Taking cues from mycorrhizae, mutually beneficial associations between fungi and plants, Grasping at the Roots is an exhibition that looks to strategies artists use to support and sustain relationships with those they work with, and also to curatorial strategies that might in turn better support artists.
Our conversation, however, must begin with the obvious: the public is collapsing as an ideal within a political climate still driven by inequality, institutional unaccountability and economic austerity. In other words, as the longevity of the top-down, public-welfare-state paradigm is in question today, we need urgently to search for alternatives and to seek a more functional manifestation of public thinking and action. The question must be different questions if we want different answers.1
Grasping at the Roots2 takes cues from mycorrhizae, mutually beneficial associations between fungi and plants. Fungi have the ability to enhance nutrient take up in plant roots, ensuring healthy development; in return, they benefit by absorbing the plant carbohydrates they require to sustain growth. The exhibition looks not only to strategies artists use to support and sustain relationships with those they work with, but also to curatorial strategies that might in turn better support artists. Grasping at the Roots operates from the premise that this strategy of care has the ability to foster and develop community in sustainable and meaningful ways.
Artists in Grasping at the Roots value participation and working intimately with communities as a critical part of artistic practice. In a time when many—especially those on the margins—face real life threats and challenges, these artists prioritize community-building and engaged relationships built on responsibility and care. Incorporating a variety of tactics, artists have considered material forms along with site specificity in order to translate works that perform actively in the world for the space of the gallery.
Utilizing prolonged, ongoing conversation and participation as a curatorial strategy, Grasping at the Roots hopes to challenge the ways in which artists and curators work together: prioritizing collaboration, fair compensation and the strength of the collective model. A direct response to the urgent and critical time we live in, the exhibition sees itself as a necessary tactic, pointing toward, while simultaneously creating, a system of roots to continually build upon into the future.
1 Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, “Latin America and a New Political Leadership: Experimental Acts of Coexistence,” in Public Servants: Art and the Crisis of the Common Good, eds. Johanna Burton, Shannon Jackson and Dominic Willsdon, (The MIT Press, 2016), 73.
2 The title Grasping at the Roots references Angela Davis, who defines radical as: “grasping things at the root.” Angela Davis, Y. Women, Culture & Politics. (New York: Random House, 1989), 14.
Eugenio Salas was born in Mexico City and is currently based between London, Ontario and Philadelphia Pennsylvania. By disrupting social roles and dynamics through process-based projects, Salas examines the symbolic places and social environments that unfold as a result of artistic collaboration. He carries out participatory performative actions employing media, print, and cooking. Salas’ previous projects include Snack Pack, a doughnut-based stop-motion animation work reflecting on his first Canadian job as a new immigrant; Tunnel, a sculptural project involving the construction of a tunnel inside an art gallery with a non-status construction worker and gallery curator; YYZGRU, a parcel delivery system designed to exchange personal objects between Brazilians in Toronto and their families back home; and Social Plastics/Nail Party, a participatory performance in a nail salon in collaboration with an immigrant family of nail technicians, and baking a 22-foot long cake in collaboration with immigrant women with whom he worked at a cake factory. Salas owns Papancho’s, an artist-run catering company.
謝兆龍 Shawn Tse
謝兆龍 Shawn Tse is an amiskwacîwâskahikan/Edmonton based artist, filmmaker and educator passionate about social change through arts and media. A second generation Chinese Canadian, Shawn believes that minority cultures are underrepresented in Canadian arts and heritage industries and actively works with the ethnocultural community. Shawn’s love of community and storytelling has helped him develop the intergenerational cooking show Seconds, Please! and lead a community arts project Figure 一, 二, 三, 六, 八using Chinese ink paintings and film to highlight the historical and cultural impacts of Edmonton’s ever-changing Chinatown.
Serena Lee’s practice stems from a fascination with polyphony and its radical potential. She works across disciplines, collaboratively and aleatorically. Recent projects have played out at Cubitt (London), transmediale (Berlin), Plug In ICA (Winnipeg), Scarborough Museum (Ontario), Mountain Standard Time (Calgary), Museum of Contemporary Art (Toronto), and Whitechapel Gallery (London). Serena was born in Tkaronto/Toronto; she holds an MFA from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam and is currently based in Vienna as a PhD researcher at the Academy of Fine Arts.
Debbie Ebanks Schlums
Debbie Ebanks Schlums is a multidisciplinary artist, writer and co-artistic director of the Fabulous Festival of Fringe Film. Her practice explores themes of identity, migration, and persistent colonial-post-colonial structures through community engagement, materials and conversation. She was a founding member of the Out of a War Zone and To Lemon Hill Collectives, both addressing the Syrian refugee crisis. She is the recipient the DAC Reed T. Cooper Bursary, the Ginny Kleker Award for Commitment to the Arts, Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council Visual Arts Grants, and an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Fellowship. Debbie studied Visual and Critical Studies and Fine Art at the California College of the Arts, and holds degrees in Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations. She lives in Mulmur, Ontario.
Scott Portingale is a director and animator living in Edmonton, Canada. Scott’s multimedia approach to making films blends in-camera techniques such as time-lapse and stop-motion animation into films with themes rooted in the natural world, the scientific pursuit and the human experience. His short films have been programmed across multiple platforms including international film festivals, art galleries and installations, and have won a handful of awards along the way.
Christina Battle (Edmonton, Canada) has a B.Sc. with specialization in Environmental Biology from the University of Alberta, a certificate in Film Studies from Ryerson University, an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and is currently working toward a PhD in Art and Visual Culture at the University of Western Ontario. Her research and artistic work consider the parameters of disaster; looking to it as action, as more than a mere event and instead as a framework operating within larger systems of power. Through this research she imagines how disaster could be utilized as a tactic for social change and as a tool for reimagining how dominant systems might radically shift. She has exhibited internationally in festivals and galleries, most recently at: Capture Photography Festival (Vancouver); Forum Expanded at the Berlinale (Berlin), Blackwood Gallery (Mississagua), Trinity Square Video (Toronto), Untitled Art Society (Calgary), 8-11 (Toronto), Nuit Blanche Toronto, Galveston Artist Residency (Texas); Studio XX (Montreal), Le Centre des arts actuels Skol as part of Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal (Montreal), Thames Art Gallery (Chatham, ON), Casa Maauad (Mexico City); and SOMArts (San Francisco).
This project would not have been possible without the work and care provided by MAG Director/Curator Carolyn Jervis. Her unwavering support and willingness to take risks and challenge our understandings of what might be possible in an arts-based institution have been indispensable.