Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, Diane Borsato, Stephanie Dinkins, Bridget Moser, Sondra Perry, and Miya Turnbull
Like everything alive that we try to hold forever brings together seven artists whose works, in a broad sense, reflect ways that our human bodies exist in relation to non-human objects and the complex, interconnected ways that these objects, through their systemic collection, consumption, and contextualization, impact our understanding of self and others.
Larry Achiampong and David Blandy’s video Dust to Data poetically critiques the construction of past and contemporary knowledge systems through the entangled legacies of archaeology, eugenics, and colonialism. Starting from the racist work of British Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, who believed that skull size was correlated to race and intellect, Achiampong, Blandy, and Professor of Archaeology, Classics, and Egyptology, Larry Barham, draw parallels between the colonial logic of control via classification of archaeological objects and the fragmented human body, and contemporary data-mining algorithms and DNA tracing kits. They suggest a disruption of these rigid, embedded systems as a way to shift our understanding of the narratives of the past – and of ourselves.
Diane Borsato’s Gems and Minerals and Artifacts in My Mouth disrupt existing museum collections – those of the Royal Ontario Museum and Museum of Ste. Hyacinthe, respectively – in ways that subvert the authority of the institution through bodily intervention. Through informative, creative, and at times, emotional ASL and dance interpretation of the ROM’s Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth’s Treasures exhibition, museum docents engage with the mineral specimens and throw into question the roles that museums play in knowledge production and resource extraction, including the often-obscured environmental and human toll involved in the acts of collecting and display. A nearby series of five photographs depict Borsato literally inserting museum artifacts into her mouth. This transgressive – almost shocking – gesture challenges the sanctity and familiar sterility of the museum to reintroduce us to the relationship between bodily experience and ways of knowing.
Stephanie Dinkins’ Conversations with Bina48 documents fragments from an ongoing friendship between the artist and a humanoid robot named Bina48, who was developed with the goal of bestowing human consciousness and the capacity of independent thought to a robot. Dinkins and Bina48 are seen discussing topics such as race, relationships, emotions, and popular culture. Their conversations reveal a variety of intersecting truths: on the one hand, their ongoing friendship indicates the relational potential of AI; on the other, Bina48’s stilted speech and uncannily humanoid appearance reveal the limits of her capacity for human mimicry. Most pressingly, despite being given the likeness of a Black woman, Bina48 appears initially incapable of addressing or understanding racism or sexism. Her programming gestures towards the biases and assumptions of AI and algorithms borne out of a predominately white, male tech sector, which increasingly influence the cadence of our daily lives.
Through a collection of coded consumer objects used as props and bodily proxies, Bridget Moser’s My Crops are Dying but My Body Persists engages absurdist humour to address the existential anxiety of being a fallible body living in a world afflicted by a host of interconnected diseases: overconsumption through capitalism, environmental degradation, social isolation, white supremacy. Alongside a succession of unsettling, almost fetishistic, object interactions and an emotionally resonant soundtrack (ranging from Enya, to fun., to Karl Jenkins’ composition for De Beers diamonds), Moser’s character narrates a fragmented series of voice overs that alternate between apprehensively insightful, to slightly delusional, to fatalistically self-reflexive.
Sondra Perry’s video IT’S IN THE GAME ’17 interweaves personal and familial narratives with an incisive critique of technology, power, and representations of Blackness. At the centre of the video is the artist’s twin brother, Sandy Perry, who played basketball for Georgia Southern University. His physical appearance and career statistics (alongside those of his teammates) were sold by the National College Athletic Association to EA Games without his knowledge or consent – and without compensation – for use as avatars in EA Games’ NCAA Basketball video game series. This narrative is interspersed with cellphone footage of the Perry siblings visiting The Met and The British Museum, as well as 3D scans of objects from both collections – many of which were looted or collected under conditions of colonialism. Through these interwoven narratives, Perry gestures to lineages of appropriation of Black likenesses and cultural production; the sustained, multi-systemic exploitation of labour by Black people; and questions of self-determination and self-authorship across institutions of museums, technology, and sport.
Constructed primarily from papier-mâché and photo collage, Miya Turnbull’s Mask Sculptures self-portraits are an ongoing exploration of her identity as a person of mixed Japanese-Canadian heritage. Through a process of casting her own face, then photographing it, cutting, and reconfiguring the image, Turnbull’s sculptures are an exploration of the mask as a device that both reveals and conceals the complexity and shifting nature of human experience and the self. Elsewhere, Turnbull manipulates self-portraits printed on paper into origami sculptures that assume forms such as cranes, frogs, or hearts. These unsettling self-likenesses also reference the artist’s mother, who taught Turnbull origami as a child, rendering them vectors for intergenerational memories and knowledge.
Through a constellation of approaches, the works here address psychosocial relationships to materiality and craft; issues of embedded identity, likeness, and self-authorship; biases and harms entrenched within science, technology, and museological collections that are often cloaked under the guise of logical neutrality; and objects or avatars that allow us to access the limits of human experience, push against it, or gesture toward a transhuman future.