Artist in Residence

PLEASE NOTE: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, McIntosh Gallery is closed until further notice. Gallery events, workshops, and programs have been postponed indefinitely.

It is with particular regret that we cut short Johannes Zits' artist residency Listening to Trees. We thank Johannes, Mkomosé (Dr. Andrew Judge), and all the contributors for agreeing to reschedule events in order to complete the project in 2021. During the interim, Johannes will do project research and performance development from his Toronto studio. We will share online documentation of the project as it unfolds on social media.

While the Gallery is closed, McIntosh staff are working virtually. Should you need to reach us, please email mcintoshgallery@uwo.ca. Thank you.

For ongoing coverage of COVID-19 protocol and operations at Western University, visit https://www.uwo.ca/coronavirus/


Listening to Trees
Johannes Zits

In residence at McIntosh Gallery from
Curated by James Patten
March 6 - June 13, 2020
Opening reception: Friday, March 6 at 7:00 p.m.


Johannes Zits, Up and Over a Stone, Kiawe Tree 2018, performance, Kona, Big Island, Hawaii, photography: Ed Pien. Courtesy of the artist.

Many of us, especially in Canada, would claim a special relationship with trees and forests. But if we were asked to define that relationship, or to describe our interactions with trees, we might come up short on answers. For the past ten years, Toronto performance artist Johannes Zits has been working with trees around the world. From Cambodia to Cuba, the trees he chooses tend to have unique historical or cultural value within communities. Some have borne witness to horrific human tragedies. Others mark the gradual development of communities as a gathering place or landmark.

Using nonverbal actions, he approaches nature as a body that is alive, vulnerable, and socially contextualized. Instead of making nature a passive backdrop in front of which human history unfolds, his encounters with trees are reflective and empathetic. Aligned with panpsychism, a philosophical world view in which all matter has consciousness, Zits' practice shares an affinity with cultures in which humanity is seen as continuous with nature. To this end, he often collaborates with local communities to enhance his performances and interactions with trees.

In London, Johannes Zits will be in residence at McIntosh Gallery from March until June. While here, he will be investigating the remnants of an avenue of 160-year-old black walnut trees that, at one time, lined the drive from Western Road to the old Kingsmill house that once stood near Middlesex College. He will also be researching and interacting with an ancient white oak, possibly 600 years old and called the meeting tree, that is said to have links to the Underground Railroad. His exhibition at the gallery will be completely transformed during the residency by the research he does in London.

A series of talks, workshops and walking tours with Johannes and other guests will be offered so that everyone can participate and learn more meaningful ways to experience nature and listen to trees.

About the artist:
Since graduating with a BFA from York University in 1984, Johannes Zits has presented work across Canada as well as internationally. In 2013, Zits performed at the 8th Encuentro, Sao Paulo, Brazil and showed videos at Le festival international du film sur l’art, Montreal. In 2014, he presented variations on the performance Island at M:ST Festival, Calgary, Yuz Museum, Shanghai and at Meta 2014, Chongqing, China.

Johannes Zits has achieved global recognition for his performances and videos about the body and how it interacts with social and natural environments. His approach to nature is collaborative. He treats it as another sentient body replete with vulnerabilities, movements, desires and dynamic affective relationships. His collaborative approach is evident in the videos Elemental Gestures, in which he empathizes with driftwood, and Embodying Nature (2010), which combines a two person performance in a Chinese bamboo forest with group actions in a gallery setting.

About the residency:
Johannes Zits will be in residence at McIntosh Gallery from March until June. While here, he will be investigating the remnants of an avenue of 160-year-old black walnut trees on campus. In 1916, the University of Western Ontario purchased the 150 acre Bellevue Farm, owned by the Kingsmill family, for its new campus. The Kingsmill house stood in the wooded area next to Middlesex College. Access was from Western Road along a serpentine lane flanked by black walnut trees. A double row of these trees in front of Middlesex College still marks the end of the driveway. A few trees also persist near McIntosh Gallery. In 2002, Netta Kingsmill Brandon (Arts, 1944) donated funds to plant a grove of seven black walnut trees near McIntosh Gallery to commemorate the gallery’s innovative artist in residence program.

According to Johannes Zits:

I would explore what happens when the pace of the walk is changed or the level at which we are observing what is around us. What is noticed on these walks will be applied to a recreation of the path of the old walnut trees that led to the site of the Kingsmill’s farm house. The goal here is to reconcile what is seen and to connect with what once was. The act of walking outside is about receiving or taking; the question is how that can be transferred into another realm or space. This leads to the question that maybe the active walking outside is a performative act in of itself and could be the performance.

Zits will also be researching and interacting with an ancient white oak, possibly 600 years old and called the meeting tree, that is said to have links to the Underground Railroad.

His exhibition at the gallery, which includes photographs of his previous interactions with trees in many countries and wooden performance props, will be completely transformed during the residency based on the research he does in London. A series of talks, workshops and walking tours with Johannes and other guests will be offered so that everyone can participate and learn more meaningful ways to experience nature and listen to trees.

Using trees and wooden objects, Zits and program participants will develop performances that consider the historical and cultural significance of trees and wooden objects found in natural and in constructed environments. The workshops focus on receiving information and translating it through body movements. Participants will be acquainted with the concepts of dynamic listening, deep hanging out, and forest bathing. They will develop strategies for using their bodies to interpret and reconnect to nature based on non-western knowledge systems.

Related Programming:

Artist Talk
Thursday March 12, from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Performative Action Workshop
Saturday March 21, from noon to 3:00 p.m.
Postponed indefinitely
Maximum eight participants, please contact Abby Vincent to reserve your place at mcintoshgallery@uwo.ca.

Walking Tour with Michael Lunau, Manager of Landscape Services, Western University
Thursday April 2, from noon to 1:00 p.m.
Postponed indefinitely 

Walking Tour of the Sherwood Fox Arboretum
Thursday May 21, from noon until 1:00 p.m.
Postponed indefinitely 

Excursion to the Meeting Tree at Westminster Ponds
Saturday May 23, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Postponed indefinitely 
Space is limited, please contact Abby Vincent to reserve your place at mcintoshgallery@uwo.ca.

Anishinaabe Cosmology: Restoring spirit and land
Presentation by Mkomosé (Dr. Andrew Judge) 
Postponed indefinitely 

A meditation on remembering what it means to be a human–Indigenous knowledge for a changing climate
Presentation by Mkomosé (Dr. Andrew Judge) 
Postponed indefinitely 

Walking and Listening Workshop
Saturday May 30, from noon to 3:00 p.m.
Postponed indefinitely 
Maximum eight participants, please contact Abby Vincent to reserve your place at mcintoshgallery@uwo.ca.

Outdoor Performance by Johannes Zits
Tuesday June 2, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Postponed indefinitely 

The Opening of a Leaf
Ongoing through June 13
Participate in Zits' ongoing residency by photographing unfurling tree buds in your backyard, in a park or an alley nearby, or anywhere trees grow in your community.

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