A visitor listens to stories from newcomers to Canada at the opening of the Mitchell Art Gallery’s latest exhibition. Debbie Ebanks Schlums, Dwelling Museum (detail), 2017.

New exhibition looks at the ways artists build relationships and community

January 20, 2020 | Arts & Culture

With Grasping at the Roots, which opened in MacEwan University's Mitchell Art Gallery on January 16, guest curator Christina Battle is digging into the relationships artists form with their communities.

The exhibition’s name – and a time-lapse video by filmmaker Scott Portingale that greets visitors as they enter the exhibition – connects to Battle’s own research into plant communities, and what human communities might learn from them. The cross-section view of bean seeds developing in Portingale’s film, she explains, illustrates how roots spread in messy ways that are at the same time supportive and nurturing. That metaphor for how artists work within communities winds its way through Grasping at the Roots, which features new work from four artists who prioritize community-building and engaged relationships in their practices – Debbie Ebanks Schlums, Serena Lee, Eugenio Salas and Shawn Tse.

Shaping an exhibition to represent relationships forged through the performative art of doing the dishes with single mothers, cooking traditional dishes across cultures and generations, and baking gigantic cakes or creating glass sculptures with newcomers to Canada wasn’t easy – nor is it something that typically fits within a traditional gallery setting.

“An exhibition like this is pretty unusual – it’s a bit of an experiment and I’m really excited to see these four artists’ work operating together,” says Battle.

When visitors to Grasping at the Roots walk through the gallery’s doors, they’ll experience these projects through photography, objects, audio, prints, zines and even a pop-up shop.

A glimpse of Grasping at the Roots

An installation shot of <i>Grasping at the Roots</i>.
Guest curator Christina Battle welcomes guests to the opening of <i>Grasping at the Roots</i> on January 16.
Shawn Tse, Connecting Overseas: <i>Safe & Secure</i> (detail), 2019 -. Courtesy of the Artist.

Shawn Tse, Connecting Overseas: <i>Safe & Secure</i> (detail), 2019 -. Courtesy of the Artist.
Serena Lee, <i>Doing the Dishes</i>, 2017 -. Courtesy of the Artist.
Eugenio Salas, <i>Breaktime/Overtime</i> (detail), 2017 -. Courtesy of the Artist.
Eugenio Salas, <i>Breaktime/Overtime</i>, 2017 -. Courtesy of the Artist.

Because meeting and engaging with people, having conversations and taking time to listen are key to the work of all four artists, public programming will also be an important aspect of the exhibition.

On February 24, Serena Lee’s artist talk will address the privilege and responsibility of holding the personal stories women share with her as part of Doing the Dishes; Shawn Tse will host a sharing circle on March 4; and on March 20 Eugenio Salas will collaborate with a local immigrant baker to host a Merienda (teatime), a tradition that came from Europe to the Americas via Spanish colonization.

Grasping at the Roots runs from January 16 to March 28 in the Mitchell Art Gallery on the main floor of Allard Hall.


What a waste

See how the Mitchell Art Gallery’s Fall 2019 exhibition, With All Things Considered, helped students explore ideas around waste and material culture.

Get MacEwan University news delivered to your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter