The Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding

24 January - 17 May 2015

The Power Plant

Toronto, Canada

Free exhibition

A group exhibition of work that will examine the physical manifestations and the mind-set of specific visual dynamics of the post-WW II era.

Artists: Terry Adkins, John Akomfrah, Sven Augustenjn, Steve McQueen, Shelagh Keeley, and Zineb Sedira

The curatorial premise of this exhibition is grounded in the work of cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932-2014), who devoted his life to studying the interweaving threads of culture, power, politics and history. Taking Hall’s essay Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse as a point of departure, viewers will be invited to think about how meaning is constructed; how it is systematically distorted by audience reception and how it can be detached and drained of its original intent to produce specific or slanted narratives.

Hall's interdisciplinary approach drew on literary theory, linguistics, and cultural anthropology in order to analyse and articulate the relationship between history, culture, popular media, cold war politics, gender and ethnicity. By presenting the work of artists who bring into play time, memory and archives so as to construct new readings of the past, the exhibition will lay emphasis on the idea that the “visual” is an assimilatory process continuously at work in the construction of cultural, political, personal and national identities.

The Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding will examine the physical manifestations and the mind-set of specific visual dynamics of the post-WW II era and it will address itself to the ways in which the image and the archive, whether personal or national, have influenced the way the subaltern perceive themselves socially and historically.

It is our curatorial intention to build a multiple moving/still/audio archive, an image map, a visual vehicle that will ferry the audience across the choppy waters of memory, images and politics to an undeterminable, obscure and un-chartable destination, where people often meet with a fatal end. The exhibition aims to take viewers on a journey in time, to bring them to encounter images, which act as both objects of art and ideas in flux, circulating in and out of the archive through the corridors of cultural re-construction.

This image map will be drawn by the work of Terry Adkins, John Akomfrah, Sven Augustenjn, Steve McQueen, Shelagh Keeley and Zineb Sedira, six artists whose practice is devoted primarily to commenting on recent socio-political events and situations and relating them to the not so distant past in order to help us understand the world in which we live.

By stimulating our personal and collective memory, these works will show us how history agitates and causes anxiety in our personal lives and in the political realm as they will reveal the fact that national identity is not an essence or a state of being, but a “becoming,” a process whereby subjectivities are formed in the interstices between such binary oppositions as us/them, black/white, or native/foreigner, and that it is in those in-between spaces that marginalized people are the agents and subjects of many possible futures, imagined or real.

The thread that connects all these art works is the artists’ involvement with the significant social issues confronting humanity today and their profound desire to push formal boundaries in order to tackle them.

What the press says

[Stuart] Hall’s influence looms large in the founding of cultural studies and Torontonians will now have a chance to participate in a group exhibition grounded in the work of someone who devoted his life to studying the interweaving threads of culture, power, politics and history.

Neil Armstrong, Jamaica Gleaner

powerful, convincing and emotionally resonant...Akomfrah’s piece is a remarkable, gorgeous and arresting tribute to a beacon of contemporary humanism, and more than that, a catalyst: To keep alive the conversation Hall was determined to start, with the understanding it may never end.

Murray Whyte, The Star

illuminating works

Fran Schechter, Now Toronto

raise[s] central issues of the past century: national liberation struggles, their violent resistances, and the challenges of racism and shifting identities for postcolonial subjects.

Jill Glessing, Esse

In partnership with

The Power Plant

The Power Plant is Canada’s leading public gallery devoted exclusively to contemporary visual art. It is a vital forum for the advanced artistic culture of our time that offers an exceptional facility and professional support to diverse living artists while engaging equally diverse audiences in their work.


Curated by

Mark Sealy

Gaetane Verna

Additional Info

The Power Plant
231 Queens Quay West
Toronto, Ontario M5J 2G8 Canada

T: +1 416.973.4949
E: info@thepowerplant.org

Tuesday–Sunday 10–6 PM
Thursday 10–8 PM
Open holiday Mondays

The gallery is wheelchair accessible, for more details please click here

  • Still from John Akomfrah, The Unfinished Conversation
  • Still from John Akomfrah, The Unfinished Conversation