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Exchanging Presence

June 29 @ 8:00 AM - September 10 @ 5:00 PM

Magdolene Dykstra uses clay as a medium for connection. The exhibition is comprised of two of her ongoing projects Gathering Presence and Exchanging Presence. Together, these works ask what it means to be seen and to what degree one wants to make themselves visible.

Gathering Presence is a mural of impressions. Magdolene employs assistants to laboriously paint the wall with their fingers. The painters press pigments made with clay oxides onto the walls, starting on the outside and working in to create stalagmite and stalactite-like forms of varying densities and colours.

In a collaborative effort, the fingerprints of these racialized and queer painters accumulate to create a space where they can be seen, heard, and understood on their own terms. They are makers of the mark, not suffering the harms of being marked or being forced to mark under the control of others.

Emerging from a desire to be seen under conditions of her own devise, Magdolene’s describes the mark-making process as a “practice that blends references to Colour Field painting and cave paintings. Just as prehistoric artists recorded their presence using pigments of the Earth, my finger paintings record my presence with a simple, yet persistent gesture. Using soil, clay, and naturally occurring oxides, these paintings connect me to the earliest artists who recorded their presence on cave walls. Until the 1960s, Canadian immigration policy explicitly favored people of European descent. The legacy of this policy is visible in every room I enter. It reminds me, an Egyptian-Canadian, that whiteness was the goal for this nation. It is in this context that I continue to assert my right to take space and make space for others to join me in transforming white spaces by recording our presence. My extremely individual mark is a universal one, shared among all humans. By repeatedly recording our presence on the gallery walls, this site-specific painting becomes an act of shared presence and persistent resistance – stating over and over again, I am here; we are still here.”

While Gathering Presence offers a record of the artist and assistants’ presence, Exchanging Presence is an open invitation for guests to make marks of their own. Magdolene makes space for audiences to contribute their own record of existence by leaving an imprint of themselves on a piece of clay.

In an instructional video, the artist describes how these remnants are created. Audiences are invited to follow along by pinching a small piece of terracotta off the clay mass on a table in the gallery and gently squeezing it between their thumb and forefinger to create an impression. It is then left in the gallery to be fired in the AGB pottery studio and added to a growing pile of clay pieces on the floor. In exchange for their indexical offering, participants are invited to take home pre-fired remnants from the installation – considering how much they want to offer, and how much they will take.

These take-away fingerprints are a tangible memory of a momentary connection. They represent generosity, reciprocity, and ask us to consider the obligation to the people around us – whether seen or unseen.

Exchanging Presence is a continuation of Dykstra’s attentiveness to the tension between individuality and collectivity, visibility and anonymity, impermanence, and the embedded potential for transformation. She creates openings for unity through repetitive actions. The individual marks on the wall and in the clay are small but in unison are grand. They boldly state, I am here; we are still here.

Exchanging Presence is generously supported by Susan & Bob Busby. The AGB is supported by the City of Burlington, Ontario Arts Council, and Ontario Trillium Foundation. The AGB’s learning programming has been sponsored by The Burlington Foundation and the Incite Foundation for the Arts. The Magdolene Dykstra acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.


June 29 @ 8:00 AM
September 10 @ 5:00 PM


Art Gallery of Burlington
1333 Lakeshore Road
Burlington, ON Canada
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