September 10, 2021 – January 9, 2022
We’ve all heard about the sticks and spears and swords, the things to bash and poke and hit with, the long, hard things, but we have not heard about the things to put things in, the container for the thing contained. That is a new story.Ursula K. Le Guin, Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction
Over the last 38 years, the Art Gallery of Burlington (AGB) has amassed the largest comprehensive collection of contemporary Canadian ceramics in the world. Totaling over 4,000 works, the collection ranges from functional ware to sculptural installations.
How to Read a Vessel is an experimental exhibition and communal site of learning that openly discusses the challenges and excitement of holding, caring for, and exhibiting this object-based, craft-forward permanent collection, while continuing to develop a vision that incorporates critical social practice at its core.
The assembly of programs and projects by artists and curators Suzanne Carte, Tara Bursey, Ness Lee, Su-Ying Lee, Myung-Sun Kim, Ivy Knight, and Christine Saly-Chapman has been conceived of in response to two key texts: Elizabeth Fisher’s “Carrier Bag Theory of Evolution,” which proposes that the first tool was a container, rather than a weapon, thereby feminizing concepts of early society; and, by extension, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” which applies the container approach to stories, arguing for an expansion of the types of narratives and outcomes that are made visible beyond the finality of a singular weapon-wielding hero.
With these texts as a guiding force, the exhibition examines how a collection of vessels speaks to an unaccounted and unrecognized history of women’s ingenuity and labour in the arts. How to Read a Vessel unpacks the matriarchal history of craft production and the AGB’s own institutional beginnings by bringing its ceramic vessels out of their vaults and into the public space, alongside newly commissioned pieces and an array of international artworks. It is a non-linear, queer exhibition exploring the vessel as language, lineage, containment, nourishment, and archive. Within it, art objects become metaphors, or mnemonic devices, to discuss the colonial constructs of collections and their histories.
Click the links below to view exhibition content online!
How to Read a Vessel has been generously supported by:
Susan Busby, Louise Cooke, Four Corners Group, Jane Depraitere, Danyliw & Mann, Pam Lavery and Robert Redhead, and The Schreibers.
Image Credit: Harlan House, Chris Broadhurst Night Landscape Vase, 1991. Thrown porcelain, glaze. Donated by Joan Bennett, 1998