Open rehearsal – Interweaving Art and Design

Walker Court, AGO Ontario

Art and design are incredibly related. In both disciplines, we’re thinking about engaging with people and forming communities. In 2002, I watched an open rehearsal of a performance at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) that encapsulated this connection between art and design.

Threading Echoes, developed by Shion Skye Carter, Mayumi Lashbrook, and Hitoko Okada in the 2022 AGO x RBC Artist-in-Residence Program, combines both object-making and dance performance, embodying the practice of weaving. Their work shares the history of shifu, a time-honoured, hands-on textile practice from sixth-century Japan, through contemporary dance. Their movements included weaving the paper thread. A large paper ball was also made. The project also reckons with the institution’s architecture, its histories and power structures.

Here’s the picture I created as they were performing at the AGO. We are in Walker Court, which was named after Sir Edmund Walker, a philanthropist and banker, and the first president of the AGO.

Walker Court was originally designed as a central space to emulate the European style of museum courtyards that display sculptures. Today, it remains largely open-concept and our team at the AGO facilitates a range of performances, art experiences, and gatherings. Around this space are sculptures by Inuit artists, and walls with donor names. Inside the Walker Court are The Seven Grandfathers, a work of Robert Houle, situated up high towards the skylight: The seven ceremonial drums, made specifically for this space, resonate in their traditional teachings and complicated context, filling and enlivening the entire space. Carter, Lashbrook and Okada performed underneath the AGO’s spiral staircase designed by Frank Gehry. In my photo, I glitched the experience so all of this – the moment, the space and the performance – doesn’t feel so fixed for posterity.

Okada tells me their movements radiate out and up in part to work through the institutional trauma of a space. I offer that their work echoes words in Byung Chul-Han’s The Scent of Time: A Philosophical Essay on the Art of Lingering (2017/21). Like incense, he suggests that time moves upward in a non-linear billowy multi-sensorial fashion. Letting go, falling down, rising up, pushing off, gathering up: These are all gestures performed in their open rehearsal. The artists toss their billowy ball in the air as a liberating gesture. It is a light big puff of air. During their performance, Walker Court has become different for me. It feels more like a site for enjoying our differences, and letting go.

Art and design engage with their context and space to allow self-reflection, toward healings and liberations, to listen, and to tease new possibilities with diverse peoples intacting, thriving even. That is what we experienced in that moment – the slow magic of art and design, and our coming together. The rehearsal of Threading Echoes speaks to unfinishable work. I watched Carter, Lashbrook, Okada, the people gathered, Houle’s artwork, the floor and walls, and my own shadow from my camera phone settle upon the scene; the artists spinning nearly intangible threads quickly then slowly up toward a twisting staircase upturned on its head as if we are weaving a different sweater all together.

Please see the Threading Echoes film here:

Paola Poletto
Paola Poletto

Paola Poletto is Director of Engagement & Learning at the AGO. Her art

practice includes photography, writing and creative collaboration.

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