Designing Connection in Friction


Designing Connection in Friction
The Main Gallery . September 20 – September 30, 2018
Opening Reception: Friday, September 21 from 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm.
Curator’s and Artist’s Talk at 7:30 pm
Harcourt House Artist Run Centre, 3rd floor, 10215 – 112 Street, Edmonton

Over the past three decades, art practices striving to draw interactions among disparate individuals and communities have emerged, with such names as connective aesthetic, dialogic art, socially engaged art, and pedagogical art. How do these practices generate influence on contemporary societies, where differences and conflicts inevitably shape our lives? In her Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005), the ethnographer Anna L. Tsing defines friction as “the awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across differences.” By initiating an encounter with differences, artists both present and create friction between themselves and the site by interacting with it. Although it may be odd, precarious, or embarrassing, this encounter may lead to creative qualities of experience and outcomes. I call such practice “designing connection in friction” – creative activities of fostering a connection in societies that are replete with friction and inviting the viewers in their activities.

Drawing on this idea, the exhibition Designing Connection in Friction presents recent artistic research that strives to create an artistic intervention in contact zones. The exhibition features three artists: Jesper Alvær (Oslo, Norway and Prague, Czech Republic), Naureen Mumtaz (Edmonton, AB), and Brad Necyk (St. Albert, AB). Alvær explores unequal power relationships in the global economy surrounding the circulation of vaccines. Following “the Cold Chain,” the route of refrigerated vaccine supplies, Alvær travels from the manufacturers in Europe to clients in African nations. Also, reversing the route of the Cold Chain, he and health professionals from Mozambique and Burkina Faso travel to vaccine-related events in Norway and the United Nations and World Health Organization in Switzerland. Mumtaz examines pedagogical design to foster interactions among youth groups of different cultural backgrounds in Alberta, involving encounters between Muslim youth groups and Indigenous youth groups. Necyk studies the impact of climate change on our individual and collective psyches, presenting the friction between humans and non-humans.

– Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon

Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon is an art historian and curator. Currently a PhD candidate in the History of Art, Design and Visual Culture at the University of Alberta, Kwon is exploring contemporary art involving participants in transnational contact zones, for a doctoral dissertation tentatively titled Connections in Friction: Participatory Art of East Asian Artists in Contact Zones. Prior to moving to Edmonton, Kwon completed her BA and MA in Art History at the University of Toronto and worked as an art administrator, curator, and researcher for art and cultural organizations in Toronto. Her recent exhibitions include Mass and Individual: The Guyanese Mass Games at the Arko Art Center, Seoul (2016) and Immune Nations at the UNAIDS Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, and Galleri KiT in Trondheim, Norway (2017). For more information, please see

Jesper Alvær
Upstream the Cold Chain, 2017
Single-channel video (8 minutes), 9 photographic, and a poem. In collaboration with Dr. Johan Holst (senior vaccine scholar at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) in Oslo); Sinaré/Kàboré Thérèse (Ministry of Health, Burkina Faso) and Ramos Mboane (Chief Medical Officer, Niassa Province, Mozambique)

Jesper Alvær explores through artistic practice, shifts in conventions regulating artistic labor in the expanded field of art, responding to the radical shifts in artistic practice, related to its deskilling, distributed agency and blurred authorship. For the last decade, Alvær has been engaged in these topics in different ways – through exhibitions, covert performances, relational pieces, and workshops – to test the contemporary limits of artistic labor, enhancing his study by applying methodologies of social sciences. Through employment, delegation and other forms of collaboration, Alvær scrutinizes the relation linking artists and other participants of artistic process, asking how much can one subtract from professional role of an artist and still be able to share artistic faculties with others? In other words, what is artistic competence after deskilling and how can it be mutualized? Alvær’s recent project related to vaccines, Upstream the Cold Chain, may serve as an example. Besides being a “film,” it is important to consider Upstream the Cold Chain as an experiment in setting up a series of guest/host situations and looking for qualities in which these situations relate artistic practice/strategies to issues around “access to health.” This project demonstrates how a particular artistic intervention unfolded within certain public health contexts across, up- and downstream several borders.

Jesper Alvær received his artistic training mainly in Prague, New York City, and Kitakyushu. Currently he is a PhD candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, Czech Republic. During 2013–16 he was a research fellow at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts with the project Work, work: Staging dislocation in artistic and non-artistic labor ( In addition to showing his art at a number of international exhibitions, Alvær has also participated in numerous study, residence, and research programmes both in Norway and abroad. His most recent exhibitions include Immune Nations (UNAIDS, Geneva, 2017), Making Use: Life in Postartistic Times (Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, 2016), Mother, Dear Mother (Kunstnernes Hus Oslo, 2014), Arbeidstid/WorkTime (Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, 2013) as well as several exhibitions held in collaboration with Isabela Grosseova: Theatre of Static Objects (DiStO 02, PAF, Olomouc 2017), Competencies (Fotograf Gallery, Prague 2015), Activum (Kunstnerforbundet, Oslo, 2013), Eventos Paralelos (Manifesta 8, Murcia, 2010/11), Figure and Ground (Bunkier Sztuki Contemporary Art Gallery, Krakow, 2007). 

Naureen Mumtaz
Decolonizing Intercultural Understanding, 2018
Photographic and graphic documentation of collaborative workshops
Co-created by groups of urban Aboriginal and newcomer Muslim immigrant youth from local youth organizations in Edmonton. Ranged in ages from 15-25 years, they showed keen interest in issues related to cross cultural youth communication and understanding.

While Canadians celebrate “multiculturalism,” there is also a need to move beyond the mere surface celebration of diversity to create conditions which can support intercultural understanding amongst youth from culturally diverse communities. The focus of this participatory design project is to bridge intercultural knowledge by engaging youth, from a growing population of newcomer Muslim immigrant and urban Aboriginal communities in design thinking processes. The project involved several youth-engaged ‘design thinking circles’ (d.circles) in the local community settings. Diversity of thoughts expressed during the process shaped constructive discussion topics while different point-of-views and accounts of experiences were heard and articulated. Participants worked towards finding viable ways to best represent those varied perspectives through their design concepts in their visual communication artefacts. While thinking through the making phase, their concepts were aimed at transforming the understanding of common postulations that young people generally have towards each other’s cultures. Participation in the project has shown to have enhanced critical design thinking capacity of the participating youth as leaders in their diverse communities. Content and process outcomes of the project are expected to contribute new knowledge in the fields of practice-led design research for community-responsive curriculum inquiry to advance intercultural understanding among youth from marginalized communities— a critical need in a climate of increasing xenophobia.

Naureen Mumtaz is an academic researcher and a design educator. Her work involves teaching and learning in and through design education. She is completing an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. (education and design studies) at the University of Alberta. In her dissertation, she explores design-based research for community responsive curricula and its relation to complex social issues of intercultural understanding for 21st-century communities and cultural pedagogies. Mumtaz collaborates with organizations working for ethnoculturally diverse community populations across the province to integrate design thinking and social design innovation in curricula to promote critical understanding and socially innovative practices. Before academia, she worked for a few years in multinational media agencies. Her transformative design work for the social well-being of individuals and systems has garnered academic and community recognition and awards.

Brad Necyk
Speculative Psychiatry, 2018
Multi-channel video installation
In collaboration with Dan Harvey
Videos: Zoonosis, Not Waving But…, Hard Rain, Haphaestichor

Art has the capacity to distill incredibly complex systems into something that viewers and participants can experience at the level of affect as well as intellectually, which may lead towards lasting personal and social change. The importance of arts engagement in social issues is heightened by the knowledge that we are in a new geological, metaphorical, economic, political, and cultural epoch, commonly referred to as the Anthropocene. Our relation to the planet and its inhabitants have ushered in a new age of global terraforming, with apocalyptic implications. While concerns over the fate of our species and others are heavily debated, I am interested in its potential implications on our individual and collective psyches. What psychiatric disorders will arise in response and relation to our changing and more unpredictable environment? Further, how will the apparatus of psychiatry respond to such rapid changes? What are the possibilities of art to affectively map this coming age and its psychological implications? Lastly, what potentials for growth and maturation become possible at the “end of the world,” to create new futures, tell new stories, and to world new worlds?

Brad Necyk is a multimedia artist in Canada whose practice engages with issues of medicine, mental health, and precarious populations and subjects. His works include drawings and paintings, still and motion film, sculpture, 3D imaging and printing, virtual reality, and performance. He recently finished a residency with AHS Transplant Services in 2015-16, works as an artist/researcher in a project on Head and Neck Cancer, and is completing an arts-based, research-creation Ph.D. in Psychiatry. Currently, he is a visiting artist/researcher at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and had a studio residency at Workman Arts, Toronto. His current work focuses on patient experience, auto-ethnography, psychiatry, pharmaceutics, and biopolitics. His artistic work was included in the 2015 Alberta Biennial, and has been shown internationally, most recently in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Chicago, IL; he has presented academic work at conferences in Canada and internationally, most recently at the 2017 SLSA conference in Phoenix, AZ, and the 2017 Association of Faculties of Pharmacy of Canada in Quebec. Brad sits on the boards of several professional bodies and is a Scholar at the Integrative Health Institute at the University of Alberta. He currently teaches senior level courses in Drawing and Intermedia at the University of Alberta and MacEwan University.

Curated by Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon and presented by the University of Alberta’s Art and Design Graduate Student Association (ADGSA) in conjunction with the 2018 Alberta Culture Days and Design Week at Harcourt House Artist Run Centre

ADGSA exhibition committees: Daniel Walker, Phoebe Todd-Parrish, Luke Johnson, Angela Marino, Myken McDowell and Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon.

Graphic design: Phoebe Todd-Parrish

ADGSA would like to acknowledge the generous support of the University of Alberta Alumni Association, the Graduate Students’ Association of the University of Alberta (GSA), the Centennial Professor Sean Caulfield in the department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta, and Office for Contemporary Art Norway. We would like to also thank Jacek Malec and Ruta Nichol at Harcourt House for the support in partnership with the ADGSA.