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"Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See is Bright Black" Reading List

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The exhibition Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black by Montreal-based artists Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau invites a deeply personal experience, one that opens itself to a range of interpretations. Is it about consumerism and our relationship to the things we own? Does it tell a story about learning to accept and love one’s body through sickness and physical transformations? Often, the stuff we possess has a way of possessing us, becoming sources of pride or shame, luxury and ease, or dark obsession.

Some of the sculptures in the exhibition resemble discarded wads of bubble gum, while others could be mistaken for futuristic athletic gear or cybernetic body augmentations. This surreal landscape is paired with a dance performance and a dissonant soundscape, music that contributes to a sense of discomfort and alienation.

Perhaps we can also find something uplifting in this experience of assessing materialism and selectively choosing what we hold on to and cherish, while letting go of the rest. Questioning what our society values is an opportunity for growth and transformation, to make things better for ourselves and for this planet we share.   

If you want to extend your engagement with Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black, here are some Idea Exchange collection items that explore themes from this unique exhibition:

Krasnostein, Sarah.
The trauma cleaner

A trauma cleaning business becomes a conduit for a woman to rise out of a difficult childhood and realize her dreams. In this remarkable biography, decay, sickness and death are treated as an inexorable part of living. Trauma cleaning often involves helping people to dispose of old possessions and make space in their lives for change.

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was treated for cancer at a medical facility but unbeknownst to her or her family, tissue from her tumour was excised and used for medical experimentation long after her death. This true story demonstrates the medical field’s difficult history of disenfranchising patients who are people of colour and treating vulnerable individuals as test subjects rather than people.

Norman, Abby.
Ask me about my uterus

Part memoir, part exposé, this book discusses how chronic illnesses suffered by female patients are often trivialized, misdiagnosed or ignored by the medical establishment. The author tells the story of her journey to getting appropriate treatment for endometriosis, a painful condition that affects the uterus.

Moshfegh, Ottessa.
My year of rest and relaxation

Tired of her empty and materialistic existence in Manhattan, an art school graduate tries to sleep a whole year of her life away. Her quest to get away from her physical life becomes performance art for the people around her.

Winterson, Jeanette
Frankissstein

This contemporary riff on the traditional Frankenstein story explores themes of physical transformation, gender identity, cybernetics and how we define our humanity.

Barbeau-Lavalette, Anaïs
Suzanne

Based on a true story, this French-Canadian novel tells the story of a woman who leaves her family and renounces a tame suburban existence to become an artist. Leaving her attachments and possessions behind becomes a path to finding herself, but she also struggles with sickness, regret and mental health challenges.

Yong, Ed.
I contain multitudes

Science is transforming our understanding of the human body, particularly when it comes to microbes, the tiny organisms that live inside of us and contribute to our sickness, health and the general functioning of our body. A single individual contains multitudes of microbes, making the boundary between our bodies and the outside world harder to discern than you might think!

Blade runner 2049

In this sequel to the classic cyberpunk thriller, we track a synthetic detective as he hunts escaped replicants and comes across dark secrets in a world where it’s hard to discern the natural from the synthetic. The stylish, dreamlike visuals will have you questioning your eyes.

Grimes (Musical group)
Art angels

Hailing from Montreal, pop sensation Grimes has fully embraced the cyberpunk aesthetic, writing dance floor anthems that examine capitalism, transhumanism and our collective obsession with stuff. Her vibe is more energetic than contemplative, but her kooky musical persona is 100% performance art.

Robinson, Eden.
Monkey Beach

Elements of body horror, trauma and dissociation are all part of Eden Robinson’s award-winning Indigenous gothic novel. In this story, a young First Nations woman confronts difficult truths from her past, while working to solve the mysterious disappearance of her brother.

Ex machina

In this clever and creepy thriller, a computer engineer conducts a version of the Turing test to determine if an extremely human-like robot demonstrates true artificial intelligence. The robot may have other plans in mind, including securing her freedom.

Arafat, Zaina.
You exist too much

In her youth, a Palestinian woman is shamed for exposing too much of her body on a hot summer day. As she matures, she fights to make a place for herself in a world that doesn’t always accept her physicality, her sexual identity or her ethnicity.

Doudna, Jennifer A.
A crack in creation

Gene editing gives human beings the ability to cure devastating diseases and prevent untold suffering. However, it also offers up the unthinkable power to control evolution and to alter human biology in profound and disturbing ways. How much control should scientists be able to exert over what humans are and what they could become?

Mazo, Joseph H.
Prime movers

The modern dance movement empowered performers to incorporate a wider range of emotional expression in their art. These revolutionaries contributed to the dance performances we see in contemporary art exhibits, which are more about portraying feelings and meanings rather than following prescribed sets of steps.

Kid A

This concept album has a futuristic edge, with songs that invoke cloning, cybernetics and loneliness in consumerist society. With soft chords, synth beats and unexpected hits of jazz, it has the same unsettling mixture of anxiety and comfort-seeking that I perceived in the exhibit.