"How It Started vs. How It's Going": Platforms and Capsule
In early 2021, Kwende Kefentse – the Ottawa-based DJ and music industry leader – introduced the series Platforms to activate Rashid Johnson’s installation Capsule, on view at the National Gallery of Canada. The exciting and ambitious program, the first of its kind for the Gallery, has proven highly popular and has inspired future programming. Each activation centred in and around Johnson's steel-sculpture installation and presented a different subject of exploration and performance. Since March, five Platforms activations have taken place, and a major party is planned for the final installment in November, celebrating the completion of the series.
There have been many memorable moments that have connected audiences, both at the Gallery and through its online format. For the opening activation Bannock x Bashment: The Innovative Intersection of Indigenous and Caribbean Music in Canada, Kefentse facilitated a conversation of collaboration and discovery with musician Bear Witness of Ottawa's The Halluci Nation and lead vocalist Alanna Stuart of Bonjay. In terms of the significance of this audience event, Bear Witness explained “When Kwende reached out to me to participate, it was a question I've been waiting to be asked for years. If Canadian people of all different backgrounds end up at an electric Pow Wow party, they're having a common experience that is based in the culture of the Indigenous people of this continent. Then we're beginning to create a common understanding through common experience.” Stuart reflected on her inspiration: “I think about the circle formation of Pow Wow and that inward facing dynamic that's also paralleled in the dance hall. I think about the safer spaces that I'm a part of, which are Black, Queer, Femme, Caribbean, Canadian. I’m thinking about how I want to form my own space, whether that be in the studio or in my own sense of self.” Discussions centered on the connections that can happen when cultures collide musically and the panelists sampled some of the music for reference. Bringing his expertise to the gathering, Kefentse commented “DJing as a practice and a creative activity is something that, for me, has always been a practical way to bring cultures together. It was really nice to be able to do that in this space at this activation.” The evening rounded off with a live DJ performance by all three of the musicians.
The second Platforms evening saw Kefentse and Stuart Alanna being joined by loop pedal violist Kathryn Patricia Cobbler for a creative jam session, titled Looping Into One Another. This was the first musical collaboration for the trio, who performed inside Capsule to a live audience. “We were talking about the sounds and the tempo that was naturally emerging when we first started playing. I commented to Kathryn how heavy and weighted it felt, and she encouraged me to lean into it and really consider the piece that we're residing in. The reality is we’re among these artifacts of Blackness that represent a troubled and traumatic past, so how can the sound not be heavy?” said Stuart. Being an unusual format in the Gallery's spaces, the event attracted the public, drawn by the art and music.
One of the summer's Platforms, Mapping the Social Logic of the City was a virtual discussion centred on the interrelationship of cities, mapping and the social patterns that are etched into the urban environment. Kefentse was joined by Laura Vaughan, Director of the Space Syntax Laboratory at University College London, and Dianne Urquhart, Executive Director of the Social Planning Council of Ottawa. As part of the conversation, Kefentse used the example of his 2013 Rideau2Richmond soundtrack for an Ottawa bus route, when he had noticed that all of the city's record stores were located along this route. This was not a coincidence, he pointed out, these patterns and spaces relate to the social logic of the ways that cities proliferate themselves. Intrigued, he has continued investigating this phenomena and the research around social mapping.
“One of the things that pushed me into developing this intersection of interests was a film course that I took many years ago called Cinematic Cities,” Kefentse explains. “It allowed me to look at cities from really different perspectives and to connect some of the dots between the origins of hip-hop culture and the origins of the modern city as it emerged in the post-World War II era.” Both Vaughan and Urquhart stressed that for community participatory mapping, it is essential to ensure the community benefits from the process. Communities must feel part of the process, so they can see how their contributions affect the overall project.
In August, for Closing the Gap on The Labour Shortage in Ottawa’s Music Industry, Kefentse brought together Nicole Auger, Manager of Programming & Community Engagement at the International Indigenous Music Summit, and Yasmina Proveyer, Cultural Funding Officer of the City of Ottawa, to discuss the challenges faced by musicians in Canada's capital region. Auger outlined the key findings of the Canadian Live Music Association’s recent study, “Closing the Gap: Impact and Representation of Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour Live Music Workers in Canada,” which instigated the wider discussion on workplace diversity. When asked about the one thing that she had learned during the pandemic and that she would take forward, Proveyer replied: “Embrace challenges with grace. Be ready to change the way you do things. Connect with other people who are different from you. … Not everyone thinks the same way and that’s beautiful. Embrace that difference with grace and listen and learn from each other – that’s what will make us diverse.” The evening also featured a live performance by Motswana-Canadian musician OK Naledi.
The most recent Platforms discussion – Why DIY? The Future of DIY Club Culture – addressed the history, challenges and future of DIY culture in Ottawa-Gatineau. Kefentse was joined by Rachel Weldon, Executive Director of Debaser, Michael Caffrey of Ghetto Blast Sound System and Ottawa musician and DJ Seiizi to explore diverse perspectives on the politics and practice of DIY clubbing. The pandemic has been a confusing time for those who have a practice of bringing people together in unusual places to dance. The ecology of these important places to gather and connect in cities needs to be better understood.
The series comes to a close on 25 November with A TIMEKODE x CAPSULE PARTY. This evening celebration will also mark the 15th anniversary of TIMEKODE, the club event series that promotes music and dancing in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. DJs Memetic, Zattar, Trevor Walker and Seiiizi are performing in Capsule, transforming the Gallery’s main entrance and Water Court Foyer into a dance floor.
Kefentse's aim for the Platforms program was to realize Rashid Johnson's intent for the sculpture by activating it with community engagement. The events created opportunities for the audience and participants to interact with the sculpture and its objects in a range of forms – creative, consultative and conversational. Rashid Johnson' s Capsule and Kwende Kefentse's activations enrich the audience's access to this work of art and enable them to find new pathways to its understanding.
Consult the Platforms: An Activation Series page for past panels and performances in this series. Buy your tickets in advance. Share this article and subscribe to our newsletters to stay up-to-date on the latest articles, Gallery exhibitions, news and events, and to learn more about art in Canada.