EXHIBITION: The Wisdom of Ruins

January 17, 2020 - January 26, 2020

Curated by Michelle Beck and Dana Snow
A co-presentation with Taboo Health, the Health Design Studio at OCADU, and DesignTO

Opening Friday, January 17th from 6–9 pm

Weaving together threads of an unsilenced grief through ceramics, photography, sculpture, audio, and found materials, The Wisdom of Ruins is an installation by Toronto-based artist HollyJo that bears witness to unconventional grief and rituals of mourning.

The medieval Sicilian city of Salemi—both the birthplace of the artist’s mother, and the site of a destructive 1968 earthquake—provides an alternative framework for considering grief. In the mid 1980s, architects Roberto Collova and Alvaro Siza began public interventions to attract residents and tourists to the area. Rather than following the Italian architectural tradition of d ov’era e com’era (reconstructing exact replicas of damaged buildings) the duo created structures that allowed for the previous damage of the earthquake to be expressed. Rubble was cleared away and new public spaces were adopted; the intact ruins remaining within them as quiet witnesses to trauma in the historical fabric of a place and a people. Using the ruins as a grounding element from which to explore her own experience of mourning her infant daughter, HollyJo presents a methodology of leaning into grief through the act of witnessing. The works delicately investigate the porosity of intergenerational grief, using Sicilian tradition juxtaposed with objects that acknowledge mourning as a process of entanglement between community and familial relations. Existing outside of traditional Western funerary practices, The Wisdom of Ruins offers a holistic approach from which to begin a process of bereavement and healing. Grieving motherhood, childhood, and inherited trauma, the works help to interpret the private space between repression and radical acknowledgement.

The Wisdom of Ruins is a part of the DesignTO festival, co-presented with Dying.exhibits; an exhibition series on end of life. Dying.exhibits invites participants to think about their relationship with life and death as a process; encouraging heart-level conversations about difficult, often taboo topics. Dying.exhibits is a collaboration between the Health Design Studio at OCAD University and Taboo Health.

About the Curator(s)

Michelle Beck

Michelle Beck is a photographer, writer, and curator. Her practice explores wellness as relational processes that transcend sociocultural and physical boundaries and the perception, performance, and commodification of identity. Beck received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Criticism and Curatorial Practice and a minor in Creative Writing from OCAD UniversityFind out more

Dana Snow

Dana Snow is an emerging curator and writer. Her practice centres around postmodern identity politics with an emphasis on the healing possibilities and importance of seeing our stories reflected through art. Snow received her BFA in Criticism and Curatorial Practice from OCAD University in 2019 and has shown her work atFind out more

About the Artists


HollyJo is an interdisciplinary artist who holds a BFA from OCAD University in Sculpture and Installation, with a minor in Ceramic Arts. By leaning into the emotional atmosphere of memory, trauma, identity, and mourning, she explores themes of intimate vulnerabilities, bodily integrity, and time travel as a source of empathic healing and honouring experience. HollyJo finds solace in storytelling through object making and forging rituals that celebrate the wisdom of impermanence.

Find out more

About our Partners + Co-presenters

Taboo Health

We are comfortable with the uncomfortable. We are a non-profit collective of health educators, creatives, and advocates. We curate public and and interactive art events that explore the most difficult health topics. Learn more about us here.Find out more


Canada’s leading (and largest) annual design festival celebrates design as a multidisciplinary form of creative thinking and making, with over 100 exhibitions and events forming Toronto’s design week, January 17-26, 2020. Since 2011, DesignTO has been bringing communities together to celebrate design, by taking art and design out of theFind out more

The Health Design Studio at OCAD University

Focusing on areas of health that involve significant challenges regarding the effective design of tools to support dynamic, often critical, experiences and work practices.Find out more