Exhibition Essay: it comes in waves | UNB

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College of Extended Learning

Exhibition Essay

it comes in waves

it comes in waves is a group exhibition that feels, seeks out, and listens to the resonance of absence.

Across entanglements of contemporary life Emily Critch, Adriana Kuiper & Ryan Suter, Chantal Khoury, Lou Sheppard, KC Wilcox, and Florence Yee care for, and connect with, the phenomenology of grief. The works featured in it comes in waves approach instances of grieving, including climate devastation, systemic exploitation and underrepresentation, personal loss, and broken expectations, with compassion. Together, these artists lean into the ache, memory, injustice, and anxiety of absence in an effort to understand what we value and how we can better care for ourselves, one another, and our collective future.

Through very different means, Emily Critch and Chantal Khoury highlight instances of erasure to tease out narratives of loss and change in human migrations.

Within the works of Chantal Khoury, absence signifies presence as both a marker of the artist's labour and as a haunting reminder that calls attention to gaps in Lebanon's recorded history. In Khoury's process-informed paintings, erasure becomes the language with which she pursues meaning-making. It is through a process of actively removing the material surface of the painting that Khoury stirs her subject matter out from the periphery of existence. To varying degrees of legibility, Khoury's paintings represent tangible inherited familial objects—those brought from Lebanon to Canada during immigration generations ago. The objects in Khoury's paintings have been damaged by light, time, and use; moreover, their significance has shifted through the experience of changing hands over the generations. In using erasure as a means to generate presence, the artist speculatively fills gaps in the archive of her personal history, while presenting a wider metaphor for identities informed by diaspora. Through her process, Khoury reminds us that, both literally and figuratively, every attempt at erasure leaves a mark.

While Khoury finds meaning in erasure as a metaphor, Emily Critch activates embodied family histories by revisiting the site of a community that has been erased. Located within the town limits of Cornerbrook, Newfoundland, Crow Gulch was a largely Mi'kmaq neighbourhood populated by migrant workers—including Critch's maternal ancestors, the Gabriels. Met with racism, stigma, and intense hardship, the people of Crow Gulch were systematically displaced, and every building was razed to the ground. Guided by an Elder who recalls the community, Critch honours the land, and the inhabitants it once cared for. Through meaningful interaction and mindful observation, they spend time together traversing its terrain. Back at the studio, expanded photographic printmaking techniques, with careful hand-alterations, allow Critch to participate in regenerative cultural storytelling. In reconnecting with this land, the artist pays respect to her elders and ancestors, while carving out space to collectively mourn broken hopes and great losses. In her work, depictions of underbrush and new growth—what she refers to as the "indelible flowers against the rocks"—sparkle and flourish with resilience.

In the works of both KC Wilcox and duo Adriana Kuiper and Ryan Suter, compassion and care are enacted through humour, absurdity, and materiality.

Funeral (redux), by KC Wilcox, speaks to the insidious nature of grief—its propensity to creep into the mundane, changing the way we view everyday occurrences and objects. A massive sardine tin coffin adorned with funerary flowers; Funeral (redux) is entirely handmade by the artist. The piece is freestanding and large enough to recall human scale. Wilcox's laborious approach to creating this work, building layers of material until it is strong enough to support itself, reflects the process of coping with the loss of a loved one. As with much of her work, Funeral (redux) strikes a flawless balance between unflinchingly absurd and profoundly affecting. Stemming from deeply moving personal narratives, Wilcox candidly welcomes others into her experience of loss by building a monument to the necessary, but often undervalued, process of bereavement. At a time when collective grief is expansive, Wilcox invites us to spend a moment reflecting on our own experiences of mourning as we gather around her labour-intensive handmade monument to the phenomenology of loss.

Adriana Kuiper and Ryan Suter display an ethics of care and collaboration through both process and outcome. In their work, rigid technical equipment is quietly soothed by the handmade. Working together in an overlap of personal and professional relationships, their practice is marked by playful reciprocity. Kuiper creates soft and gentle textiles through quilting and stitching that visually amplify the history of women’s work and labour. Suter plays with the textiles and related objects, creating videos and imagery that highlight subtle, moving gestures. Together they develop material juxtapositions and whimsical interventions that come together in their collaborative installations. Their combined work signals familiar comforts and care—even shelter—through textiles and furniture, as well as the slow, meditative movements in the video. Although their installations, which include speakers, technical gear, and commercial sound blankets, allude to an aural experience, all is silent. These components coalesce in a softened expression of waiting. By manipulating the function and expectation of familiar materials, Kuiper and Suter gently hold space to nurture weighty questions, such as: What will protect us? And, what is lost when sounds, voices, or functions are dampened, silenced, or modified?

Florence Yee engages with these questions and more in their work A Legacy of Ethnography. Concerned with gaps in the archive, and what he refers to as the "double-edged sword of representation," Yee questions what it means to participate in processes of historical commodification that have exploited and silenced so many. In A Legacy of Ethnography, an enlarged family snapshot of the artist as a child appears printed on cotton toile and suspended from the ceiling. Across the image, he has hand embroidered the text "what do we lose when we describe ourselves". Although clearly a question, the words float atop the image as a laborious watermark without punctuation. In watermarking their image, they are pushing back against the violence of the archive—claiming both their autonomy and hesitancy as a means to draw a boundary, and safeguard against further loss. In naming the work A Legacy of Ethnography, Yee is further confronting the problematic structure of the archive. For both the legacy of its omissions and the violence of its inclusions, there is cause for resistance, grief, and new methods of commemoration.

Lou Sheppard's work centres on the unfolding grief and anxiety of climate devastation through interpretations of queer ecologies and the more-than-human world. Nine Songs for New York comprises musical scores based on spectograms of endangered birds in New York State. Both visually haunting and aurally arresting, the work is a reminder of the temporality of existence—particularly in the midst of ecological crisis. In The Exquisite Corpse, viewers are caught in a conversation between organisms that are described by the artist as "embodied ecologies of bacteria, choirs of buzzing electrons, minerals in human drag." Performed by Séamus Gallagher and Marley O’Brien, the slippery dialogue travels from meditations on the end of the world, to the loss of beloved pets and queer-identity-affirming online spaces. Punctuated by self and future-affirming mantras and excerpts from The Epic of Gilgamesh, the destabilizing narrative pulses between the weight of eco-crisis and apocalypse to the experience of transformational identities and loss. There is a simultaneity across the three-channel video that underscores contemporary entanglements. In the spirit of hybridized queer ecologies, The Exquisite Corpse proposes the interconnection of chosen family, framed by an ethics of collectivism, care, and reciprocity as a means to unsettle the ideology of individualism that fuels our crisis and grief.

it comes in waves holds space for contemplation and the quiet construction of meaning while facing the uncanny sensation that something is missing. Together, these works serve as a reminder that any conversation about loss or grief is equally a conversation about value, care, and compassion. What could be more important right now, in this moment, as we collectively envision a future that we would hope to inhabit?

— Amy Ash, Guest Curator

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