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If a Turtle Could Talk

Works by:
Ed Pien, An’Xiong Qiu, Xiaojing Yan


Red and black tunnel with red creature at the end
Deer and boy made of mushrooms against white background of mountains
Pine needles stuck through silk organza with mountains in background

If a Turtle Could Talk

October 28 – November 21, 2020

Curated by Yuluo Wei

Justina M. Barnicke Gallery

Imagine you wake up in a foggy forest one night, and find a tiny creature—neither human nor animal—knocking at your door. How would you react?  

In an age where the human world is well analyzed and excessively explained, we continue to (re)imagine. From clan ancestors to messengers of God, and from legendary heroes to hunted demon beings, narratives of mythical creatures are constantly reinterpreted and re-appear in the contemporary context. The German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously wrote: “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him.” If we could understand these creatures’ languages, what would they say? With this question as a departure point, the exhibition If a Turtle Could Talk features large-scale works by three artists who share an interest in mythical creatures as a way of understanding ourselves and the world we live in today, differently.

Featuring works by Ed Pien, An’Xiong Qiu, and Xiaojing Yan, and accompanied by the story of If a Turtle Could Talk, the exhibition creates a confluence of intuitive, poetic, and visual narratives that blur the distinctions between reality and fiction, exploring presence and absence through a fascination with strangeness and a sense of displacement. If a Turtle Could Talk produces a spellbinding and playful environment where visitors are invited to delve into the richness of imaginary world(s), resonating with us on a visceral, emotional, and evocative level across diverse worldviews.

The exhibition is accompanied by the story of Papa Turtle, a Star Postman who inadvertently travels from his mossy forest home to the human world, and sends letters back to Little Turtle, questioning the connection to nature, their understanding of time, history, knowledge, assimilation, and even their own existence. 

This exhibition is produced as part of the requirements for the MVS degree in Curatorial Studies at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto.

Artist Talk: Ed Pien, An’xiong Qiu, and Xiaojing Yan

Tuesday, November 10, 7:30pm–8:30pm

One Story at Twilight Time: If a Turtle Could Talk

Saturday, November 21, 5:15pm

Exhibition Resources

3D Exhibition Tour
Exhibition Brochure
Large Format Text
If A Turtle Could Talk Story
Press Release

Our Supporters

We gratefully acknowledge operating support from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council with additional project support from TD Insurance, the Reesa Greenberg Curatorial Studies Award and International Travel Fund, and Penglai Guo.







Upcoming Exhibitions