Feelings, Objects, Altars: Using the ‘Bibliographic Altar’ to Explore Depression

A participatory workshop curated by Julie Hollenbach and Robin Alex McDonald and guided by Justice Walz.

Wednesday 24th November 2021, 16.00 to 17.30 GMT. This session was partially recording; the recording is available below.

Justice Walz, Anxiety Escape Kit, 2017. As displayed in The Sustenance Rite. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.

As part of her research and writing process, queer affect theorist Ann Cvetkovich generates what she calls “bibliographic altars:” assemblages of sources and objects that “saved [her] life and helped [her] keep writing” (Cvetkovich and Wilkerson 2016). In an interview with Abby Wilkerson, Cvetkovich shares a photograph of the altar she created while writing her book Depression: A Public Feeling, which includes textile works by Allyson Mitchell, a sculpture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a Le Tigre C.D., Lynda Barry’s comic What it Is, and several other books and objects laid out on a coffee table. Expanding this idea of the bibliographic altar to include artworks like Tracy Emin’s My Bed (1998) and Justice Walz’s Anxiety Escape Kit (2017), this event invites participants to create their own versions of “bibliographic altars” through sculpture, assemblage, writing, listing, or drawing. Guided by visual artist Justice Walz, participants will gather and meaningfully-arrange sources, texts, and objects from around their homes that have informed their thinking about depression, kept them company through depressive episodes, or “saved [their lives.]” At the end of the session, willing participants will be invited to share and discuss their creations with the group.

Event recording

Julie Hollenbach (she/her) is a queer cis-woman of German ancestry born on unceded Syilx territory, now living on unceded Mi’kmaq territory, working as an Assistant Professor of Craft History and Material Culture at NSCAD University. Julie’s interdisciplinary scholarly, artistic, and curatorial work uses queer, feminist, disability, anti-colonial, and critical race frameworks to engage with cultural production at the intersections of history and place, tradition and ritual, contact and connection, and meaning and use.

Robin Alex McDonald is an academic, independent curator and arts writer currently living and working on Robinson-Huron Treaty territory, the traditional territory of the Anishnaabeg people and, specifically, the Nipissing First Nation. They are a part-time faculty member in the Fine and Visual Arts department at Nipissing University in North Bay, an instructor in the Visual and Critical Studies program at OCAD University in Tkaronto/Toronto, and a PhD Candidate in the Cultural Studies Program at Queen’s University in Katarokwi/Kingston, Ontario. Robin’s research spans modern and contemporary art; visual culture studies; the intersections of art and activism; queer, feminist, and trans theories; museum studies and alternative curatorial methodologies; affect theory; madness and disability studies; and theories of love, collectivity, and “the social.” Their SSHRC-funded doctoral dissertation investigates representations of “depression” in contemporary art by queer and/or trans artists.

Justice Walz is an interdisciplinary artist and brand designer based in Toronto. She uses her practice as a way to playfully navigate and make peace with her lived experiences as a neurodivergent, mad, queer, biracial woman of colour. Her work toys with notions of intersectional feminism, healing through self-care, and re-contextualizing both mental and chronic illness from a trauma-informed perspective.

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