• Shelagh Keeley

An Embodied Haptic Space

Shelagh Keeley

February 6–May 10, 2020

SAVE THE DATE Members’ Preview & Public Opening: February 5, 2020

Floor 4

For her exhibition at MOCA, Shelagh Keeley combines a series of tarp paintings from 1986, a film projection from 2016, and a brand-new ephemeral wall drawing — the latter of which she will create on-site over the course of several weeks in January 2020. In the visceral, site-specific installations she has been producing for over 40 years, Keeley balances the speed and rigidity of digital photography with the slowness and freedom of drawing in an expanded field. At the root of this installation are photographic traces of the MOCA building pre-renovation. Through her new wall drawing, one space in time is transferred into the present, as traces of labour are interwoven and transformed by a gestural response to the site.

Keeley’s multimedia practice explores our built environment and the human body, detailing the ways in which they resonate as traces of social history. Inviting us to bear witness to systems of production and hidden structures of power, her film essay Jardim do Ultramar / The Colonial Garden, gradually reveals buried layers of history and colonial rule. In 1940, the tropical garden from which the film receives its name, was integrated into the Portuguese World Exhibition and patronized by the ruling dictator, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. The three-hour film unfolds in a slow, unsettling way as the viewer is led through the garden. Keeley draws with the camera, exploring the buried socio-political history of the garden, bringing it into the present. The film is evidence that makes us ask questions of a past that will no longer lapse into silence and invisibility.

The tarp paintings are shown on the floor and wall, grounding decades of Keeley’s practice within the frame of this particular gallery space. All three bodies of work are extensions of an intuitive conceptual process in which Keeley knots together the past, present and future. In this way, she reclaims space through gesture and invites us to enter into an embodied relationship with her works as well as with multiple architectural and social histories.


At the core of Shelagh Keeley’s work is a drawing practice based on a corporeal response to readings and research in poetry, politics, film and architecture. Throughout her international career spanning 40 years, her practice has been focused on a vast body of drawing that expanded beyond the studio to create on-site, ephemeral wall drawings. Keeley’s recent projects have been presented by Vancouver Art Gallery (2017); IFA Gallery, Stuttgart, Germany (2017); National Gallery of Canada (2017); MoMA Library and Archives, New York (2015); Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto (2015); The Power Plant, Toronto (2014); and Ryerson Image Center, Toronto (2013). Keeley has also been part of a large number of international group shows including Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding at Museu Coleccao Berardo, Lisbon (2016) and The Power Plant, Toronto (2015); In Order to Join – The Political in a Historical Moment at Museum Abteiberg Mönchengladbach, Germany (2013) and Goethe Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai, India (2015). In 2013, Keeley created a collaborative book project with refugee children entitled Desire to Join and published by Museum Abteiberg Mönchengladbach, Germany (2013). Her work is in many public collections and international museums including MoMA, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Les Musées de la Ville de Paris; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; Bibliotheques Nationale de France, Paris; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Getty Museum, Santa Monica; Harvard Art Museums, Boston; The Library of Congress, Washington; Stadtisches Museum Abteiberg, Monchengladbach, Germany; and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Film still from The Colonial Garden / Jardim Do Ultramar Lisbon 2016. Thanks to the Museu Coleccao Berardo, Lisbon, Portugal and IFA Stuttgart, Germany.