit Blanche 2022.

Tuesday, October 25 • 3 to 4:30 pm
IRL lecture by Jane Hutton, author of Reciprocal Landscapes: Stories of Material Movements, which traces the unequal ecological exchange of raw materials used in urban infrastructure of New York.

Tuesday, November 8 • 3 to 4 pm
Online discussion between Lou Sheppard and exhibition curator Michael Maranda.

Media enquiries to Michael Maranda: mmarand@yorku.ca

For accessibility and accommodation needs, please contact Huaihong Li, administration assistant: hhli@yorku.ca

We would like to give special thanks to the artist Lou Sheppard for this first presentation of Rights of Passage. We also want to acknowledge Pamela Hart for her essential work on sound design and installation support. We thank all the video and sound performers for your time and investment, and all who participated in our exhibition-related programs through collaborations, performances, and lectures.

The Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) is a public, university-affiliated, non-profit contemporary art gallery supported by York University, Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, and by our membership.

York University acknowledges its presence on the traditional territory of many Indigenous Nations. The area known as Tkaronto has been taken care of by the Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Huron-Wendat. It is now home to many Indigenous Peoples from numerous First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities. We acknowledge the current treaty holders, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

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.

Art Gallery of York University
Accolade East Building
4700 Keele Street
Toronto ON M3J 1P3


Gallery hours are 12 to 5, Tuesday to Saturday.