Your source for art news from the AGO and beyond.

Presented by Signature Partner

Emerging Curator Q&A with Emilie Croning

Continuing our recognition of Museum Month, we connected with Emilie Croning, a Toronto-based independent curator, to learn more about her work with Wedge Curatorial Projects and Jorian Charlton’s debut showing at the AGO.

Emilie Croning

Image courtesy of Emilie Croning

If the past few years are any indication, Emilie Croning is on the rise as an independent curator, art historian and artist. AGO visitors have been captivated by the latest exhibition she curated, presented in collaboration with Toronto’s Wedge Curatorial Projects (WCP) and Gallery TPW. Jorian Charlton: Out of Many forms an intergenerational dialogue within Black Canadian identities, placing Charlton’s contemporary portraits alongside her father’s collection of vintage 35mm slides from the 1970s and ‘80s. Croning works at the intersections of feminist theories, post-colonialism and criticism as a curator, with emphasis on “identity and representation through visual language and diasporic narratives”.

We connected with Croning to learn more about her ambitions, close ties with WCP and the fortuitous way Out of Many made it to the AGO.  

AGOinsider: How would you describe what you do as an independent curator and your connection to WCP?

Croning: I wouldn’t be able to talk about my independent curatorial practice without talking about WCP. It was through the organization that I was able to get my foot in the door. Wedge Curatorial Projects is a non-profit organization that highlights Black identity and diasporic narratives in contemporary art through exhibitions, lectures, and community programs. I have been working with WCP for almost six years now; it’s where I started as an intern. I have since taken on responsibilities that involve exhibition planning and public programs.

Installation view, Jorian Charlton: Out of Many 1

Installation view, Jorian Charlton: Out of Many, December 18, 2021 - August 7, 2022. Artworks © Jorian Charlton, photo AGO.

I was fortunate enough to curate my first exhibition with WCP in 2017. Since then, I have branched out to working on projects with other artists and organizations in Toronto. My practice is rooted in collaboration, communication and care, and focuses on amplifying the voices of marginalized artists working across disciplines. I think about the stories we are at risk of losing if we do not confront the lack of visual representation and, in turn, silence experiences. The projects I have been involved in speak to my values of building connections that extend beyond our selves.

AGOinsider: Focusing on Jorian Charlton: Out of Many, take us back in time to when the exhibition was just an idea. Within the photographs, what themes stood out to you as a curator? How did you work with Charlton to present them?

Croning: As the exhibition description sets forth, a few years ago, Jorian received a collection of 35mm slides from her father [Clayton Charlton] for safekeeping. Jorian knew she wanted to show her father’s images alongside hers and was already set on a title. The "how and why" is how I came into the equation.

When we were going through the slides, I was immediately drawn to the fact that these small 35mm slides became physical tokens of recollection that contribute to a tangible family archive and what that means. Although Jorian’s father’s photographs are anchored in the past, they are not frozen in linear time. There is a unifying thread that links them with Charlton’s own contemporary practice; the ability to present portraits that exist both everywhere, and nowhere in particular. They are a vehicle for intergenerational dialogue and contemplation mediated by family and community.

There are some beautiful parallels between both when it comes to content and composition, where Black folks are front and centre. In both cases, the use of natural light, emphasis on style and self-fashioning are key markers within each composition. There is a warmth and sense of comfort that is brought forth.  

The portraits that Jorian achieves to make are representing the collaboration that fuels her practice of working with models, friends and other creative individuals she crosses paths with. They each possess complete agency in the way they are being photographed. Working with and representing individuals in her own community, Jorian is cultivating her own family album through a contemporary lens. 

It was a natural decision to want to present Jorian’s father’s photographs in the way one would normally interact with family photographs: in a domestic space. We were thinking of our parents' and grandparents’ houses, a Jamaican-Canadian household while factoring in the time when these photos were taken (the late 1970s to late ‘80s). The wood panelling and eclectic mix of frames were all intentional choices. Both in the online and physical exhibitions, we create a space that evokes a living room (an intimate space, albeit presented publicly), in contrast to a more contemporary presentation of Jorian’s work.

Installation view, Jorian Charlton: Out of Many 2

Installation view, Jorian Charlton: Out of Many, December 18, 2021 - August 7, 2022. Artworks © Jorian Charlton, photo AGO.

Because the gaze, pose and agency are heavily engaged within Jorian’s portraits, I wanted to play around with sightlines and hanging heights. Some of the work is blown up on vinyl, others are smaller framed works. When you are navigating within the space there are moments when you physically need to distance yourself from the work to fully engage with it, creating space between the viewer and the sitter. There are also moments when the viewer is invited to approach. In the same way that Jorian is able to instill trust in her sitters as a photographer, I wanted to honour their agency as they proudly take up space on the walls of the gallery. I am also lucky to work with an artist who is open to different ways of displaying their work.  

AGOinsider: bell hooks’ essay “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” (1995) is referenced throughout your curatorial texts for this exhibition. From a curatorial standpoint, what drew you to reference this essay?

Croning: bell hooks informs a lot of my practice and how I navigate through life on a day-to-day basis, so to use her words to ground moments of the exhibition was an intuitive gesture for me. As Jorian shared her father’s photographs with me and we began scanning through them – catching glimpses of her father in his youth – I couldn’t help but draw out the familiarity of that very moment with bell hooks’ essay I had read a few years prior. In “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” (1995), hooks elaborates on an intimate interaction with an old image of her father with which she uses to extend the discussion to the Black community, describing the crucial role the medium of photography plays in representing Black life. Re-reading the essay, the connection was right there: what is the significance of Jorian’s father’s images and of this “discovery” in a greater context? Like hooks, Jorian Charlton mediates images from her own father’s youth − from his “glory” − as they relate to her own interactions and her own becoming. Beyond that, thinking about the importance of vernacular photography when it comes to representations of Black life and the family album.

In the full exhibition text (available at www.out-of-many.ca), I also cite Tina M. Campt who contextualizes the registers of Black family photography as objects that are both material and affective when it comes to diasporic connections, symbolizing “practices of attachment, belonging, and relation between sitters and their recipients”. What may come across as a simple documentation of everyday life also holds deeper political, social, and cultural resonances: the very act of gathering, collecting, and preserving personal photographs safeguards their value and amplifies their importance.

Something I have grown to reflect on with regards to my role as a curator is to not only care for the artists and their work, but also carve out space for me to explore certain parts of myself. My mother was born and raised in Jamaica and her family immigrated to Canada in 1980. Since they don’t really go back, a lot of my knowledge of their life and experiences are limited to photo albums. However, even just with those moments frozen in time, I am able to draw out the similarities within Jorian’s father’s images. If I can draw those connections and build that on that personal history, I know someone else would be able to as well.

AGOinsider: This exhibition was first slated to be presented at Gallery TPW. Tell us about what it means to have it mounted at the AGO, both in terms of professional achievement and contextualization of the work.

Croning: After being unable to present the show at Gallery TPW, we successfully launched Out of Many as an online exhibition back in February 2021. Of course, there’s nothing like experiencing the work in person. With all the delays and lockdowns we’ve faced, the biggest accomplishment was to have the show mounted in the first place, let alone at the AGO. I’m still processing that we are able to present such a special exhibition and artist at the AGO. There are many elements at play here: a young Black Canadian female artist with a solo exhibition at the AGO, curated by a young independent Black curator. Not only is Jorian’s work important when it comes to capturing a vibrant reflection of Black individuality, but the conversation between her work and her father’s images speaks to notions around the representation of Black families, community and personhood in the context of a large art institution. We are also considering what these family photos offer when displayed to the public. When extracted from their original contexts these images lend themselves to discussions around public and private histories, and the aestheticized family album.

From a personal and professional perspective, just two years ago I was doing a placement at the AGO in the Photography department while completing my master’s and was able to sneak a peek of one of their exhibition installs in the very space Out of Many is being presented. If you told me then that two years later, I would be overseeing my own install in the space, I wouldn't believe you! I am extremely grateful.

AGOinsider: Are there any future projects that you’re looking forward to being involved with?

Croning: At the moment, Wedge Curatorial Projects is celebrating its 25th anniversary and we are juggling a few exciting projects that we are planning to set in motion over the next few months, so my energy has been channelled there. We just launched our first limited edition prints, with Jorian Charlton being our first featured artist.

A couple of years ago, a close friend of mine and I founded Artfully Yours Collective – a curatorial collective and online platform grounded in creating a space that highlights the practices of local and international artists in a global context. We recently “rebranded” and introduced a new mandate and have been focusing to continue to build and push forward the ideas and projects we’ve been working on and have them come to life. Anyone who knows me knows I like to keep busy, so of course, I am still taking on new projects.

Jorian Charlton: Out of Many is on view on Level 1 at the AGO through August 2022. Catch up on the rest of our curator Q&A series with Armando Perla, Chief Curator for the City of Toronto and Maya Wilson-Sanchez, curatorial resident at the Gardiner Museum and curator of ArtworxTO’s South Hub.

Be the first to find out about AGO exhibitions and events, get the behind-the-scenes scoop and book tickets before it’s too late.
You can unsubscribe at any time.