September 30, 2019 § Leave a comment
After learning their ancestors were adversaries, AA Bronson and Adrian Stimson explore what it means to personally reconcile Canada’s colonial legacy
A PUBLIC APOLOGY TO SIKSIKA NATION by AA Bronson and IINI SOOKUMAPII: GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? by Adrian Stimson as part of TORONTO BIENNIAL OF ART Photo: Samuel Engelking
The paths of history can make for improbable crossroads in the present.
Take the case of AA Bronson and Adrian Stimson. The artists have a lot in common – both are queer and use performative personas in their practices. But the two discovered they had a deeper connection: the historical antagonism of their ancestors.
Bronson’s great-grandfather, the Reverend John William Tims, was an Anglican missionary from England who worked to colonize Siksika Nation, the territorial home where Stimson lives in Alberta. Bronson felt he could acknowledge this past with an apology. Seeking a connection with the Siksika people led him to Stimson, a meeting that proved serendipitous. In 1886, Tims founded the Old Sun Boarding School for Boys. The residential school was named after Stimson’s great-grandfather, a chief of the Siksika Nation, part of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Western Canada.
In a phone interview from his home, not far from the grounds of the now-shuttered school, Stimson agrees the coincidence is uncanny. “The Blackfoot believe in a higher power. It does give you the feeling that larger forces are at work.”
This encounter led to three years of meetings and discussion that is now coming to a head in Toronto. In response to their shared history, the artists have made dual works that debuted at the Toronto Biennial of Art. As part of their work, Bronson also apologized to Stimson in two performances on the exhibition’s opening days (September 20 & 21).
Addressing Stimson, the Siksika Elders and biennial visitors, Bronson gave a relaxed, measured and sometimes emotional performance of his text. Wearing ceremonial dress, Stimson noted in his introductory remarks that all members of the Siksika delegation present were residential school survivors. After thanking Bronson, saying, “We accept your apology,” Stimson went on to personally shake hands with and thank all members of the audience. This open-hearted gesture powerfully underlined the emotional gravity of the moment.
It’s one of the more high-profile projects happening as part of the mega-art event, which organizers hope will eventually develop a larger international pull, similar to the Toronto International Film Festival. There’s a special focus on venues located close to the waterfront, giving substance to the theme “What does it mean to be in relation?,” which encompasses how the city relates to the body of water at its doorstep.
Biennial senior curator Candice Hopkins, a member of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation in the Yukon, originally introduced the men in 2016. “AA is moving into difficult territory in a way I haven’t quite seen before,” she says. “[The project] is not about the past, but setting a relationship for the future.”
By working together, she adds, the artists “bring a personal dimension to ideas of reconciliation.”
Adrian Stimson’s installation Iini Sookumpaii: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? Photo: Samuel Engelking
To date, conversations around reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have primarily focused on government and institutional culpability. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in 2015 and this year’s final report by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls make clear the devastating and ongoing impacts of colonization on Indigenous people.
During a trip to Winnipeg in 2010, Hopkins had the opportunity to attend the federal government’s Truth and Reconciliation hearings. “I was struck at the time by how much emotional labour was put onto the backs of those who testified,” she recalls.
With A Public Apology To Siksika Nation, Bronson and Stimson are creating the conditions for a cultural reckoning: reconciliation in Canada is a shared responsibility.
Stimson expresses a similar idea about what the possible outcome of his work with Bronson could be. “To make change is to recognize that history. It’s a first step,” he says.
The two men first met in person under the glare of TV cameras while filming the CBC Arts documentary show In The Making. In an episode profiling Stimson’s work, the artists had dinner at his home with friends and elders from the Siksika reserve, some of whom are residential school survivors. Despite the initial awkwardness, Stimson describes the meeting as a “seamless first step in what would become three years of constant discussion.
“It was a generative process,” he adds. “Artists have their way of doing things.”
In the CBC show, he talks about their working relationship as part of a wider process of “rebuilding our histories together.” It’s not that Indigenous people just want settler Canadians to apologize, Stimson emphasizes. Rather, the simple request is being made that this historical legacy is acknowledged, so that the country as a whole can move forward together. These are the next steps that lie beyond artistic and ceremonial gestures.
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission created a public dimension for the residential schools,” says Hopkins. “The land acknowledgments [that now precede most cultural events] came out of the TRC. But I want to see how this becomes actionable.”
A Governor General’s Award recipient in 2018, Stimson regularly exhibits in Toronto and has often performed as Buffalo Boy, a drag alter ego that takes a camp approach to macho stereotypes. The performance subverts the more threatening parts of masculinity to explore painful aspects of the past, for himself and his people.
Bronson, born in Vancouver and now based in Berlin, is a legendary artist whose career cuts a wide swath through the international art world. Starting out as a founding member of the renowned Toronto artist group General Idea in the 70s and 80s, the 73-year-old is a self-styled art shaman and healer. He founded the New York and Los Angeles Art Book Fairs, and was executive director of NYC art bookstore Printed Matter, a counterpart to Toronto’s Art Metropole, which General Idea founded in 1974.
General Idea had a kind of camp composite identity, a three-person art group (Bronson is the sole surviving member) known for arch commentary on the workings of their own aspirations for glamour and success.
Neither man’s artistic persona played a role in the apology at the Biennial. For this performance, Bronson knew he had “to strip down to his naked self.
“Making myself exposed for the sake of the apology was much harder to do than it would be if I was simply working in character,” he says. “The General Idea persona was embedded in a narrative.”
Self-mythologizing their lives as artists was a major early focus for General Idea. To make the apology, Bronson opted for what he calls a “declamatory approach.” It’s a different artistic tradition, one reserved for expressions of sincerity, as opposed to the ironic commentary that infused his earliest work.
Bronson’s work on this apology began when he was a child. “I have been hurtling towards this project for the last seven decades,” he writes in the opening sentence of A Public Apology To Siksika Nation, 14,000 copies of which are available as a free booklet at the main Biennial site on Lake Shore East.
In many ways, family legacy has shaped his existence. “I always planned to address this,” he says. In the text of his apology, Bronson writes: “We are a community of the living and the dead.”
“As a child, I felt the presence of spirits,” he explains. This continued into his adult life. “My intense experiences of spirit life were related to people who had died.”
His relatives passed down a story about an uprising against his great-grandfather on the Blackfoot reserve in 1895 that forced his ancestors to flee. On a 2015 visit to the archives in Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, Bronson discovered letters he had written to the museum in the 70s to request – unsuccessfully – documents about the uprising. At the time, his plan was to write a biography of Reverend Tims. He couldn’t confirm the uprising – it would remain hidden, mirroring the tendency among Canada’s official histories of settler relations with Indigenous people.
Adrian Stimson’s “response” to Bronson’s apology includes 68 photos of boys who attended the Old Sun residential school, which was named after his great-grandfather. Photo: Samuel Engelking
Stimson’s response (Bronson says their artistic partnership takes the form of a “call and response”) is a multifaceted installation that includes three large sculptures based on Blackfoot pictographs, a dining table set for 10 that features 10 small bronze bison sculpted by the artist. “Nine people were at the dinner where AA and I met,” he says. “I am adding the tenth setting for the ancestors.”
Also included are 68 photos taken from a family collection that feature boys who attended the Old Sun school. Used with permission, Stimson observes that the figures in these photos are “all our fathers from the Nation.”
Making tangible the connection between historical crimes and present political realities is part of the goal. Bronson describes the residential school practice of keeping children from their parents “very Trumpian.”
In his apology, the artist addresses an expansive range of people. Along with those on the Blackfoot Reserve who would have known and ultimately rebelled against Reverend Tims, Bronson addresses the people closest to him and his artistic collaborators. And he makes clear he also speaks to all political refugees, an acknowledgement that the colonial narrative continues in more ways than one: “the dispossessed and the abandoned… those who travelled across oceans but never made it to this safe haven of Canada.”
“When Bronson first reached out to me,” Stimson explains, “he was looking for someone to facilitate a connection with the Siksika Nation.”
Stimson describes himself as a “scout” reporting back to the Elders, and plans to arrange a private ceremony for Bronson to conduct his apology at the reserve.
Beyond merely “performing trauma,” Stimson sees Bronson as well-suited to the task, calling him “an agent of social change” because of the work he has done throughout his career as a representative of queer communities. General Idea is especially renowned for their activism during the AIDS crisis.
Noting that public discussion on Indigenous issues has taken steps forward in recent years, Bronson sees his participation at the Biennial as the beginning of a process. He does not simply want to perform an apology in front of an art audience. Asked about how he felt after the ceremony, Bronson said, “Having gone through it, I feel it is an ongoing process and I doubt I will have the real answer for some years.”
For his part, Stimson said “given the gravity of the apology” it needed to be him, and not his persona, who performed accepting it from Bronson. “The elders say ‘be humble, be generous,’” he says, adding that he is using the occasion to “put Buffalo Boy to bed,” as the logical conclusion of this phase of his work as an artist. “Every now and then Buffalo Boy has some sort of death, and then renewal,” he explains. “Putting him to bed lets us all have a little rest from his antics.”
Through art, the two men find a context that provides a useful – and non-confrontational – platform for people who are connected by past events to work through Canada’s cultural genocide and its continuing effects in the present.
Adrian Stimson’s “response” to Bronson’s apology includes 68 photos of boys who attended the Old Sun residential school, which was named after his great-grandfather. Photo: Samuel Engelking
“The apologies to the First Nations and Inuit peoples [by Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper, respectively] were important to the elders who were present. I can’t diminish that,” Stimson says. “But you need to walk the talk. What we are really looking for is systemic change.”
AA Bronson’s ancestors colonized Siksika Nation and were forced to flee in an uprising in 1895. Photo: Samuel Engelking
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
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.
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.
LIGHT THERAPY &
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.
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.
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.
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
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
DECEMBER 3, 2018
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
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.
September 6, 2018 § Leave a comment
From garages and shipping containers to members’ clubs, art galleries are finding creative ways to carve out space in the city
SEPTEMBER 4, 2018
Artists see possibilities that mere mortals tend to overlook. This is especially true when it comes to finding the space needed for making and showing their work. In today’s real estate market, affordable rental properties are increasingly scarce. As densification increases in Toronto’s urban areas, gentrification now obeys its own logic, one in which everything looks like a condo tower just waiting to be retrofitted.
Long known as first adapters of derelict sites, artists seem less central to the gentrification process than before. Instead, they are devising new ways to carve out the space they need. What follows is a list of tactics used by artists working independently in the city – a place that of course belongs as much as much to them as it does to fat cat developers.
The Akin collective now boasts a 10-year track record of creating affordable space for artists. This includes a new partnership with the about-to -launch Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) that will provide studios for over 30 art professionals. The entire Akin enterprise, which includes a range of art-based programs, is funded through studio rentals – currently, about 30,000 square feet in seven locations across the city. The collective innovated a model where they rent buildings or parts of buildings on an interim basis, moving studios to new locations, as the locations they use get developed. They are having a party on September 6 to celebrate their 10-year anniversary and to raise funds to support their move into MOCA.
A shipping container located in a parking lot at Dupont and Symington, Bunker 2 is collectively run and funded on a project basis. Aside from the initial investment in the container itself, costs are kept low. As co-founder and curator Veronika Ivanova notes, this allows for “more experimentation and spontaneity in programming.”
Europe has an extensive network of Kunstvereins – art clubs, essentially – and membership comes with a modest annual fee. Toronto’s version has partners in New York City, Amsterdam and Milan. KVT’s director, the artist Kara Hamilton, reports that while they initially offered memberships, the model didn’t really fly here. Calling itself a nomadic platform, KVT today raises funds as needed, while partnering with various spaces in the city on a project basis. As important are the publications they make to accompany exhibitions.
Launched this summer, Ma Ma is run by two independent curators, Magdalyn Asimakis and Heather Rigg. Their initial slate of programming is happening in a space in the Junction where they plan to be until November. After that they will look for a new location, also temporary. Upcoming on September 21 at their current location on 300 Campbell is a project by the highly regarded First Nations artist Tanya Lukin Linklater. Entirely financed through crowdfunding, Ma Ma is happy to accept donations at gofundme.com/ma-ma.
These two separate galleries share a basement space on Wade Ave. Both commercial ventures, each is sustained by selling artworks. Run by artist Aryen Hoekstra and designer Kevin Boothe respectively, the galleries present separate programs on alternate months. They decided on a time-share model to lower costs and enable more freedom in programming. Additionally, Towards has an online publishing platform and Franz Kaka is participating at a number of art fairs, including Art Toronto in October.
Located in the alley behind 13 Mansfield Ave near College Street, this garage space is financed by its owners and through donations and art sales. The programming team shows work primarily by new and emerging artists, and foster the ad hoc communities created by the art shows. Through demand, the team has also found that private rentals of the space provide a good, if inconsistent, source of revenue.
KEEP 6 CONTEMPORARY ART
An art collector, curator and entrepreneur, Rafi Ghanaghounian has made art projects in Toronto, New York, Havana, and elsewhere. HOME AWAY HOME, focusing on the newcomer stories of Kensington Market and featuring ten artists, is his most recent venture. Launching September 6 (through September 10), the exhibition can be seen in Kensington’s parks, streets, laneways and art galleries. The show will enhance the Market’s already eclectic atmosphere with public programs, including tours, concerts and family activities.
Originally published in NOW Magazine
October 31, 2017 § Leave a comment
Sarah Fuller’s Illuminations is the latest artwork to question the Canada 150 time frame
Maybe it’s typically Canadian to have fumbled the football that was supposed to be our celebration of 150 years of nationhood. That’s one conclusion we can make about this year’s sesquicentennial events. For one thing, the focus on 150 years seems trivial. It’s a time span that disregards the histories of peoples who have been living on these lands for much longer than that. While probably not its goal, the 150 has ushered in a wider awareness of this legacy.
Most cultural events in the city now begin with an acknowledgement that they are happening on traditional, or unceded, Indigenous territory. The 150 has apparently been a catalyst for this practice to be widely adopted.
So while not exactly a bust, the most impressive accomplishment of 150 is how it expanded the discussion about who makes up Canada.
Which brings us to Illuminations, a “participative artwork experience,” that happened in Rouge Park from October 5-7. The event found its premise in questioning the 150 time frame. A collaboration between the artist Sarah Fuller and Montreal-based multimedia lab Moment Factory, the project also showed in Banff National Park earlier this month (the Banff Centre is the producer of the event).
The project sidesteps questions of nationhood. Instead, it focused on ecologies of the park that expand the celebration to a time frame of 10,000 (or more) years.
Scarborough’s Rouge Park has the distinction of being Canada’s newest national park. Established in 2011, this work in progress has long-term ambitions to become the largest urban park in North America.
It’s a gorgeous setting, one the Illuminations team clearly had no intention of upstaging. A multimedia experience presented at night in nature lends itself most readily to things like images projected onto trees using projection mapping technology – and Moment Factory is known for creating exactly these kinds of amped up visual extravaganzas.
Maybe you saw their “kinetic installations” staged for Madonna or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers while on tour? Or enjoyed the “experiential marketing” they devised for the 2014 Super Bowl, or any of myriad similar events staged globally? For their Banff collaboration, Moment Factory and Fuller took quieter approach.
Gathered into small groups, visitors received tools to mediate their experience of the park: backpacks, flashlights, maps, projectors and a lantern that activates short multimedia interludes at wayfaring stations throughout the site. At each station, the groups were told a story about the history and ecology of the park, with visitors using the handheld projectors to cast images that were accompanied by voice-over narration. It was a gentle, meditative experience.
Images of the region’s endangered Blanding’s Turtle were cast on the sand, creating a ghostly picture that reinforced the message that it’s a threatened species the park is working to conserve. The tour ends with a gathering around a fire, evoking the idea of groups who have gathered in this way for millennia – though most such groups no doubt enjoyed a real fire and not the simulated one Illuminations devised (likely for insurance purposes).
An artist with an expanded practice in photography, Fuller has done experiments in video, public commissions and collaborations with members of the public. The baseline throughout is an engagement with landscape, often in the more northern environs of the country. Her sensitivity as an artist came through in her photographs, particularly in a wry series documenting her former colleagues (and eventually herself) leaving the Banff Centre, an arts centre in the mountains where no one ever stays for very long.
Fuller has noted that 150 years is a mere speck in time when compared to “the larger continuum of geological, ecological and human history” of the country we now call Canada.
Her commitment to making the importance of this continuum evident began with the negotiations visitors undertook while navigating the park. The small gestures of carrying the lantern or pointing the projector (to show, for instance, images of the Blanding’s Turtle) suggests ideas of stewardship. The message might be subtle, but efforts to reveal the hidden ecologies of the site emphasized their fragility – and the role humans can play in either preserving or destroying them.
Aside from the somewhat forced encouragement to our group of visitors to “bond,” and a few technical glitches, Illuminations succeeded in its goal of putting human scale – and national celebrations – into perspective alongside the vast expanse of planetary time.
Originally published by NOW Magazine, October 29, 2017
More information about Sarah Fuller here
More information about Illuminations and the Banff Centre here