Contact Traces
Exhibition Guide



Contact Traces is a group exhibition featuring works by Derya Akay, Lenka Clayton, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ilana Harris-Babou, and Jenny Kendler.

This audio guided tour is led by the curators of Contact Traces: Leandra Burnett, Katherine Jemima Hamilton, Shaelyn Hanes, Youyou Ma, and Emily Markert, who comprise California College of the Arts Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021.





Caring for ourselves and others is contradictory. The COVID-19 pandemic, calls for racial justice, and the ongoing climate crisis have highlighted the importance of care when political, economic, and social systems fail. Against this backdrop, Contact Traces lingers with the process of caregiving as an undervalued but essential form of labor and a way of relating to others.

These artists do not treat care as a transaction that achieves a tidy, finished product. Rather, their works relish moments of caregiving, prompting a reconsideration of care in all its messy aftermath. They reveal acts of care to be variably quotidian, yet revolutionary; selfish, yet virtuous; obligatory, yet emancipatory.

What do we gain from complicating the definition of care? As we work toward a post-pandemic world, Contact Traces cries out against a so-called return to normal. The exhibition suggests that care is not a temporary solution to dire problems, but rather a vital web of interrelations on which our collective survival depends.


1) LaToya Ruby Frazier, Detox (Braddock U.P.M.C.), 2011. Video (color, sound), 22:24 min. Copyright LaToya Ruby Frazier. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.
1) LaToya Ruby Frazier, Detox (Braddock U.P.M.C.), 2011. Video (color, sound), 22:24 min. Copyright LaToya Ruby Frazier. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.


LaToya Ruby Frazier, Detox (Braddock U.P.M.C.), 2011, still from video (color, sound), 22:24 min. Copyright LaToya Ruby Frazier, Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.
LaToya Ruby Frazier, Detox (Braddock U.P.M.C.), 2011, still from video (color, sound), 22:24 min. Copyright LaToya Ruby Frazier, Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.






LaToya Ruby Frazier is a Chicago-based artist who works across photography, video, and performance to create visual archives that connect issues of industrialism and healthcare inequity with her own family and communal history. This video, Detox (Braddock U.P.M.C.), from 2011, glimpses the impact of unchecked industrial growth and systems of racial capitalism on individuals who are rendered vulnerable to its effects.

The video shows the artist and her mother taking detoxifying ionic foot baths in their home of Braddock, Pennsylvania, a former steel town. In a different context, mother-daughter foot baths might be seen as a relaxing or indulgent ritual of self-care, but these baths extract waste from one’s body that results from exposure to dangerous pollutant emissions. Detox (Braddock U.P.M.C.) reveals the ways in which industrial landscapes can oppressively seep into the domestic sphere by juxtaposing familial and maternal care with the failure of paternalistic industry to care for working class communities.

To illustrate this, Frazier intersperses images of Braddock’s now-defunct steel plant belching pollutants throughout the video, as well as clips of her mother describing her pollution-induced ailments and her struggle to find proper care. Detox (Braddock U.P.M.C.) thus reveals the dubiousness of the American Dream, which promises that devotion to one’s job will lead to stability and wellness for future generations. For Frazier and her mother, the toxins they have been exposed to are their unjust inheritance.

Lenka Clayton, 63 Objects Taken from my Son’s Mouth, 2013, printed 2021. Archival inkjet print, 20 x 15 in. Courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.
Lenka Clayton, 63 Objects Taken from my Son’s Mouth, 2013, printed 2021. Archival inkjet print, 20 x 15 in. Courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.


Lenka Clayton, 63 Objects Taken from my Son’s Mouth, 2014. Perfect-bound book, 4.25 x 5.75 in. Edition 123 of 250. Private collection. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.
Lenka Clayton, 63 Objects Taken from my Son’s Mouth, 2014. Perfect-bound book, 4.25 x 5.75 in. Edition 123 of 250. Private collection. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.





Lenka Clayton is an interdisciplinary artist who lives and works in Pittsburg. By extending the familiar into the realms of the poetic and absurd, her work considers, exaggerates, and alters the accepted rules of everyday life. She is also the founder of An Artist Residency in Motherhood. This open-source artist residency program aims to frame motherhood as A valuable site, and takes place inside the homes and lives of artists who are also parents.

In the photo 63 Objects Taken from my Son’s Mouth, small-scale items of daily life are arranged in an orderly grid against a stark white background. They are items such as sharp metal pieces, plants’ seeds and a wooden block, that were all pried from the small mouth of Clayton’s toddler. The photograph documents the chaotic, hazardous exchanges between her and her toddler son by referencing a standard classification system such as that used by museums. Clayton invites viewers to recognize the private yet extraordinarily common aspects of childcare as both oppressive and nurturing. The book of 63 Objects Taken from my Son’s Mouth zooms in the detail of each object by isolating each item. Lent gravity when reproduced at life size, the humor inherent in the entire piece is heightened. At the same time, experiences that are universal to many parents are highlighted as a series of life-saving interventions. These static objects thus serve as evidence of how freedom, autonomy, and responsibility are problematically bound up in relationships wherein taking care is not only expected, but life-saving. Clayton is a mother as well as being an artist. These overlapping forms of labor are bound up in the works and corroborate each other's value.



Derya Akay, Flowers and Water, 2021. Water pump, air pots, flowers, fruit, paper cups, recycled paper bags, water jugs, and crates, tap water, coffee, and tea, Courtesy of Unit 17, Vancouver. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.
Derya Akay, Flowers and Water, 2021. Water pump, air pots, flowers, fruit, paper cups, recycled paper bags, water jugs, and crates, tap water, coffee, and tea, Courtesy of Unit 17, Vancouver. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.


Derya Akay, Flowers and Water, 2021. Water pump, air pots, flowers, fruit, paper cups, recycled paper bags, water jugs, and crates, tap water, coffee, and tea, Courtesy of Unit 17, Vancouver. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.
Derya Akay, Flowers and Water, 2021. Water pump, air pots, flowers, fruit, paper cups, recycled paper bags, water jugs, and crates, tap water, coffee, and tea, Courtesy of Unit 17, Vancouver. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.





Vancouver based artist Derya Akay makes artwork that gives care to those who take care. In their practice, the artist delivers recipes, facilitates cooking workshops, preserves organic food, and recycles to bring communities together as gestures of generosity and honor.

In the two-part installation Flowers and Water, Akay creates a space of care for the Wattis Institute’s immediate neighbors by giving away necessities such as water and food, and a luxury many cannot afford, fresh flowers. The artist also wanted to support Bay Area land stewards through a financial donation to two Oakland based organizations, Sogorea Te’ Land Trust and Planting Justice.

Water is an essential component of this sculpture because of its many uses. It cleans, erases, and washes but also feeds, nourishes, and sustains life on earth. Nothing can survive without it, and yet one cannot easily access clean water in San Francisco without entering private property. By offering water from the Wattis’s taps to feed people and plants alike, the artist breaks down traditional notions of who is responsible for caring, demonstrating that everyone has a role in care-based societies. This installation also has limitations on the care it can provide. When the exhibition ends, the resources will no longer be available. For Akay, the installation’s failure to create permanent change addresses art’s futility in the face of crises.

Hopefully, participants in Flowers and Water will consider questions such as, “What if art was a vessel to care for others? What if more institutions regularly gave out resources and materials for the public to hold and support one another?” By doing as much as an artist can do, though nothing more, the work points to the need for care to be at the center of societal structures in order to create a world based around enjoyment, rather than survival.

Ilana Harris-Babou, Decision Fatigue, 2020. HD video with resin and mixed media sculptures and mixed media installation, 08:33 min. Courtesy of the artist.
Ilana Harris-Babou, Decision Fatigue, 2020. HD video with resin and mixed media sculptures and mixed media installation, 08:33 min. Courtesy of the artist.


Ilana Harris-Babou, Decision Fatigue, 2020. HD video and installation with sculptures made of resin, ceramic, liquid plastic, sand, glass bottles, pigment, cheese balls, Cheetos, and car air-freshener. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.
Ilana Harris-Babou, Decision Fatigue, 2020. HD video and installation with sculptures made of resin, ceramic, liquid plastic, sand, glass bottles, pigment, cheese balls, Cheetos, and car air-freshener. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.


Ilana Harris-Babou, Decision Fatigue, 2020. HD video and installation with sculptures made of resin, ceramic, liquid plastic, sand, glass bottles, pigment, cheese balls, Cheetos, and car air-freshener. Courtesy of the artist. Installation detail in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.
Ilana Harris-Babou, Decision Fatigue, 2020. HD video and installation with sculptures made of resin, ceramic, liquid plastic, sand, glass bottles, pigment, cheese balls, Cheetos, and car air-freshener. Courtesy of the artist. Installation detail in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.





Ilana Harris-Babou is a Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist who works in sculpture, video, and installation. Using the guise of consumer culture, Harris-Babou’s practice mirrors and complicates the absurdities of life under late capitalism.

Harris-Babou’s video and sculpture series Decision Fatigue, from 2020, shows the artist’s mother, Sheila, as she performs skin care routines at a bathroom vanity littered with ceramic sculptures of beauty products and tools. The saturated colors of Harris-Babou’s sculptures, the ambient music overlaid in the background, and Sheila’s direct address of the viewer uncannily mimic the familiar form of popular YouTube and Instagram tutorials. However, Harris-Babou subverts this format by sharing Sheila’s routines for preparing for acts of refusal, such as not breastfeeding or not preparing dinner. Sheila’s regimen also involves highly processed food, such as Cheetos and Pepsi, suggesting the absurdity of the cosmetic industry’s obsession with the supposed provenance and purity of product ingredients.

In Decision Fatigue, Harris-Babou uses satire to show how routines of care are codified with symbols of affluence. The work points to the wealth and leisure one needs to perform the time-consuming processes and own the myriad commodities implicit in colloquial notions of so-called “self care.” In doing so, Decision Fatigue questions whose health and wellness is prioritized in contemporary American society.


Jenny Kendler, Underground Library, 2017-Ongoing. Biocharred books on climate change. Dimensions Variable. Courtesy of the artist and Natural Discourse. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.
Jenny Kendler, Underground Library, 2017-Ongoing. Biocharred books on climate change. Dimensions Variable. Courtesy of the artist and Natural Discourse. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.


Jenny Kendler, A selection of 48 volumes from the artist’s collection of books on climate change, 2017, printed in 2021. Archival inkjet print, 16 x 16 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Jenny Kendler, A selection of 48 volumes from the artist’s collection of books on climate change, 2017, printed in 2021. Archival inkjet print, 16 x 16 in. Courtesy of the artist.


Jenny Kendler, Facing Climate Change Together, 2008, printed in 2021. Archival inkjet print, 16 x 16 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Jenny Kendler, Facing Climate Change Together, 2008, printed in 2021. Archival inkjet print, 16 x 16 in. Courtesy of the artist.


Jenny Kendler, Underground Library. 2017–ongoing. Biochar kilns, 33.5 x 25.5 x 25.5 in. Courtesy DOER Marine and Natural Discourse. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.
Jenny Kendler, Underground Library. 2017–ongoing. Biochar kilns, 33.5 x 25.5 x 25.5 in. Courtesy DOER Marine and Natural Discourse. Installation view in Contact Traces curated by CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2021 at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo by Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography.





Jenny Kendler is a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist, environmental activist, naturalist, and wild forager. Her work on the climate crisis and biodiversity loss has been shown nationally and internationally over the last 15 years.

Underground Library is a multi-phase project in which Kendler collects discarded books on climate change and converts them into biochar. Biochar is burned material that holds carbon in a stable form, preventing that carbon’s emission into the earth's atmosphere.

Kendler collected these little-read and discarded books from thrift stores, used book stores, and free book boxes. They chronicle fifty years of scientific knowledge and warnings to slow the effects of global warming. Kendler uses photography to document significant aspects of each book, utilizing both the visual image and the titles of each photograph to preserve this information in the artistic medium. The books are then biocharred, a process in which material, traditionally wood, is burned in a low-oxygen pyrolization.

Burned books are typically associated with censorship, and here, Kendler equates the inaction of global leadership against climate change with the censorship of the scientific community. With their warnings gone unheeded, these books are no different from other unwanted consumer products. However, by using the process of biocharring, Kendler makes these objects useful again by converting them into vessels for carbon sequestration.

The final stage of Underground Library is the burial of the biochar books, which will be facilitated by local curatorial project Natural Discourse. Once deposited in their final resting place in the ground, the carbon in the books will benefit plants and microorganisms in the soil. Underground Library mourns the failure of these texts to inspire change on the global scale, but book by book, starts a new cycle of life through their intentional decay.