Symposium: “Coexistence in Contemporary Art”
Organized by Christine Ross, Professor of Contemporary Art History, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University.
The symposium is followed by a toast to celebrate Prof. Ross's scholarship and contributions to the department.
Coexistence in Contemporary Art considers how coexistence—the state, awareness and practice of existing interdependently—has become integral to artistic practices in the past two decades. Coexistence dismisses any notion of humans or nonhumans as fully discrete entities. Whether the environmental coevolution between species, the planetary refugee crisis, the cultural genocide of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous resistance to new colonialism, co-living “in the wake of slavery” (Christina Sharpe, 2016) or the intensification of media that “cognize” with or without humans (N. Katherine Hayles, 2017), coexistence has become a privileged aesthetic terrain by which to address some of the major challenges of the 21st century—from global warming to the “necropolitics” of migration to AI, from systemic racism to the social and political movements that campaign against these dark coexistences. Contemporary art explores coexistence not so much as a living-together or a cohabitation than a predominantly dark and forever-messy yet changeable relation. Art reinvents itself in that very process. It calls for more mutual forms of coexistence, including: calls to historicize, to become responsible, to empathize, to story-tell, to re-spatialize. We might think of Caroline Monnet’s The Room (2023)—a ten-foot cube in which viewers are invited to circulate and meet, made of lilac-coloured styrofoam incised with a pattern inspired by Anishinaabe sacred geometry. As viewers experience the space, modernist abstraction mixes with traditional visual knowledge, settler with indigeneity, shelter with open-space, silence with noise, Indigenous and non-Indigenous worlds.
Of particular interest to this symposium is the question of emergent aesthetics: as art becomes the site at which coexistence is thought, sensed and imagined, it generates unprecedented material, affective, perceptual, cognitive and mediatic possibilities. The speakers invited to participate in this symposium—art historian Amanda Boetzkes, artist Caroline Monnet and curator Dominique Fontaine—propose varied perspectives on how to delineate coexistence in contemporary art.
1:30 – 1:45: Christine Ross, Introduction
1:45 – 2:20 + QA: Amanda Boetzkes, “Coexistence as a Realism Without Authority: Inuit Art, Sulijuk and—Oh my Goodness—the Aesthetic Tactics of Reorigination”
For this talk, I will address the renewed importance of realism in navigating the interplay between contemporary art and decolonial praxis. While realism has seen a resurgence in the context of the “post-truth” era, a time characterized by the rise of populism and the exhaustion of critique, I propose that realism’s challenge can best be understood in scenes of reorigination in Inuit art. Through a discussion of works by Kinngait artist Shuvinai Ashoona and the Igloolik collective Isuma, I consider the invocation of sulijuk as a counter-hegemonic force unmoored from colonial, paternal and scientific authorities. Inuit realism upsets the perception of reality and opens alternative possibilities for its renewal. Through the prism of this anarchical ground of reorigination, coexistence can be theorized in aesthetic terms.
2:40 – 3:15 + QA: Dominique Fontaine, “The Praxis of Coexistence”
This talk will examine curatorial practice as a strategy of expansion of contemporary art and art history. Can art simply be reduced to theoretical knowledge or can it refer to collective experiences? Exploring various case studies, I discuss my practice to reflect on the necessity of curating as a theoretical model, as a disciplinary field which contributes to the development, transformation and formulation of new artistic paradigms.
3:55 – 4:15: break
4:15 – 4:50 + QA: Caroline Monnet, “A World of Many Parts”
A Whole Made of Many Parts draws from various personal, political and social histories, showing us how delineations, real or imagined, shape our cultures and communities. By tracing her roots to her own contemporaneity, Monnet investigates her own artistic practice to define its dynamic and ever-evolving coexistence.
5:15 – 7:30: toast to celebrate Prof. Ross’s scholarship and contributions to the department
Amanda Boetzkes is Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Guelph. Her research specializes in ecology and theories of consciousness and perception. Over the course of her career, she has analyzed complex human relationships with the environment through the lens of aesthetics, patterns of human waste, and the global energy economy. She is the author of Plastic Capitalism: Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste (MIT Press, 2019), The Ethics of Earth Art (University of Minnesota Press, 2010) and a forthcoming book titled Ecologicity, Vision and the Planetarity of Art. She is co-editor of Art’s Realism in the Post-Truth Era (Edinburgh University Press, 2024), Artworks for Jellyfish and Other Others (Noxious Sector Press, 2022) and Heidegger and the Work of Art History (Ashgate, 2014). In her most recent research, Boetzkes focuses on environmental knowledge and aesthetics in the circumpolar North, with an emphasis on the politics of Inuit sovereignty and the Greenland Ice Sheet as a site of scientific, social, and perceptual importance. In 2019, she held an interdisciplinary, site-specific workshop in Ilulissat, Greenland, and curated a performance by the Greenlandic artist Jessie Kleemann on the Ice Sheet which has since been shown at numerous exhibitions and galleries including Inua at the inaugural exhibition of the Inuit Art Center in Winnipeg (2021); Exposure: Native Art and Political Ecology at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe (2021); Worst Case Scenario: Four Artists from Greenland - Pia Arke, Julie Edel Hardenberg, Elisabeth Heilmann Blind, Jessie Kleemann at the Lunds Konsthalle in Sweden (2021); Jessie Kleemann at the Portland Museum of Art (2022); and Jessie Kleemann: Time flies, time flies at the Danish National Gallery (2023).
Dominique Fontaine is a cultural leader, curator, advisor, strategist on innovation in arts and culture, and Curator of Exhibitions, Toronto Biennial of Art. Her expertise spans exhibitions curation, arts administration, grants and contributions management in non-profit and government organizations. As a connector, she brings together artists, curators and the public, both within and beyond borders, towards transformative actions for diversity, equity, and inclusion in contemporary art. Fontaine will co-curate the 2024 edition of the Toronto Biennial of Art (TBA). Her recent projects include Imaginaires souverains; Le présent, modes d’emploi; Foire en art actuel de Québec; Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art; Dineo Seshee Bopape: and- in. the light of this._______, Darling Foundry; Repérages ou À la découverte de notre monde ou Sans titre, articule; Between the earth and the sky, the possibility of everything, Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014. She is co-initiator of the Black Curators Forum. She is also a founding member of Intervals Collective. Fontaine was a 2021 laureate of Black History Month of the City of Montreal.
Caroline Monnet (Anishinaabe/French) is a multidisciplinary artist from Outaouais, Quebec. Deploying visual and media arts to demonstrate complex ideas, Monnet renders Indigenous identity and bicultural living through an examination of shifting cultural histories. She is noted for working with industrial materials processes, blending vocabularies of popular and traditional visual knowledges with tropes of modernist abstraction to create a unique formal language. Consistently occupying the stage of experimentation and invention, her work grapples with the impact of colonialism by updating outdated systems with Indigenous methodologies. Monnet’s work has been featured at the Whitney Biennial (NYC), Toronto Biennial of Art (TBA), KØS museum (Copenhagen), Museum of Contemporary Art (Montréal), the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa). Solo exhibitions include Arsenal Contemporary NYC, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Arsenal Contemporary (NYC) and Centre d’art international de Vassivière (France). Her films have been programmed at film festivals such as TIFF, Sundance, Aesthetica (UK), Palm Springs and ImagineNative. She is recipient of the 2023 Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec, the 2020 Pierre-Ayot award, the 2020 Sobey Art Award, the Sundance Institute Mereta Mita Fellowship, and the Cinefondation residency (Paris). She is based in Montreal and is represented by Blouin-Division Gallery.
This symposium will be held in recognition of Professor Christine Ross’s scholarship and contributions to AHCS.
Image: Caroline Monnet, The Room, 2023. Installation made of Styrofoam, OSB, Wood. 10,6 x 11,6 x 10,6 feet