Kwende Kefentse and Activating Rashid Johnson's "Capsule"
In 2020, as part of its Contemporary Arts Project initiative, the National Gallery of Canada commissioned American artist Rashid Johnson to create a major work for the building’s glass-domed main entrance. The resulting installation, Capsule, is the largest pyramidal steel-cube sculpture Johnson has produced to date. It brings together a range of meaningful materials – including tropical plants, books, fiberglass sculptures, shea butter, ceramics and television monitors – to express how knowledge and ideas can flourish and grow like a root system, continually generating new connections and instigating different experiences.
For the artist, the installation was devised as a way of "amplifying voices" and invites different types of encounters. Johnson has handed over the metaphorical and literal stage at the heart of the sculpture to serve as a living platform to be activated by a member of the community in which the installation lives – in this case, Ottawa. “One of the things about being an artist as a whole is that your individual experience should not be the only way in which an artwork or a theme can be understood. There has to be space for folks to come in and participate and be able to see themselves and their own experiences,” Johnson explained in a recent interview.
Searching extensively to find the right person for the activation of Capsule, the Gallery has joined forces with Kwende Kefentse, Ottawa’s own cultural, urban and music-industry leader, to collaborate on the project. Kefentse is best known, locally and internationally, as producer and performer DJ Memetic, host and Creative Director of TIMEKODE, one of Canada’s most established independent club nights. Since 2019, he has also been the Executive Director of CKCU, Ottawa’s original independent non-profit campus-community broadcaster, and serves on numerous boards focusing on diversity, music, film and the visual arts. His solo productions and remixes have received critical acclaim, and he has been the opening performer for American rapper Nas and played for former U.S. President Barack Obama and former Governor General Michaëlle Jean. “Music is a pre-cognitive way that we communicate with, and relate to, each other," he points out. "I fundamentally subscribe to the notion that music is a rhythm that can bring together thousands of people who have never spoken before. I think that's a powerful thing.”
For Capsule's activations, Kefentse's dynamic program, titled Platforms, centres around the themes of Black music and innovation, the city and social justice, and ecology and club culture. The series consists of panels and performances that offer opportunities for reflection, celebration and co-creation. All events are free and can be attended in person or viewed online. “I hope people will engage, not just with the activations, but with the installation itself and participate with an open mind,” says Kefentse. These are unique experiences that are specific to the installation of this sculpture in Ottawa.
Bannock x Bashment: The Innovative Intersection of Indigenous and Caribbean Music in Canada, the first Activation event, featured a discussion between Kefentse and musicians Bear Witness from the Halluci Nation and Alanna Stuart of Bonjay. The event was the first live event at the Gallery for 2022, and the energy was palpable as visitors surrounded the sculpture in anticipation of the activation. Viewers were treated to an intimate discussion about the connections that happen when cultures collide musically. Seated at the centre of the sculpture, the musicians couldn’t resist playing samples of the music they were discussing. The evening ended with a live performance by the artists, and visitors swayed to the rhythms while they mingled and enjoyed the event.
The Capsule activations continue until November 2022. The jam session between Kefentse and Stuart with violist Kathryn Patricia Cobbler – the second installment on 12 March – will be viewable online in April.
Consult the Platforms: An Activation Series page for future panels and performances in this series. Also, join Director Sasha Suda in conversation with artist Rashid Johnson for this virtual event. 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.