Memory Work Collective Memory Work

The Bentway ⁠ accessible_forward
250 Fort York Blvd
May 1,  2022–Apr 30,  2023
    Memory Work Collective, Portrait of Sam, Serial Surrogate; Entrepreneur, 2022, (mixed media on giclee print). Courtesy of the artists.

Situated at the Strachan Gate entrance to the Bentway, Memory Work is a mural made up of twelve embellished photographic portraits of revolutionary figures from a future Toronto. Initiated by From Later studio with artist Rajni Perera and Memory Work Collective, this speculative monument imagines a world characterized by collective care and politics that value nurturing over growth.

Memory Work commemorates a speculative world. The people depicted in these portraits belong to a group known as the Mothers of Invention, abbreviated as MOI, and pronounced like the sound of a kiss. They are a group of revolutionary scientists, healers, creators, entrepreneurs, engineers, and organizers, represented in photographs taken by Omii Thompson of Mecha Clarke, Jennifer Maramba, Xiyao (Miranda) Shou, Zanette Singh, Cheyenne Sundance, and Dori Tunstall. Each is a leader spearheading change in their community, a present-day seed of the character they portray, prefiguring a transformed city. Each wears their own apron, designed by Tala Kamea and Naomi Skwarna, as a distinctive uniform that is both protective and decorative, offering clues to the values, aesthetics, and labour of their time. Rajni Perera has applied a textured layer of mythical landscapes and organisms onto the portraits, envisioning the environments of these destined luminaries.

Unlike many futuristic artworks, Memory Work is grounded in research and interpretations of actions and events observable today. The project began with a research phase led by Toronto-based studio From Later, which examined emerging forces of change—analyzing their potential effects, cataloguing uncertainties, exploring scenarios, and dreamscaping with communities. This pattern of research and imagination is echoed in the processes used to create the mural. The individuals photographed and embellished in Memory Work are people whose lives and work demonstrate the world that Memory Work Collective is anticipating. The mural reflects a process of elaborating, exaggerating, and extrapolating from lived experience and present-day signals of change and glimmers of hope. 

Memory Work offers multiple portals of entry. The double-sided mural at the Bentway site is supplemented by a phone number that visitors can call to hear more details about the commemorated figures. The Memory Work website contains a soundscape and offers a network of sources that inspire, ground, and inform this potential world. Both physical and virtual, Memory Work is intended as an exploratory platform, and the beginning of a possible story. It invites participation.

A monument recalls and engages. It asks viewers, “do you know the story of these people who take up public space in remembrance? Do you know why they are important?” As a monument to a future Toronto, this collaborative artwork asks the public to engage with the changing city. It asks how we can go beyond idyllic or heroic images of the future; it presses us to ask who will nurture this new world. In a world full of images, how can we be more deeply invested in understanding what we’re seeing? How do visions change alongside an evolving city? Memory Work offers a means toward understanding our relationship to the future, so that we might see ourselves creating it.

Exhibition essay by Mandy Harris Williams

For more information, visit memory-work.com

Curated by Memory Work Collective

Co-presented by From Later and The Bentway with support from CONTACT, as part of ArtworxTO: Toronto's Year of Public Art 2021–2022. Additional support by the Canada Council for the Arts, City of Toronto, and the Toronto Arts Council

Memory Work Collective (Rajni Perera, Tala Kamea, Naomi Skwarna, Omii Thompson, Macy Siu, Robert Bolton, Emily Woudenberg, Erica Whyte, Jac Sanscartier, and Sydney Allen-Ash) is a community of artists and writers. Concerned equally with the relational and the imaginary, the Collective engages in the mutual recounting and reconstruction of lived experience to contemplate possible worlds. Their research-based practice creates material for meditation, critique, and new ways of living — negotiating ethical and moral imperatives across (past, present, and future) time.

AUDIO GUIDE

Memory Work Collective
Memory Work

You’ve been called into Memory Work: Portraits of Toronto’s future. This audio guide accompanies the Memory Work mural located at The Bentway’s Strachan Avenue gates beneath the Gardiner Expressway. Before we start, let’s make sure you’re in the right place. The mural is double-sided. Make sure you’re viewing it from the east side of the gates. That’s the side with the amphitheatre seating. If you’re there, you should be standing on the wooden steps and seating area. Face westward, and you’ll see the mural. Are you there? Good. You’re looking at some notable members of the Mothers of Invention. M-O-I, pronounced “mwah,” like the sound of a kiss. Do you see the six portraits in front of you? I’ll be guiding you through the portraits in order from left to right.

One: Timesha. That’s Timesha on the far left, barefoot with her palms open facing upward. Notice her tattoo, a continuous braid of hair, reinforcing her ancestral relations. Timesha descends from a long line of healers. See her mirror? Timesha’s practice attends to physical, cosmetic, and spiritual well-being. Dabbing a serum. Rubbing in a cure. Washing, braiding, and massaging. This is how we care for people. In unsettling times, Timesha gives space to honor the grief of change. Though her sacred web of care spans continents and generations, it all starts in her tiny apartment, not far from here.

Two: Bao. That’s Bao, showing us the moon phase on the face of her great-grandmother’s watch. Bao loves to garden by the moon. As you can see, she’s in her protective apron, likely working with sensitive biomatter at the time of this portrait. Bao is a creative biologist, working with materials made from living things. She whispers to nature and it does what she says. See what she’s holding? The Venus Flytrap is one of her favorite creatures to study. It inspires many of Bao’s own innovations. Bao’s research truly changes how we think about the cycles of our built environment. Notice the cracks in the concrete structures around you. Can you feel Bao’s living sealant pulsing within them? Slowly, it’s healing their wounds.

Three: River. Looking far off in the distance is River, known as the transitionist. River has a gift to see others’ gifts. Do you ever wonder how a movement forms? There are intuitive connectors who often go unnoticed. River is one of those. She has a way of flowing with the world’s currents. River guides folks to their confluence, a place downstream where passion and talent meet. River plays a cosmic role in the origins of MOI, the Mothers of Invention, quietly nudging its destiny. No one knows for sure whether River really means to introduce two of MOI’s early members, Ego and Dom. But we do know this: When River urges them to journey out of the city, they find each other, and a movement is born.

Four: Dom. Do you see Dom there? Face forward, gently holding a stalk of foliage? That leaf captures energy from the sun. It powers the living Internet. You’ve probably heard of energy grids, right? No one thinks about energy in terms of grids anymore. Now, we pattern our technical networks after natural ones. As the root grows, so does information flow. Dom shows us how to coax natural infrastructures, while also bending our human-made systems to the ways of nature. Navigating as the seed does, by way of wind, water, and animal. What are your earliest impressions of Toronto? Have you ever left the city? What brought you back? When Dom arrives in Toronto, it’s supposed to be a haven city for climate refugees like them. But the signs are glaring: stormwater floods, sewage overflows, toxic algae blooms in the lake. Dom recognizes it well. Toronto’s ecology is in peril. Like many climate survivors here, Dom suffers from paralyzing anxiety, anticipating a repeat of the traumas they’ve endured. So, Dom leaves the city, unsure what they’re seeking, or if they’ll return. On their journey, they find tutelage from the Great Lakes Guardians. The work restores their self-esteem. Do you know the feeling of spring soil on your hands? Dom reinterprets ways of working with the land, mixing what they know from back home with new techniques of ancestral intelligence.

Five: Ego. Ego stands proudly with one hand on her hip, gazing south towards the lake. Ego is the loving matriarch of the Mothers of Invention. Look at her uniform! An expression of abundance. In her youth, Ego is an artist athlete. Ego lives for the sublime power of cooperative play. She designs games, a few of them grew to be so popular, they replace the old arena sports. Have you ever played rose maze? We call it the pleasure sport. The shift from elite competition to social athletics foreshadows a much bigger transition for society. And once again, Ego is at the forefront. Can you imagine what a more participatory society might be like? How would decisions be made? Ego orchestrates the 2048 convergence. The gathering of millions stretching the length of the Gardiner Expressway, all in their patched-up aprons. Ego wouldn’t use the word leader, but she is a leader, in the sense of a synthesizer. She listens to the many, she clarifies and amplifies. Her voice is a re-organizing force. Standing right here at the amphitheatre, she leads the chorus, singing the glissando to honour Toronto’s transition. Can you hear it?

Six: Sam. Set your eyes on Sam, striking a power curtsy. Her elegant sleeve wafting overhead. Sam’s a glamorous and influential figure in her day. Look at the gold ribbon fan protecting her womb space. Sam’s just 17 when she livecasts her first embryo transfer ritual. She only means to share it with kin and community, but the demonstration of strength catches the culture’s imagination. As her belly grows, so does her audience. A fertile womb and healthy sperm are hard to come by, and Sam is in high demand. She’s becoming a serial surrogate, and she’s storytelling every detail through the recorder on her necklace. Sam lays it all out. The hard negotiations, uncomfortable procedures, dietary regimens, postpartum healing, the whole taxing cycle. She carries for 31 trimesters before retiring to start an enterprise with her best friend Timesha. Together they build a network of whole health clinics, offering spiritual and medical care to parents becoming. Sam and Timesha’s practice is based on alignment of conception. The body must be energetically ready to receive and procreate, just as community must be healthy if it is to grow. How do you conceive of community?

Memory Work is a monument to Toronto’s potential. You can visit the mural at The Bentway, located at 250 Fort York Boulevard, Toronto, Ontario, at street level, on the east side of Strachan Avenue, under the Gardiner Expressway. Memory Work was initiated by Studio From Later with Rajni Perera and Memory Work Collective. It offers a portal to a speculative future world. Memory Work is co-presented by From Later and The Bentway, with support from the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, as part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021 and 2022. With additional support by the Canada Council for the Arts, City of Toronto, and the Toronto Arts Council.