Annie MacDonell Holding Still // Holding Together

Annie MacDonell is a visual artist working with photography, film, installation, and live performance. Her work draws attention to how still and moving images are used and misused, how they are circulated and appropriated, and how they are staged in galleries, cinemas, and beyond. In this newly commissioned, site-specific exhibition in two parts, MacDonnell activates both the white-cube interior of the RIC’s University Gallery and the Salah J. Bachir New Media Wall. Holding Still // Holding Together unfolds across an interrelated network of screens, as MacDonell connects distinct modes of presentation that play out separately but remain inextricably linked by their content and their multi-layered treatment.

As in past projects, MacDonell’s working process begins from a series of found images. Using the RIC’s Black Star Collection and other sources, the artist gathered photographs of passive political resistance—instances in which protesters use their own bodies to express opposition while being held and displaced by police officers. At times deceptively peaceful, the photographs express an imbalance and struggle between the uniformed figures of power and authority and the limp bodies being dragged, heaved, lifted, suspended, or otherwise forced to move. These complex exchanges between police and protesters are also necessarily shaped by the presence of the recording cameras. Despite the variety of circumstances, political situations, and historical moments documented by these images, they demonstrate a clear continuity in the distorted postures of dissidents as they are taken down.

For Holding Still // Holding Together, MacDonell has expanded her exploration of appropriated still and moving images by collaborating with a group of performers. Working with choreographer Ame Henderson and six contemporary dancers, the artist studies and dissects these scenes of passive resistance in order to reproduce them using performance and video. Filmed in long, static shots in the historical President’s office at Ryerson University, the dancers re-enact unsettling scenes of police coercion and physical refusal. MacDonell notes that “in imitating these complicated configurations of bodies, each example born of a specific moment in history and real-life struggle, the intention is to hijack and rewrite the power relations described within them.” The original struggle, transformed by its restaging, calls into question people’s understanding of authority and the possibilities of dissent.


Organized by Ryerson Image Centre, with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts

Curated by Gaëlle Morel