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Refuge in the Means


A photo of Canaries
A photo of Canaries

Due to the process-based nature of the Session program, this project will undergo constant modifications; the features of this page provide accruing information on the project’s developments.

September 1–October 29, 2016

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On September 1, Canaries will begin work on Refuge in the Means. Canaries is a healing and arts collective represented at Recess by core members Jesse Cohen, Catherine Czacki, Taraneh Fazeli, Citron Kelly, Carolyn Lazard, Bonnie Swencionis, and Rebecca Watson Horn. Throughout this two-month long project, Canaries will address the two primary components of their practice—collective care and self-care—through programs and documentary activities staged within a considered environment consisting of a reading room, an event and workspace, and a meditation area.

Recognizing that there are few public spaces for communing or rest in New York, Canaries will use their Session to create a setting that privileges human need and physical vulnerability over the exchange of labor or capital. All aspects of the installation will engage questions of accessibility, and access needs will shape both the visible and invisible architecture of the space. A reading room containing books on topics outside of the medical industrial complex’s prescribed spheres of knowledge—such as nutrition, spirituality, disability justice, deep ecology, and art—will promote autonomous learning about health and illness. In the back, a meditation area will offer refuge from the taxing rhythms of the city and will be the site of public lunchtime meditation sessions. During Recess’s open hours, visitors will be welcome to drop in to peruse the library, visit with Canaries members, or simply rest.

The programming that will unfold within this space will be informed in large part by an open community meeting at the beginning of the Session on September 16th, which will invite New York-based artists and art professionals to discuss the infrastructures of support that are lacking in their communities. As a reflection of their internal practice of crowdsourcing information, Canaries will use this meeting to identify the most pressing care concerns of the varied arts communities in New York and will develop follow-up programs to address these topics. In addition to this set of tailored events, members of Canaries and selected colleagues will present programs addressing topics including astrology and trauma, the culture of death and dying, and navigating disability bureaucracy.

Throughout their Session, Canaries will also use Recess as a studio space to pursue projects that process their collective’s working methods. This will be the first time that Canaries will be able to work together in the same physical space for an extended period of time. The first initiative will be conducting a series of video interviews with members of the extended Canaries network—the results of which will contribute to the collective’s growing archive of autoethnographies. For the artists, storytelling is a tool used to re-establish autonomy over one’s own health and to resist the narrativization of personal experiences by the medical industrial complex. In tandem with these videos, Canaries will create a large-scale drawing over the course of the residency mapping the structures of interaction that define their collective organizing. By tracking the chain reactions that occur daily—when, for example, one member of the group becomes unavailable because of a health-related issue and another member shifts to fill in for that person—this diagram will give visual form to the interdependence that shapes the basis of the group’s day-to-day labor.

Across all aspects of Refuge in the Means, Canaries will open up their collective’s internal networks of care to the larger community. In sharing the tools, resources, and structures that they’ve developed throughout the three years of their collaboration, Canaries will model a working style that breaks down the traditional dichotomy between dependence and independence and will invite visitors to similarly reimagine modes of being that integrate care on all levels, from the personal through to the collective.

Session invites artists to use Recess’s public platform to combine productive studio space with dynamic exhibition opportunities. Sessions remain open to the public from the first day of the artist’s project through the last, encouraging sustained dialogue between artists and audiences. Due to the process-based nature of Session, projects undergo constant revision and the above proposal is subject to change.

About the artist



Canaries is a network of women-identified, femme-presenting, and gender non-conforming people living and working with autoimmune conditions and other chronic illnesses. The group name references “canaries in the coal mine”—shorthand for those whose sensitivities are early indicators of adverse conditions in the environment. Canaries functions as a support group with monthly meetings, a listserv of 90+ members, and an art collective. While not all of its members are artists, many are painters, actors, and writers whose somatic experiences exceed interpretation by biomedical discourse. Canaries members come together to build shared language and exchange strategies for coping with and learning from their conditions. As an art collective, Canaries has exhibited projects, programmed screenings, and facilitated workshops at Cleopatra’s, Franklin Street Works, The New Museum, Light industry, and Project Row Houses.



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