MA3: Week 3 & 4 — Provocations, Playfulness, Para-fiction and Progress

Provocations Task

Reflecting on Julia Dhar’s talk on productive disagreement, I really appreciated the way she spoke about trying to change ideas, not the people themselves by finding a common ground, but how much of that opinion actually defines a person?

We are a week away from election day in Canada, and it has felt like an especially polarizing time, mostly do to the increased awareness of the People’s Party of Canada, whose founding members include extreme far-right, anti-immigrant supporters. At many public debates there has been a call for them to simply not participate, and I find myself agreeing. The PPC candidate in my riding has openly made terribly racist statements, and continually denied any open dialogue with the public. Instead they openly attack anyone trying to begin a debate with them, and attack moral character, rather than separating our ideas from our identity.

In this election especially, no one is allowing themselves to be wrong or admit past mistakes, despite how that might show growth and change. No one is allowing themselves to be intellectually humble, and are thus more defensive than ever. Like Dhar said, we are very prone to pre-commiting others to being wrong and that is something I would like to see myself as better than my politicians, going into the provocations task.

This means going into the provocations task, I am really going to try and have an open mind, and challenge myself to find validity in hoaxers. Multiple truths have always been of interested to me, and how power, class and gender lead to some truths being more reliable than others, but what of the furthest end of the spectrum, the truths outside of myth and fiction, but the truths that are so true to others, and not the rest of the population, that it defines them as outsiders.

Topic: Memory, Fiction, Reality and Identity — Does autobiographical memory and narrative equate with truth?

Jo’s Claim: Personal narrative is built from memories, even if fictional. ie. Personal narrative defines the self.

My Claim: Empirical evidence is required to find truth in memory, and preserve ‘facts’ related to definitions of identity. ie. Collective memory, History, defines the present self.

Subject: Idea that Moon Landing was not real, as evidenced through no empirical evidence, leads to the identity of hoaxers

Proof/initial collection of ideas:

  • machines of memory – internet, archives,
  • fallibility of human memory ‘…a purely cognitive memory must belong either to a robot or to an inert database.’
  • George Steiner’s reflection that “it is not the literal past that rules us…. It is images of the past”
  • “Life is a dream. ‘Tis waking that kills us,” Virginia Woolf
  • The idea of an unchanging “you” or “self” is inherently fraught with confusion and conflict, and if you consider the topic for too long it can begin to feel clammy, almost suspect. An apparent string running through all the previous versions of you — the one five minutes ago, a few hours ago, several years — the idea of “self” inevitably gets tangled up in things like the physical body and appearance, like memory. It’s clear that you cannot pin yourself down as any one particular “thing” but rather that you resemble a story line, an endless progression, variations on a theme, something that enables you to relate your present “self” to the past and future ones. — Ella Frances Saunders
  • Echoing the great neurologist Oliver Sacks’s recognition of narrative as the cognitive pillar of personhood, she adds:

    We do seem to make sense of ourselves and the world as a part of a narrative — we think in terms of main characters, those we speak and interact with, and where the beginnings, the middles, and the endings are.

  • “Memory produces hope in the same way that amnesia produces despair,” Walter Brueggemann
  • collective memory we call history, Memory of joy and liberation can become a navigational tool, an identity — Rebecca Solnit

Warrant: explanation of how ideas are ties to identity, using example of moon landing hoaxers

Potential Objections:

  • whiteness of memory / reliable narrators
  • what value is there in creating this ‘hoax’


Humanity craves empirical evidence to find comfort in the murky waters of the unknown. Memory, leads to changes in narrative, when no physical ground truth is available.

Format: 8 min audio recording/live script with hand drawn slideshow, simple line drawings or collages. Written transcript included for discussion afterwards.


Studio Progress


The major timing of the video have been laid out, and the animations need to be created and laid in to the empty shapes. The animations will be made of prints, which have varying textures from the printing process, which will  be inverted to white on black and looped to create a bubbling effect.

Here is a sample of a few of the prints:

five star test from Rachel Thornton on Vimeo.

Another test:

layering test from Rachel Thornton on Vimeo.

I am getting closer and closer to a deadline for this video work to be completed as it will be a part of an exhibition at Atelier Imago, as a part of Festival international du cinéma francophone en Acadie, happening 15 to 23 November in Moncton NB.

Currently all the layers are animated and edited, but the tracked movements need to be timed, and every now and then, there is a file that just does not want to cooperate, and I have to tackle them from another angle. It has been a please to work with video editing and animation more, and excited by the possibilities of these sort of moving collages.

Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 1.53.50 PM.png

First 2 mins edited:

first 2 mins from Rachel Thornton on Vimeo.


The little body of work surrounding the myths of St. Catherine and Ann Elizabeth Fowler Hodges connection continue to develop. These may not go anywhere, but they have been a very productive studio exercise, allowing me to think through making. There feels like less pressure in these works, as if something goes awry, I can just cut it out and keep going.

Screen Shot 2019-10-09 at 2.49.46 PM.png



Building up layers, looking to energy transference, bruises and the connections between scientific illustrations, life drawing and translating touch.

own work
own work

Provocations Task Update

For the provocations task I am still grappling with separating opinion from the self in debate, but have been wondering about weather it might be possible to take on another persona as a way for getting around this challenge.

In my research I have been looking at the argument that empirical evidence is required to find truth in memory, and preserve ‘facts’ related to definitions of identity, which I will back up with the philosopher Dummett’s anti-realist theory that “a statement about the past is rendered true or false only by evidence available to the speaker at the time of asserting it”, and apply this to the example of moon landing deniers.

I aim to question how a search for an absolute conception of the world is unnecessary and maybe impossible, and that a conception of reality independent from our thought of reality allows multiple realities to be possible, including one in which the moon landing did not happen to some individuals.

Looking to an example of this thinking from an artist, I thought of the Museum of the Flat Earth and ongoing art installtion/museological project which was founded to “archive, preserve, and present objects and experiences pertaining to flat earth philosophies and parallel concepts associated with that lore and culture through its displays and programming.” Created by Kay Burns, she aims to grapple with parafiction, authority of the institution, skeptical inquiry, museological/archival practices, and critical thinking in relation to this example of pseudoscience.

03KBmuseumoverview with sign.jpg
Museum of the Flat Earth, installation view

For this project, Kay takes on the role of Iris Taylor,, a an “independent researcher and ethnographer” who asks you to question everything, except for what she says. This direct questioning of authority, especially as it relates to history and science, truth and fiction, narrative and identity, playfully takes on the serious issue of finding truth in a post-truth world.

Iris Taylor

I think for the assignment, this has lead me to take on a similar role, where I can research hoaxes without prejudice and present views which are not my own, but still worthwhile to argue for.


Jon Sasaki Artist Talk

Wednesday I was able to attend an artist talk with the current artist in residence at the local artist run center – Jon Sasaki, a Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist. He is a graduate of the same undergrad as me, but has gone on to develop a practice which brings “performance, video, object and installation into a framework where expectation and outcome never align, generating a simultaneous sense of pathos and levity.”

In the talk he started with early early work he made, mostly landscape painting, which he did as a student, and talk about how his research developed into conceptual art with  strong sensibility for humour.

Jon Sasaki, A Rightsized Limo

During the talk, I got the feeling that much of Sasaki’s work has to do with trial and error, and developing questions to execute as the actual artwork, more than only working towards the intention of a final product. The process is always a large part of the final works.

From that process often comes humour and play, from what I think is a really genuine desire to just see if things can work. This curiosity often manifesting itself as hopefulness, where the audience and viewer also wants there to be a technical success, even if coming form the most unconventional means of making.

I really appreciate all that Sasaki had to say about making it as an artist, and how we strives to find a balance between the administrative work of being an artist with the actual making an doing. Definitely finding all that difficult at the moment.

Jon Sasaki, Improvised Travel Adapters


Currently Reading: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov because Patti Smith recommends it.




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