Rights of Passage: Lou Sheppard
16 September – 3 December 2022

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.

Lou Sheppard, script for Rights of Passage, 2022. Courtesy IOTA Institute.

Rights of Passage is a newly commissioned audio-based exhibition by Lou Sheppard. His research-based art practice often critically responds to authoritative texts (environmental statistics, diagnostic criteria, government policy), translating this official data into environmentally responsive site-specific sonic scores. Much of Sheppard’s work is an engaged attempt to highlight the systems and structures of power driving the climate apocalypse. His exhibition for AGYU is an immersive installation featuring an 8-part choral piece that responds to Toronto’s river systems.

The riparian zone is found along the banks of rivers—a shifting and amorphous line between water and land. Of both ecological and legal significance, the riparian zone within common law traditions primarily addresses the rights of landowners who occupy land adjacent to rivers. Unstated, however, are the implied rights of non-owners to access such rivers and, perhaps more elusive, the rights of rivers to their own courses. As such, riparian responsibilities (as opposed to rights) protects the passage of water over land and the passage of subjects, human or otherwise, along those waterways. When rivers are lost or buried due to development, the riparian zone is only spectrally present. Rights of Passage retraces lost and endangered riparian zones in the Greater Toronto Area, imagining these liminal spaces as points of queer emergence, places where the lines between urban and nature, access and trespass, and human and non-human are blurred. Rights of Passage, a hybrid series of performances and installations, enacts a symbolic daylighting of buried streams, drawing attention to some of Toronto’s lost riparian zones to consider land use, urban futures, and ecological interdependence.

Lou Sheppard is a Canadian artist, based on the South Shore of Nova Scotia / Mi’kma’ki. Sheppard’s site-specific artistic practice manifests in the form of interdisciplinary audio, performance, and installation-based works. Sheppard has exhibited across Canada, notably in the first Toronto Biennial at the Toronto Sculpture Garden in Toronto; at Simon Fraser University and Access Gallery in Vancouver, BC; at the Khyber Centre for the Arts in Halifax, NS; at PAVED Arts in Saskatoon, SK; and at the University of Moncton in Moncton, NB. He participated in the first Antarctic Biennale and the Antarctic Pavilion in Venice, Italy. Sheppard has been longlisted for the Sobey Art Awards in 2018, 2020, and 2021, and was an International Residency Recipient from the Sobey Art Foundation in 2018. Sheppard holds a BFA in Interdisciplinary Studies from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Sheppard is represented by IOTA Institute.

Public Programs:

Friday, September 16 • 6 to 9 pm
Opening reception
Includes a live performance with Wayne Burns, Tess Martens, and Kingchella at 7:30 pm.

Saturday, September 17 • Noon to 3:30 pm
IRL sound walk and workshop with Xenia Benivolski, starting at the gallery and ending at Black Creek. Registration required.

Saturday, October 1 • 7 pm to 7 am
Gallery open for Nuit Blanche 2022. For full program of the evening, see http://AGYU.art/project/streams.

Tuesday, October 25 • 3 to 4:30 pm (register here: https://AGYU.as.me/?appointmentType=37392818)
IRL lecture by Jane Hutton, author of Reciprocal Landscapes: Stories of Material Movements, which traces the unequal ecological exchange of raw materials used in urban infrastructure of New York.

Tuesday, November 8 • 3 to 4 pm (register here: https://AGYU.as.me/?appointmentType=37646538)
Online discussion between Lou Sheppard and exhibition curator Michael Maranda.

Wednesday, November 23 • 3 pm (register here: https://AGYU.as.me/?appointmentType=37222050)
Online lecture by Timothy Morton, Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University and author of All Art is Ecological and Dark Ecology, on themes related to the exhibition, in particular the “haunting weirdness” necessary for any art work to be ecological.


As part of Rights of Passage, we co-produced Lou Sheppard’s contribution to Chapter 3 of You Can’t Trust Music, a digital exhibition curated by Xenia Benivolski for e-flux.com

A vinyl recording with liner notes as exhibition catalogue co-published with Art Metropole is forthcoming.


Rights of Passage is curated by Michael Maranda, assistant curator (publishing), with program support by Jenifer Papararo, director/curator, AGYU.
Sound designer and lead vocalist: Pamela Hart
Video performers: Wayne Burns, Kingchella, and Tess Martens
Costumes: Marley O’Brien and Pamela Hart
Makeup: Hally Levy
Choral performers: Lou Campbell, Helah Cooper, Kira Daube, Séamus Gallagher, Arjun Lal, and Wren Tian-Morris
Graphic design: Marta Ryczko

The exhibition is presented with the production support of Clara Halpern, assistant curator (exhibitions), AGYU, and Carmen Schroeder, Micah Adams, Matthew Koudys, Phu Bui, and Kevin Schmidt on installation.

We would like to give special thanks to the artist Lou Sheppard for this first presentation of Rights of Passage. We also want to acknowledge Pamela Hart for her essential work on sound design and installation support. We thank all the video and sound performers for your time and investment, and all who participated in our exhibition related programs through collaborations, performances, and lectures.


To book an exhibition tour please contact Allyson Adley, education and community engagement coordinator: aadley@yorku.ca

For accessibility and accommodation needs, please contact Huaihong Li, administration assistant: hhli@yorku.ca


See also

Timothy Morton: Haunting Weirdness

Timothy Morton: Haunting Weirdness

Online lecture
23 Nov 2022
Lou Sheppard in conversation with Michael Maranda

Lou Sheppard in conversation with Michael Maranda

Online conversation
8 Nov 2022
Reciprocal Landscapes: Jane Mah Hutton

Reciprocal Landscapes: Jane Mah Hutton

in-person lecture
25 Oct 2022


Nuit Blanche
1 Oct 2022
Do Rocks Listen?

Do Rocks Listen?

17 Sep 2022


Rights of Passage
Summer 2022
Film stills

Film stills

Rights of Passage
Summer 2022
Exhibition views

Exhibition views

Lou Sheppard 16 Sep – 3 Dec 2022
Opening night

Opening night

Lou Sheppard
16 Sep 2022




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