From the 2023 Fraser Valley Biennial
Curated by Candace Couse
2023 Fraser Valley Biennial
The body, as a subject, has reached heightened importance in contemporary art practice. One can argue that historically the body often has been taken too lightly: of course, it is ever-present, but its treatment was often uncritical and apolitical; its presence captivated human attention largely through beauty and its self-referential form. It is not until relatively recently in (that too-pervasive) Western thought that “the body” is recontextualized as “embodiment,” where lived, sensual experience becomes a—or the—preeminent site for knowledge. Even “mind” (made up of thinking and reason), that darling of philosophy positioned opposite to the body historically, is now primarily recognized to come singularly through a bodily engagement with the world. All thought, all knowledge, moves through the sensing, feeling body.
The body is taught, and it teaches. The body transforms environments through labour. It is the slate on which scripts are written, and here the body keeps both secrets and score. It is porous, leaky, boundaryless, and thus not fully controllable by historical or dominant understandings. The body, in this context, opens as a site of meaning where it is understood as product and producer of biological or social limitations and constructs. In short, the body becomes a place for experimentation as it holds multiple and contradictory representations rich for exploration.
With this appetite for exploring the power of the body, I appealed to artists across the Lower Mainland, the traditional territory of the Stó:lō people (S'ólh Téméxw), for submissions to the seventh iteration of the Fraser Valley Biennial. The resulting exhibition comprises of outstanding artwork carefully selected from a pool of Fraser Valley artists asked to address this year’s theme. The works represent the diverse and deeply meaningful ways we think about and through the body, exploring illness, gender, sexuality and disability narratives, the body as an organism, the body’s relationship to technology, the labouring body, the body as a site for pain and pleasure, and more. The exhibition speaks to the power of the body.
Since its launch in 2011, the Biennial has facilitated and contextualized local visual art practice while broadening the public’s awareness and appreciation of the immense creative talent that finds its home in the Fraser Valley. The full exhibition will premiere at The Reach from January to May 2023. Smaller, specially curated versions will be presented by regional partners throughout the remainder of the 2023 calendar year. This year, the Biennial welcomes two new presenting partners—The Langley Arts Council and the Fort Gallery—in addition to our long-time and highly-valued partners at the Abbotsford Arts Council, Kent Harrison Arts Council, and Chilliwack Visual Artists Association.
I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to open myself and others up to a variety of strong, dedicated artists working the region. I would also like to spotlight the contributions of Kate Bradford, The Reach’s Assistant, and the early work of Adrienne Fast, Curator of Art & Visual Culture. Both worked side by side with me on all facets of the Biennale. The depth and breadth of their collective experience and engagement were instrumental in creating such a strong show. Finally, I remain forever grateful to all the artists, organizations, staff, and viewers who collectively are the originators and meaning-makers of this particular encounter with “the body.”