As we shift away from settler-colonial practices of dispossession and institutional supremacy, how do we bring compassion and care to the acts of looking inwards and reflecting on our own participation? How do we refuse the settler-colonial terms embedded in all the spaces we occupy and in the air we breathe? Cultural spaces can facilitate polyphonic, civic-minded conversations and considerations of how we live together—indeed, galleries can be spaces in which to do this. In this exhibition, Fugitive Rituals at Agnes, for instance, artists take leave of colonial practices and frameworks in search of sustenance and autonomous futures.
Writer and scholar Tina Campt defines fugitivity as the daily practice of refusal—neither escape from, nor resistance to, but refusal of the very terms of colonialism and institutionalism lodged in negation and dispossession. This exhibition is a fugitive act of self-determination. It aims to actively shape the culture in which it is embedded through repeating, returning to, and shifting its practices and daily rituals.
The works in Fugitive Rituals respond to collections of artworks and cultural belongings from Agnes’s vault, apples foraged along the borders of Colonization Roads and other military sites in Ontario, as well as debris produced from exhibition making and daily living. Campt advises going beyond looking at objects and images to being touched and moved by them, to listen to their “felt sounds”; these works amplify the quiet, yet deeply felt resonances of cultural belongings.
These resonances guide visitors through the exhibition where healing and grieving rituals and sonic meditations offer visitors the opportunity to dream fiercely towards a self-determined futurity that is centred on the living. The works thereby allow objects and their spirits to tell silenced stories that reverberate and haunt the gallery walls.
Fugitive Rituals evolved over the last few years of the Coronavirus pandemic during which rituals of build-up, needs, constraints, and project making shifted. Consequently, the project became a responsive living organism and a practice that allowed function and purpose to change. We had to reconsider the practices we take for granted within art organizations and institutions. The gallery’s collection of 17,000 items hosts contemporary artworks as well as cultural belongings from Africa (650 ancestors), the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Islands (769 ancestors), and from many other places. In a climate-controlled vault these historical objects gleaned from colonial wealth-building are suspended from their original purpose, a weight we felt in contextualizing the collection’s location in Kingston, the first capital of the Dominion of Canada. The artists involved connected these living colonial legacies in the Agnes collection with the spirits embedded within it. Over four years of dreaming together, the artists and curator became accomplices, changing our methodologies of art making, presenting, and relationship-building that directly impacted the project.
Clare Butcher, has been a core collaborator since we met in early 2019. Her practice is an embodied one, where her stated ethos, values, and pedagogy-focused methodologies are put into practice—throughout a project, and in every collaboration with humans and non-humans, in social contexts and with materials. Her generous way of working brings new insights and expansive connections that are horizontal. I feel privileged to have such a brilliant, compassionate human continue to be my accomplice in this journey of thinking about the in/visible fugitive, transformative rituals of art making, disseminating, and evolving involved in manifesting a vision.
—Myung-Sun Kim, Curator of Fugitive Rituals