Memory Work by Memory Work Collective
May 1, 2022 - April 30, 2023
Situated at the Strachan Gate entrance to The Bentway, Memory Work is a mural made up of twelve embellished photographic portraits of revolutionary women and non-binary figures from a future Toronto.
Initiated by studio From Later with artist Rajni Perera and Memory Work Collective, this speculative monument imagines a city characterized by collective care and politics that value nurturing over growth.
Memory Work is a monument that commemorates a speculative world. The people depicted in these portraits belong to a group known as the Mothers of Invention, abbreviated as MOI, and pronounced like the sound of a kiss. They are a group of revolutionary scientists, healers, creators, entrepreneurs, engineers, and organizers, represented in photographs taken by Omii Thompson of Mecha Clarke, Jennifer Maramba, Xiyao (Miranda) Shou, Zanette Singh, Cheyenne Sundance, and Dori Tunstall.
Each is a leader spearheading change in their community, a present-day seed of the character they portray, prefiguring a transformed city. Each wears their own apron, designed by Tala Kamea and Naomi Skwarna, as a distinctive uniform that is both protective and decorative, offering clues to the values, aesthetics, and labour of their time. Rajni Perera has applied a textured layer of mythical landscapes and organisms onto the portraits, envisioning the environments of these destined luminaries.
Unlike many futuristic artworks, Memory Work is grounded in research and interpretations of actions and events observable today. The project began with a research phase led by Toronto-based studio From Later, which examined emerging forces of change—analyzing their potential effects, cataloguing uncertainties, exploring scenarios, and dreamscaping with communities. This pattern of research and imagination is echoed in the processes used to create the mural. The individuals photographed and embellished in Memory Work are people whose lives and work demonstrate the city that Memory Work Collective is anticipating. The mural reflects a process of elaborating, exaggerating, and extrapolating from lived experience and present-day signals of change and glimmers of hope.
Memory Work offers multiple portals of entry. The double-sided mural at the Bentway site is supplemented by a phone number that visitors can call to hear more details about the commemorated figures. The website—memory-work.com—contains a soundscape and offers a network of sources that inspire, ground, and inform this potential world. Both physical and virtual, Memory Work is intended as an exploratory platform, and the beginning of a possible story. It invites participation.
A monument recalls and engages. It asks viewers, “do you know the story of these people who take up public space in remembrance? Do you know why they are important?” As a monument to a future Toronto, this collaborative artwork asks the public to engage with the changing city. It asks how we can go beyond idyllic or heroic images of the future; it presses us to ask who will nurture this new world. In a world full of images, how can we be more deeply invested in understanding what we’re seeing? How do visions change alongside an evolving city? Memory Work offers a means toward understanding our relationship to the future, so that we might see ourselves creating it.
Exhibition Essay by Mandy Harris Williams
About the Collective
Memory Work Collective is a community of artists and writers. Concerned equally with the relational and the imaginary, the collective engages in the mutual recounting and reconstruction of lived experience to contemplate possible worlds. Their research-based practice creates material for meditation, critique, and new ways of living — negotiating ethical and moral imperatives across (past, present, and future) time.
Rajni Perera was born in Sri Lanka in 1985 and lives and works in Toronto. She explores issues of hybridity, futurity, ancestorship, immigration identity/cultures, monsters and dream worlds. Her subversive aesthetic counteracts antiquated, oppressive discourse, and acts as a restorative force through which people can move outdated, repressive modes of being towards reclaiming their power.
Tala Kamea Berkes is an artist and maker who works most prominently with textile and sound as her media. She holds a Master of Arts in Fashion from Ryerson University. Tala works as a costume designer in film, as a fashion designer and stylist, and as a textile artist.
Naomi Skwarna is a National Magazine Award-winning writer and artist. As a journalist, Naomi has written for The New York Times, Vulture, Hazlitt, The Walrus, The Globe and Mail, Toronto Life, The Believer, and others. Since 2019, Naomi has been producing slow fashion and soft sculpture under the name Casual Clowne.
Omii Thompson is Toronto-born and NYC-raised artist. A graduate of Sheridan College’s Classical Animation program, his initial love for storytelling and illustration drew him to portrait photography and the challenges of distilling the spirit of the person in front of him.
Macy Siu is an artist driven by expression and empowerment tied to the hyphen of in-between spaces. She is a foresight strategist at studio From Later.
Robert Bolton is a Canadian artist and strategist and principal at Toronto-based foresight studio, From Later.
Emily Woudenberg is the founder of Strike Design Studio. With a focus on independently publishing both websites and editorial, they have participated in residencies at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Toronto) and Artscape Launchpad. They have exhibited at Printed Matter and other international art book fairs in Tokyo, Vancouver, Toronto, and Vienna.
Erica Whyte (she/they) is a foresight strategist and artist with From Later. Her work engages with science, technology, and ecology.
Jac Sanscartier is a writer and foresight strategist with From Later. She lives and works in London, England, UK.
Sydney Allen-Ash is a strategist, and the creator and host of the podcasts Re:Search and Toenails.
Memory Work is co-presented by From Later and The Bentway with support from the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival as part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021–2022. Additional support by the Canada Council for the Arts, City of Toronto, and the Toronto Arts Council.
Embellished photography: Rajni Perera with Omi Thompson
Costume design: Tala Kamea and Naomi Skwarna
Concept: From Later
Model: Cheyenne Sundance