Toqolu’kwetijik | Arts + Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST


A dance piece led by Ursula Johnson draws attention to the unseen labour of landmark maintenance.

Exhibit 108, Public Gardens 5665 Spring Garden Road

With this year's group of anchor artists all working to activate the Public Gardens, Ursula Johnson and collaborators will be kicking up dust along the gravel paths encircling Griffin Pond.

These clear paths, strict rules and enforced designated sitting areas that make up the Public Gardens are known to most who frequent them, but Johnson's durational performance Toqolu'kwetijik seeks to draw attention to the invisible labour involved in the construction and maintenance of these gardens.

Toqolu'kwetijik is a Mi'kmaw term that articulates a group of people—exclusive of the speaker and the ones spoken to—are performing a task together, denoting labour or work. In Toqolu'kwetijik, the labour is both active and referential: At 9pm a group of dancers will begin to move in unison around Griffin Pond, performing synchronized labour in movement, wearing headlamps and carrying illuminated bow rakes referencing maintenance work. The performance will build slowly, with each dancer adding movement one after the other while a sonic piece by Johnson builds until becoming distorted.

The effect will undoubtedly be eerie, with the strange sonic composition emanating from the dark, moving the synchronized masses, the ghostly lights swaying as the dancers move. By making shadow-puppets of her performers—shaping the lights into ghostly objects dancing in the dark—Johnson draws viewers' attention to the unseen labour that goes into maintaining properties like the Public Gardens, ground worked in the tradition of, and for, the relaxation of the colonizer.

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