Relations of Responsibility. Installation view, Audain Gallery, 2019. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

Raven Chacon, Gabi Dao, Lou Sheppard: Relations of Responsibility

October 10 - December 7, 2019
Audain Gallery

Relations of Responsibility is a group exhibition of works by contemporary artists that explore how the performativity of identity is echoed through the interpretive leniency of scores. The exhibition specifically considers the conditions of mutual becoming that the performance of a score produces, where both text and interpreter are transfigured by encounter and engagement. Borrowing its title from the propositions of Karen Barad, a theoretical physicist and feminist scholar, Relations of Responsibility includes works that consider the materializing effects of performance, where ethical obligations extend to the tools used, as much as to the composers and performers themselves.

In the essay "Nature's Queer Performativity" (2011), Barad charts performativity in nature, taking the idea from the realm of human action into non-human becoming as well. In drawing forth an ethic of connection and commitment between nature and culture, as well as subject and object, Barad's understanding of the world operates against ideas of separateness. As Barad describes, "differentiating is a matter of entanglement. Entanglements are not intertwinings of separate entities but rather irreducable relations of responsibility".[1] This exhibition draws from this idea of responsibility to frame artistic projects that extend the performance of a score beyond looking and interpreting, toward conditions of relationality.

In the capacity to respond to the call of a score, the agency of an actor is first acknowledged and then subsequently altered through the heeding of that call. The understanding of a score — how it signifies and what meaning is made from it — develops in reciprocity to these interactions. 

Raven Chacon's series For Zitkála-Šá (2019 – ) links the Yankton Dakota Sioux writer, musician and activist to contemporary female Indigenous composers. The visual scores are accompanied by performance instructions, creating conditions for embodiment. Chacon has stipulated that the scores be performed first by the people they have been written for, and only then, later, by others. In this way, what the scores signify is first shaped by those people whose lives they document, foregrounding the agency of these women in interpreting the biographies, as much as they themselves are shaped by forming a response to Chacon's call. 

Chacon has also remade his work, Still Life No. 4 (2019) for this exhibition. Working with a Gitxsan Nation drum stewarded by UBC's Museum of Anthropology, Chacon has created an audio work that lets the drum sing against an imposed script of silence and enclosure, aligning the cultural belonging with its object-lifeforce. 

With Excerpts from the Domestic Cinema, Ch. 1 (2018) and Ch. 2 (2019), Gabi Dao adapts her father's autobiography, which documents his immigration to Canada from Vietnam, into a suite of moving image works. Dao creates images of a diasporic home that challenge imaginations of it as being simply a place of trauma and loss. Instead, she crafts a practice of relation, where the soundscapes and scenery of domestic space are recomposed through editorial cuts that perform the creative responsibility of inheritance. 

Lou Sheppard's A Strong Desire (2018) takes its name from the diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria. In translating these criteria into a movement score, Sheppard creates a kind of map that allows them to push back against the boundaries that have otherwise been designed to encapsulate and enclose trans identities. In this rendering, the spaces between words become moments of non-meaning, of loss, of unarticulated desire within the text, exposing the limits of these organizing systems.

As conditions that prompt performance, interpretation or choreography, scores have the capacity to point toward the materializing effects of habit: we are what we do. In that way, scores are a kind of storage device, a means by which to carry ideas forward in time and across subjectivities. The range of possible responses are not given, but rather subject to never-ending negotiations impacted foremost by the making and remaking of difference. The social, political and ethical obligations we confer on each other through relation are formed through these demarcations and bindings such that the performance of a score becomes a way of registering address and taking responsibility, shaping ourselves and the matter of the world in turn.

This exhibition is co-presented by SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts' Audain Visual Artist in Residence program, and with the support of the Western Front and SFU Library.

Raven Chacon is a composer, performer and installation artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation based in Albuquerque, NM and Toronto, ON.

Gabi Dao is an artist and organizer based on the unceded territories of xʷməθkwəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh and Səl̓ílwətaɬ Nations.

Lou Sheppard is a Canadian artist working in interdisciplinary audio, performance and installation-based practice. Sheppard was raised on unceded Mi'Kmaq territory / Nova Scotia.

Curated by cheyanne turions

[1] Karen Barad, "Nature's Queer Performativity." Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences 19, no. 2 (2011): 149.


Performance: A Strong Desire: Syntactic Movement by Lou Sheppard
Wednesday, October 9, 6pm
Audain Gallery

Opening Reception
Wednesday, October 9, 7 - 9pm
Audain Gallery

Workshop: Storytelling in the Domestic Cinema with Gabi Dao and Duc Kim Dao
Registration is required. Please email
Wednesday, November 6, 6pm
Audain Gallery

Performance: For Zitkála-Šá, directed by Raven Chacon
Sunday, November 17, 2pm
Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre
149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver

Listening Party: Aram Bajakian, Raven Chacon and Gabi Dao
Friday, November 22, 7pm
Western Front
303 East 8th Avenue, Vancouver

Talk: Raven Chacon in Dialogue
Saturday, November 23, 6pm
Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema
149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver

Support Materials