Entry 1:

Some notes, following a train of thought on Teju Cole’s book Golden Apple of the Sun and Alice Zoo’s essay about it:

When I initially saw Teju Cole’s photographs, they made me think of grief. Everything feels foreign. This un-staged photography mimics dissociation. They are sad images to me. The framing devices (or lack thereof) recontextualize these mundane objects in the same way that some drastic change in one’s life can spur fresh eyes and a new appreciation for daily rituals. 

Maybe Cole’s images seem sad because of the previous contexts where I have seen a dirty spoon—someone has just died while making soup or received bad news that has compelled them to leave the kitchen messy or is focusing on the now impossible task of cleaning in light of some tragic event or bout of mental illness. The visual language of a happy kitchen is one of order, bathed in warm light, pots cleaned or happily bubbling. Cole’s photographs participate in an institutionally unfamiliar visual lexicon.

film still from The Future, 2011, Miranda July
some vanitas painting
an ancient photo of Martha Stewart in her “happy kitchen”
a very blurry Le Creuset advert

Cole’s writing alongside the images is important to their interpretation—a narrative forms in the webs of association. His history with food is documented at length in the back of the book of photographs. The images are contextualized through writing and I think this makes the work a lot more compelling. Or at least, easier to take seriously. But importantly, the photographs were first released online into the ever-expanding online ecosystem, the wilderness of images. 

I am rambling but I think that I have landed on my point of departure (to mix metaphors).

Alice Zoo finishes this essay and interview by asking “What happens to the photograph when it is freed from the imperative to be good…” Interestingly, at the time of this essay, “casual Instagram” was trending—it, as a trend, had been percolating for a couple years on “aesthetic” and “cool-girl” accounts but it finally reached a point in the mainstream vernacular that it was identified in trend reports on TikTok. 

What is casual Instagram? Casual Instagram is effectively what Cole is doing in Golden Apple of the Sun but with poorer image quality: photographs that depict nothing particularly exciting but somehow are aesthetically cool or beautiful typified this moment in online life. These photographs were meant to impart an effortlessness in lifestyle—that your everyday was aesthetic. Your phone could practically fall out of your hand and take a photo of your surroundings and its little lens would land on something charming, because your life was/is charming. Casual Instagram was also (initially) a reaction to the highly staged, highly curated, high production value of the influencer’s Instagram. I think this latter impulse is the driver of Cole’s work. His impulse to remove layers of performativity and production from his online world is an impulse that millions of other people had at the same time and before him. They were reacting to their own online ecosystems.

All of this is to say in some oblique way, that Cole’s images are narrative images. We exist in an image rich culture where every image that exists contributes to the network of images that existed before. Lineages of influence evolve and emerge. Pull the string and something will come from the depths of Instagram or advertising or art history. Cole’s images make me think of bridal catalogues and Canadian Tire flyers and vanitas paintings, and 2000s mumble-core films about loss. I can’t tell if Cole’s images participate in these traditions actively. Maybe Cole’s images are more of a Rorschach test for me than anything else. 

Entry 2:

A disclaimer, this journal is a wild meandering document of half understood facts.


One of the threads that runs through many of the readings is the topic of mushrooms.

Another one of these threads is optimism/sentimentality/sincerity as an alternative approach to knowledge and research and general world outlook. I talked about this idea briefly in class the other day in relation to adrienne maree brown’s interview on On Being but this is a theme that appears in many of the other readings.

o/s/s was touched on first in our September 22nd reading, World on Fire: How Should Art Reckon With Climate Change?In fact, the editorial finished on a very o/s/s note, citing hope as the foundational concept of Nick Cage’s Organ2/ASLPwork. How very quaint!

We move on to our September 28th readings and o/s/s ideas are invoked. Robin Wall Kimmerer asserts that her initial interest in the natural world were rooted in questions of beauty. Her work has gone on to involve an emotional connection with the landscape. She asks her students cringey questions like “does the world/does nature care about you”, very o/s/s if you ask me.

In this same week we listen to an interview with Patricia Kashian who discusses their work in mycology. They mention o/s/s as these concepts relate to empirical scientific study. Scientific study is largely understood to be objective but how can it be? 

Now we are in October and our materials for the 19th both discussed resisting capitalism and “hustle culture” through investing time in pleasurable activities.

Jenny O’Dell discusses labour movements and their slogan “8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, and 8 hours for what we will”. This “what we will” is later elaborated: enjoying the sun, walking through flowers, paddling a boat on a lake, writing poetry, long walks on the beach (I don’t think that last one was a real example of the “what we will category” but it may as well be). These activities are incredibly o/s/s.

adrienne maree brown’s work is rooted in o/s/s. Even when, in the podcast interview on On Being, she discusses the end of humanity it is in a way that manages to avoid cynicism. Her book Pleasure Activism navigates the world through beauty and joy and pleasure. 

The Scientific Method Can Go (don’t let the door hit you on the way out)

I’m not a scientist. However, during my undergrad, I took a class called the “History of Philosophy and Science” and it was a review of all the ways in which science took its cues from philosophy. Science is rooted in empirical data and objective perspectives—this is thanks to Francis Bacon. But how can this be possible? We are an emotional species, prone to feelings of love and fear and joy and anger, how can one’s research be truly objective?

The scientific method is deeply rooted in attributes that we would associate with masculinity. “Men” are rational. “Women” are irrational. “Men” are level-headed. “Women” are hysterical. 

            I know that hysterical has all these really serious and oppressive connotations, historically. But I am a hysterical woman! I am a shrill, hysterical, silly, stupid woman and you should all treat me with respect.

Anyway, the scientific method is coded masculine and the scientific method has deeply influenced artistic practice. We, as artists have to create research proposals and write theses and gather data. It’s absurd. 

I am advocating for an INTUITIVE artistic method. One that is grounded in emotionality, intuition, sentimentality, beauty.

Fear and Cynicism as Paralytic 

I talk a lot with my boyfriend, Paul, about climate activism. What is the best way to motivate people to make climate conscious choices in how they vote, how they spend their money, how they dispose of waste etc… We both wonder if fear of annihilation is motivating anyone anymore. The times where I have felt the least motivated to do anything are times when I have felt the least hope. 

I think living with an optimistic outlook, one where I have faith that my hypothetical children will have food to eat, and seasons to enjoy, is a future that I want to work toward and feel is achievable. Optimism and hope for a good future is practical. I won’t work for something I don’t believe in.


I just finished an essay by David Foster Wallace on irony, E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction. Though this essay is from the 90s, its concepts relating to irony in media and literature and art are completely relevant.  I’ll try to reduce it to its main argument: much like when photography was introduced to the world and art responded with abstraction, we saw literature respond to television with meta-fiction. But meta-fiction has not been able to grapple with irony effectively (or at least in DFW’s opinion). I won’t go into the minutiae of literature’s attempts to grapple with irony, but what is important to understand is the pervasive trend towards irony in culture. DFW concludes this essay speculating 

“The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird ‘anti-rebels,’ born oglers who dare to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall to actually endorse single-entendre values. Who treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic…Accusations of sentimentality, melodrama.”

Irony as hyper-object. 

I don’t want to elaborate on this.

A Conclusion so to speak

I have grown up STEEPED in irony. I knew “say hello to my little friend” before I knew where that came from. Adolescent media and internet culture in the 2000s and early 10s was a wealth of media references and ironic, tongue in cheek moments. No wonder we all needed braces.

I want optimism, sentimentality, sincerity. I want to be vulnerable enough to feel real embarrassment because isn’t life embarrassing already and can’t we just admit that we all feel embarrassed all the time? 

I had an ex-boyfriend who was a punk and he was exhausting. Too cool for this, too apathetic for that. Hated Christmas. Didn’t want to wear costumes at Halloween. I used to be like him but life wasn’t very fun being apathetic and listening to music no one has heard. 

I’m going back to my studio now where I will be listening to the new Taylor Swift album.

Entry 3:

Shit Happens:

Adorno says that there must be pleasure in art because otherwise, why do we continue to pursue it? Why continue engaging in something unless we find it pleasurable on some level. Not everyone likes art, just like not everyone likes sex (as crazy as both ideas might seem). So when Amy says that she wanted to barf when at conferences on beauty and visual pleasure I am confronted with this thought from my friend, Adorno. 

If Amy is not seeking visual pleasure in art, she is nonetheless enjoying art. I enjoy many things that are not beautiful but they are pleasurable. I guess what I am trying to say here is that Amy’s conflation of beauty and visual pleasure doesn’t really resonate with me. Although I can appreciate that one of the big questions of the 90s was BEAUTY as outlined by my hero and sadly deceased art crush, Dave Hickey in his essay “Enter the Dragon, On the Vernacular of Beauty”. And so in this aforementioned conference on beauty and visual pleasure, the visual pleasure in question was one linked to beauty. I am writing in circles over here.

Beauty to me does not equal visual pleasure.

To see a litre of yogurt on the ground is immensely pleasurable to me because it is so obscene. 


Now that I have awkwardly outlined that beauty and visual pleasure can be linked but **to me** are not, I can discuss the pleasure of awkwardness, the pleasure of discomfort, the pleasure of work. In “Shit Happens” Sillman seems to be grappling with naming the nameless, asking herself, if I am not in pursuit of beauty, of what am I in pursuit? She concludes with awkwardness, embarrassment, just being alive and that painting and art making can encapsulate these experiences. 

What’s more awkward than a piece of Stephen Sondheim music??

I’m here to say that being alive: pissing, shitting, barfing, heartbreak, tripping on your shoelace in front of your crush, spitting on your new mother in law at your wedding because you got too drunk and your retainer makes you lisp…all these experiences can be pleasurable in some perverse way. There is pleasure in discomfort, and awkwardness, and I think that Sillman’s paintings hint at that and I think her writing outlines this, although maybe her definition of pleasure is different from mine.

Some work I find pleasurable in an awkward way (and unfortunately I did not take note of any work titles!):

M E Sparks
Marina Roy
Nadya Isabella
Russna Kaur
David Shrigley

I’ve just realized that all these paintings are by artists whom I often think about! It’s never occurred to me to describe these paintings as awkward but they totally are and clearly it’s something that I seek out!

I wonder if the pleasure of these images is in their tension, in their awkwardness, in their clumsy and sometimes tasteless content and form and this tension is what I find pleasurable. Or maybe (and I think I may be on to something here) the tension is where the humour is.
The humour is embedded in the heavy handedness, the uncomfortable subject matter, the garish colour. The shaking line trembles with a belly laugh and a dirty joke we won’t ever say out loud. Freud’s humour is the humour that I am here referring to: the sublimation of your hidden feelings into cringey jokes. Does Freud’s humour live in awkward paintings?

Entry 4:


I am, perhaps simplistically, going to order my thoughts using numbers. I think it is a delightful writing convention and one that I enjoy every time I encounter it. Not to mention that I always think of tweets when I read this kind of writing, and how appropriate for Bluets. A series of thoughts from a little blue bird:

1. I was reading a review of Bluets by Jocelyn Parr in Brick literary journal, trying to make sense of this filmy and meandering piece of writing when I came across this passage in discussion of the Nelson’s autobiographical style: 

“What separates Nelson’s work from … Kraus, Myles, Acker, Zambreno, and Heti is that every sentence is beautiful. Rather than attach herself to an aesthetic of ugliness in an effort to refuse the confines of what Zambreno would call the patriarchal literary establishment, Nelson transcends them: each proposition is breathtaking.”

2. I think this is an interesting concept. I have read this idea before, from Adorno, when talking about aesthetics. I am probably misquoting but Adorno states that the viewer’s affect in response to the work does not need to be negative for the work to be critical. The work can be beautiful and be critical simultaneously. 

1.2 First of all, this review from Parr is incorrect. With all of Nelson’s discussions of sucking and fucking and assholes and pussies (oh my!) I would argue that she is absolutely engaging in ugly prose. Some of her writing about sex is extremely crass and not beautiful at all. Maybe my definition of beauty is too literal and this is not to say that I didn’t appreciate this dick pussy talk. Nor to say that sex that is crass and blunt and rude is something we should shy away from. Nor even is it to say that I don’t appreciate this kind of language in writing. But beautiful prose it is not.  

1.3 Second of all, this concept that beauty is associated with the literary, patriarchal establishment is absurd. It’s like old school feminists saying that I can’t dress like a whore because it appeals to men. This positions me, and all women, in opposition to or subservient to “Men”. Men don’t own dressing like a whore and men don’t own beauty. I’m being simplistic here but let’s just agree and move along.

1.3 Now for my real point. I am so interested in this idea of beauty and its associations with flakiness and unintellectuality. In my undergrad one of my art history professors said “it’s too bad really, that Monet’s water lilies are so beautiful, because these paintings are very serious and they explore optics”. Wut???? So because these paintings are beautiful, they can’t be serious or scientific? Surely these qualities are not mutually exclusive? 

3. I am lying on my stomach on my bed with my feet in the air, absently rubbing up against one another. I feel like a teenager in a movie. 

4. I love Nelson’s use of “you”. It is the most painful, the most romantic, the most vulnerable. A “you” that is addressed publicly puts lead in my stomach. It make me nauseous with heartache. Who is this you? Are they reading this? Who is my “you”? 

5. The letter that is public, and private all at once. The privacy of the “you”. It is hot and wet in its freshness, its proximity to domestic tragedy. It is melodrama. 

6. This is my favourite poem maybe of all time, by Adrian Henri:

Well I woke up this mornin’ it was Christmas Day
And the birds were singing the night away
I saw my stocking lying on the chair
Looked right to the bottom but you weren’t there
there was
. .. . aftershave
but no you.
So I went downstairs and the dinner was fine
There was pudding and turkey and lots of wine
And I pulled those crackers with a laughing face
Till I saw there was no one in your place
there was
nuts and raisins
. . . mashed potato
but no you.
Now it’s New Year and it’s Auld Lang Syne
And it’s 12 o’clock and I’m feeling fine
Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot?
I don’t know girl, but it hurts a lot
there was
dry Martini (stirred but not shaken)
…. and 12 New Year resolutions
all of them about you.

7. I am gutted, I love this poem. 

8. Or perhaps more famously is Frank O’Hara’s “you”, the “you” of 

Sharing a Coke with you
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

8. Did you know there is no mention of the colour blue in ancient texts? Humanity doesn’t develop names for colours if their equivalent pigment hasn’t been produced–which makes sense. It is only when the colour becomes divorced from its referent that a new word is necessary, otherwise you could just describe things as like other things, such as this famous example from Homer “the wine drunk sea”. And blue is almost always the last pigment to be developed.

9. More interestingly though, is that seemingly, people are unable to distinguish colours among similar colours when there is no available name for that colour. Green is indistinguishable from blue if there is no name for blue, for example.

10. Leading me to language. Can language really shift perception so dramatically? So that we see something that someone else might not see at all? I think so.

11. I love the blues in Alice Neel and in Felix Valloton and in Mary Cassat and Kerry James Marshall

Mary Cassat
Felix Valloton
Kerry James Marshall
Alice Neel

12. Alice Neel’s blue outlines are especially yummy

13. I don’t any type of conclusion for this reading just that I think that it is wonder that autotheory can include love and loss and obsession and still be significant and considered significant work. I’m reading I Love Dick now and it is obsessive and funny and just absolutely crazy. Now I’m about to go on a tangent but I just have to say this publicly: I loved Eat Pray Love (the book not the movie). It isn’t quite autotheory but it’s very close and I think Elizabeth Gilbert is a wonderful writer and she discusses heartbreak really beautifully.

14. Ok that’s all for now. Diane, if you have read this far, you are a saint. Thank you for a wonderful class.

OH and lastly, my Chromophobia power point:

2 Responses to Sophia

  1. Diane

    Ha, Sophia! Your writing is deceptively simple, while deeply original, associative and thoughtful. Maybe I’m biased to love/optimism too – though always conscious of abuses of power and violence… the dialectics of this informs almost everything we do as artists, I think. Anyway, I laughed out loud at your ” ironic, tongue in cheek moments. No wonder we all needed braces.” and look forward to seeing how these references and others discussed in class inform your own framing of your challenging practice. I’m learning a lot from you about your generation/and also very specific relationship to the internet and how images live on-line and in the moment. This is a rich territory that only you can unfold for us! Thank you for your contributions to discussions and your unabashed honesty, original “bad taste” references, and intelligence!

  2. Chelsea Ryan

    Hi Sophia,

    I appreciate your reflections on the writing and work by Teju Cole, the artist I presented on. The work has sat with me for a few weeks, and I keep returning.

    It’s interesting to read how you think about kitchens – especially since we share one, much like the nice ones you described – fruit in the basket on the table, warm window light, always something freshly made, and clean dishes. It makes me think about how our environments reflect our mental states.

    I felt the same sense of loss when I initially understood Teju Cole’s photographs through the frame of grief. Cole talked a lot about how the election and the pandemic, during which he became sick, made him more contemplative of his space in the world and, perhaps, his kitchen, too. And, as you said, the writing he juxtaposed his photographs with, the recipes potentially written by enslaved people, it’s hard not to sense mixed feelings of intimacy, loss, and gratitude for access to food, and all of these things lead to a contemplative space. I think contemplation is one of the most substantial feelings I get from the Golden Apple of the Sun.

    Your reflection on “casual Instagram” provokes me to think a lot about how every day is communicated, shown, and discussed. To what level is it curated? Do Cole’s images evoke the same feelings or messages on his feed as in his book? Do I value one over the other, and for what reason? Is it because Cole is referencing cookbooks as historical, material and domestic objects that it makes sense that the work is output in cookbook format?

    These are all excellent questions to think about. Thank you for your honest, clear writing, sharing your thoughts with great connections to contemporary media and pop culture, and framing your reflections in ways I can relate to. Thanks, Sophia!

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New Monuments:

Thomas J Price. Within the Folds (Dialogue I), 2020. Cast silicon bronze, Overall: 274.3 × 68.6 × 68.6 cm. Private Collection. © Thomas J. Price. Installation view, Dundas and McCaul. Photo © AGO

AGOinsider: Many have considered your large-scale public works to be perfect replacements for some of the recently toppled colonial statues across the globe. How do you feel about this assertion? Did you ever think of these works as a type of monument?

TJP: I think of my figurative works as ‘sculptures about statues’. I wanted the work to make people aware of why monuments are built, what narratives are they trying to maintain? Who does that serve? Whilst it’s true that since 2020 the public has become far more conscious of the monuments that stand above them, it’s often been followed by a desire to simply replace individuals from history with different individuals from history. Whilst I do think that awareness of the full spectrum of contributions from within society is a very good thing, I don’t want to end up reinforcing a hierarchical system that is designed from the ground up to maintain the status quo in terms of power and privilege.

AGOinsider: What’s next for you and your practice? Are there any works in progress or upcoming projects you are excited about that you can share with us?  

TJP: I’m working on various new bodies of work and have a good number of upcoming projects planned, but the one I’m really getting excited about (and can talk about) is my Windrush commission by Hackney Council in east London, U.K. I’m making two nine-foot amalgam bronze figures based on individuals in the borough who have connections to the Windrush immigration from the Caribbean of 1948. I’m half Jamaican and so it’s a huge honour to be making contemporary works connected to not only my own story, but to the lives of so many people in the U.K. and beyond. The sculptures will be publicly installed in the square outside Hackney town hall, it will be amazing to see them there as part of the fabric of London.

Within the Folds (Dialogue 1) is on view now outside of the AGO on the corner of Dundas and McCaul.


In Oct–Nov 2017, performance artists Life of a Craphead gave a series of performances in which they dropped a life-size replica statue of King Edward VII into the Lower Don River. The sculpture floated down the river between Riverdale Park and Queen Street before it was retrieved for its next journey.

In Queen’s Park, Toronto, sits a 15-foot bronze equestrian statue of King Edward VII. The statue was originally erected in Delhi, India in 1922 to commemorate King Edward VII’s historic role as the Emperor of India. After independence in India, the statue was removed, to be destroyed; years later a prominent Toronto resident and art collector brought the statue to Toronto in appreciation of its craftsmanship. It was placed in Queen’s Park in 1969 despite public outcry and criticism.

Life of a Craphead’s project explored the histories and decisions that continue to shape Toronto’s public space and public art. Their performance created the illusion that this statue had been “dumped” in the Don River. With both humour and a sharp critical eye, the project addressed the persistence of power as it manifests in public art and public monuments – symbols that are often preserved in perpetuity, even when the stories we want to celebrate change.

In Queen’s Park, Toronto, there is a 15-foot bronze sculpture of King Edward VII on a horse, first erected in colonial India in 1922. Following India’s independence in 1947, it was removed and placed in storage. A prominent Toronto businessman and politician heard of its existence and paid for it to be moved to Toronto, citing his desire for a “great equestrian statue.” Despite protests from the public, the statue was placed in Queen’s Park in 1969. The statue still bears the original colonial plaque stating that the statue of the British King is of “The Emperor of India.” This is a performance where we dumped a life-size replica of the sculpture in the Don and it floated down the river for 4 weeks in October-November 2017.
For the Don River Valley Park, curated by Kari Cwynar.

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Kent Monkman at the ROM

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Field Trip – Wed. Oct. 26th

Meet at 2 pm at Art Metropole

896 College Street (park nearby)

Meet at 2:45 pm at Mercer Union:

Mercer Union, a centre for contemporary art
1286 Bloor Street West (park nearby, or somewhere between here and MOCA)

Meet at 3:30 pm at Gallery TPW:

Gallery TPW is located at 170 St. Helens Ave. in Toronto. Visitors arriving by TTC can walk from Lansdowne Station, take the 505 Dundas Street West Streetcar, the 506 College Streetcar, or the 47 Lansdowne Bus.

We will also visit Clint Roenisch Gallery, and Daniel Faria gallery.

Meet at 4:30 pm at MOCA:

Note: Sudents will need to pay $5 admission fee

We will see the exhibitions at MOCA, and head up to the bar for “Tiravanija Negronis” at 5:30:

Meet at 7:00 for dinner at Pho Phuong:

1603 Dundas St W, Toronto

I’ll make a reservation for us!

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Teju Cole – Photos and texts

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Arboretum Mushroom Foray 2022

MFA seminar in the Arboretum, Oct. 6, 2022.
A raccoon skull, as predicted by a painting.
Chaga mushroom

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Olafur Eliasson, Reality Machines and “Hyperobjects”

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Bjork explains FOSSORA; her MUSHROOM album

See Lauren Fournier’s Fermenting Feminisms:

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Art and Climate Change

  • Several references are from the readings
  1. WORLD ON FIRE: How should Art Reckon with Climate Change? New York Times Magazine, 2022.

2. Dowsing for Remediation with Alana Bartol, Valérie Frappier, C Magazine 2022. PDF on blog.

3. Plastiglomerate: On Kelly Jazvac, Kirsty Robertson, e-flux journal, 2016. Article link

What is the ethical duty of artists?

Environmentalist Bill McKibben asked –

“Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he wrote in an op-ed for Grist. “Compare it to, say, the horror of AIDS … which has produced a staggering outpouring of art that, in turn, has had real political effect.” For future generations looking back on the present, “the single most significant item will doubtless be the sudden spiking temperature. But they’ll have a hell of a time figuring out what it meant to us.”

What can art and artists actually do?

Chicago-based curator and early supporter of environmental art Stephanie Smith cautioned that a glut of superficially righteous exhibitions could give hits of easy virtue to viewers and museums alike –

“If sustainability or climate change become art trends du jour, we risk providing a palliative to ourselves and to our audiences without contributing much to artistic production, nuanced debate or lasting social change”

How are artists representing the environment?

Representing nature as the sublime and untouched – Thomas Cole

Spoiled and poisoned, developed – Ed Burtinsky

How are contemporary artists re-imagining our place in the natural world, and proposing alternative relationships with our environment?

Imagining alternative relationships – Mary Mattingly, Future Farmers

Just over a mile up the Bronx River from Hunts Point, Mary Mattingly has docked her newest floating project, Swale, a garden on a 130-by-40-foot steel barge. After discovering it is illegal to forage or even grow food in public parks in New York City, Mattingly conceived of producing a forest of edible plants on the water, to circumvent those laws and let people gather food for free.

Amy Franchescini (Future Farmers)

Making the absurdity of our moment visible

Space of persuasion/affective experience of large and complex concepts –

Educating/making the scope of the catastrophe felt – and ACTUAL remediation: Alana Bartol

The artists is interested in reciprocal relationships to land, and asks – “How do (I and other settlers) actually relate to land, and to what it’s already communicating?

She is exploring “extractive capitalism” while simultaneously “entangled with and benefitting from it.”

Kelly Jazvac– Plastiglomerates:

“In 2013, at the suggestion of oceanographer Charles Moore, geologist Patricia Corcoran and artist Kelly Jazvac travelled to Kamilo Beach, Hawaii to study a new stone formation. What they found was a new substance that was a mix of melted plastic and natural materials such as coral, sand, wood and volcanic rock. They called the stones “Plastiglomerate” and a co-authored manuscript of their findings can be found here:

From Kelly Jazvac 


“Human action on the beach had created what Corcoran and Jazvac named “plastiglomerate,” a sand-and-plastic conglomerate. Molten plastic had also in-filled many of the vesicles in the volcanic rock, becoming part of the land that would eventually be eroded back into sand.”

“The term “plastiglomerate” refers most specifically to “an indurated, multi-composite material made hard by agglutination of rock and molten plastic. This material is subdivided into an in situ type, in which plastic is adhered to rock outcrops, and a clastic type, in which combinations of basalt, coral, shells, and local woody debris are cemented with grains of sand in a plastic matrix.” (KJ) More poetically, plastiglomerate indexically unites the human with the currents of water; with the breaking down, over millennia, of stone into sand and fossils into oil; with the quick substration of that oil into fuel; and with the refining of that fuel into polycarbons—into plastic, into garbage. “


“The naming and dating of the Anthropocene, an as-yet formally unrecognized and heavily debated term for a geologic epoch evidencing human impact on the globe, relies “on whether humans have changed the Earth system sufficiently to produce a stratigraphic signature in sediments and ice that is distinct from that of the Holocene epoch.

Whichever (if any) start date is chosen, plastiglomerate—a substance that is neither industrially manufactured nor geologically created—seems a fraught but nonetheless incontrovertible marker of the anthropogenic impact on the world; it is evidence of human presence written directly into the rock.

After collection, the samples gathered at Kamilo Beach were analyzed so as to categorize the plastics and the natural sediments that together created the plastiglomerate whole. Following this, Jazvac showed the plastiglomerate in art exhibitions as sculptural ready-mades, to demonstrate human impact on nature. 


Plastic soon shed its utopian allure, becoming hard evidence for the three c’s—the triple threat of capitalism, colonialism, and consumerism—as well as a kind of shorthand for all that was inauthentic and objectionable about postwar everyday life.

Plastiglomerate is a remainder, a reminder, an indicator of the slow violence of massive pollution. It brings together deep geological time and current consumerism.

Plastiglomerate is what Heather Davis calls “accidentally or incidentally” aesthetic. It is precisely the facticity of plastiglomerate, its infrangibility, its constituent components and analysis as both artwork and geological specimen that make it fascinating. Plastiglomerate demonstrates an already existent artistic relationship between human and planetary action that can’t really be improved by rendering that relationship as solely human. Or perhaps more disturbing still, it demonstrates the Anthropocene as a performance, an artwork with the end act of planetary destruction.

Kelly Jazvac - Plastiglomerate and Plastic Samples (detail 1) (conglomerate rocks gathered on Kamilo Beach with geologist Patricia Corcoran, Hawaii, and ceramic stands) 2013

The ready-made geologic being of plastiglomerate speaks to more than pollution: also geology, the deep time of Earth, colonization, human-animal knowledges, currents of water, and the endless unfolding and collapse of life on Earth. We might conclude that “we have come into existence with and because of so many others, from carbon to microbes to dogs. And all these creatures and rocks and air molecules and water all exist together, with each other, for each other. To be a human means to be the land and water and air of our surroundings.”

Excerpts from Plastiglomerate: On Kelly Jazvac, Kirsty Robertson, e-flux journal, 2016.

Spaces of reflection, remembrance –

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Roni Horn, Library of Water, 2007 – ongoing

Water covers 70 per cent of the earth’s surface. “It’s always the same and it’s never the same,” says Finnish artist Elina Brotherus. Hear her, Olafur Eliasson, Bill Viola, Marina Abramović and four other artists on the vital substance. Water: a place of danger and opportunity. American video artist Bill Viola, in whose work water is a stable participant, fell into a lake at the age of six and saw “probably the most beautiful world I’ve ever seen.” Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson uses water as an “element of something moving in an otherwise static landscape” in his 2014 installation ‘Riverbed’ and Danish artist group Superflex uses water in their “post-apocalyptic movie” ‘Flooded McDonald’s’. A substance with many uses, meanings and possibilities, Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi – praised for his ability to build innovative architecture on water – says: “There’s a whole life cycle in water, a whole economy.” Also featured in this video is Serbian artist Marina Abramović, Czech artist Klara Hobza and American artist Roni Horn.

Transform our experience of time/scale of our lives relative to the world – John Cage, Katie Patterson,change%20%E2%80%94%20the%20first%20since%202013.,change%20%E2%80%94%20the%20first%20since%202013.

Modelling/embodying alternative cultures and worldviews –Tania Willard, Bush Gallery



Protest, fight – Public Studio

From the Declaration of Responsibilities and Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms, Public Studio, 2018, Toronto.

Express hope/resist cynicism and apathy –

Transform/reduce environmental impact of art’s production and exhibition –

Tara Donovan and Piet Hein Eek – who have made discarded, everyday materials the centre of their work. Watch their exciting approach to re-using materials. “The materials wait to be used again.” British sculptor Phyllida Barlow (b.1944) uses materials from her former sculptures – from their experimental stage. To Barlow, sculpturing is not about perfection but about recovering lost moments. Flexibility is key to American artist Elliott Hundley (b. 1975), who uses materials he’s found washed up on a beach in his artwork. Wrapping paper, rocks and beads are all part of a magnificent collage pieced together by chicken wire and straight pins. “In a way the artist works with remnants, society’s remnants.” Danish poet, writer and artist Morten Søkilde (b. 1974) dubs himself “a thing-finder” and uses these things he finds on e.g. the street to create his poetic, dream-like miniature models. When re-using materials in such a manner, there are suddenly infinite possibilities, and one’s own ideas are the only limitation. American fabric sculptor and performance artist Nick Cave (b. 1959) describes his art as “a second skin that hides gender, race, class.” An array of discarded materials makes up his artwork, and he often frequents thrift stores and flea markets, searching for something “that has a pulse to it” and can be the beginning of something new. “It always starts with material,” says Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek (b. 1967), who uses e.g. scrap wood to build furniture – his goal being to optimize and take maximum advantage of the things around him. Starting out, people thought he was crazy to use leftover-material, but his approach has now set a new trend. American artist Tara Donovan (b. 1969) was initially drawn to everyday materials – such as straws – because they were easily accessible, inexpensive and mass-produced. She works to the point where the flexible material, which makes up her magical sculptures, transcends itself, thus creating a sort of artistic structure. All interviews by Marc-Christoph Wagner, Christian Lund and Jonas Hjorth, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

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Class announcements

Class trip for Wednesday Oct 26th!

2pm Meet in Toronto at MOCA

4:30pm: We will also be visiting Gallery TPW and Art Metropole.

Pho Phuong at 6?

Ron Benner’s Corn Roast at the Art Gallery of Guelph

Community Corn Roast + Fall Season Launch
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Community Corn Roast + Fall Season Launch
Wednesday, September 14 | 5:30 – 8:30 pm
Free | In person
Donald Forster Sculpture Park
Remarks at 6:30 pm | Exhibition walkthrough at 7 pm

Celebrate the launch of the AGG’s upcoming season and the fall harvest with an opening reception on Wednesday, September 14 at 5:30 pm. As well as ᖃᐅᑕᒫᑦ | Qautamaat, the gallery’s new fall exhibitions include Anahita Norouzi: Planting Displacement, guest curated by Amin Alsaden, and Homecoming, featuring Anita Cazzola, Laura Grier, and Justine Woods and curated by Erin Szikora, recipient of the 2022 Middlebrook Prize for Young Canadian Curators.
Visiting artist Ron Benner brings his roving corn-roasting wagon, Maize Barbacoa, to the Art Gallery of Guelph for a Community Corn Roast. Part sculpture, part installation, part performance, enjoy fresh local corn and celebrate the artists and curators in attendance.
Based in London, Ontario, Ron Benner’s artistic practice and research often focuses how the globalization of seed circulation and farming methods has impacted local communities and contexts, his work highlights the connections between colonization and commercialization and the loss of biodiversity as well as global indigenous traditions and cultures.
Remarks are at 6:30 pm. From 7 – 8 pm, join curators Erin Szikora and Amin Alsaden, along with artist Anahita Norouzi for a casual walkthrough and introduction to the new exhibitions opening this fall.
Bring your own blanket or lawn chair and settle in for good conversation about the exhibitions with friends and family, surrounded by the artworks in the sculpture park.
Parking in Campus Lot P23 is FREE with access from College Ave. and MacDonald St. The AGG parking lot is closed during the event with the exception of limited accessibility parking.
The event will be held outdoors and inside gallery spaces. For more information about AGG COVID-19 protocols, please visit our website. Registration is not required for this event.

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