Critical Proximity: Something About Human Connections That Can Happen When There Is A Fissure

Sally McKay and Lorna Mills, Boost Presume I’m Gonna Breathe Grieved, 2021.

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Sally McKay and Lorna Mills, Boost Presume I’m Gonna Breathe Grieved, 2021.

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Critical Proximity: Something about Human Connections that Can Happen When There Is a Fissure

Online exhibition :
from March 15 to  May 14, 2021  

I don’t share personal things online; here is something I am sharing. This exhibition is the result of an invitation to curate an online show for OBORO. The show reflects on what has happened since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic (March 11, 2020). One of my main concerns about curating an online show during this time was dealing with quarantine fatigue. For those of us working remotely—likely the audience of this show—online work and interaction are not a choice. When we have the choice, we disengage. As such, I decided to curate a show that was personal. The works selected engage with feelings I have experienced because of isolation, reduced physical activity, and the hopeless sense of “I cannots” in my daily activities (Sara Ahmed’s “I cannots”). Fissure is the common theme. With the pandemic, all sorts of things fractured or broke, including personal relations and a sense of control over our lives. 

This show is personal too because it relates to my emotional connection to the work of Lindsay Dawn Dobbin, Greg Lasky, Sally McKay and Lorna Mills, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, and Michèle Pearson Clarke. The selected artworks deal with intimacy and forms of rupture. Some works directly engage broken objects or relationships (Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay’s Fragments of Rosalie and Michèle Pearson Clarke’s Handmade Mountain). One is inspired by pandemic grief (Sally McKay and Lorna Mills’ Boost Presume I’m Gonna Breathe Grieved). One conveys difficult emotions made common in the pandemic (Greg Lasky’s Untitled). Still another evokes the mental space opened after a storm, when we reach a new state and accept what is—ahead and around us (Lindsay Dawn Dobbin’s Arrival).  

For the last decade, I’ve thought productive things happen in a fissure, when our connections and relationships don’t work, when we can’t connect, and when our connection with other people results in a shortcut. Oppressive structures affect us profoundly and personally. In my PhD dissertation I formulated “critical proximity” as productive moments of disconnection that have at their basis a closeness (2017). Some pieces invite spectators to physically get close to the works and interact with them. Others involve tactile contact. And still others explore metaphorical forms of closeness or distance between spectators and the work (or people represented in the work). Critical proximity is critical because it incites reflection on the interaction between the spectators and the artwork; proximity because its structure and aesthetics are felt closely, to erode the sense of distance and detachment between the self and Other. Set in opposition to the ideal of “critical distance” in Art History, critical proximity is a reflective means to defy ethics centered around the first-person and a detached view on technologies. In this exhibition, I revisit critical proximity to engage with our closeness to objects and subjects through artworks that incite difficult emotions such as sadness, grief, anxiety, and fear in the pandemic. This selection of contemporary artworks is a personal invitation to share intimate objects, feelings and experiences, to reflect on what has happened and what is yet to happen. 

- Erandy Vergara-Vargas

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Erandy Vergara-Vargas

Erandy Vergara-Vargas is a curator and researcher based in Montreal. Her main research interests include feminism, global art histories, curatorial studies, and postcolonialism, with a particular interest in remix cultures, artificial intelligence, and the ethics and aesthetics of participation. She holds an MA from Concordia University and a PhD in art history from McGill University.

Lindsay Dawn Dobbin

Lindsay Dawn Dobbin is a Kanien'kehá:ka - Acadian - Irish water protector, artist, musician, storyteller, curator and educator who lives and works in Mi'kma'ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of Lnu’k (Mi’kmaq). Dobbin's relational and place-responsive practice includes music, sound art, performance, sculpture, installation, social practices and writing, and is invested in Indigenous epistemologies and cultural practices, such as drumming.

Sally McKay

Sally McKay is an artist, curator, art writer and educator based in Hamilton, Ontario. She has a PhD in Art History and Visual Culture from York University. Sally works in performance, installation and digital media and frequently collaborates on art projects with her partner, Von Bark. 

Lorna Mills

Lorna Mills has exhibited her work since the early 1990's. Her practice has included obsessive Ilfochrome printing, obsessive super 8 film & video, and obsessive animated GIFs incorporated into off-line installation work. Recent exhibitions include “DKRM” at DAM Gallery, Berlin, “Dreamlands” at the Whitney Museum, NY, “Wetland” at the Museum of the Moving Image, NY and “The Great Code” at Transfer Gallery, NY.  In March, 2016, her work “Mountain Time/Light was displayed on 45 Jumbo monitors in Times Square, NYC, every night for the Midnight Moment program.

Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay

Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay is a Montreal-born artist, diarist and researcher based in Paris. Active professionally since 1999, his artistic work in video, sound, sculpture and performance mediates emotional encounters with musical, art historical, botanical, and queer cultural material, encouraging deep listening and empathic viewing.

Michèle Pearson Clarke

Michèle Pearson Clarke is a Trinidad-born artist, writer and educator who works in photography, film, video and installation. Her work has been included in exhibitions and screenings at Le Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal; the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; LagosPhoto Festival; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Maryland Institute College of Art; ltd los angeles; and Ryerson Image Centre. Based in Toronto, Clarke holds an MSW from the University of Toronto, and an MFA in Documentary Media Studies from Ryerson University.