The Life Cycle of Celestial Objects
Pts. 1 & 2

September 21 - December 9, 2023

Shuvinai Ashoona, BUSH Gallery (Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, Peter Morin, Tania Willard), Bettina Forget, Nurielle Stern and Nancy Jo Cullen, Janet Jones, Jesse Tungilik, Camille Turner, Brandon Vickerd, Luca Cherpillod, Michael Miroshnik, Grace Grothaus, Kieran Maraj, York University Nanosatellite Lab (led by Regina Lee)

Curated by Helen Gregory and Joel Ong

Bettina Forget, Rogue 45 (still)  2022. AI generated video. Image courtesy of the artist.

The new space age and the accompanying technologies for interstellar exploration have brought to life the furthest reaches of the cosmos, fueling visions of future terraforming and celestial elevation. Space is now increasingly seen as the foreground of curiosity-driven research – the boundaries of which are continually expanding with the onset of ever more powerful telescopes and image reading machines that catalogue and identify new findings. The intensive foraging through the firmament promises new and profound revelations about ourselves and the universes around us. In this never-ending kinematization of the skies, the passage of light in the darkness, the convolving of myth and technology, the omnipotence of future discovery, and our freedom of ambition, have we ourselves become celestial objects? The Life Cycle of Celestial Objects Pts. 1 & 2 takes the form of an exhibition in two parts that considers the legacy of space exploration through the humanity of researchers across various disciplines. Recognizing that access to space is a non-uniform endeavor, the exhibition considers the role that marginalized groups play in its implementation – including Indigenous, racialized, gendered, and what (or who) western science considers the amateur.

Joel Ong’s interdisciplinary collaborations with the York University Nanosatellite Lab, led by Regina Lee, focus on the material artefacts and social engagement of satellites and satellite engineers engaged in the burgeoning field of Space Situational Awareness and RSO (resident space object) observation/recognition. McIntosh Gallery Curator Helen Gregory responds to related research by asking broader philosophical questions about who has access to such knowledge required to engage in space exploration that historically has been dominated by white men. Attempting to reach what Gregory Cajete calls a “participatory consciousness to the conception of the heavens”¹, the exhibition focuses on artistic practices, community science, citizen engagement, and education, complicating the notion of wonder as an unbiased ideology for space exploration. Through multi-media artworks, scientific models, interactive projects, and a broader series of science engagement events, the exhibition locates decentered, diverse narratives of space exploration that propose forms of collaborative exploration in cosmic futurities. In this unprecedented time of access and democratization of tools, we consider a reframing of space not as a ‘new frontier’ for appropriation and extraction, but as a critical site for considering how we can collectively participate in pioneering explorations in the skies above us.

¹ Cajete, G. (1999). Native science: natural laws of interdependence. Santa Fe, NM, Clear Light Publishers. P 216.

About the artists

Shuvinai Ashoona began to draw in the early 1990s. Although never formally trained, Ashoona’s family and the Kinngait Studios in Cape Dorset have provided her with a creative atmosphere. Her family includes important artists like her grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona, her sculptor father Kiawak Ashoona, and her graphic artist cousin Annie Pootoogook.

Ashoona's recent major solo exhibition, Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds was held at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in 2019, and toured to multiple venues. Her work has been exhibited alongside that of Sobey Art Award winner Annie Pootoogook, and Shary Boyle, who represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 2013. At the Toronto International Art Fair (Art Toronto), the Art Gallery of Ontario purchased her drawings Shoveling Worlds and Cape Dorset From Above for their permanent collection, in 2013 and 2014 respectively.Most recently, Ashoona's work was chosen to be a part of the 2022 Venice Biennale. Her work was also included bb11 – The 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, 2020, and the Manif d’art, the Quebec City Biennial, which ran from February – April 2019. She has also been awarded the 2018 Gershon Iskowitz prize for remarkable achievements in the Canadian visual arts. Other major international exhibitions include City Sky (2008) in Basel, Switzerland; the Sydney Biennale (2012); the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art’s major exhibition O, Canada (2012); and SITElines Santa Fe: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas (2014-2015).  She is a leading contemporary Canadian artist and is in numerous collections of major art institutions, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the BMO Financial Group, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Canadian Museum of History, the Fidelity Investments Corporate Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Guelph, the MacKenzie Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada, the TD Bank Group, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

BUSH Gallery (Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, Peter Morin, Tania Willard)
is a space for dialogue, experimental practice and community engaged work that contributes to an understanding of how gallery systems and art mediums might be transfigured, translated and transformed by Indigenous knowledges, traditions, aesthetics, performance and land use systems. This model of decolonial, non-institutional ways to engage with and value Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous creative production is at the heart of BUSH Gallery. BUSH Gallery is a trans-conceptual gallery space. To be trans-conceptual is to reposition ideas born within Indigenous and western epistemological conditions. A trans-conceptual space requires your body to be in a constant state of flux – never settling, like the flow of water in a river. One of the goals of BUSH gallery is to articulate Indigenous creative land practices which are born out of a lived connection to the land.

This gallery is out on the land, it is outside of or at the margins of monetary systems and away from the colonized space of art institutions. This gallery is a gallery of the land, of Indigenous culture(s) and language(s); this gallery can show new media with basketry, beading with installation art, performance art and storytelling. BUSH gallery is located on sovereign Secwépemc Territory. BUSH Gallery is Tania Willard's home, and participation comes with invitation.

Bettina Forget
is an artist and educator based in Montreal, Canada, and the Director of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute’s Artist-in-Residence program located in Mountain View, California. In this capacity she facilitates the collaboration between artists and SETI researchers, foregrounds art-science research practice, and weaves a network of institutional partners active in art, science, and technology.

Her creative practice and academic research examine the re-contextualization of art and science, and how transdisciplinary education may disrupt gender stereotypes. Bettina works with traditional as well as new media arts, focusing on astrobiology, sci-fi, and feminism. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Art Education at Concordia University, Canada where her project “Imagine Aliens” is supported by a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Fellowship and the Renata and Michal Hornstein Doctoral Scholarship. Her work has been exhibited internationally including ISEA (Barcelona), CYFEST-13 (Saint Petersburg), and the Planetarium Rio Tinto Alcan (Montreal). 

Nancy Jo Cullen
’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Ex-Puritan, The Humber Literary Review, Event Magazine, Grain, filling Station, Plenitude, Prairie Fire, Arc, This Magazine, Room, The Journey Prize, Best Canadian Fiction 2012, Best Canadian Poetry 2018 and forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry 2024. She is the 2010 recipient for the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ2S+ Emerging Writers. Her most recent collection of poetry, Nothing Will Save Your Life, was published by Wolsak & Wynn in 2022. She has published three collections of poetry with Frontenac House and a collection of short stories, Canary, with Biblioasis. Her first novel, The Western Alienation Merit Badge, was short-listed for the 2020 Amazon Canada First Novel Award. She is currently working on her second novel and a prose-poetry project. 

Janet Jones
was born in Montréal, Québec. BFA, Concordia University, painting & photography; MFA York University; PhD New York University, art theory and criticism. Jones’ work has been exhibited across Canada, in LA, New York, England, Germany, France and China. Recent projects: Gathering Fictions: A Dialogue on Painting, a two-person exhibition, Varley Art Gallery, 2022 with catalogue, 2023.  Montréal Painting Biennale 2020 with a  solo exhibition Ghost Town; the solo exhibition The Dream Machine, Patrick Mikhail Gallery, Montréal (2018); solo exhibitions, Playtimes (2015) and Joyride (2012) Katzman Contemporary Toronto; a national touring exhibition,  DaDa Delirium, with an accompanying catalogue (2011);  participation in the Empire of Dreams exhibition, MOCCA 2010. Jones has been a visiting artist in Germany, France, England, Russia, China, the Netherlands, and Cuba, notably at The Bauhaus, Weimar, Germany; Slade School of Art, London, Muchina Art Institute, St Petersburg, Russia; The Moscow Artists’ Union, & Central Academy of Art, Beijing.  Winter /Spring 2023 she was an Artist in Residence at ISCP – NYC, through Senior Research/Creation & International Residency Canada Council Grants. Janet Jones is a Professor in the Department of Visual Arts, & Art History, York University. She is represented by Patrick Mikhail Gallery, Montréal. 

Nurielle Stern
is a Toronto-based sculpture and installation artist and a graduate of Alfred University’s MFA program in Ceramic Art (2014). Her large-scale installation, Fable, was commissioned by the Gardiner Museum in 2019.  She was the 2019 recipient of the Winifred Shantz Award, and a 2020 recipient of the NCECA Emerging Artist Fellowship. Her work is held in several public collections including the Gardiner Museum, Toronto, ON, and the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, Waterloo, ON.

Recent exhibitions include the fully collaborative exhibition, Whale Fall, with artist Nicholas Crombach (Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, 2019; Queen’s University’s Union Gallery, Kingston, ON, 2021). Stern and Crombach’s two person exhibition, Petrichor, was mounted at the MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie, ON in 2023. Stern’s collaborative work with poet and fiction writer Nancy Jo Cullen was created with a grant from the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (2009-11).

Stern’s use of ceramic materials evokes an archeological imaginary. Combining ceramics with video and other media, her work navigates the malleability of language and materials, and the dialectics of inside and outside—the tamed and the wilderness. 

Jesse Tungilik
is an interdisciplinary artist based in Iqaluit, NU. He has worked in many artistic disciplines, starting as a ceramic sculptor at the Matchbox Gallery in Kangiqliniq (Rankin Inlet), NU, (beginning at just eight years old, and continuing into adulthood) before working in Mathew Nuqingaq’s Aayuraa Studio in Iqaluit, NU, as a jewellery artist specializing in baleen, muskox horn, ivory and silver. Tungilik also works in mixed-media sculpture, with pieces exhibited at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Nuit Blanche Montreal, the Nunavut Arts Festival, the Great Northern Arts Festival, the Banff Centre for the Arts, and the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, among others. His work can be found in both public and private collections nationally and internationally, including the CIRNAC Indigenous Arts Collection in Ottawa, and Museum Cerny Inuit Collection in Bern, Switzerland.

Tungilik has served as both a Manager of Cultural Industries for the Government of Nunavut and as the Executive Director of the Nunavut Art and Craft Association as well as the Chairperson for the Board of Trustees for the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit, NU, and is a member of the Inuit governance group of the Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership SSHRC Partnership Grant (2018–2025). He is currently a Social and Cultural Policy Analyst at Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. 

Camille Turner 
is an artist/scholar whose work combines Afrofuturism and historical research. Her most recent explorations confront the entanglement of what is now Canada in the transatlantic trade in Africans. She puts into practice Afronautics, a methodological frame she developed to approach colonial archives from the point of view of a liberated future. Camille is a graduate of OCAD and has recently completed a PhD at York University’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change. Currently, she is a Provost’s postdoctoral fellow at University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. Turner is the recipient of the 2022 Artist Prize by the Toronto Biennial of Art. Her artworks are held in museums and public and private collections including: National Gallery of Canada, Art Museum at University of Toronto, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Canada Council Art Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Museum London, The Wedge Collection and The Rooms. 

Brandon Vickerd
is a Hamilton based artist and Professor of Sculpture at York University, where he also serves as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts and Art History. He received his BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (1999) and his MFA from the University of Victoria (2001).  

Purposely diverse, his studio work straddles the line between high and low culture, acting as a catalyst for critical thought and addressing the failed promise of a modernist future predicated on boundless scientific advancement. Whether through craftsmanship, the creation of spectacle, or humor, the goal of his work is to provoke the viewer into questioning the dominate myth of progress ingrained in Western world views.  

Vickerd has received numerous awards and grants from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council.

The York University Nanosatellite Research Lab is part of the Earth and Space Science and Engineering (ESSE) department at York University. Led by Professor Regina Lee, a strong advocate for gender equality and diverse systems of knowledge in the engineering fields, the group’s research centres on next generation satellite technologies for Space Situational Awareness (SSA), and microphotonic payloads for small satellites. Increasingly, her work has taken the lab towards innovative scientific presentations and community science communication activities including talks at the Ontario Science Centre as well as creative work around the CSA Stratos balloon launch in Timmins August 2023 that is featured in this exhibition.  Since 2021, the lab has been working with faculty and students from the School of the Arts, Media Performance and Design on maximizing interdisciplinary expertise.  Regina is co-PI on a SSHRC NFRF-E with Professor Joel Ong entitled “Space Situational Awareness and Us”.

Related Programming:

Artist Talk: Brandon Vickerd
Thursday, September 21 from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. | Rm. TBA
Presented in partnership with the Department of Visual Arts' Art Now! Speakers' Series
Registration required

Opening Reception

Thursday, September 21 from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. | McIntosh Gallery

Panel Discussion: Decolonizing Space
Thursday, September 28 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. | Zoom
Featuring Bettina Forget, Peter Morin and Tania Willard, Joel Ong, Jesse Tungilik, and Camille Turner.
Presented in partnership with the Department of Visual Arts' Art Now! Speakers' Series
Registration required