Unvanishing Traces

Ricky Varghese
Xpace Cultural Centre, Toronto October 26–December 1, 2018
Ayo Tsalithaba Installation view, Unvanishing Traces, Xpace Cultural Center, Toronto, 2018.
Photo : Polina Teif
Xpace Cultural Centre, Toronto October 26–December 1, 2018
[En anglais] 

Mainstream and social media offer us an endless stream of images of marginalized bodies that are subjected to brutal forms of violence. Responding to the monstrous photographs that emerged out of Abu Ghraib, Jean Baudrillard referred to these as “war porn.” He suggested that their dissemination “becomes a parody of violence, a parody of the war itself, pornography becoming the ultimate abjection which is unable to be simply war, to be simply about killing, and instead turns itself into a grotesque infantile reality show, in a desperate simulacrum of power.” In the midst of such an overwhelming mediation of violence inflicted upon the marginalized, what are the possibilities for remembering the dead, for commemorating the disappeared, or for even the more difficult task of mourning them? Can being subjected to aesthetic abstraction in the work of art render memory or remembering possible?

These are some of the questions that governed the direction of curators Sanjit Dhillon and Vince Rozario, who organized the group show Unvanishing Traces at Toronto’s Xpace Cultural Centre this past fall. Unlike the images that Baudrillard critiqued, there are no bodies — undone or violated, to be seen or witnessed — in this thoughtfully assembled exhibition. Instead, we are offered objects, part objects as such, reminders and remainders, mementos left behind and used to commemorate — dried leaves, phials, glass pipes, beads, hide lacing, abalone shell buttons, deer hide scrolls, hopeful messages inscribed on these scrolls in Cree, gravel imprints made with thick black paint on a large plastic tarp, archival photographs. The near-sculptural quietude of these objects signals an altogether different approach to memory and mourning. They attend to the fact that wars are not fought on battlefields alone; rather, the objects that are left behind by the marginalized, and that may be used to commemorate them, showcase the profoundly quotidian nature of the violence they have experienced.

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