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Art & Art History

Art History, Art and Design


Grasping at the Roots: An Exhibition Syllabus

Taking cues from mycorrhizae, mutually beneficial associations between fungi and plants, the exhibition looks to strategies artists use to support and sustain relationships with those they work with, and also to curatorial strategies that might in turn better support artists. Grasping at the Roots operates from the premise that this strategy of care has the ability to foster and develop community in sustainable and meaningful ways.

Artists in Grasping at the Roots privilege participation and working intimately with communities as a critical part of artistic practice. In a time when many—especially those on the margins—face real life threats and challenges, these artists prioritize community-building and engaged relationships built on responsibility and care. Incorporating a variety of tactics, artists have considered material forms along with site specificity in order to translate works that perform actively in the world for the space of the gallery.

The exhibition runs January 17 - March 28, 2020, at the Mitchell Art Gallery featuring the work of Debbie Ebanks Schlums, Serena Lee, Eugenio Salas, Scott Portingale, and Shawn Tse,


Artists' Inspirational Ideas, Works, Projects


Debbie Ebanks Schlums

In addition to the Ted Purves essay and the Adrian Piper reference, these books are key to my work and thinking: Dwelling, Place, and Environment: Towards a Phenomenology of Person and World (2000) by Seamon and Mugerauer, as well as the Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary During Global Crisis (2013) by Demos. I'm inspired by artists project such as the work of Warwick Thorton and the peoples museum. Relationships and interviews with migrants and refugees are integral to may work. In particular for this project is my relationship with Anahita Osman, and the participants, who I knew for a little over a year before beginning this project.

In the news:

Serena Lee

I'm inspired by the writings of Ursula K Leguin particularly the essay "The Carrier Bag of Theory of Fiction" published in the Women of Vision (1988) book, and her short story "Solitude." The following books are also key to understanding my work: Memory Serves: Oratories (2015) by Lee Maracle and Belonging: A Culture of Place (2009) by bell hooks. I was also moved by the dance piece Portraits by Sarah Chase which I saw in 2004 in Toronto. These mentioned writings and performance explore the idea of place-making through storytelling.

I'm also interested in issues of reproductive labour and domestic space. Virginian Woolf's A Room of One's Own is a seminal inspirational work as well as the Grand Domestic Revolution (GDR) research project. Concerned with the intersections of domestic labour and space, (ongoing) legacies of feminism, the commons and private property, the GDR (2009 - 2012) consisted of relationship-building, dinners, place-making, exhibitions, discursive events, and a massive publication detailing references and documentation of the projects. 

Central to GDR is the work of Silvia Federici, an Italian-American feminist activist, educator, and scholar who provides tools to rethink capitalism through her theorizing and campaign work on the commons and reproductive labour. In the 1970s, Federici started the Wages for Housework movement. Federici has written extensively. A couple of starting points to her include the following video and keynote address by Federici.

Through GDR, I learned about Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Maintenance Art and her Manifesto for Maintenance Art (1969). I also started to collaborate in Read-in, as part of feminist art research collective, through which I also began to practice on a conversational scale in personal settings.

Eugenio Salas

I'm inspired by the Artist Placement Group and their critique that art was too far off from reality. They responded to this issue by placing artists in “real life” work placements, in collaboration with other artists and cultural workers, and developed a conceptual framework, including the incidental person theory, that I find relevant in my practice.

I am also inspired by Mierle Laderman Ukeles who along the same labour, art and performance topics, but using different strategies of implementation, have developed a body of work outside traditional art spaces.

In the news:

Shawn Tse

Ideas and issues that inspire my work include the ethics of surveillance and surveillance technologies such as Hasan Hasan Elahi's self-surveillance art, and the Surveillance Self-defense guide. I find the work of Stephen Porges fascinating, and am interested in issues of identity and what makes us unique as a species.

In the news:

Key Search Terms

Artists and community Community relations
Artists as art museum curators  Generosity in art
Artists - political activity Museums - social aspects
Arts and society Social exchange
Collaboration      Social isolation
Community arts projects Social practice (Art)


Books you can borrow!

Great books available to read and borrow at the Mitchell Art Gallery.

Additional Readings


Barnes, P., & McPherson, G. (2019). Co-creating, co-producing and connecting: Museum practice today. Curator, 62(2), 257-267.

Bergis, A. (2018). A cohort of trees, photographs scientists, an artist and a curator: the collaborative study of environmental change. Interdisciplinary Science Review, 43(1), 24-36.

Golding, V., Modest, W. (Eds.). (2013). Museums and communities: Curators, collections, and collaboration. London, England: Bloomsbury

MacNeill, K. (2010). Identity and the political: (Im)Possibilities of collaboration. Third Text, 24(3), 319-330.

Petropoulos, J. (2014). Artists under Hitler: Collaboration and survival in Nazi Germany. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Generosity and Giving in the Arts

MacDonald, L. (2018). Have I done enough? Performance Research, 23(6), 40-49.

Selzer, S.A., & Purves, T. (2014). What we want is free: Critical exchanges in recent art (2nd ed.). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. 

Art and Society

Chadwick, W. (2007). Women, art, and society. London, England: Thames & Hudson.

Foster, A.W., & Blau, J.R. (1989). Art and society: Readings in the sociology of the arts. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Waging culture 2012: The socio-economic status of Canadian visual artists. Retrieved from Art Gallery of York University website. 

Art and Social Action

Berman, K. (2017). Finding voice: A visual arts approach to engaging social change. Ann Arbour, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Bishop, C. (Ed.). (2006). Participation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Burton, J., Jackson, S., & Wilsdon, D. (Eds.). (2016). Public servants: Art and the crisis of the common good. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Cleveland, W. (2008). Art and upheaval: Artists on the world's frontlines. Oakland, CA: New Village Press.

Davis, B. (2013). A critique of social practice art: What does it mean to be a political artist? International Socialist Review, 90.  

Garneau, N., & Cushwa, A.J. (2018). Performing revolutionary: Art, action, activism. Bristol, UK: Intellect.

Harlap, Y. (2006). Toward training: The meanings and practices of social change work in the arts. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Council on Learning.

What is the effectiveness of socially engaged art? (2013). [Discussion forum]. Retrieved from Blade of Grass website.

Social Projects

Maintenance Works - research-based public program seeking to slow down, recallibrate, and redefine what a gallery can do and how people can work together.

Moratorium Office - a collective project of de-colonial self-determination by Sami artists Jenni Laiti, Outi Pieski, Niillas Holmberg that incorporates place-making, video, text, historical research, conversation/performance.

Transforma - a collective that supported celebrated cultural practice that impacted the social and physical environment in New Orleans from 2005-2010.


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