Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Treva Pullen-Legassie, Communication

The river meanders still: Curation as research-creation for an unknowable exhibition

Tuesday, December 13, 2022
10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Room LB 362



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


The canalized southernmost section of Wonscotonach (the Don River) in Tkarón:to (Toronto), also known as The Narrows, is a highly disturbed urban natural landscape. Following the 1886 Don Improvement Project, the Keating Channel, and today the Port Lands Revitalization and Flood Protection Project, these Lands have been harnessed and developed through settler colonization to tame and control the once-winding river. This research-creation—in the form of a curated online exhibition and written thesis—presents a critical (re)reading of the notion of improvement, becoming allied to the pre-colonial landscape and the knowledge it carried.

This exhibition and thesis develop the concept of the meander, inspired by the non-linear trajectory of the pre-canalized Don River, as a model for the curatorial. The curatorial process of improvement becomes a wall, and the river meanders still began before the global COVID-19 pandemic and, subsequently, was derailed in March 2020. The exhibition’s final form was unknowable throughout much of the curatorial process. Thus, following the meander as a research-creation technique, the curatorial process, exhibitionary structure, and content had to adapt through lingering uncertainty. This thesis, contributing to the theoretical and practical knowledge of research-creation, looks to intersections with the curatorial following the theoretical underpinnings of Erin Manning and Brian Massumi, Natalie Loveless and Stefanie Springgay and Sarah E. Truman. As a project untethered from institutional timelines and normative requirements to ‘know a project in advance,’ as well as the conventions of a physical exhibition, this research-creation manifested through process-led, creative and exploratory techniques (such as walking and drawing) and slowed pace allowed by the COVID-19 pandemic’s reframing of time. This research-creation exhibition and written thesis develop a responsive and resilient curatorial process deeply indebted to Land-based knowledge.

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