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People standing in front of circular gold leaf artwork.

The Open Structure exhibition is on until January 28. Pictured: Whit Forrester, The Electric Universe Theory, ongoing, gold leaf and electronics. Photo by Karen Asher, courtesy of the School of Art Gallery.

Structural anarchy

Curator Grace Deveney’s exhibition Open Structure explores how sensory influences add new perspectives on systems and structures that govern our lives

December 12, 2022 — 

Open Structure, curator and art historian Grace Deveney’s exhibition, opened on November 3 as part of the School of Art Gallery’s Visiting Curator Program. It explores the subtle rhythms and systems that structure our lives and considers how sound, music, and touch can offer new perspectives on systems, such as identity and the rules that govern our lives, providing space to pause, gather, and dream.

“Initially, when I got the invitation to organize an exhibition here, I was based in New Orleans, and I was engaged in some ongoing research on anarchy sonic practices and geography,” explains Deveney, who works as the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Associate Curator of Photography and Media at the Art Institute of Chicago.

“I was moved by Marquis Bey’s recent book Anarcho-Blackness: Notes Toward a Black Anarchism. In that book, Bey articulates what anarchy can offer to contemporary politics, and how that connects with the black radical tradition.”

In musical composition, an open structure is a harmony composed of notes from a wide range, suggesting peaks and valleys of experience. Many of the artists Deveney chose to feature explore histories of avant-garde and experimental Black music as part of their research, while others approach the themes of the exhibition by drawing attention to a range of structures, including breath.

Portions of the exhibition are informed by Nathaniel Mackey’s 2016 lecture “Breath and Precarity,” in which he explores breath as a structuring element of avant-garde music and poetry in the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibition features a new audio commission by artists Jared Brown and Janelle Ayana Miller, which focuses on the importance of breath to Black experimental art, and ways of understanding structure in the present.

Open Structure also takes inspiration from the recent and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, looking at the way people’s perceptions about the air around them changed, and how it exposed the need for new political structures. The featured artworks model ways of questioning current political and social structures and posit alternative ways of organizing and being together.

“As an art historian and curator, I’m often thinking about the ways theoretical ideas about society and structure relate to artistic practice and for me,” says Deveney.

“I’m interested in the way that artists can work through these complex ideas in ways that are sometimes visible and explicit, and sometimes just allow us to think about these kinds of structures.”

Open Structure is currently on display at the School of Art Gallery until January 28, 2023.

The exhibition features work by Ron Bechet, Jared Brown, Whit Forrester, Jennie C. Jones, Harold Mendez, Janelle Ayana Miller, and Derrick Woods-Morrow.

Open Structure is presented as part of the School of Art Gallery’s Visiting Curator Program, generously supported by Michael F.B. Nesbitt. Launched in Summer 2021, this initiative supports curatorial research, exhibitions, events, and publications by emerging and established guest curators alike.

The Visiting Curator Program is a catalyst for international-calibre exhibitions and aims to play a vital role in defining contemporary art and its attendant discourses in the Prairies. It gives students, faculty, and other community members meaningful opportunities to engage with curators charting bold new trajectories in their field. Through a significant mentorship component, it aims to foster strong new voices in this discipline.

Watch for upcoming exhibitions from emerging curators Lillian O’Brien Davis and Shalaka Jadhav in the new year.


In Dialogue and Adjunct Programming

Two additional exhibitions are presented in dialogue with Open Structure. Derrick Woods-Morrow: Untitled (Cowboy): good to me as I am to you and Kameelah Janan Rasheed: otherwise. Both are on until January 28 at the School of Art Gallery.

On December 13 at 10:30 p.m., Open Structure exhibiting artists Jared Brown and Janelle Ayana Miller will be featured on The MonkeySparrow, a weekly radio show hosted by @hannah_g on CKUW 95.9 FM. Breath as Communication: the making of o composition 00 is an experimental radio segment produced by the artists, who reflect on the making of their work o composition 00, currently installed within Open Structure. Exploring their collaborative processes, this segment will feature select audio from their installation and anecdotal offerings by both artists. The segment will also be available at

Derrick Woods-Morrow’s performance, Pleasure Synthesis: Nomenclatures of Ecstasy invites audiences to consider a radically liberatory proposition: what does pleasure without labour look like? When was the last time you experienced this sensation? What did it feel like? January 12, 6 p.m. at the School of Art Gallery’s Collections Gallery.

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