Shannon Garden-Smith: Mind Furniture (Dust Drawings)
On view until July 6, 2024

A woman, dressed in a pantsuit resembling a disco ball, stands on a plinth. Spotlit, she is performing for an audience in a darkened environment.

Detail of nineteenth century marbling pattern (mirrored). Courtesy the artist.

Through patterns of undulating variegated sand dust, the installation Mind Furniture (Dust Drawings), 2023, explores connections between nineteenth century narratives, paper marbling, sand, extractivism, and settler colonialism.

In Colonial Lives of Property (2018), critical theorist Brenna Bhandar considers how the nineteenth century Victorian novel emerges out of the unfolding story of settler colonialism while also fixing and naturalizing colonial systems through storytelling. Bhandar notes how “property constitutes a central part of the narrative foundation [of these novels] in a way that is so ubiquitous it is akin to the furniture in the drawing room of a manor house.” This furniture comes back, metaphorically, in Shannon Garden-Smith’s recreation of historical marbled endpapers. Marbling invokes marble, of course, and the most often cited origin story of the idiom to lose one’s marbles came from a misrecognizing of the French meubles [furniture] for marbles. This reference to furniture was specifically to “mind furniture,” a peculiarly nineteenth century way of understanding the functioning of a human mind, part and parcel to the normalizing of private property as necessary for subjecthood. Garden-Smith reverse engineers the metaphor, from marbling to furniture to private property.

What would it mean to engage with a story told in dust? To turn its “pages,” to hold it in a collection?

For Mind Furniture (Dust Drawings), Garden-Smith recreates marbling patterns from the endpapers of nineteenth century books, using dust from sand she has collected across Tkaronto/Toronto. Certain historical marbling techniques mimic the patterns of stone, and the use of dust from sand draws attention to the often-unnoticed geological connections of these books’ endpapers. Made of unfixed dust, these patterns are porous and unstable, potentially changing with each touch. Installed behind the glass of the AGYU vitrines, the “dust drawings” are here at temporary rest.

Following work by Thomas King that suggests other stories and other story forms have the power to shape urgently-needed alternative futures, Garden-Smith’s use of sand and marbling patterns takes up the question of what it might mean to lose and to loosen the hold of stories that privilege privatized space on stolen land.

This new work continues the artist’s work with sand, a substance that is often undervalued but is one of the most highly consumed materials in the world, essential to the construction of buildings as raw material for concrete and glass. To focus on sand is to question the erasure inherent in extractivist systems. Garden-Smith uses sand as material as “a way to begin sensing the world more fully, especially those aspects of it, such as land and matter, that are purposefully obfuscated and devalued … expanding the possibilities of what forces we need to attune to in order to create different possibilities for worlding.” Mind Furniture takes on ecology not only as topic but also as form, attuning and attending to geologic matter to critically recalibrate and explore alternative futures.

This summer, a second chapter of Shannon Garden-Smith’s Mind Furniture will be on view from July 17 to December 8, 2024, with a parallel event announced soon.

Shannon Garden-Smith is an uninvited settler of Scottish, Irish, and British heritage and an artist based in Tkaronto/Toronto. Garden-Smith is currently pursuing her PhD in Visual Art at York University having previously earned an MFA at the University of Guelph, 2017, and Honours BA at the University of Toronto, 2012. Her work has been exhibited at the Art Museum, University of Toronto, Tkaronto/Toronto; The Bows, Mohkínstsis/Calgary; Franz Kaka, Tkaronto; Gallery TPW, Tkaronto; Pumice Raft, Tkaronto; and TIER: The Institute for Endotic Research, Berlin, amongst others. She is an artist collaborator with Patel Brown.

Shannon Garden-Smith: Mind Furniture (Dust Drawings) is presented by the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU), curated by Clara Halpern, with support from Uroš Jelić, Nadine Maher, and Michael Maranda.

The AGYU vitrines are located near the gallery in the colonnade of the Accolade East Building. They can be accessed at any time.


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Toronto Ontario  M3J 1P3

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