MA3: Week 7 & 8 — Contextual Study, Visiting Artists and in the Studio

Contextual Study 

This  year I hoped to get going early on the contextual study question, so was really glad when Kimberley promped us to get a move on. I was also pleasantly surprised with the word count increase, which I think will allow me to fully explore the topic.

Contextual Study Question:

Art and Cosmology: How personal epistomologies and embodied connections to celestial bodies relate to feminist was of knowing the cosmos.

Initial notes:


Diane Borsato Artist Talk

This week there were many artists visiting Sackville, but I was most excited for a talk with Diane Borsato, an artist I have looked to for inspiration the last few years.

Borsato’s work explores “pedagogical practices and experiential ways of knowing through performance, intervention, video, installation, and photography.” I am keenly interested in the way she works with others to execute large projects which involve many participants, (including beekeepers, mushroomers, astronomers, dancers and others) or are carried out over multiple years in collaboration with major institutions, art galleries, and local organizations.

In her talk, she mentioned that she just loves to learn, and her interest in so many different areas of research comes from her never ending curiosity about the world. “While there are ideas that I hope I’m proposing [in my work], it’s very much about the fact that I’m really curious about a subject and I’d like to learn about it. So I negotiate a scenario where we can all learn something in a surprising way.” I love how she tackles projects about the natural world, but from so many subjects and perspectives. This idea of teaching and learning together seems as important in her practice as the subject matter itself.


Diane Borsato, Cloud Party, Performance/Walking Tour


Diane Borsato, Terrestrial / Celestial, Performance/Action, 2010

Though her projects often come about as ephemeral experiences, I am curious about how she documents these events, and creates ephemera that lives on from the event. Posters, pamphlets and artists books include a few of the ways she has extended the life of these projects and perhaps most beautifully the planing of an orchard.


Brendan Fernandes Artist Talk

Chicago based, Canadian artist Brendan Fernandes also came to little Sackville to give an artist talk a few days after Diane. His projects often address issues of race, queer culture, migration, protest, and other forms of collective movement, while working with dancers in installations he designs. His choreography/work often combines Ballet, queer dance hall, political protest and is rooted in collaboration and fostering solidarity.

Inspired by Nijinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring, the work he showed in Sackville was a  performance-activated installation called The Rite. This work explored the tension between stillness, seat, and power.

During its activations, two dancers engaged with a sculptural cage and chairs that rocked in all directions, making them unstable seats. The dancers are challenged to achieve stillness and a sense of balance while rocking back and forth in unison. To do so, they must constantly engage their core and balance muscles. In this situation, stillness is achieved through active resistance.

Through this gesture and the surrounding choreography, the idea of stillness as metaphor for political resistance is explored. As an ongoing exploration of the tension between technique and self-care, Fernandes’ choreography further challenges the dancers to find a new sense of freedom and new movement from within these physical and metaphoric objects of restraint. When the dancers are absent, the installation is activated by the recorded sound of the performers.

Brendan Fernandes, The Master and Form
Brendan Fernandes, The Living Mask

During his talk it was refreshing to hear how he worked with the dancers not as props, but as collaborators within the work. Much of his practice involves working with these dancers not only to convey his choreography, but to also allow them space for improvisation, and treating them as collaborators during the performances.

Brendan was also very adamant during his talk that he fights for the right for these dancers and artists to always be paid. This seemed a really important aspect of his work, and has built in conditions so that anytime his work is shown, everyone is paid fairly for their work.

Sean Young – Reconsidering Museum Collections and Community Engagement

Next stop on this week long marathon on talks was with Sean Young, The Collections Manager & Archaeologist at the Haida Gwaii Museum at Kay Llnagaay.

During Sean’s talk, he spoke to the ongoing issues of repatriation in Canada and internationally and also ways the museum has been Reconsidering Museum Collections and Community Engagement with a lens on indigenous practices.

From his talk it seemed clear that there is still a long way to go in terms of repatriating artworks and artifacts to indigenous communities in Canada, but that is sadly nothing new around here. However what did surprise me during Sean’s talk was the approach his museum takes towards borrowing works from other institutions and then working with the lenders to help them understand why the artifacts/artworks should come back to the community. By giving the objects proper context, the Haida Gwaii museum has been able to convince lenders to leave the works back where they belong, through increasing the awareness of the importance of the artifacts. Though it seems like a huge task, continuing to increase this knowledge has been working for them so far, and seems a really positive strategy.

I was excited to ask Sean what the reception to the online collection was like, as it seems such a useful tool for not only sharing their collection, but also providing an opportunity for their community to connect with the archives. It seemed like there has been great uptake in it as an online resource, and has also allowed for the opportunity for contemporary artists to explore and respond to the items in their collection, resulting in some wonderful sounding exhibitions which combine both works from the collections and new commissions.

Haida Gwaii Museum

Studio Progress

In preparation for a small exhibition in Moncton, New Brunswick, uranography, I made these collages to accompany the video/animation work.

I can imagine making a few more and producing a small publication to document the exhibition.IMG_0519IMG_0517

Own Work


Visiting Lecture with Dr Michele Whiting FHEA

The biggest take away from Dr. Whiting’s lecture was a desire to reclaim physical space, through action, but also to reclaim a memory through material and transmit the experience to the viewer.

I could really feel the landscape through the work she showed us, and I really enjoyed the performative aspect of the slide show, through the addition of the writing. Through the paintings and drawings I felt i could feel not only the process of making the marks, but also a unity between those marks and the process of walking, physically moving though the space. The soft edges, colour palette and textures all lent themselves to the landscapes that I could feel even through I have never been to the UK.


Role of Artist and Ethics

I was a bit surprised this is the first time ethics has come up during the MA formally, but it is something I often think about. When I received my first research grant as an undergrad, I had to take an ethics workshop and comply with the Research Ethics Boards’ and receive approval from the Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS) standards for my work. The workshop was general, and I worked alongside mathematicians, scientist, social scientists and musicians during the training, but I think as a whole the guiding principles should apply to all:

  • respect for human dignity
  • respect for free and informed consent voluntarily given
  • respect for vulnerable persons
  • respect for privacy and confidentiality
  • respect for justice and inclusiveness
  • balancing harms and benefits
  • minimizing harm
  • maximizing benefits

In career climbing we must also be careful to be ethical in our lives. I think the rules for researching and working ethically can apply to all aspects of our being in the world. We must treat others with respect, and provide opportunities for informed consent and respect any times we work with vulnerable populations, being cautious of our privileges and advantages.

I think generally working with others in a respectful, collaborative way always results in more dynamic, engaging and considered work, and it is through sharing that we can grow as a culture. The divisiveness and competitiveness that often occurs in the art world can only lead to hurting the larger community in the long run, and limiting your own knowledge about when you may be treading on others, appropriating other’s work or being unprofessional in the end.

Because of this, I don’t think that work and the self, can be separate, and that to make ethical work, we must also be moral as an individual. Even if a work is ethical, if the maker has unethical qualities or seems to be doing questionable things with their privilege, that is tied to the work and a part of the work too.

Generally I don’t think art can be separate form the social world it is a part of, and it is important to the cognizant and sensitive to the diverse social issues which we are all a part of as artists. It is our responsibility, as independent makers and thinkers to act in ethical ways, and produce work that has been considered, because it is an amazing privilege to be able to make art, and we should acknowledge the responsibility wherewithin.


In the hopes of getting an early crack at the final submissions for this year, I decided to get a jump start and do a preliminary edit this past weekend. The most major edits were to the year ahead section and the 5 years, as I would like to keep the momentum from the MA going next year, and am trying to shoot for slightly bigger goals in the long run, in the hopes that some manifestation might help.

Rachel Thornton PPP Year 3 

Install at Atelier Imago Inc.

This week I set up a small exhibition at the Atelier Imago Inc, an artist run-print shop in Moncton, NB as a part of the Volet Arts médiatiques projects for FICFA (Festival international du cinéma francophone en Acadie). The exhibition opens 14 November and is on view until 15 December.

I really appreciated the opportunity to put up some fresh work, and that they translated my statement and bio:

Le film uranography propose un nouvel agencement des étoiles du ciel nocturne. Inspirée de l’histoire de l’astronomie, de la cartographie céleste et des représentations mythologiques d’Uranie, la vidéo allie une version réinventée du cosmos aux étoiles existantes pour créer un nouvel arrangement des étoiles. L’intouchable cosmos est manipulé par une voix narrative silencieuse et anonyme à l’aide de dessins, d’images imprimées et de séquences de films trouvées.

Rachel M Thornton est une artiste émergente et une commissaire, descendante des premiers colons. Elle vit présentement sur les terres non-cédées des nations Micmac et Wolastoqiyik (Sigenigteoag / Sackville, N.-B.). Elle explore sa fascination pour le cosmos par l’entremise de divers médiums, dont le dessin, la vidéo et le numérique.

Elle détient un Baccalauréat en arts visuels avec distinction de l’université Mount Allison à Sackville et est étudiante au programme de maïtrise en arts visuels au Open College of the Arts à Barnsley, au Royaume-Uni.

Final Video after some slight changes that are probably even too minor to notice:

Installation view, better documentation to come


Currently Reading: Baxter, Brian H. ‘Art and Embodied Truth.’ Mind, New Series, 92, no. 366 (1983). pp. 189-203.

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