What a seance for extinct local birds can teach us about climate action

February 19, 2019 § Leave a comment

During a visit to Toronto, Guatemalan artist Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa summons the greater prairie-chicken and passenger pigeon to provoke a change in mindset

BY ROSEMARY HEATHER FEBRUARY 19, 2019


Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa Concrete Poem (2011 - present).
A calligraphic bird, one of five digital prints from Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa’s Concrete Poem Documentation Of Bird Séances (2011 to present).Courtesy of the artist

Seances are boring in the way meditating is boring. You have to relax and let yourself sink into the moment. This requires letting go of things, including everyday worries and the non-stop, tyrannical pull of our electronic devices.

Guatemalan artist Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, visiting the city for the exhibition How To Breath Forever at OCAD’s Onsite Gallery, himself used the b-word when talking about his experience with seances.

The internationally shown and very busy artist (he will also be participating in the inaugural Toronto Biennial of Art this fall) introduced the event by talking about his own history with this type of spiritualism, which was in vogue over a century ago. In Canada, such enthusiasts famously included William Lyon Mackenzie King, prime minister for the first half of the 20th century, who used mediums to get advice from his dead mother.

The soft-spoken Ramírez-Figueroa talked about being an art student at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University and attending seances with local spiritualist practitioners. “This was a way for me to have some communion with other Latin Americans because my school was pretty white,” he says.

He did this again when going to art school in Chicago. He experiments with the form in his art practice, but gives it a different focus. At the seance he conducted on a chilly Wednesday evening in Toronto, the goal was to contact not people, but extinct species of birds from the local area.

Wearing white toques to keep out bad spirits, 18 people held hands around a large table and tried their luck at contacting the beyond. Since spirits presumably stay close to the area where they once lived, the artist researched a number of extinct birds the seance might summon. Were the greater prairie-chicken, the Eskimo curlew and passenger pigeon haunting our gathering? It’s hard to say.

The former two birds were declared extirpated (gone from the area but still living elsewhere on earth) from Ontario within the last decade or so, while the passenger pigeon was notoriously hunted to extinction over 100 years ago.

Whether their spirits visited the Onsite Gallery on this particular occasion was somewhat beside the point, as Ramírez-Figueroa made clear in conversation after the event. The product of a non-religious upbringing, the artist saw his own spiritual investigations as mostly a kind of rebellion.

Calling the seance an exercise, he said, “I don’t think I’m guiding it too much but it does become a kind of guided visualization.” He cited the tradition of hippie idealism in British Columbia, where he lived from ages 12 to 26, as influencing this part of his practice. The grandeur of the landscape in B.C. has a spiritual power, though his interest is more in how we typically fail to connect with the natural world.

“You can live close to nature and ignore it at the same time,” he noted.

While at Emily Carr, for example, he said he “lived near the ocean but never looked at it.” Seances are a form of group projection, and Ramírez-Figueroa feels that humans tend to project things onto nature instead of seeing it for what it is.

For those at the seance who had never given much thought to extinct species in Toronto, it was a chance to contemplate what gets lost in the incessant busyness of contemporary life. There is a cost to never getting bored. “This is the reality we are all facing: mass extinction,” Ramírez-Figueroa says. “And we don’t even notice.”

So maybe we do need a medium, as opposed to constant electronic communication, to get back in touch with ourselves and our urgent predicament.

Ramírez-Figueroa is also preparing to make a work about extinct species in Lithuania for an upcoming biennial in that country. He feels there is a higher level of concern around looming environmental catastrophe there than in Canada. Perhaps part of the problem is that Canadians are fooled by their own PR. He talked about the dominance of Canadian gold mining in Guatemala.

“It’s a really small country and the damage it does is substantial,” he explained.

Upwards of 75 per cent of mining companies globally are based in Canada. The industry is massively destructive, but Canadians are only minimally aware of this. We’re happy to go on seeing ourselves as the good guy. Closer to home, oil sands workers are required to sign waivers preventing them from speaking about any form of environmental destruction they witness as a result of this now largely unprofitable form of resource extraction.

There is a lesson in the fragile stirrings that occurred during the seance. In the gentlest terms, Ramírez-Figueroa’s seances with extinct species are a form of collective action. The exercise suggests we need a new form of collective belief to avert humanity’s extinction.

Instead we are participating in a mass delusion of denial.

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, “Seance for Extinct Species of Birds,” part of HOW TO BREATHE FOREVER at Onsite Gallery (199 Richmond West). ocadu.ca. January 16 – April 14, 2019.

@rosemheather

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Scrolling through Ryerson Image Centre’s massive Tanenbaum show

January 29, 2019 § Leave a comment

The kinds of photos that are popular on Instagram are well represented in True To The Eyes, an exhibition of one of Canada’s most important collections

BY ROSEMARY HEATHER
JANUARY 29, 2019

Instagram is often considered the “good” social media platform. It is a place for photo sharing and largely free of the fake news and sheer trashiness found on Facebook and Twitter.

There are, however, some ironies to Instagram’s pure-hearted dedication to the photograph. As it is practiced today, photography – i.e., taking snaps with our phone cameras – is digital and, as such, aided by in-camera artificial intelligence. Because of the adjustments AI makes, like sharpening blurs or adding light to dark corners, digital images have technically little in common with the analogue photography of the last century. This tech-aided evolution away from the original medium will continue, eventually to the point where image-making becomes something closer to illustration.

And yet the photos we take are completely influenced by inherited ideas about what makes a good picture – and what’s worth photographing. The categories or genres of photos that dominate today can all be seen in the Ryerson Image Centre’s new exhibition, True To The Eyes. Selected from one of the largest and most important photography collections in Canada, amassed by Toronto’s Howard and Carole Tanenbaum, the 200-plus photos on view span over 100 years and an eclectic range of styles, providing viewers with an excellent survey of the medium’s development to date.

Here are five photos from the exhibition that wouldn’t look out of place in your feed.

BABY PHOTOS

Portrait of a child on a rocking horse circa 1855 by an unidentified photographer.
The Howard and Carole Tanenbaum Photography Collection
Portrait of a child on a rocking horse circa 1855 by an unidentified photographer.

When it debuted in 1837, photo technology was still almost 50 years away from the invention of the hand-held camera. Access to the medium required a visit to a professional, with baby pics being among the most popular reasons for taking the trip. Long exposure times also meant strategies were needed for keeping your subject still, such as this posing of a child on a rocking horse.

THE PORTRAIT

Courtesy of the artist/The Howard and Carole Tanenbaum Photography Collection
A Tehuantepec Maiden, Juchitán, Oaxaca, México, 1986, a chromogenic print by Toronto’s Rafael Goldchain.

As this picture taken by Toronto’s Rafael Goldchain shows, portrait photography always strives for a measure of idealization – in this case, in the image of the Virgin Mary. Today, in-phone digital photography has made the camera so accessible that a whole new genre of photo-taking has been invented: the selfie, the most ubiquitous form of vernacular photography, and one unique to the 21st century.

LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

A photo of Horseshoe Falls circa 1895 on albumen silver print by William Notman & Son studio.
The Howard and Carole Tanenbaum Photography Collection
A photo of Horseshoe Falls circa 1895 on albumen silver print by William Notman & Son studio.

Attempts to capture nature at its most sublime is a perennial ambition of art. As seen in this photo, Niagara Falls is a favourite local subject because it is perfectly photogenic. The English idea of “the picturesque” tried to teach the best way to compose a picture out of the raw material of landscape. This tradition continues today in the beautiful sunsets and breathtaking mountain shots we choose to share and like on social media.

VACATION SNAPSHOTS

Photographs of Funchal, Gibraltar, Algiers, Genoa, Syracuse and Cairo circa 1899 are displayed in a leather-bound album of 50 albumen silver prints.
The Howard and Carole Tanenbaum Photography Collection
Photographs of Funchal, Gibraltar, Algiers, Genoa, Syracuse and Cairo circa 1899 are displayed in a leather-bound album of 50 albumen silver prints.

Landscape and portrait photography come together in the vacation shot. Examples in the Tanenbaum collection date from the time when photographers at scenic locations took your portrait for you. In 2019, social media influencers burnish their brand by art-directing their selfies in far-flung locations. Proof that you were there is still the abiding motive for this type of picture-making.

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

Newsboys (circa 1909), a photo on gelatin silver print by Lewis Hine.
The Howard and Carole Tanenbaum Photography Collection
Newsboys (circa 1909), a photo on gelatin silver print by Lewis Hine.

The shoot-from-the-hip style of documentary photograph sacrifices compositional perfection for immediacy – the fabled “decisive moment” taken by 20th-century greats like Robert Frank and Diane Arbus. As well, street photography has long had a sociological bent. Lewis Hine, an American sociologist working in the early 1900s, took photographs as a way to advocate for social reform. This use of the camera as a form of witness now arguably lives on in, and is much debased by, the contemporary voyeurism of the viral video.

TRUE TO THE EYES: THE HOWARD AND CAROLE TANENBAUM PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION at Ryerson Image Centre (33 Gould), January 23-April 7. Free. ryersonimagecentre.ca.

@rosemheather

11 art exhibitions to be excited about in 2019

January 4, 2019 § Leave a comment

Look out for the Toronto Biennial of Art and exhibitions featuring work by Brian Jungen, Chantal Akerman, Carrie Mae Weems and Daniel Arsham
Untitled, a 2017 photograph by Carrie Mae Weems.
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York


If last year is anything to go by, 2019 promises more social media exodus and a world slightly less obsessed with connected devices. Art galleries offer a good alternative. Instead of the light emitting from the mobile or computer screen, light therapy as art is on offer. And come September, Toronto gets the art biennial it has long been waiting for, featuring local and international artists at venues adjacent to Lake Ontario.

VAJIKO CHACHKHIANI: THEY KEPT SHADOWS QUIET

Scrap Metal Gallery, October 11, 2018-March 30, 2019

The first solo show in North America by the young Georgian artist is the most ambitious exhibition staged to date by this private gallery. It features a number of works, including a specially built “inverted” immigration checkpoints. Using two way mirrors in reverse direction, visitors can surveil the occupants of the booths, which are manned by actors every Saturday from 1-4 pm for the duration of the show.

SANAZ MAZINANI: LIGHT TIMES

Stephen Bulger Gallery, January 12-February 23

Known for her large-scale mosaic works embedded with political content, Mazinani returns to her hometown for this back-to-basics study of photography. Camera-less photos (i.e., light exposed to photosensitive paper) form the basis of this show – but Mazinani’s larger agenda is revealing the manipulations, framing and cropping that create photographic “truth.”

TRUE TO THE EYES: THE HOWARD AND CAROLE TANENBAUM PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION

Ryerson Image Centre, January 23-April 7

A presentation of over 200 works from the Toronto philanthropists’ private collection. The sheer range and eclecticism of the photos on view – including Brassaï, vernacular works, Diane Arbus and Edward Burtynsky – offers insight into how genres within the medium have evolved. A useful point of reference for photography’s expanded digital life today.

Inverse Squares Yellow on Black, an abstract painting by Swedish-born artist Jaan Poldaas.
Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid / Courtesy Birch Contemporary and estate of Jaan Poldaas


JAAN POLDAAS: A COLOURFUL LIFE

Birch Contemporary, February 7-March 2

This is a memorial exhibition for the Swedish-born Toronto-based artist who died in October. Poldaas made vibrant, hard-edged abstract paintings, working within set rules he imposed on his practice such as using primary colours and the colour grey in differing shades. This framework allowed him to discover constant variation in composition throughout his career.

APOLONIJA ŠUŠTERŠIČ:
LIGHT THERAPY &
CHANTAL AKERMAN

MOCA, November 28-April 30/ MOCA, February 14-April 14 

Here are two good reasons to visit MOCA’s new location. Slovenian artist Šušteršič presents a light therapy room as part of the museum’s interest in exploring the role galleries play in supporting well-being. Visitors who become MOCA members can also book it for private sessions. Filmmaker Akerman, who died in 2015, was one of Europe’s foremost auteurs of the last 50 years. While many of her films have screened in Toronto, MOCA is hosting the first museum presentation of her installation work.

CARRIE MAE WEEMS: HEAVE

Art Museum at University of Toronto, CONTACT Photography Festival and three public sites, May 3-July 13

Part of this year’s Contact Photography Festival, this show marks the first solo exhibition in Canada by this important African-American artist. Weems is known for her photo-based installations that incorporate film, daguerreotypes, textiles and period-specific dress. Her tableaux reflect on how power functions in society, in part by making viewers aware of the constructed nature of photography.

Brian Jungen’s Warrior 1 sculpture from 2017 is made from Nike Air Jordans and leather.
Photo: Jason Wyche / Courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York

BRIAN JUNGEN

Art Gallery of Ontario, June 20-August 25

A solo exhibition by the celebrated West Coast artist touches down at the AGO this summer. Jungen is known for remaking everyday items, like Nike shoes or plastic lawn chairs, into powerful sculptural works. The artist’s always inventive refashionings often reference his Indigenous heritage. His use of mass-produced materials also critiques the conventions of museum display and the value of the objects collected therein.

KATE NEWBY

Cooper Cole Gallery, September TBA

The New Zealand-born artist’s debut solo show will feature beguiling works that are part sculpture, part installation. Working with ceramics, bricks, glass and found materials like pebbles and other detritus, she often uses the floor and other overlooked parts of the gallery to subtly shift visitor experience – as well as the concept of what can be art.

TORONTO BIENNIAL OF ART

Various venues on Lake Ontario, opens September 21

Biennials are the lingua franca of the international art world and Toronto is long overdue to host its own. This 90-day event is helmed by Candice Hopkins and Tairone Bastien, two smart, experienced curators who have announced a theme focused on the history embedded in the city’s waterfront – the site of settlement, trade and Indigenous histories. Featured artists include Althea Thauberger, Shezad Dawood and Syrus Marcus Ware.

NUIT BLANCHE

Various venues, October 5

The city’s all-night public art event again includes venues in Scarborough and adds first-time locations Fort York and the Garrison Common. Nathan Phillips Square will host an installation by Daniel Arsham. Few details are available, but given he works with meta-architecture firm Snarkitecture, it’s a good bet the New York artist’s piece will be big and involve the colour white. The deadline for artists to submit proposals for the Open Call section is February 4. 11 art exhibitions to be excited about in 2019

NOW Magazine: 11 art exhibitions to be excited about in 2019
@rosemheather 

The 10 best art shows of 2018

January 4, 2019 § Leave a comment

Historical legacies and Toronto’s changing landscape were major themes in galleries and in public art works this year

BY ROSEMARY HEATHER

DECEMBER 3, 2018
Ibrahim Mahama’s Radical Histories, 2012-2018 wrapped City Hall in jute fabric during Nuit Blanche. Photo: Cheol Joon Baek


Toronto is growing by the square metre, with buildings popping up everywhere. The city’s art scene is also changing and, in some cases, responding.

In 2018, all-night art event Nuit Blanche extended to Scarborough and Don Mills. Fighting condo glut, artists are building spaces in overlooked corners and raising voices against the threat of Toronto becoming homogenized for the rich.

Thinking about the urban landscape is second nature in a profession in which space is a core element. That’s one reason arts organizations here and across Canada are drawing attention to the contested status of the land beneath our feet. Land acknowledgments of First Nations territorial rights preceding art events have become common. This year saw Canadian art galleries cited internationally for changing the terms under which Indigenous art is exhibited. At the same time, one of the city’s leading curators, the AGO’s Wanda Nanibush, started a conversation to get arts professionals to better understand how to do it right.

With this attention to historical legacy, and commitment to reasoned dialogue, the art world increasingly feels like a realm more thoughtful and separate from wider public spheres. Artist-led dialogue contrasts strikingly with conniving public figures like Premier Doug Ford, who emulate the worst tendencies of our U.S. neighbours. Toronto artists are fighting back in the best way they know how. By making art and putting on shows – some of it explicitly in protest.

1. Ibrahim Mahama, Radical Histories, 2012-2018, Nathan Phillips Square (September 29)

For Nuit Blanche, the Ghanaian artist transformed the pedestal ramp of City Hall by wrapping it in a patchwork curtain of jute fabric that had previously been used in trade of cocoa, coffee and charcoal. A thrilling, instantly readable monument to labour, colonialism and the hard truths of commerce.

2. The Work Of Wind: Air, Land, Sea, Blackwood Gallery, Mississauga (September 14-23)

This massive art project in Mississauga’s Southdown Industrial Area featured 13 outdoor installations that visitors could tour using a specially commissioned MiWay bus. Many of the works captured the event’s theme of stewardship in the face of environmental crisis, while remaining playful. A show highlight was Tomás Saraceno’s giant walk-in air balloon made from thousands of plastic bags.

3. Rebecca Belmore: Facing The Monumental, Art Gallery of Ontario (July 12-October 21)

For those who saw Belmore’s excellent 2014 show at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, her AGO exhibition was a revelation. This show featured a different but equally compelling range of works. Her monumental stack of shopping carts packed with fresh clay offered a concise statement about Indigenous dispossession. Just one of many works on view that combined critique of social and power structures with strong emotional impact.Expand

GTA’s billboard in Trinity-Bellwoods Park proposed legislation to curb house flipping and make the city more affordable. Photo:Courtesy of Gentrification Tax Action (GTA

4. GTA, Gentrification Tax, Trinity Bellwoods Park (February 25); Public Studio (June 1-July 30)

GTA stands for Gentrification Tax Action, an ad hoc artist group who – in different combinations of people – have made activist art since the 90s. Via a temporary billboard installation in Trinity Bellwoods Park and poster project, GTA proposed a practical solution to Toronto’s gentrification problem: a tax on real estate speculation, with the money redirected to affordable housing. Their work added much-needed nuance to the conversation around the city’s affordable housing crisis.

5. Shannon Bool, Bomb. Shell., Daniel Faria Gallery (November 1-January 12)

Canada produces a lot of strong artists. Bool is a contender for one of the best. Her stunning photo collages and tapestries in this show combine the work of modernist giants like Le Corbusier with vintage postcards of nude Algerian women, whom the architect also made sketches of in his off hours. A deft exposé of Orientalism and the darker underpinnings of modernism.

6. Shelley Niro, Ryerson Image Centre (April 28-August 5)

This was a welcome survey show for the 2017 Scotiabank Photography Award winner. Niro is skilled at bringing humour to dark subject matter like the decimation of her Indigenous ancestors by white settlers in Canada. The preference for comedy and a light touch on view in this exhibition made clear her connection to the sophisticated craft-based work of artists like General Idea and Allyson Mitchell.

7. Believe, Museum of Contemporary Art (September 22-January 6)

Attendees at the MOCA’s inaugural exhibition at its new home in the Lower Junction Triangle were probably as curious about the building – five floors in all – as they were the art. This show is multifaceted and sprawling, with textile works sitting next to a playable and wildly decorated pinball machine, adjacent to sculptures and video works. A total experience of art and space, its highlights include works by Dineo Seshee Bopape, Tuan Andrew Nguyen and Rajni Perera.

8. I continue to shape, Art Museum, University of Toronto (September 5-December 8)

This group show features mostly First Nations artists taking a non-didactic approach to settler and Indigenous histories. By combining traditional First Nations and contemporary art vocabularies – see Nicholas Galanin’s re-carving of a traditional native mask – the artists bring viewers into a fresh dialogue with the subject matter. In a show of great works, Joseph Tisiga’s paintings using Archie comic characters as stand-ins for white obliviousness are standouts.

9. Yoko Ono: The Riverbed, Gardiner Museum (February 22 to June 3)

How calming it was to visit the white environ Yoko Ono created in her three-part, ceramic-based installation. Ono was part of the first wave of artists making interactive (or instructional) artworks in the late 60s and 70s, and this recent work confirms her preeminence. Made with the help of museum visitors – who reassembled broken china and threaded twine into a room-sized spider web – and probably for that reason, the installations evoked the timeless mark-making of artists like Cy Twombly.

10. Diagrams Of Power, Onsite Gallery at OCAD University (July 11-September 30)

This exhibition articulates the forms power takes in the 21st century through works that highlight how today’s geopolitics are networked. We understand we live in a networked world and yet it remains intangible in important ways. The research-based works in this exhibition, such as Bureau d’études’ mappings of what they call “the World Government,” create a visual lexicon for grasping ideas society has yet to fully grapple with.

https://nowtoronto.com/culture/art-and-design/the-10-best-art-shows-of-2018/

@rosemheather


The 10 best art shows of 2017

January 10, 2018 § Leave a comment

Many of this year’s top exhibitions explored Canada’s colonial legacy, the concept of nationhood and the meaning of monuments

BY ROSEMARY HEATHER, FRAN SCHECHTER DECEMBER 5, 2017

The Scream, a painting by Kent Monkman

1. Kent Monkman, Shame And Prejudice: A Story Of Resilience, Art Museum at the University of Toronto (January 26-March 5)

In his most integrated and powerful show yet, Monkman deployed history paintings, installations and artifacts to tell the story of Indigenous people in Canada through the eyes of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, his two-spirited alter ego. Though there’s humour in her appearances as a “country wife” and nude model posing with the fathers of Confederation, there’s also a hefty dose of pain and anger in works that dramatize starvation, forced treaties, residential schools, incarceration and murdered women. (The show is touring Canada, opening in Kingston in January, and being adapted into a book.) Fran Schechter

2. Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood, Art Gallery of Ontario (June 29-December 10)

Former AGO Canadian art curator Andrew Hunter and curator Anique Jordan put together this politically charged sesquicentennial show before Hunter resigned to join the Art Gallery of Guelph. Works by mostly Black, Indigenous and Asian-Canadian artists, both emerging and established, dealt with Indigenous perspectives, immigrant dislocation, Black culture and activism, and migrant agricultural workers. We might not see such radicalism at the institution again. FS

3. HERE – Locating Contemporary Canadian Artists, Aga Khan Museum (July 22-January 7)

Go see this show of contemporary work by Canadian artists curated by Swapnaa Tamhane. Then take a look at the museum’s permanent collection. The net effect is to better understand all artworks as cultural artifacts. It’s one of the great accomplishments of this sesquicentennial project, which presents a stunning range of art practices and experiences. It’s hard to think of a better representation of what Canada is today. Featuring work by Derya Akay, George Elliott Clarke, Sameer Farooq, Osheen Harruthoonyan, Nahed Mansour, Nadia Myre, Nep Sidhu and others. Rosemary Heather

4. Raise A Flag: Works From The Indigenous Art Collection (2000-2015), Onsite Gallery at OCADU (September 16-December 10)

In the refurbished gallery, OCADU Indigenous visual culture chair Ryan Rice brought together selections from the federal government’s Indigenous art collection, a 50-year-old program at Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development that hires First Nations curators to acquire artworks that are rarely exhibited. The show highlighted the ongoing cultural strategies Indigenous artists have used in a variety of media to insert their stories into the colonial narrative and keep their creative spirits alive. FS

5. Aude Moreau, Less Is More Or, TD Centre (September 2-4)

Montreal’s Aude Moreau used Labour Day weekend to add giant glowing letters to the Mies van der Rohe masterpiece that is the TD Centre, an icon of modernist architecture. A fitting tribute to the architect’s maxim “Less is more,” Moreau’s repetition of the phrase on multiple facades of the buildings created a monumental artwork that succeeded as both image and physical experience. More artworks of this scale, pleaseRH

Mies van der Rohe

Aude Moreau’s Less Is More Or

6. Life of a Craphead, King Edward VII Equestrian Statue Floating Down The Don, part of the The Don River Valley Park Art Program (October 29, November 5, 12 and 19)

Perhaps no image better sums up the meaning of Canada’s 150 celebrations than that of artist Jon McCurley in a kayak, towing a half-submerged equestrian sculpture down the Don River. Picked up by wire agencies, this image of a work by artist-duo Life of a Craphead (McCurley and Amy Lam), was seen internationally. A smart contribution to a cultural moment that is seeing old narratives dismantled. RH

7. Deanna Bowen, On Trial The Long Doorway, Mercer Union (September 15-November 4)

Bowen, a descendant of early 20th-century Black immigrants to Canada from Alabama, brought her unique perspective on Canadian racism to this installation re-enacting a 1956 CBC drama about a Black lawyer defending a white U of T student who’s attacked a Black athlete. Black actors who played against race and gender deconstructed the teleplay in video and occasional live performances that took place in period sets in the gallery. FS

8. Adrian Stimson, Mourning And Mayhem, A Space Gallery (September 26-October 28)

Wanda Nanibush took time out from the AGO to curate this multimedia show by the Saskatchewan-based Siksika artist, his long-overdue first Toronto solo. Stimson here skewered colonial concepts of Indian-ness with a wall of documents about Grey Owl and tourist kitsch. Videos, photos and a sculptural replica of the looming, horned Shaman Exterminator, Stimson’s second alter ego, provided an otherworldly counterpoint to Buffalo Boy, his gender-bending trickster in skins and fishnets. FS

9. Ydessa Hendeles, The Milliner’s Daughter, The Power Plant (June 24-September 4)

What Hendeles does is unique, and her exhibition at the Power Plant rightly celebrated that. Moving from gallerist and collector to curator, she now combines these activities into work as an artist. Highly syncretic, Hendeles’s investigations are informed by a personal set of concerns without ever being limited by them. What results are exhibitions like this first major survey of her output, asking us to consider what the lessons of familial history tell us about the present. RH

10. An Unassailable And Monumental Dignity, CONTACT Gallery (September 21-November 18)

Curating is harder than it looks. This exhibition is a great example of how to do it well. Borrowing a title from a text by James Baldwin, curator Heather Rigg creates a quietly provocative context for the consideration of how images of Black men function in the visual economies of today. A pointed combination of works, the show avoids sensationalism and delivers on the promise of its title. Featuring work by Alexandra Bell, Mohamed Bourouissa, Leslie Hewitt, Aaron Jones and Keisha Scarville. RH

art@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

https://nowtoronto.com/art-and-books/art/the-10-best-art-shows-of-2017/

Willy Le Maitre – title flight tiger compound returns

January 23, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Canada, New York
May 6 – June 5, 2016

New arrangements in the drama of looking might be the mission statement for Willy Le Maitre’s lenticular photographs. The work is an update, in other words, on a well-established tradition in art — to upend accustomed habits of viewing, purely through formal means. Writing about the work, the critic Blake Gopnick talks about this tradition as one of visual “indeterminacy…one of the crucial bywords of modern art at least since the time of Cézanne and Picasso.”

Artworks considered indeterminate make special demands on the viewer. It’s a program for art, one for which Robert Hughes coined the phrase, the Shock of the New. The title of a 1980 TV series he wrote and hosted for the BBC, Hughes described a dynamic for artmaking that was essentially avant garde. Pushing forward, out ahead of the general public, modern artists work to broaden the intelligibility of contemporary experience, and this happens primarily in a visual key. As narrated by Hughes, each moment of innovation has historically specific circumstances — the Shock of the New is a migrating phenomenon. For instance, the visual disjunctions of Cubism are now familiar to the point of seeming decorative. In Le Maitre’s work, he uses lenticular images to revive this dynamic of dislocated (or fresh) looking in art. If the results are truly shocking, the question is what historical conditions could the work be said to express?

Used typically to make crude picture animations, lenticular technology dates from the post WW II period. Two or more images are animated when overlaid by a screen of finely ribbed plastic. Vision gets refracted one way or the other according to the angle of the ribs (and the angle of vision), each rib a lens that magnifies the strip of image that lies underneath it. Early uses of this novelty technique included badges for Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 Presidential campaign (“I like Ike” alternating with a head shot of the candidate), or so-called Flicker Rings with pictures of Batman, or Curly from the Three Stooges, on them.

A less familiar term for this process is “Autostereo”. The name points to the technique’s origins in early experiments in optical illusion. The “auto” stereo innovation was a kind of improvement on the late 19th century technique of stereoscopy. When viewed with the aid of the eyeglass-like stereoscopic viewer, slightly different images seen side-by-side take on the illusion of 3D depth. Both vision technologies are approximations of the physiological process, designed to demonstrate a specific aspect of how vision works — that is, at the intersection of interior and exterior sight. The tangible artifice produced by a stereoscopic or lenticular image is in the end a slight entertainment, but one that helps highlight the role the mind plays in visual perception.

Internal vision has long been a preoccupation of Le Maitre’s. The artist posits stereoscopic effects as a model for what is seen by the mind’s eye. In the imperfection of the 3D illusion, Le Maitre finds an expanded realm for exploration, primarily by making films that combine digital and 3D technology. This extensive body of work characteristically uses digital effects to extend and distort 3D treatments of real world imagery. A phantasmagoric experience results, one that recognizably partakes of both artifice and the chimera of dreams. Freedom from the constraints of the material world is of course a capacity of the mind, and art often provides the best methods for making this capacity tangible.

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Film is typically described as a dream-like medium. Its invitation to sit in the dark and be off-duty somehow lends a legitimacy to even the most outlandish of speculative journeys it can fabricate — as a pastime, and as a form of experience. Always tasked with the job of convincing viewers of their plausibility, the same benefit of a doubt is less frequently extended to artworks. Arguably, this means Le Maitre’s lenticular works are a more risky proposition for the artist.

In his hands, lenticular technology becomes a tool of indeterminacy, with corresponding effects on the viewer. By combining photographs into a single picture frame, Le Maitre condenses the space-time continuum that each image implies. The collages he makes are deliberately disjunctive, their smashed perspectives rendered dynamic because of the way lenticular lens orchestrates viewer engagement.

What results is a destabilized position for the viewer. As Phil Grauer, of the New York gallery, Canada, observes: “You can’t conquer these works.” The space they construct is ambiguous without hope of resolution. Making vertiginous space inside the picture plane could be said to disrupt viewer expectations of coherence. From another perspective, what Le Maitre is doing is creating a more complex visual field for viewer apprehension. Beyond the capacity of the lenticular to create such an effect, what field of reference is the artist implying here? The quick answer would be “Pokemon Go”, the augmented reality that is now an expected component of everyday life. In a broader sense, it’s not hard to find other artworks that also traffic in a figure-ground confusion. What this suggests is that contemporary life conjures up not only a collapsed picture plane, but also one that is infinitely expanded. Le Maitre’s insight is to combine the two, his use of the constraint of the picture frame alerting us to the truth of this new reality.

Rosemary Heather

This text commissioned by Border Crossings Magazine Volume 35, Number 4, Issue No. 140

More information about Willy Le Maitre is available here.

What is Blockchain Technology? A Step-by-Step Guide For Beginners

October 11, 2016 § 3 Comments

Is blockchain technology the new internet?
The blockchain is an undeniably ingenious invention – the brainchild of a person or group of people known by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto.

By allowing digital information to be distributed but not copied, blockchains create the backbone of a new type of internet. Originally devised for the digital currency, Bitcoin, the tech community is now finding other potential uses for the technology.

Bitcoin has been called “digital gold”, and for good reason. To date, the total value of currency is close to $9 billion US. And blockchains can make other types of digital value. Like the internet (or your car), you don’t need to know how the blockchain works to use it. However, having a basic knowledge of this new technology shows why it’s considered revolutionary.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”

Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016)

A distributed database
Picture a spreadsheet that is duplicated thousands of times across a network of computers. Then imagine that this network is designed to regularly update this spreadsheet and you have a basic understanding of the blockchain.

Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared — and continually reconciled — database. This is a way of using the network that has obvious benefits. The blockchain database isn’t stored in any single location, meaning the records it keeps are truly public and easily verifiable. No centralized version of this information exists for a hacker to corrupt. Hosted by millions of computers simultaneously, its data is accessible to anyone on the internet.

To go in deeper with the google spreadsheet analogy I would like you to read this piece from a blockchain specialist.

Blockchain as Google Docs
“The traditional way of sharing documents with collaboration is to send a Microsoft Word document to another recipient, and ask them to make revisions to it. The problem with that scenario is that you need to wait until receiving a return copy before you can see or make other changes, because you are locked out of editing it until the other person is done with it. That’s how databases work today. Two owners can’t be messing with the same record at once.That’s how banks maintain money balances and transfers; they briefly lock access (or decrease the balance) while they make a transfer, then update the other side, then re-open access (or update again).

With Google Docs (or Google Sheets), both parties have access to the same document at the same time, and the single version of that document is always visible to both of them. It is like a shared ledger, but it is a shared document. The distributed part comes into play when sharing involves a number of people.

Imagine the number of legal documents that should be used that way. Instead of passing them to each other, losing track of versions, and not being in sync with the other version, why can’t *all* business documents become shared instead of transferred back and forth? So many types of legal contracts would be ideal for that kind of workflow.

You don’t need a blockchain to share documents, but the shared documents analogy is a powerful one.”

William Mougayar, author The Business Blockchain (2016)

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Durability and robustness
Blockchain technology is like the internet in that it has a built-in robustness. By storing blocks of information that are identical across its network, the blockchain cannot:

  1. Be controlled by any single entity.
  2. Has no single point of failure.

Bitcoin was invented in 2008. Since that time, the Bitcoin blockchain has operated without significant disruption. (To date, any of problems associated with Bitcoin have been due to hacking or mismanagement. In other words, these problems come from bad intention and human error, not flaws in the underlying concepts.)

The internet itself has proven to be durable for almost 30 years. It’s a track record that bodes well for blockchain technology as it continues to be developed.

Transparent and incorruptible
The blockchain network lives in a state of consensus, one that automatically checks in with itself every ten minutes. A kind of self-auditing ecosystem of digital value, the network reconciles every transaction that happens in ten minute intervals. Each group of these transactions is referred to as a “block”. Two important properties result from this:

  1. Transparency
    data is embedded within network as a whole, by definition it is public.
  2. It cannot be corrupted
    altering any unit of information on the blockchain would mean using a huge amount of computing power to override the entire network.

In theory, this could be possible. In practice, it’s unlikely to happen. Taking control of the system to capture Bitcoins, for instance, would also have the effect of destroying their value.

“Blockchain solves the problem of manipulation. When I speak about it in the West, people say they trust Google, Facebook, or their banks. But the rest of the world doesn’t trust organizations and corporations that much — I mean Africa, India, the Eastern Europe, or Russia. It’s not about the places where people are really rich. Blockchain’s opportunities are the highest in the countries that haven’t reached that level yet.”

Vitalik Buterin, inventor of Ethereum

A network of nodes
A network of so-called computing “nodes” make up the blockchain.

nodes

 

 

Node

(computer connected to the blockchain network using a client that performs the task of validating and relaying transactions) gets a copy of the blockchain, which gets downloaded automatically upon joining the blockchain network.

Together nodes create a powerful second-level network, a wholly different vision for how the internet can function.

Every node is an “administrator” of the blockchain, and joins the network voluntarily (in this sense, the network is decentralized). However, each one has an incentive for participating on the network: the chance of winning Bitcoins.

Nodes are said to be “mining” Bitcoin, but the term is something of a misnomer. In fact, each one is competing to win Bitcoins by solving computational puzzles. Bitcoin was the raison d’etre of the blockchain as it was originally conceived. It’s now recognized to be only the first of many potential applications of the technology.

There are an estimated 700 Bitcoin-like cryptocurrencies (exchangeable value tokens) already available. As well, a range of other potential adaptations of the original blockchain concept are currently active, or in development.

“Bitcoin has the same character a fax machine had. A single fax machine is a doorstop. A world where everyone has a fax machine is an immensely valuable thing.”

Larry Summers, Former US Secretary of the Treasury

The idea of decentralization
By design, the blockchain is a decentralized technology.

Anything that happens on it is a function of the network as a whole. Some important implications stem from this. By creating a new way to verify transactions aspects of traditional commerce could become unnecessary. Stock market trades become almost simultaneous on the blockchain, for instance — or it could make types of record keeping, like a land registry, fully public. And decentralization is already a reality.

A global network of computers use blockchain technology to jointly manage the database that records Bitcoin transactions. That is, Bitcoin is managed by its network, and not any one central authority. Decentralization means the network operates on a user-to-user (or peer-to-peer) basis. The forms of mass collaboration this makes possible are just beginning to be investigated.

“I think decentralized networks will be the next huge wave in technology.”

Melanie Swan, author Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy (2015)

Who will use the blockchain?
As web infrastructure, you don’t need to know about the blockchain for it to be useful in your life.

Currently, finance offers the strongest use cases for the technology. International remittances, for instance. The World Bank estimates that over $430 billion US in money transfers were sent in 2015.

The blockchain potentially cuts out the middleman for these types of transactions. Personal computing became accessible to the general public with the invention of the Graphical User Interface (GUI), which took the form of a “desktop”. Similarly, the most common GUI devised for the blockchain are the so-called “wallet” applications, which people use to buy things with Bitcoin, and store it along with other cryptocurrencies.

Transactions online are closely connected to the processes of identity verification. It is easy to imagine that wallet apps will transform in the coming years to include other types of identity management.

“Online identity and reputation will be decentralized. We will own the data that belongs to us.”

William Mougayar, Venture advisor, 4x entrepreneur, marketer & strategist. 

Enhanced security
By storing data across its network, the blockchain eliminates the risks that come with data being held centrally.

Its network lacks centralized points of vulnerability that computer hackers can exploit. Today’s internet has security problems that are familiar to everyone. We all rely on the “username/password” system to protect our identity and assets online. Blockchain security methods use encryption technology.

The basis for this are the so-called public and private “keys”. A “public key” (a long, randomly-generated string of numbers) is a users’ address on the blockchain. Bitcoins sent across the network gets recorded as belonging to that address. The “private key” is like a password that gives its owner access to their Bitcoin or other digital assets. Store your data on the blockchain and it is incorruptible. This is true, although protecting your digital assets will also require safeguarding of your private key by printing it out, creating what’s referred to as a paper wallet.

networks

A second-level network
With blockchain technology, the web gains a new layer of functionality.

Already, users can transact directly with one another — Bitcoin transactions in 2016 averaged over $200,000 US per day. With the added security brought by the blockchain new internet business are on track to unbundle the traditional institutions of finance.

Goldman Sachs believes that blockchain technology holds great potential especially to optimize clearing and settlements, and could represent global savings of up to $6bn per year.

Web 3.0
The blockchain gives internet users the ability to create value and authenticate digital information. What new business applications will result?

Smart contracts
Distributed ledgers enable the coding of simple contracts that will execute when specified conditions are met. Ethereum is an open source blockchain project that was built specifically to realize this possibility. Still in its early stages, Ethereum has the potential to leverage the usefulness of blockchains on a truly world changing scale.

At the technology’s current level of development, smart contracts can be programmed to perform simple functions. For instance, a derivative could be paid out when a financial instrument meets certain benchmark, with the use of blockchain technology and Bitcoin enabling the payout to be automated.

The sharing economy
With companies like Uber and AirBnB flourishing, the sharing economy is already a proven success. Currently, however, users who want to hail a ride-sharing service have to rely on an intermediary like Uber. By enabling peer-to-peer payments, the blockchain opens the door to direct interaction between parties — a truly decentralized sharing economy results.

An early example, OpenBazaar uses the blockchain to create a peer-to-peer eBay. Download the app onto your computing device and you can transact with OpenBazzar vendors without paying transaction fees. The “no rules” ethos of the protocol means that personal reputation will be even more important to business interactions than it currently is on eBay.

Crowdfunding
Crowd funding initiatives like Kickstarter and Gofundme are doing the advance work for the emerging peer-to-peer economy. The popularity of these sites suggests people want to have a direct say in product development. Blockchains take this interest to the next level, potentially creating crowd-sourced venture capital funds.

In 2016, one such experiment, the Ethereum-based DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization), raised an astonishing $200 million USD in just over two months. Participants purchased “DAO tokens” allowing them to vote on smart contract venture capital investments (voting power was proportionate to the number of DAO they were holding). A subsequent hack of project funds proved that the project was launched without proper due diligence, with disastrous consequences. Regardless, the DAO experiment suggests the blockchain has the potential to usher in “a new paradigm of economic cooperation.”

Governance
By making the results fully transparent and publicly accessible, distributed database technology could bring full transparency to elections or any other kind of poll taking. Ethereum-based smart contracts help to automate the process.

The app, Boardroom, enables organizational decision-making to happen on the blockchain. In practice this means company governance becomes fully transparent and verifiable when managing digital assets, equity or information.

Supply chain auditing
Consumers increasingly want to know that the ethical claims companies make about their products are real. Distributed ledgers provide an easy way to certify that the backstories of the things we buy are genuine. Transparency comes with blockchain-based timestamping of a date and location — on ethical diamonds, for instance — that corresponds to a product number.

The UK-based Provenance offers supply chain auditing for a range of consumer goods. Making use of the Ethereum blockchain, a Provenance pilot project ensures that fish sold in Sushi restaurants in Japan has been sustainably harvested by its suppliers in Indonesia.

File storage
Decentralizing file storage on the internet brings clear benefits. Distributing data throughout the network protects files from getting hacked or lost.

Inter Planetary File System (IPFS) makes it easy to conceptualize how a distributed web might operate. Similar to the way a bittorrent moves data around the internet, IPFS gets rid of the need for centralized client-server relationships (i.e., the current web). An internet made up of completely decentralized websites has the potential to speed up file transfer and streaming times. Such an improvement is not only convenient. It’s a necessary upgrade to the web’s currently overloaded content-delivery systems.

Prediction markets
The crowdsourcing of predictions on event probability is proven to have a high degree of accuracy. Averaging opinions cancels out the unexamined biases that distort judgment. Prediction markets that pay out according to event outcomes are already active. Blockchains are a “wisdom of the crowd” technology that will no doubt find other applications in the years to come.

Still in Beta, the prediction market application Augur makes share offerings on the outcome of real world events. Participants can earn money by buying into the correct prediction. The more shares purchased in the correct outcome, the higher the payout will be. With a small commitment of funds (less than a dollar), anyone can ask a question, create a market based on a predicted outcome, and collect half of all transaction fees the market generates.

Protection of intellectual property
As is well known, digital information can be infinitely reproduced — and distributed widely thanks to the internet. This has given web users globally a goldmine of free content. However, copyright holders have not been so lucky, losing control over their intellectual property and suffering financially as a consequence. Smart contracts can protect copyright and automate the sale of creative works online, eliminating the risk of file copying and redistribution.

Mycelia uses the blockchain to create a peer-to-peer music distribution system. Founded by the UK singer-songwriter Imogen Heap, Mycelia enables musicians to sell songs directly to audiences, as well as licence samples to producers and divvy up royalties to songwriters and musicians — all of these functions being automated by smart contracts. The capacity of blockchains to issue payments in fractional cryptocurrency amounts (micropayments) suggests this use case for the blockchain has a strong chance of success.

Internet of Things (IoT)
What is the IoT? The network-controlled management of certain types of electronic devices — for instance, the monitoring of air temperature in a storage facility. Smart contracts make the automation of remote systems management possible. A combination of software, sensors, and the network facilitates an exchange of data between objects and mechanisms. The result increases system efficiency and improves cost monitoring.

The biggest players in manufacturing, tech and telecommunications are all vying for IoT dominance. Think Samsung, IBM and AT&T. A natural extension of existing infrastructure controlled by incumbents, IoT applications will run the gamut from predictive maintenance of mechanical parts to data analytics, and mass-scale automated systems management.

Neighbourhood Microgrids
Blockchain technology enables the buying and selling of the renewable energy generated by neighbourhood microgrids. When solar panels make excess energy, Ethereum-based smart contracts automatically redistribute it. Similar types of smart contract automation will have many other applications as the IoT becomes a reality.

Located in Brooklyn, Consensys is one of the foremost companies globally that is developing a range of applications for Ethereum. One project they are partnering on is Transactive Grid, working with the distributed energy outfit, LO3. A prototype project currently up and running uses Ethereum smart contracts to automate the monitoring and redistribution of microgrid energy. This so-called “intelligent grid” is an early example of IoT functionality.

Identity management
There is a definite need for better identity management on the web. The ability to verify your identity is the lynchpin of financial transactions that happen online. However, remedies for the security risks that come with web commerce are imperfect at best. Distributed ledgers offer enhanced methods for proving who you are, along with the possibility to digitize personal documents. Having a secure identity will also be important for online interactions — for instance, in the sharing economy. A good reputation, after all, is the most important condition for conducting transactions online.

Developing digital identity standards is proving to be a highly complex process. Technical challenges aside, a universal online identity solution requires cooperation between private entities and government. Add to that the need to navigate legal systems in different countries and the problem becomes exponentially difficult. E Commerce on the internet currently relies on the SSL certificate (the little green lock) for secure transactions on the web. Netki is a startup that aspires to create a SSL standard for the blockchain. Having recently announced a $3.5 million seed round, Netki expects a product launch in early 2017.

AML and KYC
Anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) practices have a strong potential for being adapted to the blockchain. Currently, financial institutions must perform a labour intensive multi-step process for each new customer. KYC costs could be reduced through cross-institution client verification, and at the same time increase monitoring and analysis effectiveness.

Startup Polycoin has an AML/KYC solution that involves analyzing transactions. Those transactions identified as being suspicious are forwarded on to compliance officers. Another startup Tradle is developing an application called Trust in Motion (TiM). Characterized as an “Instagram for KYC”, TiM allows customers to take a snapshot of key documents (passport, utility bill, etc.). Once verified by the bank, this data is cryptographically stored on the blockchain.

Data management
Today, in exchange for their personal data people can use social media platforms like Facebook for free. In future, users will have the ability to manage and sell the data their online activity generates. Because it can be easily distributed in small fractional amounts, Bitcoin — or something like it — will most likely be the currency that gets used for this type of transaction.

The MIT project Enigma understands that user privacy is the key precondition for creating of a personal data marketplace. Enigma uses cryptographic techniques to allow individual data sets to be split between nodes, and at the same time run bulk computations over the data group as a whole. Fragmenting the data also makes Enigma scalable (unlike those blockchain solutions where data gets replicated on every node). A Beta launch is promised within the next six months.

Land title registration
As Publicly-accessible ledgers, blockchains can make all kinds of record-keeping more efficient. Property titles are a case in point. They tend to be susceptible to fraud, as well as costly and labour intensive to administer.

A number of countries are undertaking blockchain-based land registry projects. Honduras was the first government to announce such an initiative in 2015, although the current status of that project is unclear. This year, the Republic of Georgia cemented a deal with the Bitfury Group to develop a blockchain system for property titles. Reportedly, Hernando de Soto, the high profile economist and property rights advocate, will be advising on the project. Most recently, Sweden announced it was experimenting with a blockchain application for property titles.

Stock trading
The potential for added efficiency in share settlement makes a strong use case for blockchains in stock trading. When executed peer-to-peer, trade confirmations become almost instantaneous (as opposed to taking three days for clearance). Potentially, this means intermediaries — such as the clearing house, auditors and custodians — get removed from the process.

Numerous stock and commodities exchanges are prototyping blockchain applications for the services they offer, including the ASX (Australian Securities Exchange), the Deutsche Börse (Frankfurt’s stock exchange) and the JPX (Japan Exchange Group). Most high profile because the acknowledged first mover in the area, is the Nasdaq’s Linq, a platform for private market trading (typically between pre-IPO startups and investors). A partnership with the blockchain tech company Chain, Linq announced the completion of it its first share trade in 2015. More recently, Nasdaq announced the development of a trial blockchain project for proxy voting on the Estonian Stock Market.

 This text commissioned by http://blockgeeks.com/ September 2016.

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