From Longhouse to Highrise: The Course of Empire
Dele Adeyemo, Detail of From Longhouse to Highrise: The Course of Empire, 2023. Courtesy the artist.
Launch of artwork coming soon!
From the vantage of the coloniser, the course of empire flows overwhelmingly in the direction of progress and enlightenment. The expropriations and divisions of land find justification in the myth of a linear path of development that is deeply ingrained in the Western psyche and the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves.
This imaginary is epitomised by the American landscape painter Thomas Cole’s series The Course of Empire, 1833–36, that illustrates five phases in the progress of civilisation: The Savage State, The Arcadian or Pastoral State, The Consummation of Empire, Destruction, and Desolation. The series reveals a paranoid fantasy that lies deeper still, that civilisation is accompanied by destruction. History must follow inescapable phases of development—a self-fulfilling prophecy that will inevitably leads to catastrophe.
The university campus, the shining beacon of the enlightenment institution in North America, perhaps more than any developed geography, highlights the complexities of this historic narrative. In the United States in the nineteenth century, millions of acres of Indigenous land were sold to endow fledgling land-grant universities. The territory of North York followed a different history and yet it too bears witness to the teleological imaginary of the land as it was violently transitioned from a home to First Nations Peoples such as the Huron-Wendat, to a site of settler agricultural production, through to its position as the location of the higher education institution of York University. This project is a critical response to the fiction of linear development contained in the origin story of North York contained in the publication From Longhouse to Highrise: Pioneering in our corner of North York.
Through this territory, we are asked to consider what it means to be caught in the course of empire? The project comprises a multidimensional archive of space; a sonic soundscape containing voices from within and in proximity to the university campus paired with architectural projections of the territory reveal the entangled histories of the land, development, and resistance to the catastrophe of empire.
— Dele Adeyemo
Dele Adeyemo is a Scottish / Nigerian artist, architect, and critical urban theorist based in London and Lagos. In his creative practice, research, and pedagogy he explores how the historic legacies of slavery and colonialism are embedded in contemporary processes of urbanisation. Through drawing, film, and installation, Dele has developed a trans-disciplinary Black aesthetic practice that draws on embodied cultures of movement and circulation to mobilise the spatial imaginaries of everyday Black life in Africa and the diaspora.
His projects have been presented internationally, most recently at the 18th Venice Architecture Biennale, 2023; the 13th International Architecture Biennale of Sao Paulo, 2022; the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial, 2020; and the 2nd Edition of the Lagos Biennial, 2019. In July 2022, he opened his first solo exhibition Wey Dey Move: Imagining New Worlds through Dance and Masquerade at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam.
Dele is the recipient of the inaugural JAE Fellowship, the Canadian Centre for Architecture & Andrew Mellon Fellowship, and Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Research Fellowship. He is completing his CHASE-AHRC awarded doctoral thesis, titled “Last Dark Continent,” in the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, and teaches an Architecture Design Studio at the Royal College of Art in London.
Dele Adeyemo, From Longhouse to Highrise: The Course of Empire, 2023, is commissioned by the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU), Toronto and curated by Felicia Mings, curator.
The AGYU’s digital art commissions are generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts through its Digital Strategy Fund.