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Autumn Knight, Documents, 2016. Performance
Photo : Lynn Lane
Avec l'aimable permission de l'artiste | Courtesy of the artist

Nadège Grebmeier Forget
Ursula Johnson
Autumn Knight
Michelle Lacombe
Mikhel Proulx

Commissaire | Curator : Nicole Burisch

From April 21st 2017 to June 10th 2017
I've Only Known My Own

Opening, Friday, April, 21_6 pm to 8 pm

I’ve Only Known My Own is a group exhibition that explores how the materiality of the body is represented through measurements, process, and documentation. In many ways, the performance-based works included in this project reference and respond to the legacies of feminist and conceptual art. They reflect upon how the matter of the body might act as a force that generates its own (il/logical) systems, and how this material embodiment might function as a form of resistance. I’ve Only Known My Own also considers how the material body might intersect with new technologies, be altered or amplified through various modes of communication, take on forms of mediated presence, and activate questions around the presentation and dissemination of ephemera.

Rather than presenting a fixed set of works, the exhibition evolves over the course of its run, with objects, props, and actions being set in motion during the presentation of each of the four performances. First presented in Houston in the spring of 2016, the four artists were invited to revisit, re-perform or reinterpret their earlier performances for this second iteration at Optica, and to bring forward traces or echoes from the first exhibition. By reassembling these artists and works, the second version of the presents further opportunities to consider the role of documentary traces, as well as the evolution of each work in relation to this new site.

Ursula Johnson’s past performances have used traditional Mi’kmaw basket weaving techniques to trace Indigenous bodies’ presence within -and resistance to- legacies of colonial legislation and control. Through strategies of duration and display, her work interrogates outdated ethnographic and anthropological approaches to understanding Indigenous cultural practices. For this exhibition Johnson will present hide, a performance that uses leather tanning processes learned from her family and from YouTube tutorials to explore how material knowledge is transmitted from place to place, and from body to body – substituting a piece of fun fur in place of real animal hide. As in her other works, skillful making is downplayed in favour of an extended and difficult physical exertion, placing her body in close relation to her chosen material, and gradually improving her craft with each subsequent performance. Here, the body in question could equally be that of the animal (its form and qualities determining specific processes), or that of a body-of-knowledge generated through the repeated performance of the task and translated through alternate materials.

In Michelle Lacombe's multi-phase project Of All the Watery Bodies, I Only Know My Own, the artist used a monthly measurement of the volume of blood in her body to determine the placement of a tattooed water line around her calves. Here, the body's cyclical fluctuations became a rule for generating a monthly performative ritual, and a way of temporarily documenting and queering an unused reproductive potential. If, as in Sol LeWitt's well-known pronouncement on conceptual art, "the idea becomes a machine that makes the art," Lacombe’s project reworks this proposition: the fluctuations of the body become the machine that makes the art. In Houston, Lacombe cut into a series of photographs she took of the moon, and then returned the final 13th moon to her body by tattooing a new waterline mark onto her abdomen. At Optica, Lacombe will present The Mother Moon, which begins with the distribution of temporary tattoos that reproduce this circular shape. These will be offered for free until they run out. Once (or if) depleted, she will present a second action that will make the mark permanent.

Nadège Grebmeier Forget's ongoing series One on one’s for so-called fans involves private performances that are then translated through oral accounts and performative re-tellings, and continues the artist’s investigations into the role of documentation and technology in mediating access to her performing body. Walls of Wind: The mirroring and rendering, the latest in this series, takes up the idea of mirroring – responding first to the architectural features of the Houston gallery (and the performance that happened there), and then again to their absence in Montreal. While she initially limits the audience for her work, setting parameters around when and how she is seen, Grebmeier Forget then relinquishes control, relying on her chosen witnesses to transmit (sometimes inaccurately, but always personably) the story of what they experienced. The decadence and generosity of her performances are contrasted with her more austere architectural interventions which use forms that reference gallery spaces and display strategies. These spaces, while empty, are nevertheless invested with the presence of the actions that they once hosted.

Autumn Knight often uses conventions and props drawn from theatre, reworking these into performances that trouble the divisions between gallery and stage, performer and audience. Walking a line between something scripted and spontaneous, her performances centre the roles and presence of Black women, and use dialog, voices, and gestures to uncover and critique structures of power. Her performance Documents involves a public reading of the documentation that serves to authenticate or legitimize citizenship, adapted this time for a Canadian (and more specifically, Montreal) context. Central to this work is a filing cabinet that both holds the props required for the performance, while also serving as a portrait or trace of Knight herself. Knight’s interactive reading of the documents in the files addresses the embodied specificities of race, class, and gender to contest whether these categories accurately reflect the bodies they are meant to represent – while underlining how different audiences and relationships to power may influence this reading.

Central to this project is an interest in experimenting with the forms and sites for presenting performance art, and the ways in which artists, audiences, curators, and writers might work together to do this. In addition to these performances and traces, a small publication featuring documentation from the Houston performances, an extended curatorial essay, and a commissioned text by scholar Mikhel Proulx is also available in the gallery. A round-table between all the participants will provide the opportunity for each to speak in more detail about their involvement in the project, and to discuss their various approaches to performance and documentation. The notion of knowledge that derives from a body, and that may be specific to a particular body is evoked in the exhibition’s title (adapted from the title of Lacombe’s project); it is intended as poetic echo of the themes in these works. The title also speaks to the productive gap between an individual experience of a performance and the traces that (might) be known or circulated afterwards. Together, the works presented for this exhibition offer multiple positions from which to approach these ideas, and open new avenues for considering the materiality and presence of the body within performance.

Nicole Burisch


Friday, April, 21 2017

-Performance : 12 pm to 6 pm

Ursula Johnson

-Public Presentation : 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm

Autumn Knight

Topological Media Lab and Milieux Copresentation

Concordia University: 1515, Sainte Catherine St West | 11th Floor, Milieux Conference Room EV 11.705

Saturday, April 22, 2017 - 1 pm to 3 pm


In the presence of Nicole Burisch and the artists

Saturday, May 27, 2017 - 2 pm to 4 pm


Nadège Grebmeier Forget

Saturday, June 3, 2017 - 2 pm to 4 pm


Autumn Knight



TAN, Lumi. «Portrait Autumn Knight», CURA, Italy, no 33, March 2020, [p. 178-185].

DELGADO, Jérôme. "Pourvoyeurs de collectivités", Le Devoir, January 14, 2017.

Nicole Burisch (Ottawa, Ont./Montréal, QC) is a curator, critic, and cultural worker. With a background working in artist-run centres, her projects focus on discourses of craft, feminism, performance, publishing, labour, and materiality within contemporary art. Her writing has been published by the Illingworth Kerr Gallery, Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, .dpi: Feminist Journal of Art and Digital Culture, La Centrale, No More Potlucks, FUSE Magazine, Stride Gallery, the Richmond Art Gallery and the Cahiers métiers d’art :: Craft Journal. Burisch worked as Administrative Coordinator at Centre Skol from 2011-2014, as the Director of Calgary’s Mountain Standard Time Performative Art Festival from 2007-2009, and as Managing Editor for MAWA’s upcoming publication on feminist art in Canada. She was a Core Fellow Critic-in-Residence with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston from 2014-16, and is currently Curatorial Assistant, Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada.

Nadège Grebmeier Forget (Montreal, QC) is a visual and performance artist, independent curator and freelance project manager. She has participated in numerous events, festivals, panels, residencies, and exhibitions in Canada, the USA and Europe. Her practice provokes reflection on the act of looking as a form of implicit consumption, as well as the power dynamics within which the gaze operates. Her work is characterized by a preoccupation with re-appropriation, actively exploring the role of meditation on identity construction and fiction. Circulating within the visual and live arts communities, she has most recently exhibited and performed at: Vu Photo, the Musée régional de Rimouski, the Musée d'art contemporain des Laurentides, OFFTA - Live arts festival, CIRCA art actuel, Sophiensale Theatre (Berlin), the HOLD-FAST festival of Eastern Edge Gallery (Newfoundland), Centre d’art Mains d’Œuvres (Saint-Ouen, France) and Friche de la Belle de Mai (Marseille, France).

Descendante de la Première Nation Mi’kmaq, Ursula Johnson (Dartmouth, NS) is a performance and installation artist of Mi’kmaw First Nation ancestry. She graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design and has participated in over 30 group shows and 5 solo exhibitions. Her performances are often place-based and employ cooperative didactic intervention. Recent works include various mediums of sculpture that prompt consideration from her audience about aspects of intangible cultural heritage as it pertains to the consumption of traditional knowledge within the context of colonial institutions. Her solo exhibition Mi’kwite’tmn: Do You Remember (hosted by SMU Art Gallery) has recently toured to galleries across Canada. Johnson has been selected as a finalist for the Salt Spring National Art Prize and has twice been longlisted for the Sobey Art Award. She has presented publicly in lectures, keynote addresses and hosted a number of community forums around topics including ‘Indigenous Self¬‐Determination through Art’ and ‘Environmental and Sustainability in Contemporary Indigenous Art Practices.’

Autumn Knight (New York, NY) Autumn Knight (New York, NY) is an interdisciplinary artist working with performance, installation and text. Her performance work has been included in group exhibitions at DiverseWorks Artspace, Art League Houston, Project Row Houses, Blaffer Art Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum, Skowhegan Space (NY), The New Museum, and The Contemporary Art Museum Houston. Knight has been in residence with In-Situ (UK), Galveston Artist Residency, YICA (Yamaguchi, Japan) and Artpace (San Antonio, TX). She attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2016) and holds an M.A. in Drama Therapy from New York University. In 2015, Knight was an Artadia awardee, and she is currently a 2016-2017 artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem (NY). Knight’s first solo museum exhibition, In Rehearsal, was recently hosted at the Krannert Art Museum (IL, USA).

Michelle Lacombe (Montreal, QC) Michelle Lacombe (Montreal, QC) has developed a unique body-based practice since obtaining her BFA from Concordia University in 2006. Purposefully minimalist, her research-based practice begins where gesture, corporeality and mark-marking are entwined and confused. Her work has been shown in Canada, the USA, and Europe in the context of performance events, exhibitions, and colloquiums. She is the recipient of the 2015 Bourse Plein Sud. Her practice as an artist is paralleled by a strong commitment to supporting the development of critical and alternative models of dissemination for live art and undisciplined practices. She is currently the director of VIVA! Art Action, a biennial performance event in Montreal.

Mikhel Proulx (Montréal, QC) Mikhel Proulx (Montreal, QC) is a historian of art and digital culture. His research considers Queer and Indigenous artists working with networked media, and he has curated exhibitions in Canada, Europe, and the Middle East. He is a Canada Graduate Scholar and the Jarislowsky Foundation Doctoral Fellow in Canadian Art History. Proulx is a PhD student in the department of Art History at Concordia University, where he teaches media art histories and Queer visual cultures.