Annie MacDonell

Ryerson Image Centre
33 Gould Street
May 4, 2016–August 21, 2016

Annie MacDonell, untitled, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 30 seconds. From the series “Holding Still // Holding Together,” 2016.

“When you are two-to-one, then the work becomes easier,” a woman’s voice intones as a pair of hands gingerly places documentary photographs of political protest in front of the camera in one of the untitled videos (all works 2016) that make up Annie MacDonell’s exhibition “Holding Still // Holding Together.” Blending practical instructions from nonviolent civil disobedience training (“Stretch your body out to achieve maximum contact against the ground beneath you”) with meditations on the slippery nature of embodiment (“To be lifted by three men is to feel like an oversize object: a stuffed chair, or a rolled-up rug”), the video offers a taxonomy of possible encounters between police and protestors. Drawing on an archive of photographs that span 1940s-era labor demonstrations to recent antiglobalization movements, MacDonell’s multichannel installation examines the implicit violence that subtends these bodily configurations, proposing passive resistance as the only form of refusal possible in late capitalism.

Across the room, another video, projected life-size on a diagonal wall, elaborates on this paradox by documenting six dancers restaging scenarios from the same source imagery. In one scene, a couple sits with arms and legs tenderly wrapped around each other when two others arrive to drag them apart and away, tugging awkwardly on a single arm or leg. Multiple takes of the same choreography superimposed over one another produces a ghostly composite of limp bodies and contorted limbs, suggesting that the same gestures that foster intimacy in one scenario can dehumanize in another. Juxtaposed with the violence of the archival documents, MacDonell’s lyrical restagings raise questions about which kinds of bodies can perform nonviolent resistance and which can expect it from others in return. As movements like Black Lives Matter demonstrate, the protestor’s expectation of fair compliance continues to be dictated by the color line.

— Gabrielle Moser