Art & Design – NOW Magazine Everything Toronto - NOW Magazine Thu, 25 Nov 2021 14:29:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Art & Design – NOW Magazine 32 32 Inside the renovated Gladstone House hotel Mon, 22 Nov 2021 19:34:47 +0000 Reopened this fall, the landmark Queen West hotel mixes classic architecture with contemporary local art

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Nick Lachance

Toronto’s oldest continually operating hotel has undergone another reinvention.

In 2005, the Zeidler family turned the Gladstone Hotel into a multi-purpose event space, hosting art festivals, book launches, gallery shows, live music and dance parties. Festivals such as Come Up To My Room, which saw artists and designers taking over individual rooms, would sprawl across multiple floors.

So when Streetcar Developments and Dream Unlimited acquired the 132-year-old Queen West landmark for an undisclosed sum last year, many wondered if the real estate firms would maintain the venue’s reputation as an arts venue.

When the Gladstone reopened under its original name – Gladstone House – in September, we got an answer: local art covers the hotel’s ceilings and walls but many of the rooms that once hosted art openings and parties have been converted to spaces that are strictly for guests to enjoy.

While the ground-floor cafe is open to the public, the main ballroom is now a private event space. The Melody Bar is still under renovation, but when it reopens it will become the hotel’s primary venue for local artists, authors, bands, karaoke lovers and drag queens. In other words, if you want to see what the newly renovated upper floors of the Gladstone look like now, you’ll most likely have to book a room.

But Toronto artists are all over the hotel’s walls.

When the Gladstone House changed hands, resident curator Lee Petrie stayed on board. Her task: Commission and acquire local art work to fill guest rooms and shared spaces. Works by 50 artists can be seen around the hotel. Many of the pieces are on long-term loan and will be up for at least five years. Other art spaces are more temporary, so if the hotel partners with a festival (like DesignTO), work on display in the lobby and bistro, as well as the hotel’s windows, can be activated as part of the event.

Additionally, there is a new art studio space in the basement that will host two resident artists over three-to-four-month periods throughout the year – for free. Petrie is working with local organizations to find artists in need of studio spaces. The artists will also lead workshops for guests and community members. More details on the residencies will be announced later.

Shortly after the hotel reopened, Petrie took NOW on a tour of the artwork and renovations.

A woman looks at her phone in the Gladstone House lobby
Nick Lachance

Walking into the new lobby, the first thing you notice is how open it feels. It’s been repainted white and the right-side check-in counter that once spanned the length of the room is gone, replaced by an antique fireplace mantle and a lounge. The check-in has been moved to a small counter at the far left side near the stairs.

The ceiling is now covered in more than 13,000 individual characters hand-painted over three weeks by Legends League artist and designer Bryan Espiritu. Entitled Love & Above, the piece is ideally suited for a lobby – if you don’t feel like screen time while you wait for a room or a ride, you can stare up the ceiling and try to pick out individual words written in Espiritu’s own private alphabet.

Bryan Espiritu design for Gladstone House lobby
Nick Lachance
The Gladstone House cafe
Nick Lachance

The Gladstone House Bistro + Bar looks similar to the pre-renovation era, though it’s undergone a refresh. The most tricked-out new details are the illuminated bar top and hanging light sculpture. On the day of our visit, a handful of guests were quietly working away in the space on laptops. The front room of the bistro is surrounded in original exposed brick – a detail the new owners wanted to emphasize throughout the entire hotel.

The Gladstone House cafe
Nick Lachance
Gladstone House elevator
Nick Lachance

The Gladstone is home to one of the only working hand-operated elevators in Toronto. To freshen it up, the hotel’s new owners encased it in dichroic glass, which includes an ultra-thin film of metal and oxides that give it a psychedelic rainbow effect. The glass was originally developed by NASA to filter out UV rays and protect astronauts from eye-searing sunlight while in space. It also happens to be ideally suited for selfies.

Gladstone House second floor library
Nick Lachance

While many boutique hotel renovations tend to go full-on modern, Gladstone House is emphasizing the building’s history in the shared guest spaces on the second, third and fourth floors. The fourth-floor library has an old-school sitting room feel, but nods to the hotel’s recent past. Guests are free to borrow the books on the shelves and books that had their launches at the hotel are framed on the wall – including a copy of Prince’s posthumous memoir The Beautiful Ones.

The Gladstone House library
Nick Lachance

In the library, two chairs that date back to 1910 have been salvaged and refurbished to connect past and present in subtle ways.

Gladstone House hotel room
Nick Lachance

There are 55 guest rooms in the hotel, including 16 new rooms on the second floor above the ballroom. For sound-proofing reasons, the floor has been elevated and there are three steps up to that area, which was previously used for event staging and preparations.

Meanwhile, 41 of the rooms in the hotel contain original artwork to create unique experiences. Sinks have been relocated into the main room to allow for more space in the more open-concept bathrooms. Exposed brick is visible above the beds, though in rooms without brick the new owners have placed a brick veneer for uniformity.

Nick Lachance

Based on the most used words in the English language, Ric Santon’s painting You Me Here There resembles a misty window. The words appear scrawled, suggesting something about the transient nature of the guest’s experience.

Nick Lachance

In another room, Cole Swanson’s Terra Nimbus series of hand-rendered mineral colours is site-specific, and references hand-foraged mineral colours from Toronto’s High Park and the Cheltenham Badlands. The work adorns the walls and framed images above the bed to echo the “filtration, purification, grinding and binding of natural colours” that has resulted in the look of the hotel today.

Nick Lachance
Nick Lachance

Morris Wazney’s curving bookshelf sculpture, Bending Over Backwards, adds a surreal touch for guests who are lucky enough to stay in this room. The fictitious books have titles that are designed to spark the viewer’s imagination, creating a relatable experience.

Nick Lachance
Gladstone House hotel third floor
Nick Lachance

The common area on the third floor has been converted into a billiards room that is decorated with archival photography and documentation from the earliest days of the hotel. The Gladstone was originally a “rail hotel” way out west of the city’s core, and pictures looking east and west from the recognizable Dufferin bridge allow viewers to see what the area looked like in the late 1800s.

Nick Lachance
Nick Lachance

Brampton artist Kal Honey has given the hotel some iconic branding in the form of this neon sculpture of its exterior. Created by local LED fabricators, the neon rainbow portrait of the hotel is viewable in the mirrored hallway that leads guests to the washrooms in the basement.

Gladstone House hotel gym
Nick Lachance

Based on guest feedback, Gladstone House has transformed three basement spaces into fitness studios, each of which contain original murals. The ceilings in the rooms are quite low, so the colourful works by Mediah (above), Jieun June Kim (below) and Justin Broadbent add a bit of dynamism. They’ll also make your gym selfies pop.

Gladstone House hotel gym
Nick Lachance
Gladstone House exterior sign above the entrance
Nick Lachance


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Five statement pieces in MOCA’s GTA21 show Tue, 16 Nov 2021 21:00:43 +0000 The art museum's Toronto-centric exhibition is full of architectural and slowly changing works

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GTA21 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (158 Sterling). To January 9.

When the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) reopened following the latest round of lockdown measures, the curators set out to make a bold statement: a massive exhibition featuring 21 artists with ties to the city.

GTA21 will happen every three years, offering viewers a snapshot of the themes and ideas concerning artists who either live and work in the Greater Toronto Area or who live elsewhere but maintain connections here. This isn’t a show that makes one big statement about Toronto, but rather a case for why attempting to do so can be elusive.

It’s an appropriate re-introduction for a couple of reasons: the art museum is now under the leadership of CEO and executive director Kathleen Bartels, who is touting a focus on “globally connected” local art. During a recent press preview for GTA21, she said MOCA has raised $8.5 million in the past year that will keep the institution stable but also allow it to be more ambitious and commission original work.

But the pandemic has also forced many large museums and art institutions to be more local. Lockdown measures wreaked havoc on scheduling for marquee touring shows, which can require years of preparation. Pandemic portraiture shows, retrospectives on rising local artists and art that transforms public spaces have increasingly become a focus, even as things reopen.

Curated by Daisy Desrosiers, Rui Mateus Amaral and November Paynter, GTA21 finds many artists concerned with geopolitical issues, architecture and space, the tension between public and private lives and cultural iconography. The work ranges from painting to augmented reality to installations that change over the course of the exhibit’s run. In a show full of statement pieces, we spoke with Amaral about five artworks that stand out.

Ghazaleh Avarzamani Mashrabiya, 2021 Painted steel
Toni Hafkenscheid

Ghazaleh Avarzamani’s painted-steel installation Mashrabiya (2021) is the visible from outside the gallery.

Ghazaleh Avarzamani’s Mashrabiya

Teharn-born, Toronto-based artist Ghazaleh Avarzamani’s bright blue Islamic window screen Mashrabiya is the first visible sign of GTA21. As you approach the museum’s Sterling Road entrance, it can be seen jutting out on the outside wall. The screen allows viewers to look outside, but not in, and is one of two pieces Avarzamani has in the show. The work becomes a way to incorporate the building itself into the show.

“Having a work that extends from the exterior into the interior of the museum introduces the viewers to some of the strongest concepts that run through the exhibition,” explains Amaral, “such as the line between public and private space, the interplay between opacity and transparency, illusion and disillusion, as well as what happens when one cultural symbol is transposed into a foreign context.”

Azza El Siddique Fade into the Sun, 2021
Courtesy of the artist / Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid

Azza El Siddique’s Fade Into The Sun (2021), an installation made from steel, bukhoor, sandaliya, slip cast ceramic and water.

Azza El Siddique’s Fade Into The Sun

The centrepiece on the museum’s second floor – which is themed “inheritance” – is a towering installation by Azza El Siddique. Fade Into The Sun is site-specific and incorporates the museum’s columns into the work as a way to reference Nubian burial traditions, which the artist has been studying. It’s another example of spiritual architecture and features a slow, overhead dripping water system that cleans and destroys slip casts of family heirlooms and other objects.

It’s a physical manifestation of burial customs and El Siddique’s memories. “Her interest in these customs and physicalities stem from her Sudanese ancestry, as well as the women of the diaspora who have shaped her experience of the world in some way,” says Amaral. “This work honours all of these histories and memories and brings them into the present.”

Sahar Te Listening Attends, 2021 2003 Toyota Tacoma, speakers, black satin cover  (installation view MOCA Toronto, 2021).
Courtesy the artist / Photo Toni Hafkenscheid

Sahar Te’s Listening Attends installation (2021), a 2003 Toyota Tacoma with speakers and a black satin cover.

Sahar Te’s Listening Attends

Stepping off the third floor elevator, it’s hard to miss Sahar Te’s installation: a 2003 Toyota Tacoma covered in black satin. How did the vehicle make it to the third floor? Amaral isn’t telling: “Some things should remain a mystery,” he says. “However, this was certainly one of the most challenging works to produce in the exhibition from a physical, logistical and administrative point of view.”

If you approach the truck, the sound of faint breathing can be heard. Te’s work deals with demonstrations and propaganda, and the blacked-out truck invites the viewer to contemplate its purpose – and what comes after. “This vehicle is used across different cultures and geographies to drive a point home,” says Amaral. “But as Sahar suggests through the silhouette of the object, that point is ever shifting and depends on who is steering the wheel.”

Common Accounts  Parade of all the Feels, 2021  Wood, plexiglass, paint, miniature screens, electrical cords  Photo and courtesy the artists.
Ccourtesy the artists

Common Accounts’ Parade of all the Feels, 2021 interactive installation made from wood, plexiglass, paint, miniature screens, and electrical cords.

Common Accounts’ Parade Of All The Feels

One of the most playful works on display is experimental design studio Common Accounts’ (aka Igor Bragado and Miles Gertler) imaginary parade float. Full of flashing and buzzing details, the work is full of QR codes that trigger augmented reality animations viewable via your mobile phone. It’s on the gallery’s first floor, which has an emphasis on the intersection between art and design. Parades are a part of city life, but Parade Of All The Feels takes that concept into the online realm, where city life is filtered through Instagram and other apps. How much of our experience of a city is engineered by forces of technology?

Tom Chung's 50 Shelves (Study For MOCA) is a gift shop in which you can purchase it all.
Toni Hafkenscheid / Courtesy MOCA Toronto

Tom Chung’s 50 Shelves (Study For MOCA) is a gift shop in which you can purchase it all.

Tom Chung’s 50 Shelves

Perhaps the most unassuming piece in the show is the gift shop. In addition to buying a tote bag or the GTA21 catelogue, you can buy the shelves. It’s a wink to the part of putting on a show that’s often apparent but unspoken: the money part. As visitors buy up the shelves – created by industrial designer Tom Chung – the gift shop shrinks and is rearranged. It’s one of a handful of works that change over the course of the show’s run. They are challenging to pull off, says Amaral, but they encourage viewers to come back and introduce an element of the unknown. “We like that they’re transforming before our eyes,” he says. “What is more representative of the times we are living in?”


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Immersive Frida Kahlo show to open in Toronto Mon, 15 Nov 2021 21:50:33 +0000 Frida: Immersive Dream is the latest 360-art show to touch down in the city

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Mexican art icon Frida Kahlo is the latest painter to get the immersive treatment.

Frida: Immersive Dream will open in Toronto on March 31 and run through the end of May. Presale tickets are available now via the official website.

The show is produced by Lighthouse Immersive and the group of producers that are also behind Immersive Van Gogh, Immersive Klimt and Immersive Nutcracker, which is opening this week.

The company has taken over several floors of the abandoned Toronto Star printing plant at 1 Yonge and transformed its cavernous spaces into an arts venue for digital projection shows, as well as magic shows and dance performances featuring projections.

The Van Gogh and Klimt shows were both created by Italian artist Massimiliano Siccardi and composer Luca Longobardi. The format sees the painters’ works transformed into 360-degree digital video projections that cover the gallery’s walls and floors.

Immersive art has become big this year, with competing shows based on the same artists regularly opening across North America.

The Van Gogh show has helped propel Lighthouse’s North American expansion. The company now runs 14 galleries across the U.S. and Canada and employs 1,200 people, the company’s founders have said.

The Klimt show, which opened in Toronto last month, was more overtly adult oriented in nature, with erotically charged imagery overlapping with religious iconography and a soundtrack that included David Bowie and techno music.

The website for Frida: Immersive Dream says the experience will highlight the “people, events and obstacles that made her the extraordinary woman she was.”

Kahlo, who died in 1954 at age 47, has amassed a cult following and risen to global brand status in recent decades. She is most famous for her self-portraits.

The Art Gallery of Ontario mounted a major show devoted to her work in the fall of 2012 called Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics And Painting. The exhibition explored the politics and influences of Kahlo and Diego Rivera, her husband and fellow artist.

Update (November 23, 2021): This story has been updated with the show dates and ticket on-sale date.


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Readers’ Choice 2021: The best art, galleries and literary events Thu, 11 Nov 2021 12:55:00 +0000 Your favourite local art includes photos of vintage Toronto and a portrait series on queer people and their dogs

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Caps Caribana 1971 Joan Latchford
Courtesy of Cardinal Gallery

Caps Caribana, a 1971 photo by Joan Latchford.

This city’s arts and literary scenes are emerging from the pandemic. One of the most notable shifts: a greater focus on public art. For our 26th annual readers’ poll, we’ve added categories for the best art shows – in a gallery and in public – as well as best book publisher.

Best Art Show

Love Isn’t Limited by Joan Latchford, Cardinal Gallery

Ex-nun, poet, teacher, draft-dodger supporter and photojournalist Joan Latchford’s stunning and affectionate black-and-white images of Toronto life in the 60s and 70s have drawn comparisons to Vivian Maier. Following her death in 2017, Latchford’s estate entrusted thousands of never-before-seen negatives to upstart Cardinal Gallery, which exhibited the work in November 2020. At a time when people are revisiting Toronto’s past through archival images on Instagram, Love Isn’t Limited gave us a perspective on decades past that we rarely see. The gallery is planning future shows devoted to Latchford’s photos from Caribana and the Mariposa Folk Festival.

1231 Davenport,


Queen West Art Crawl

Best Book Publisher

Coach House Books

The long-running small press continues to be a go-to for beautifully designed limited releases, with an emphasis on Toronto-centric non-fiction, experimental fiction, poetry and, in the cases of André Alexis’s recent romance novel Ring, “non-classifiable” works. Highlights from the past year of releases include Perry King’s Rebound, about the importance of community sports; Daphné B.’s exploration of YouTube consumerism and feminism Made-Up; and the collection Indigenous Toronto.


Penguin Random House

Best Book Store

Type Books

First opened on Queen West in 2006, the indie book shop now has three locations across the city. Type is back open for in-person shopping, but is continuing to host virtual author events and selling a “mystery bag” in which staff pick out $100 worth of books based on your personal tastes. They’ve also launched a robust e-commerce platform, selling book bags, backpacks plus the usual selection of literature, design tomes and cookbooks.

883 Queen West, 2887 Dundas West, 427 Spadina Road,


Book City

Various locations,

Best Independent Gallery

The Cardinal Gallery

The photography-centric gallery at Davenport and Dovercourt didn’t have great timing. Opened by film producer Chelsea Hulme and cinematographer Cory Wilyman on March 7, 2020, it closed quickly due to the first lockdown. But it has persisted, launching an online viewing room and hosting a high-profile show by late photographer Joan Latchford (see Best Art Show, page XX) last fall. This year, Cardinal exhibited Bryan Helm’s motorcycle-centric show FTW – Forever Two Wheels as part of Contact Photo Fest, and a series of experimental portraits by Brendan Meadows.

1231 Davenport,


Blue Crow Gallery

1610 Gerrard East,

Best Literary Event (festival or series)

Word on the Street

The annual book fair has pivoted to a virtual format for the past two years, and though we miss the in-person event, literary fests have adapted well to the world of online events, expanding their reach to readers who can’t always attend the physical fest. This past September, WOTS kept up the momentum by hosting more than 80 author panels and workshops, including appearances by buzzy scribes Katherena Vermette, Brian McLachlan and S. Bear Bergman. With TIFA moving to the last weekend of September in 2022, expect some changes when WOTS returns in real life.


The Fold

Toronto artist Nadia Lloyd.
Nick Lachance

Best Local Artist

Nadia Lloyd

Before she pivoted to COVID-era face masks, artist Nadia Lloyd was making art for others, practical items like clothing, cushion covers and wall art. The former fitness entrepreneur turned self-taught artist renders Toronto skylines in neon or Crayola brushstrokes and pours her emotions onto canvases in bright abstract work like La Vie, No Woman No Cry and Sex With Ri.


Elva Hook

Great Whale exhibit at the ROM
Courtesy of the ROM

Best Museum

Royal Ontario Museum

Canada’s largest museum has given visitors plenty of reasons to return since reopening from lockdown in July. The big-ticket Great Whales show was the family-friendly offering of the summer, but the ROM has become more adventurous in its art programming, hosting an exhibition of woven artworks by Ethiopian artist Elias Sime and its first crowdsourced exhibition, which features pandemic portraits by young Ontarians. Outdoor programming has become more integral to our lives, and this fall the ROM projected an outdoor light and sound show by Métis filmmaker Terril Calder based on the work of documentary film icon Alanis Obomsawin earlier this fall.

100 Queens Park,


Art Gallery of Ontario

317 Dundas West,

Amie, Diana, Kyle and Nassau, a photo featured in the Don't You Want Me photography project.
Courtesy of Jack Jackson

Amie, Diana, Kyle and Nassau, a photo featured in the Don’t You Want Me photography project.

Best Public Art Project or Exhibition

The Don’t You Want Me Project

Public art has exploded during the pandemic, and our inaugural winner in this new category is a heartwarming one. Dog walker and photographer’s Jack Jackson’s art project Don’t You Want Me focuses on the bond between queer people and their rescue dogs. It lives online but also has a physical presence in the form of a touring banner that has exhibited in public spaces and businesses, most recently east-end queer-owned restaurant Lavender Menace. As if the feel-good photos aren’t enough to tug at your heartstrings, each one comes with a personal testimonial from the owners explaining how becoming a pet owner was a transformative experience.


Queen West Art Crawl

Read more 2021 Readers’ Choice poll results here


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A Toronto art installation takes you inside an MRI machine Mon, 08 Nov 2021 20:39:33 +0000 Artist Naomi Jaye's interactive video installation turns visitors into both witness and participant

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MRI: From Behind The Plexi by Naomi Jaye is on display at Merdian Arts Centre (5040 Yonge) from November 11-14. Noon-5 pm.

There is no one right way to approach MRI: From Behind The Plexi. Claustrophobic yet spacious, private yet voyeuristic, the interactive video installation is designed to allow visitors choice in their level of interaction, a direct juxtaposition to the restrictive experience of an MRI.

Designed by film director Naomi Jaye, the immersive installation was born out of her personal experience. Eight years ago, Jaye’s mother died of breast cancer, and as part of a high-risk breast cancer screening program she began having yearly MRIs. The experience was isolating and traumatic, and eventually inspiring for the artist. A vision came to Jaye during one of her MRIs: what would it look like if someone were inside the machine, viewing her from below?

To bring this vision to life, Jaye partnered with Dora Award-winning choreographer Molly Johnson, who developed and performed all the dances for MRI.

The installation space at the Meridian Arts Centre in North York is quiet, sterile and harshly lit. Several rows of chairs surround three cots, each with a pair of headphones on them. Above each cot is a large rectangular screen and various articles of hospital clothing are strewn on the floor. Viewers can choose their vantage point, making each experience of MRI a unique one.

The design of the MRI forces guests to be both witness and participant, as they watch a deeply personal, uncomfortable experience unfold for the dancer/patient trapped in a perpetual MRI scan.

I chose to view from a cot on the end, and as I laid down and put on the headphones I found myself immediately frozen in place by the sound of the MRI machine. My hands on my chest, fingers interlocked, the melodic mechanical droning hypnotizing me and holding me in position.

Nick Lachance

Above me a sheet of plexiglass rolled in with a woman lying on it, face down, staring at me. The sounds of the MRI machine in both our ears, both of us laying completely still not wanting to disturb the scan. Then I saw her foot move ever so slightly, and the dance had begun.

Regardless of where the dance took the patient in the enclosed rectangular space, my focus kept being drawn back to the three holes directly above me. One for a face, and two for breasts, they were the portals between our realities. The dancer reached through them with her feet and arms, she dropped her hospital boots through and they magically appeared on the ground around my cot. In brief moments our eyes would meet and I felt how we were both trapped by the sound of the machine.

Eventually I found myself first peeking at the screen beside me, then staring at it, and then looking further to the third screen. I tried to soak in all the different versions of the dance happening above me. Time disappeared, the droning sound of the MRI machine remained, but when the plexiglass took the patient away from my screen for a second time, I saw my chance and escaped the machine.

I felt guilty leaving, because I knew she would be back and I would be gone. Our connection – our mutual support system – was broken, but she had to remain.

Naomi Jaye's MRI video installation
Nick Lachance


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Chippewar’s massive installation reflects on Indigenous genocide in Canada Thu, 07 Oct 2021 22:55:22 +0000 The Anishinaabe artist cast 1,250 replicas of bison skulls for his Luminato Festival monument to the country's violent history

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BUILT ON GENOCIDE Ontario Square at Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West. To October 24. Free.

This Thanksgiving weekend, consider pairing your turkey dinner with a visit to Built On Genocide, a Luminato Festival installation by Anishinaabe artist Jay Soule, aka Chippewar, depicting bison skulls in a heaping mound surrounded by imagery of all the ways Canada continues its violence against Indigenous people.

The mound of skulls standing 14 feet high is meant to reflect traumatic archival photos of Bison remains reaching 10 storeys after settlers slaughtered them to starve Indigenous people off their lands.

And though the installation is on display well beyond Thanksgiving weekend, which celebrates some fabricated story about positive relations between settlers and the Wampanoag people at Plymouth Rock, Soule agrees it’s a good time to visit and confront the real and traumatic history of these lands. This is his monument to Canadian history, erected just as all those John A. Macdonald statues upholding a false narrative are being defaced or torn down.

A closer look at the Bison skull replicas from Chippewar's installation depicting the genocide of Indigenous people in Canada
Cassandra Popescu

Soule began conceiving the installation a few years ago when there was discussion about Canada’s first prime minister appearing on currency or having buildings, streets and parks named after him. He went down a rabbit hole of research, learning about Macdonald’s role in the clearing of the plains and the decimation of the buffalo.

“Within the Canadian history context, it’s presented in a different way,” Soule tells NOW over Zoom. He explains that textbooks written by colonizers suggest buffalo were slaughtered to clear a path for the railroad, when in reality the violence contracted to men like Mississauga-raised Buffalo Bill was a means to dispossess Indigenous people of their land, resources and livelihood.

“For the peoples of the plains and Indigenous people, the buffalo was a very sacred animal. It fed them. It clothed them. It housed them. On executive order of John A. Macdonald, [settlers] would shoot the buffalo. Skin it. The pelts could be sold. The meat was discarded. The bones were piled into these massive mounds. They say at the time of European contact, there was anywhere from 60 to 100 million bison that roamed North America from Canada all the way down to Mexico. And they were decimated to 400-600 left in the wild, purely as a means of starving Indigenous people off their land.”

Soule adds that the mounds of bison bones and skulls, which his installation depicts in miniature, would be shipped by rail and water to England, where it was crushed and refined into bone china.

“A lot of people don’t understand that the idea of giving bone china as a wedding gift is a by-product of genocide. A lot of people within Canada and the United States have a collection of bone china, not even understanding that true history of it.”

Built On Genocide confronts the history of how Canada starved the Indigenous people off their land
Cassandra Popescu

While Soule had conceived the installation years before, the museums, galleries and various funders he initially pitched it at dragged their heels. He finally presented it to Luminato. After some delay securing financing, the multidisciplinary arts festival commissioned the massive undertaking.

After sourcing a real bison skull to create the mould, Soule and three helpful hands worked 26 eight-hour days casting more than 1,250 replica skulls in assembly-line fashion. Soule says he developed carpal tunnel syndrome from that labour before even having to sand, refine and paint the skulls.

“I never realized during that whole process how it’s affecting my mental health,” says Soule. “You’re surrounded by a big pile of death on a daily basis.”

The mound of bison skulls at Harbourfront Centre is surrounded by 20 posters: 19 images and an info sheet reflecting all the different ways Canada has and continues to commit genocide against Indigenous people, as defined by the United Nations. The posters have that bitter and confrontational sense of humour we expect from Chippewar, while grappling with the missing and murdered, Sixties Scoop, residential school, mass incarceration, the lack of clean water and forced sterilization.

“Canada presents itself internationally as this peace-loving nation,” says Soule, adding that he wanted to counter that narrative with posters that mimic Soviet and Nazi propaganda. “Canada presents its relationship with Indigenous people as a harmonious one, when in fact we know it’s not the truth. I thought to do my posters in a propaganda style to flip the narrative. Here’s my true narration of where we are today in Canada.”


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Immersive Klimt art show to debut in Toronto Fri, 17 Sep 2021 14:31:11 +0000 The symbolist master is the latest European painter to get the digital treatment

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The creative team behind Immersive Van Gogh are readying a digital art show based on the work of symbolist master Gustav Klimt.

Running October 21 to November 28, Immersive Klimt: Revolution will have its world premiere in the Toronto Star building at 1 Yonge. The show was created by artist Massimiliano Siccardi and composer Luca Longobardi, the team behind the Van Gogh show.

Producers at Lighthouse Immersive are billing this one as more sensual and playful than the melancholic Van Gogh tribute.

Whereas Van Gogh emphasized the Dutch painter’s thick, post-Impressionist brush strokes and landscapes, this show promises to mix classical and more graphic modern influences. Art history nerds will notice references to Byzantine mosaics, art nouveau, Klimt’s seminal works Tree Of Life and The Kiss, as well as art by his contemporaries Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser.

“Klimt was a leader through a time of unrest among artists who wanted to completely reimagine what art could be and make art that favoured graphic style and symbolism,” producer Svetlana Dvoretsky said in a statement. “He was a bold provocateur, particularly in his daring portrayal of the female form. The exhibit bathes the viewer in the sensual colours and golden glow of the period while also evoking the thrilling energy of times of change.”

The Austrian artist was active in the late 1800s and early 1900s and is known for creating lavishly detailed and allegorical works that were considered “pornographic” by some people’s standards at the time. He was the leader of an art movement known as the Vienna Secession.

Immersive art and experiences have become a major trend in recent years – with everyone from the producers of Drag Race touring shows to installation artists describing what they are doing as “immersive.”

These large-scale digital reimaginings of European master painters are generally based on 360-degree digital video projections in contained rooms. Since Immersive Van Gogh debuted last summer, another “immersive” show has opened not far away: Beyond Monet. That show has had its run extended through November 7.

Asked what he thinks of critics who call these shows gimmicky, Siccardi told NOW last summer that museums allow viewers to see the entirety of a classic painting, but immersive art is about going “inside” to uncover “expressive potential.”

“I like to think that after enjoying an immersive work of mine about a great author, people go and see it ‘live,'” he said.

Toronto’s Lighthouse Immersive has taken over five stories of the 1 Yonge Street building that previously housed the Toronto Star printing presses. It includes a main gallery that is 600,000 cubic feet, three additional galleries, offices, two gift shops and a cafe. The company has since opened galleries in Chicago, New York City and San Francisco and plans to open locations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas later this year as part of an 18-city rollout.

Later this month, the company will open two modern dance-based shows: Mikhail Baryshnikov: Looking For The Dance and the world premiere of Touch, a show mixing live dance and digital projections by choreographer Guillaume Côté and artist Thomas Payette. The pair previously teamed on the National Ballet of Canada production Frame By Frame directed by Robert Lepage.

Immersive Klimt will take over the space previously home to Gogh By Car, the drive-in version of Immersive Van Gogh that producers created in response to Ontario’s pandemic restrictions in June 2020. The new show will run alongside Immersive Van Gogh and Illusionarium.

Tickets go on sale for Immersive Klimt on September 18 via the show’s website.


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An interactive light display is opening under the Gardiner Wed, 15 Sep 2021 18:21:14 +0000 Located in an Exhibition Place storage space, Pulse Topology features 3,000 hanging lights that react to viewers' heartbeats

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An interactive light and sound installation will go on display in a so-called “secret room” under the Gardiner Expressway at Exhibition Place.

Created by Mexican-Canadian media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Pulse Topology features 3,000 hanging lights that react in real time to heartbeats. It will be on display for the month of October.

The free show, a collaboration between the Bentway and Exhibition Place, uses “touchless biometric sensors located throughout the exhibit” to pick up on viewers’ heartbeats and alter the light display, according to a press release. The lights will be arranged to resemble upside-down mountains and valleys.

Pulse Topology will take over a storage space under the Gardiner just west of Strachan that has never been used for a public event before, organizers added.

“This project is a continuation of the Bentway’s growing movement to explore the many possibilities of the Gardiner,” said Bentway co-executive director Ilana Altman in a statement. “For one month, beneath the artery of the Expressway, Rafael’s work will demonstrate the city’s shared agilities, imaginations, and ambitions for the future of Toronto’s infrastructure.”

Storage space under the Gardiner Expressway
Courtesy of the Bentway

The storage space at Exhibition Place has never been open to the public before.

Lozano-Hemmer added that the idea behind the work is to visualize human vital signs after periods of social distancing during the pandemic.

“The piece consists of a labyrinth of lights and speakers reacting to the pulse of participants, creating a connective, immersive experience from individual biometrics, reminding us that we are not alone,” he said in a statement. “The work is a memento mori, celebrating our fleeting existence.”

The Bentway and the Ex are also teaming with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to bring health-care workers from across the city to see the light display and be the first add their heartbeats to the work.

Pulse Topology runs October 2-31. Visit to book a time slot.


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Spaced turns Ossington into a walkable outdoor art gallery Sat, 04 Sep 2021 15:00:00 +0000 Banded Purple showcases the work of five Black Canadian artists with a public art project

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SPACED: THE STREET AS A GALLERY on Ossington, from Dundas West to Queen West. To September 24.

The pandemic has inspired many Torontonians to explore the city on foot, and – more and more – art curators are taking note.

But even before COVID-19, there were calls to liberate visual art from gallery walls and make it accessible to people who might feel put off by conventional institutional environs.

“Art needs to be shared publicly,” says Duane Bobbsemple, who runs the creative company Banded Purple. “I’m Jamaican and Guyanese. My parents are immigrants and they felt super intimidated by gallery spaces. Growing up, when I would go to museums, I didn’t see any work that felt validating.”

Working with Nia Centre for the Arts, the city and a handful of brand sponsors, Bobbsemple turned the bustling strip of restaurants on Ossington between Dundas West and Queen West into Spaced gallery, a walking art tour featuring five photo-based works by up-and-coming Black Canadian artists.

The idea grew out of the Black Creators Fund, a GoFundMe page that Bobbsemple started last summer to crowdfund artist grants at a time when many were taking to the streets to protest police brutality and anti-Black racism following the police murder of unarmed Minneapolis man George Floyd.

The campaign raised more than $15,000, which he split between five applicants from across the country. Three of the grantees are featured in Spaced.

“We knew a lot of Black artists would be extremely hard hit by the pandemic so we wanted to do something for them,” he says. “From there, we wanted to give the project some continuity. How do we help these artists get to a bigger platform?”

That’s how Spaced was born. The five artists featured in the exhibition are Toronto’s Jorian Charlton (recently named one of our 10 local artists to watch); Montreal-born Jessie Emilie; Toronto’s Othello Grey, the creator director for clothing store Nomad; Montreal’s Mallory Lowe and Curtiss Randolph, also from Toronto.

Each of their photos reflect on the past 16 to 18 months of the pandemic. And while the world experienced collective trauma, Bobbsemple said the pieces in the show ultimately feel hopeful.

Lowe’s photograph, which is on the wall of rehab centre OCR at 145 Ossington, depicts two people embracing in muddy waters.

“The Black Lives Matter movement made many non-Black folks take notice of Black folks like they never have had to before, and in that photo you’re forced to take stock of the essence of their Blackness.”

Othello Grey's portraits capture longing and loneliness at the corner of Dundas West and Ossington.
Courtesy of Banded Purple

Othello Grey’s portraits capture longing and loneliness at the corner of Dundas West and Ossington.

Further north, Grey’s two portraits on the side of West Neighbourhood House (248 Ossington), a social service non-profit at the corner of Dundas West, evoke longing and loneliness. Bobbsemple felt the large brick walls had a desolate feel that gave the work necessary room to breathe.

“The mood and the feel of that location complemented his photos very well,” he says. “Blowing them up on a grand scale looks amazing at that site.”

Other artworks are on the side of clothing shop Permission (127 Ossington), cigar distributor House of Horvath (77 Ossington) and at 1082 Queen West.

Prior to the pandemic, Banded Purple primarily focused on arts and culture events. Bobbsemple expects more of his focus will shift to outdoor art for reasons that are both practical but also necessary given how much time people have been spending inside. He says public art adds a dynamism to city streets that Toronto needs more of.

“If I came out of my house on Monday and there was nothing there, and then on Tuesday there was this huge mural, I just think that’s going to alter my day in a positive way,” he says. “Just getting people outside and doing something engaging hopefully provides a bit of inspiration.”

Mallory Lowe's photo on the side of OCR (145 Ossington)
Courtesy of Banded Purple

Mallory Lowe’s photo on the side of OCR (145 Ossington) invite viewers to contemplate the essence of Black life.

Visit @bandedpurple on Instagram for a map of the artworks. Spaced runs through September 24.


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Beyond Monet: An immersive art show about intense individualism Fri, 13 Aug 2021 21:00:01 +0000 The latest digital art experience to hit Toronto plays up the critical backlash to the French Impressionist painter

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BEYOND MONET: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, North Building (255 Front West). $30-$100. To November 7.

In the 1995 movie Clueless, the lead character Cher Horowitz described the blurry style of French painter Claude Monet like this: “From far away, it’s okay, but up close it’s a big old mess.”

It’s hardly the first cutting remark directed at the founder of Impressionism, who was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a new “immersive” art experience world premiering at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this weekend makes clear, critics initially hated Monet’s obsessive focus on his own particular conceptions of reflection and light.

The Impressionist movement was all about rendering one’s own perception, rather than an accurate representation of the world. Per a quotation featured in the show, the art critic Albert Wolff once described Monet’s work as “the appalling spectacle of human vanity drifting into insanity.”

It’s appropriate given that the recent trend in “immersive” digital projection experiences based on copyright-free artwork by European masters has also been widely derided by critics as gimmicky.

Audiences seem to think otherwise. Beyond Monet is the second major event of its kind running in Toronto. Last summer, Immersive Van Gogh opened at the former Toronto Star printing plant, and it’s continuing its run this summer. The exhibition has also expanded to several cities, including San Francisco and New York, where Madonna caught the show in June.

These immersive experiences feel like digital reimaginings of the Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama’s analog Infinity Mirror Rooms, a physically distanced art show that became a social media craze before the words “physically distanced” were popular vernacular: You go into the space alone or with one or two other people, let the images wash over you and then share what you saw on social media.

Similar to Kusama’s trajectory, Van Gogh and Monet were ignored or derided early on only to be later (or in Van Gogh’s case, posthumously) vindicated as visionaries. Mental health struggles, loneliness, intense subjectivity and the concept of infinity are present in the work of all three artists. Beyond Monet specifically dwells on Impressionism’s intense individualism, and the backlash the style elicited when the artist was alive.

People watch the immersive art show Beyond Monet
Courtesy of Beyond Monet

How immersive is Beyond Monet?

There are a few differences between Immersive Van Gogh and Beyond Monet, but the main one is that Beyond Monet is full of historical context that clearly spells out the show’s themes. The former is strictly a sensory experience with little background on the artist provided.

After filling out a COVID survey and heading to the third floor of the Convention Centre, you enter the exhibition through large black curtains.

The first room you encounter is inspired by Monet’s Water Lilies. It’s a pink-and-purple-hued hall full of flat reflective ponds, wooden bridges and hanging placards with short paragraphs outlining the significance of Monet’s life and work. The sound of babbling brooks, chirping birds and ambient, spa-like music attempts to add motion to this oddly stilted, stagey analog introduction to his landscapes, seascapes and industrial scenes.

This room paints Monet as a misunderstood radical attempting to shift from a kind of realist objectivity and emphasis on information to a style that accentuated subjectivity and atmosphere. His way of questioning the accepted, authoritative view of the world flummoxed critics, and feels of a piece with the various cultural reckonings and artistic reassessments happening today.

Next, you walk down a darkened hall shrouded in dangling reflective plastic strips and enter the a large, oval-shaped room. A 360-degree projection cycles through Monet’s paintings, blurring, blending, cross-fading and swirling the work into mood pieces that run a gamut from calming to anxious. You can sit on a large gazebo at the centre of the room, or wander around dark reflective distancing circles on the ground, some of which are elevated as seating.

Each section of the show, which repeats on a loop, is punctured by quotations that underscore Monet’s renegade subjectivity, as well as various reactions to the work. At one point, quotes from critics are contrasted with quotes of the artist describing his intentions.

As you’d expect, the abstracted nature of Monet’s paintings leads to some beautiful, eye-popping and psychedelic animated moments. But Normal Studio artists Mathieu St-Arnaud and Félix Fradet-Faguy’s techniques sometimes veer into cookie-cutter motion graphics, particularly when it comes to animating scenes of boats and waves.

These immersive shows all have similar tricks, but Beyond Monet doesn’t quite transcend its environment. Whereas Immersive Van Gogh took over an industrial relic and transformed it completely, this show can’t hide its convention-hall trappings. From the carpet to the curtains and the visible lighting rigs, these elements take you out of the experience. There’s also one chair-shaped metallic surface ideal for an Impressionist selfie; it also conceals the emergency fire equipment.

In other words, Beyond Monet could’ve been a bit more immersive.

But what the show lacks in finesse, it makes up for with thoughtful curatorial framing. The painter’s work, as one card in the Water Lilies hall explains, articulates a “desire to share and communicate what simultaneously sets us apart and unites us; our perception of the world around us.”

On one hand, these immersive shows are ideal for pandemic entertainment as they’re spacious enough to weather potential rollbacks in capacity restrictions.

But thematically they also straddle lines between solitary and collective experience, our urges toward hyper-individualism and connection, and the push-pull between personal autonomy and collective responsibility. You’re essentially walking into a liminal space between these extremes in which the current cultural tension is abstracted and reflected back at you as mass entertainment.

This story was updated on September 17, 2021 to include show’s the extended run date.


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10 Toronto visual artists to watch in 2021 Thu, 05 Aug 2021 11:00:00 +0000 Emerging local artists tell us how they weathered a turbulent year full of online exhibitions, CERB and uncertainty

The post 10 Toronto visual artists to watch in 2021 appeared first on NOW Magazine.

Avleen Kaur in studio
Samuel Engelking

Avleen Kaur’s first solo exhibition opened at Cry Baby Gallery in March.

Major and independent galleries are finally reopening after months of rolling lockdowns and indefinite delays. For Toronto artists that rely on gallery shows, it’s been 16 months of headaches.

One unforeseen benefit of the pandemic was that it allowed artists to step back from the daily grind and hone their practices. For emerging artists, the idea of sustaining on art alone can seem impossible. Many must work several jobs to cover their rent and basic needs, which often leaves them burnt out and unable to focus on creating.

When the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) took effect last year, it completely changed things for artists who all of a sudden found themselves with ample amounts of an elusive resource: time. With less stress about keeping the lights on, they saw themselves going to the studio every single day instead of whenever they could find a couple of free hours, exploring new mediums and creating uninhibitedly.

However, we’re still in a global pandemic and even with the CERB, people have been struggling emotionally. Some channelled that into their work, others took breaks and others felt lost in limbo as exhibition opening delays dragged on.

NOW spoke with 10 emerging Toronto artists about how the past 16 months have impacted their work, lives and how they approach their art.

Avleen Kaur

Kaur’s first solo show, This Is Not A Happy Show, opened in March at Cry Baby Gallery, during that lucky three-week pocket when lockdown restrictions were loosened. After a few delays, her arresting, abstract figurative oil paintings could finally be seen in person. They tantalize and entice viewers to lean in closer to explore trauma and tragedy. They can be discomforting and unsettling but that’s the intention. In October, she’ll head to Portugal to do a residency at PADA Studios.

“I try really hard to be online – like try in capital letters – but it’s not easy because I don’t want my art to just exist online. Because the work is texture-based and so many of the pieces are monochromatic or a single colour, you have to view them in person to see the depth and the way the light hits them. People really came out and supported the show and I think that’s because anyone seeing my Instagram could tell the work would be much more interesting in real life. We went so long without being able to see things. I am personally so tired of looking at screens and even though there have been great shows happening online, I can’t feel it.

“My practice also changed drastically [during the pandemic], because I was just over everything. I was over trying my best. The studio became a breeding ground for better artistic exploration. I started using a lot more texture and I wasn’t afraid to waste more paint because honestly, the world was dying, I was broke, I didn’t care. It was the first time I enjoyed making studio time an extensive part of my day.”

Celebrating Black Queer Lives Mural (2021), a public mural in aerosol and latex paint by Curtia Wright, is on display at 529 Oakwood.
Celebrating Black Queer Lives Mural (2021), a public mural in aerosol and latex paint by Curtia Wright, is on display at 529 Oakwood. (Courtesy of the artist)

Curtia Wright

Wright’s joyful and playful technicolour wonderlands can be found on lampposts, building facades and electric boxes across Toronto. The multidisciplinary artist and muralist is booked and busy with commissions for mural works thanks to an influx of funding from the city’s Year of Public Art. But her fine art practice is trailing a bit, mostly because she doesn’t have a dedicated studio space. She’s also an instructor at Durham College, teaching drawing, painting and video editing. Teaching throughout the pandemic has been challenging.

“My practice hasn’t really slowed down due to COVID, it just shifted more towards mural arts. I don’t have a studio right now and I’m working out of my living room. I got a new dog and I have a cat so I can’t work with oils or anything toxic. I’m working on very small pieces using gouache and acrylic.

“Studio space is always hard to find but with COVID it’s even more difficult. I don’t want to be in a space where there are other people and you have to wear a mask for the whole time you’re in the studio. I would feel really paranoid and anxious, like watching what I touch and how close I get to people.

“I always have to feel in the mood to make art now, which is so wack. Anytime I feel good, I’ll do a little drawing, it’s therapeutic. As anxiety-ridden as I am, I miss going to shows and seeing my art friends and talking about art. That’s why I’m struggling so much in thinking about where I’m going next with my fine art, because I don’t have any feedback. It’s an echo chamber over here.

“The most difficult aspect of teaching now has been talking with students finishing their degrees during the pandemic. Some of my students were really going through it and I had to try not to cry every class.”

Toronto street artist Renaissance
Samuel Engelking

Renaissance turned the streets of Toronto into a gallery during the pandemic.


The anonymous street artist Renaissance creates art outside of the establishment, turning the streets of Toronto into the artist’s own blank canvas. Their “post-it notes for the people” started popping up around the city in 2020, with messages spray-painted onto boarded up buildings that read “You Are Not Your Mistakes” or “The Sky Is Falling Hold Breath & Wear Mask.” Renaissance considers them whispers to Black residents of Toronto, like a silent nod. The self-taught artist makes gestural paintings reminiscent of Basquiat on any material they can find – salvaged wood, paper, discarded mattresses – and leaves them for people to find and take for free. During the pandemic they endeavoured to turn the city into an accessible, outdoor gallery. 

“I had this idea to turn Toronto into my gallery. I would find a spot that was boarded up and then I would put the words ‘Afro Gallery’ and I’d leave art there. I wasn’t only putting up graffiti-style art in the streets, I was leaving paintings on paper and canvas and also sculptures. I was creating so much art last summer, I probably donated about 50 paintings and the corners became curated, evolving galleries where people could take the art.  

“I turned all of Kensington Market into an Afro gallery. I left paintings and sculptures at every hydro pole in Kensington. There’s one left but people took all the rest of them. People started going there and wondering what was going on, asking ‘did the city pay for this?’ It was like my own personal Nuit Blanche.”

Artist Akash Inbakumar in studio
Samuel Engelking

Textile artist and ceramicist Akash Inbakumar begins a residency at Harbourfront Centre in September.

Akash Inbakumar

Things haven’t been easy for students graduating into a pandemic. Inbakumar completed their undergrad at OCAD University in 2020 and instead of having pieces shown at GradEx – the culmination of years of work – their thesis remained unfinished. The textile artist and ceramicist invites viewers into their dream world, creating wearable sculptures and installations meant to be interacted with. Despite the uncertainty, Inbakumar was recently part of a group show (this house, made and mended by unbelonging hands) at Riverdale Curatorial Projects and they begin a residency at the Harbourfront Centre in September.

“I went into a little bit of a dark place where I was like, ‘I don’t know how to continue my work in a pandemic.’ I graduated and I didn’t even finish my final project, it just got cut. I felt like I was out in the world with nothing to do. For the first few months, I was not making anything, I was just really trying to grapple with what was going on.

“I pivoted to techniques I had never thought I would use but that were doable at home, like crocheting and hand stitching. My work is primarily weaving or ceramics but I didn’t have access to a ceramic studio and I use a big floor loom to weave and I just don’t have a big enough living space so right now it’s dismantled and in storage. YouTube became my teacher in quarantine. That’s how I learned to crochet. I’ve also been collaborating with other textile artists Kristi Chen and Leeay Aikawa to learn backstrap weaving. It’s a popular technique in South America and Southeast Asia, so we used YouTube as our teacher since none of us are from those cultures nor do we know anyone who could teach us in Toronto.

“My practice has definitely evolved to be more collaborative. During my time at OCAD, I didn’t really have the time or feel invited to collaborate with others. You do your assignment and then hand it in and move on. Over the pandemic – I don’t know if it’s just because of all the social distance – but collaboration has been a way for me to move forward and make dream worlds with other people.”

A photo of Toronto artist Jordian Charlton
Roya DelSol

Jorian Charlton

Charlton’s photo exhibition Out Of Many never opened to the public at Gallery TPW, as it was scheduled to in February. Instead, designer Zoe Osborne created an immersive virtual living room, exhibiting Charlton’s tender and intimate images alongside her father’s collection of archival portraits. Although no one got to see the photos in person, the online launch had upsides. New York City-based art critic and curator Antwaun Sargent was invited to be part of a Zoom talk and upon seeing her photography asked if she would be interested in having it displayed as part of The New Black Vanguard, a touring exhibition of works by Black photographers, currently in Arles, France. The accomplishment is all the more impressive considering Charlton only started shooting film last year.

“I was feeling down at the beginning of 2020. I felt like my work needed a refresh or a revamp. I went through all my dad’s film photos and I was like, ‘I really need to just start shooting film.’ It was something I’d been meaning to try for years. I finally got a medium-format camera and things just took off. I don’t know how it happened but the past year has been the most booked I’ve ever been. 

“Initially the show at TPW was delayed until summer but ultimately we decided to leave it as a virtual exhibition. It felt like things were being dragged out. Things are opening up and people are excited to be able to actually go into galleries but I wasn’t sure if it would hit the same so many months later especially since people had already seen it online. 

“When [curator] Emilie Croning told me she wanted to have Antwaun involved in the launch, I was thrilled because I had recently purchased his book, The New Black Vanguard, and I could picture my work in it. When someone from Antwaun’s team at Aperture contacted me after the artist talk I was so excited because I feel like we don’t often see Canadian photographers getting their work shown internationally.”

Artist Natalie King in her studio
Samuel Engelking

Natalie King’s mural Bursting With Love is on display at Harbourfront Centre through September 12.

Natalie King

King is an interdisciplinary artist and facilitator who spent the past year considering why she makes art and embracing slowness in her practice. Working full-time between Tuesdays and Saturdays at Xpace Cultural Centre as a programming coordinator and then at her studio all day Saturday through Monday, the pandemic helped her realize that “no days off” is not a flex. Her mural, Bursting With Love, is on display at Harbourfront Centre through September 12.

“I’ve been thinking about the interconnectedness that draws me to making art. My culture, as an Anishinaabe person, is based on my relationships, so being away from friends, family and community really made me reach inside of myself. It’s like a running-on-empty feeling, taking stuff that’s super personal and putting it into your work without having community to fall back on. A lot of us have been working through grief, not only about being away from folks but also grief in terms of how COVID has severely impacted Black, Indigenous and people of colour communities and not wanting to overexert ourselves at the rate of capitalism.

“Art organizations are snapping back. All of these shows are opening and I’ve noticed an eagerness from certain organizations to work with Indigenous people and engage with Indigenous art without realizing that we’re in a state of grief and a state of shock. 

“Through the course of the pandemic we also reevaluated how we do our programming at Xpace. We were doing 26 exhibitions a year and it took this period for us to realize that’s not sustainable. Especially as an artist-run centre, we all have our own artistic practices and we’re all BIPOC administrators, constantly doing the most, mentoring artists, helping them write grants, supporting every way we can. It took the pandemic for us to realize we don’t have to follow that model anymore, we can make it work for us and do fewer shows of higher quality.”

Toronto artist Marina Stojkovic in studio
Samuel Engelking

Marina Stojkovic

Stojkovic’s painted figures often look like spectres in the throes of passion or anguish. The evocative oil paintings are immediately eye-catching but they’re not the only thing Stojkovic creates. She also makes silver jewellery, ceramics and installation art and recently started painting clothing. She likes to keep her practice multi-faceted. Like many others, the past year was a period of personal upheaval as she found ways to process through all these different mediums. Acquiring a studio space with money saved from CERB also helped regulate her daily practice.

“Universal income is something that every artist should have. Before the pandemic, I was working as a retail manager – overworking really. I never had time for my practice and then out of nowhere, the world stopped. It was really painful and I didn’t know how to go about it. So I started getting CERB. I was lucky to be able to save part of it, I know that’s a privilege. My partner motivated me to put the savings toward an affordable studio space because I couldn’t create the way I wanted to at home. Since then, I’ve been here every single day. The work just pours out of me. Even in the midst of all of this pain and suffering that the world is experiencing, I have a way to translate it into something.

“My studio mates and I have been thinking of putting on a show here. I have applied to so many galleries during COVID, because I have the time, and I haven’t been lucky to find anywhere to show my work. One of my biggest anxieties is everything going online and NFTs. I want people to actually see my work.”

Timothy Yanick Hunter
Samuel Engelking

Timothy Yanick Hunter

Hunter’s practice and exhibitions were impacted from the very onset of the pandemic. His solo exhibition Basic Instructions Before Leaving Everything at A Space Gallery was scheduled to open a week after the first lockdown in March 2020. (It may reopen in January 2022, nearly two years behind schedule.) Then, a curatorial project in Chicago got cancelled. The same trend continued into 2021, with a group show at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington postponed from March until July and a Contact Photo Festival show with Isabel Okoro at Gallery 44 pushed back to September. It’s been 16 months of stalled openings for the multidisciplinary artist and curator. He is the AGO’s artist-in-residence until September 30, working on bringing his COVID project, the digital exhibition True And Functional, into the museum.

“I’ve been going to the studio every day. It’s been a strange time to be busy. Things feel real, but not real at the same time. When you have projects coming and then the dates get pushed, it’s hard to stay organized without deadlines. I have these pieces that should be finished but they’re not because there’s no end date in sight. 

“At the beginning, I was a bit demoralized because I didn’t feel I could work in the capacity I’m used to. My whole workflow got shuffled. I couldn’t go to the Toronto Reference Library, where I do a lot of my research. The hardware stores were closed so I couldn’t get material. I’ve only really got back into the swing of things recently. I’m lucky though because I can do a lot of my work digitally.

“It was super helpful that even though my shows were delayed, the contracts were honoured and I was paid on the original schedules. I also received a couple grants from the Toronto and Ontario Arts Council.”

From left to right: Yan Wen Chang's Star Painting (2021), Self-Portrait (2021), Two dragonflies as mother and daughter forever flying in circles around the only rose in Kuala Lumpur (2021) and Thursday Nights (2021).
Laura Findlay / Courtesy of the artist

From left to right: Yan Wen Chang’s Star Painting (2021), Self-Portrait (2021), Two dragonflies as mother and daughter forever flying in circles around the only rose in Kuala Lumpur (2021) and Thursday Nights (2021).

Yan Wen Chang

It’s been a period of triumphant success for Chang: She started her MFA at Guelph University and got sober. She credits the latter with making the former a seamless and fruitful experience. The painter is currently working toward her 2022 thesis exhibition, contemplating the American Dream and how it’s been perverted or never really existed at all. As an immigrant who moved to Canada at 17 alone from Malaysia, chasing the dream of a better life fascinates her. Since she began work on her master’s, she has also exhibited in a group show at A.D. Gallery in New York City and continued a series of hand-painted handbags that she makes collaboratively with her mother, who still lives in Malaysia.

“I had a really good year of making art. I’ve been sober for a year and three months. I got sober at the same time I started school and it gave me that focus and discipline to make work every day. 

“I stayed in Toronto for my first year and all my classes were online. Each semester we had critiques and I was making paintings larger than I’ve ever worked on before. I spent 12 hours a day in my studio and I had this separate space where I hung all the paintings and documented them. It was so strange that no one saw them, that I was essentially making paintings to be viewed only online. My professors didn’t see them in person until months later.

“It’s been a strange year for me, but it was really good for my practice. I entered my MFA at a precarious time and it’s only with huge amounts of privilege that I get to create work during a pandemic. It’s insane to think that people we’re working their asses off to save people’s lives and I was allowed to do this. But making art is the only thing I know how to do, and it’s the best thing I can do in this world.”

The Alchemist, a painting by Nathan E. Carson.
The Alchemist, a painting by Nathan E. Carson. (Courtesy of the artist)

Nathan E. Carson

The Power Plant exhibited Carson’s show Cut From The Same Cloth last fall. His first solo at a major institution, it comprised paintings and mixed media works he made between 2015 and 2020. The figurative pieces explore the multiplicity of Black identity and Carson’s own relation to growing up Black in a white world. An expanded version of the exhibition is set to tour five other Canadian cities, and Carson hopes it makes its way to the U.S. The pandemic altered his practice, with subsidies like CERB giving his mind room to wander, allowing him to tap into what he calls a deeper sense of “knowing.”

“As soon as things shut down, my inspiration kicked in. I was like: The government’s going to give you money to live, you don’t have to work for someone else. This is your dream come true, Nathan. Get on your floor and just start working. I will probably never go back to working for somebody else again after this. Before I was teaching meditation, working at a yoga studio – anything to allow me time in my studio.

“The reason I moved to Hamilton [prior to the pandemic] is the cost of living in Toronto is so high. I’m super blessed, right now my rent is $600. But if I left here, I don’t even know where I would find that again. People can’t afford to do what they’re meant to do, because they’re doing so many other things just to survive. With CERB, I had extra money leftover. Most artists need a lot of time and space to sit with the work and figure out what’s coming through.

“During the pandemic my father passed, and then the very next day the Power Plant showed up at my studio and asked if I wanted to have my first solo show. It felt like heaven was on my side. I feel like the exhibition validated my work in the eyes of some people. I always knew the work was good and that’s why I’ve kept at it for so long. The Power Plant really showed other people what I can do and the breadth of the work.”


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Major show devoted to Caribbean history to open at AGO Wed, 04 Aug 2021 17:26:55 +0000 Fragments Of Epic Memory will mark the first chance to see photos from the gallery's Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs

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Untitled, 7 Women (2019), a unique picotage on inkjet print, coloured pencil and spray paint on museum board by Paul Anthony Smith (101.6 x 127 cm). Part of the Hott Collection, New York. courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Untitled, 7 Women (2019), a unique picotage on inkjet print, coloured pencil and spray paint on museum board by Paul Anthony Smith (101.6 x 127 cm). Part of the Hott Collection, New York. courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Untitled, 7 Women (2019), a unique picotage on inkjet print, coloured pencil and spray paint on museum board by Paul Anthony Smith (101.6 x 127 cm). Part of the Hott Collection, New York. courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Three years after the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) acquired a significant collection of historical photos of the Caribbean, the museum is putting the work on display.

Opening on September 1, Fragments Of Epic Memory will feature a small selection of images from the Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs, as well as a mix of contemporary and newly commissioned works by artists Ebony Patterson, Sir Frank Bowling, Rodell Warner, Sandra Brewster and Zak Ové.

It marks the first show organized through the AGO’s new Department of Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, headed up by curator Julie Crooks.

“Inspired by the writing of post-war Caribbean writers and poets such as Derek Walcott, Kamau Braithwaite and others, the exhibition is loosely chronological, charting the post-emancipation period and highlighting the arrival of commercial photography to the region the 1840s, alongside exceptional modern and contemporary art by artists with ties to the region,” the gallery said in a statement.

“The story of the Caribbean, the diaspora and its artists aren’t one story, but a range of histories, media, voices and lived experiences, best understood through the interplay of them all,” Crooks added in a statement. “Toronto is also home to one of the world’s largest Caribbean communities, and the work of local artists like Sandra Brewster, Natalie Wood and Vancouver’s Charles Campbell is a significant part of the transnational story we’re telling.”

The show is the public’s first chance to see photos from the Montgomery Collection, which includes over 3,500 artifacts, from daguerreotypes and albums to photos showing the region between the Caribbean’s post-slavery and pre-independence period (1840-1940). The collection encompasses portraits, landscapes and other subjects, mainly shot by European and American photographers in the region.

“Most of the photos were generated by Europeans for the purposes of tourism, and yet these photos were used to illustrate what slavery was like,” collector Patrick Montgomery told NOW in 2019. “There is need for a great deal of scholarship to better understand what the photos show and to put them in their proper context.”

The AGO was able to secure the collection thanks two years of fundraising efforts within Toronto’s Black and Caribbean communities led by collector and AGO board member Kenneth Montague.

Fragments Of Epic Memory will also include a newly commissioned 18-foot-high mixed media sculpture by Trinidadian British-born artist Zak Ové entitled Moko Jumbie. It will be unveiled in the AGO’s atrium ahead of the exhibition’s opening.

Works spanning painting, sculpture and video installations by than 30 artists are represented in the show.

Guyanese-born painter Sir Frank Bowling’s massive Middle Passage (1970), a loan from the National Gallery of Canada, will be on display. Paul Anthony Smith’s Untitled, 7 Women (2019), on loan from the Hott Collection, uses a technique called picotage’ to obscure subjects with textural geometric patterns that mimic ornate Caribbean architectural elements.

Other works include photos by Vanley Burke and Robert Charlotte, paintings by Leasho Johnson and multi-media works by Suchitra Mattai and Andrea Chung.

The show will be on display through February 21.

The AGO reopened to the public on July 21 after Ontario entered step 3 of the reopening plan.

Other shows on display include the first solo museum exhibition by Toronto-born Chinese Canadian artist Matthew Wong, entitled Matthew Wong: Blue View, opening on August 17; and a retrospective on pop art icon Andy Warhol, which runs to October 24.


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Esmaa Mohamoud is turning the white gaze on its head Sat, 17 Jul 2021 15:43:55 +0000 The Markham based sculptor's latest work for Contact Festival continues her foray into questions around Black masculinity

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If you’ve walked past Queens Quay and Bay lately you’ve probably seen Esmaa Mohamoud’s piece for Contact Photography Festival, The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us, By Us).

It’s hard to miss and that’s intentional. The sprawling image is on the largest outdoor banner in Canada, spanning 37 by 144 feet. 

Two figures in a body of water stand apart from each other while connected by a twin-headed durag. Their piercing gazes look out over their shoulders and down at us, commanding attention. Is it defiance in their eyes? Or is it assuredness? Perhaps it’s the unspoken certainty that they deserve to take up all this space.

“There’s an exchange that’s happening with the viewer,” said Mohamoud in a phone interview. “It’s very hard to escape their gaze, like no matter where you’re walking on that street, those eyes follow you. The power dynamics really change once you blow up bodies to that scale.” 

The way that Black masculinity is simultaneously hyper-visible and invisible was front of mind for Mohamoud when conceiving the piece. Black male identity is stereotypically portrayed as threatening, hard and aggressive. It’s a lazy and racist depiction that flattens it, stripping it of nuance, rendering a more genuine multitude of representations invisible.

The former NOW cover star is known for sculptures that explore these ideas intimately, considering all the limitations that work to control and pigeonhole Black people – keeping them in a position to be continuously extracted from. She often does this through the lens of professional sports, industries that are largely built on the labour of Black players to the benefit of white owners. 

The Brotherhood is the first piece in a line of new work that veers away from her previous basketball and football-themed pieces, focusing on a more general sense of Black masculinity.

Shortly after the piece was unveiled in June, Mohamoud brought her father to see it. 

“It was a big moment, because my father has never seen Black people represented in this way and he’s never seen my work this large. As soon as we got out of the car, it started pouring but he was so excited he just stood in the rain and enjoyed the piece.”

His desire to look longer and take it all in aligns with Mohamoud’s intention to create an image that shows a kind of Blackness that feels authentic to Black people. Even though thousands of people will see this over the two years that it will be displayed, she is speaking directly to her community.

“[It’s about] seeing Black people represented how we want to be represented, rather than how we’ve been represented by others.

The two figures in the image are friends of Mohamoud’s and fellow artists, Noah Brown and Timothy Yanick Hunter. Over the years she’s had countless conversations about Black masculinity with them both. When deciding who she wanted to photograph, she was looking for Black men in her life that had left an indelible effect on her. 

She decided to shoot them in Lake Ontario because from what she could recollect, she hadn’t seen many images of Black people in the Canadian landscape – outside of farming, toiling, and labouring. She also wanted to place them in a body of water because “water holds stories of triumph and despair for Black people from the Transatlantic Slave Trade to our arrival in Canada.” 

A sculpture meant to accompany the mural has been delayed until late 2022 because of the pandemic. It’s a two-headed durag like the one worn by Brown and Hunter in the image, cast in bronze with a black finish. One side of the sculpture is designed to look as if neatly laid cornrows are just below the surface of the durag and the other side has waves, a hairstyle that involves brushing out curly hair and setting it so it resembles the ripples of water.  

Keeping your hair intact with a durag is a quintessential marker of Black masculinity. You do it for yourself but also to be in communion with the other people who will appreciate the painstaking detail and time put into maintaining the hairstyle. 

Elsewhere in the city, Mohamoud has another public work on display. The Bentway’s Summer of Play programming runs until September 27 and incorporates a number of interactive installations.

Dribble Dribble is Mohamoud’s surreal re-imagining of a basketball court, one without any of the rules that can be a hindrance to accessibility. The multicoloured vinyl court lines are jumbled up and run over each other, the chain mail nets are all at varying heights and different sizes, from five feet to six inches wide. 

“I wanted people to come play basketball, but I wanted them to make up their own rules. So many people feel like things are inaccessible to them because of the ways that rules are structured. Like, ‘I’m not tall enough to play basketball.’ Well, what if we put a net much lower? Would you want to play then?”

The focus is on playing for joy rather than to win, to create a space for people of all ages to come together and have pure fun. 


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Black Lives Matter to open 10,000-square-foot community hub in Toronto Thu, 08 Jul 2021 21:57:00 +0000 Organizers hope the Wildseed Centre's new home near College and Spadina will sustain Black radical activism and art making

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Black Lives Matter Canada is moving its community-focused art and activism centre Wildseed to a new home this winter. 

The activist organization just signed the papers on the purchase of 24 Cecil, a three-story 10,440-square-foot Victorian house near Chinatown. The first location of Wildseed opened in March 2020, a week before the pandemic began, but the new location is substantially larger than that 1,600-square-foot industrial space on Geary.

The major win for BLM is that the group owns this new building and that makes all the difference in creating longevity for their work.  

“I’m hoping that [Wildseed] represents a sense of sustainability and permanence of Black radical organizing, Black radical artmaking and Black radical creation in the city, because movements definitely have their ebbs and flows,” said Wildseed executive director Jessica Kirk in a phone interview. 

“By having a space that’s here to stay, we’ll be able to create conditions that are a lot more sustainable for Black people across the country.”

The organization secured funding to purchase the property through a mix of public and private donations raised over the past five years, as well as a grant from the larger Black Lives Matter Global network. The property was listed for $8.2 million.

Mike Layton, the city councillor for the area, has announced that Toronto will provide BLM with $250,000 for future programming initiatives. 

Since Wildseed launched last year, the programming has remained virtual but the organization is looking forward to hosting exhibitions and public performances as early as spring 2022. 

Originally, the curators planned on flying in artists from as far as Munich, Germany, to participate in a 20-month fellowship run out of the Geary location. That fellowship has so far only existed online because of the pandemic, but they plan to exhibit work from the visual artists and host performances from the musicians, DJs and dancers in the new building.

With almost 9,000 extra square feet to work with, they’re dreaming big. They plan on creating permanent dance studios, recording booths for musicians and podcasters, space for educational and children’s programming, a community kitchen and garden and more. 

There will also be open-concept, multi-use spaces that people can book for any requirement and meeting rooms. 

The house is in a semi-residential area so they plan on soundproofing the building, which would allow them to host indoor events past 11 pm without having to worry about disturbing neighbours. 

Kirk says Wildseed’s offerings will be informed by the community’s needs, whether that be outdoor wedding ceremonies and block parties, album release parties or art fairs. The possibilities are endless and they have no intention of pigeonholing the space to be one exact thing. They also see the potential for collaborative events and outdoor programming with with their neighbours, Greenpeace and United Steelworkers.

Booking fees for artists and creators to rent space will be kept low and accessible. 

“Black Lives Matter Canada grew out of folks in Toronto recognizing the need for a national connecting point,” said Kirk. Any BLM chapters from across the country can access and book rooms for free. 

“We also are going to be creating a payment system so Black-led grassroots organizations in Toronto get below-market renting costs for the spaces. Finding space is probably one of the most difficult things when you’re just starting out as a grassroots group so we want to make sure that folks are assured that there are safe, affordable, accessible rooms available for them to use.”

The Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter has a history of mixing artistic practice into their activist work and Wildseed is a natural extension of that. They want to continue the movement beyond protest and create a community hub where new forms of organizing can be born. 

“Movements are supposed to sustain themselves and grow over time,” Kirk says. “Having a permanent space allows everybody to grasp onto something that’s tangible and experiment with all of the ideas they have about creating better spaces for our people in the city. Everybody has different ways that they might want to engage with the organizing that has been building up in the city, but not everybody is necessarily comfortable with going to a protest, for example.” 


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The ROM will reopen at the end of July Thu, 08 Jul 2021 18:57:54 +0000 Upcoming programming includes a massive exhibition on great whales and a show devoted to Ethiopian artist Elias Sime

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The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is preparing to reopen later this month after the province enters step 3 of the reopening plan.

Premier Doug Ford’s government has not confirmed the exact date Ontario will enter step 3, but many businesses and cultural spaces allowed to resume or expand operations are starting to announce opening dates while waiting for official health and safety guidelines.

It’s widely expected the province will begin step 3 of the reopening plan on July 20 at the earliest.

“Based on the province’s plan and its current targets, we are projecting a public opening date of July 22, with ROM members offered the chance to enjoy advance access to the Museum on July 21,” the museum said in a statement.

The ROM’s big-ticket exhibition is Great Whales: Up Close And Personal, a follow-up to the popular 2017 whale-centric show Out Of The Depths: A Blue Whale Story. The exhibition, which will have a heavy focus on research and conservation, will be on display through March 20, 2022 in the museum’s largest space.

Other shows opening in July include the highly anticipated Elias Sime: Tightrope, which will showcase 28 of the Ethiopian artist’s layered woven piece and run to September 4; and the ongoing exhibition The Cloth That Changed The World: India’s Painted And Printed Cottons, which is on through January 2.

The ROM will also unveil a newly commissioned portrait of novelist and activist Austin Clarke, who died in 2016. The installation will be on display through February 22, and features an original portrait by artist Neville Clarke.

Exhibitions opening later in the summer and fall months include Breaking The Frame: New Directions In Photo History (August 14 to January 16), a touring exhibition of unconventional photographs by artists including Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams, Malick Sidibe and more.

Unmasking The Pandemic: From Personal Protection To Personal Expression (September 18 to February 21) is a free exhibition featuring more than 60 original face masks that tell stories of communities and cultures globally; and #MyPandemicStory: Portraits of The Pandemic Through The Eyes of Youth (October 9 to February 21), another free COVID-inspired show. It will display crowd-sourced works capturing the pandemic experience through the eyes of kids and teens aged four-18.

The ROM has been closed since November 23. The museum is also launching a new audio tour platform and outdoor programming.

Earlier this week, the Art Gallery of Ontario also announced it would reopen on July 21.


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AGO to reopen on July 21 with Andy Warhol exhibition Wed, 07 Jul 2021 14:35:55 +0000 The museum has announced the summer exhibitions that will go on display after Ontario enters step 3 of the reopening plan

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The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is planning to reopen later this month when the province enters step 3 of the reopening plan.

Major museums will be allowed to welcome back patrons in the third phase of the economic reopening, but Premier Doug Ford’s government has yet to spell out guidelines, capacity limits or dates.

Ontario is widely expected to enter step 3 as early as July 20 given the success of the vaccination campaign and the downward trend in public health indicators in Toronto.

“Pending final confirmation from the province and Toronto Public Health, the gallery will safely open under the public health regulations of step 3 of the Ontario Roadmap to Reopen,” the museum said in a statement. “The AGO preparations have been underway for weeks, with the health and safety of staff members and visitors remaining the top priority.”

The AGO plans to open its doors on July 21 with a major Andy Warhol retrospective that was originally scheduled to go on display in March.

Titled Andy Warhol, the exhibition will explore “the personal, social and political backdrop” that influenced the iconic American pop artist and filmmaker’s work.

The show is a collaboration between London’s Tate Modern, the AGO and Museum Ludwig in Cologne. The works on display will encompass Warhol’s early drawings, celebrity portraits (including Karen Kain and Wayne Gretzky), experimental films, his Silver Clouds floating metallic pillows and the large-scale canvas Christ $9.98 (positive) from Munich’s Museum Brandhorst.

Members will get to see the Warhol show first from July 21-25, followed by annual passholders on July 24. Single-ticket buyers can attend starting July 27.

Other exhibitions opening in July include Ben Woolfitt: Rhythms And Series, an exhibition devoted to the modernist and post-modernist Canadian painter’s drawings; Meditation And The Medieval Mind, which draws on religious art from the AGO’s European collection; Shuvinai Ashoona: Beyond The Visible, featuring 25 primarily new works by the Inuk artist; and Ragnar Kjartansson: Death Is Elsewhere, a video installation by the Icelandic artist that the AGO recently acquired.

Everyone entering the gallery over the age of two must wear a mask and physically distance. Tickets must be booked in advance for timed, 15-minute entry slots. Read the full list of visitor guidelines here.

Following the reopening week, the museum will open at regular hours, Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30 am to 5: 30 pm except Wednesdays and Fridays when gallery hours extend to 9 pm. The AGO’s free Wednesday night programming will resume on July 21 as well.


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Muralist Philip Cote is painting Indigenous stories all over Toronto Thu, 01 Jul 2021 11:00:00 +0000 The artist, historian and educator infuses Indigenous stories and history into public art projects large and small

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If you spend time wandering the streets of Toronto, chances are you’ve come across Philip Cote’s murals. The Anishinaabe-Algonquin painter, historian, young spiritual elder and educator’s work is everywhere – in public spaces big and small, like a traffic signal box in Etobicoke and enveloping the concrete pillars below the Old Mill subway bridge, which depict the Anishinaabe creation story.

He recently collaborated on TTC maps of important Indigenous historic sites and even designed coffee cups for McDonald’s.

Now the artist from Moose Deer Point First Nation in Ontario is preparing to cover the Council Fire Native Cultural Centre building at Parliament and Dundas East with a sun radiating bright colours in Woodland style. Drawing on traditional storytelling, cosmology and oral histories, Cote’s paintings communicate Indigenous history and knowledge independent of colonial narratives. Seeing his culture reflected around the city is something Cote didn’t have growing up in Toronto. It wasn’t until he immersed himself in cultural practices (he’s now a Pipe Carrier, a Sweat Ceremony leader and a Sundancer) that a desire to research and reclaim Indigenous history took hold in his work.

“When I began to put my work out there, I realized that Indigenous people needed to see a reflection,” he says. “We were now at the edge of beginning to really take a deep look and try to figure out who we were after all the colonial measures that were put on us over the last 500 years.

“We have our own stories,” he adds. “And our stories are constantly being filtered through a Eurocentric system that eliminates and marginalizes our oral histories, which are more accurate than the settler narratives used as the foundation of the education system in North America.”

Interviewing Cote is like taking a mini-history lesson. He takes time to concisely summarize the meaning of a particular work, the story behind it and how it’s echoed in current events. It’s not hard to imagine him giving a lecture at a college or leading a historical tour.

His Woodland painting style is infused with Indigenous cosmology, characterized by bold colours with black outlines. It springs from the  creation story: a spirit in the “great, black void” that called for light and darkness, and called the world into being. The elements of this story are represented by the black contours around vivid colours, which he says “speak very deeply about this idea that it was actually the spirit that called the physical world into being. That puts a twist on the way most people understand reality.”

Philip Cote’s mural adorns one side of Duke Redbird’s Wigwam Chi-Chemung boat, docked at Ontario Place all summer.
Samuel Engelking

Philip Cote’s mural adorns one side of Duke Redbird’s Wigwam Chi-Chemung boat, docked at Ontario Place all summer.

Wigwam Chi-Chemung, his collaboration with Duke Redbird, is back on display at the Ontario Place South Marina through October. Since Myseum of Toronto launched the project with Redbird in 2019, the painted boat has hosted thousands of visitors who come by to ask questions and learn about the Indigenous history of the waterfront. Cote’s side of the boat portrays a thunderbird and otter. Water is an appropriate place for people to come and ask questions about history, he says, as water represents the edge of the physical and spiritual worlds – where life comes from.

“You had a lot of activism over the last few years regarding the water carriers,” Cote explains. “It always seems to be faced by the women because the women are the bearers of that water and the ones that bring new life into the world. Having that boat on the water and having people come by to ask questions is a great place to begin to tell our stories.”

As Canada continues to grapple with the legacy of residential schools post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Indigenous voices are starting to disrupt accepted narratives and Cote wants to ensure Indigenous historical sources become more prevalent, rather than colonial archives.

“A lot of times what happened in those days was that the politics were favouring allies that were working with the colonizers as they travelled across the land, expanding their territories and expanding their laws on those territories,” he says. “It’s that history that keeps repeating itself.”

Residential schools, foster care and the education system are among the ways Canadian government policies have sought to eradicate Indigenous culture, languages and people.

For Cote, public murals are a way back to identity for Indigenous people who feel disconnected. And while his visual concepts contain specific stories and meanings, his work is also about stirring an instinctual recognition.

“Blood memory is a sense of knowledge that can be stirred in a person by the person seeing something familiar that our ancestors communicated to us hundreds or even thousands of years ago,” he explains. “Indigenous people aren’t the only ones capable of this kind of memory. Everyone is capable of having these moments where they get a stir in that blood memory and realize there’s something much deeper to their lives than just being a citizen of this country.”


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Toronto’s queer elders bear witness to decades of activism Fri, 25 Jun 2021 17:54:09 +0000 An art installation at Buddies In Bad Times lets 20 queer elders tell their own stories for the new LGBTQ2S+ generation

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The Pride project Return, Seek, Carry documents the stories of 20 queer elders through portraits and oral histories.
Courtesy of Jocelyn Reynolds

The Pride project Return, Seek, Carry documents the stories of 20 queer elders through portraits and oral histories.

Pride Weekend is finally here and things still aren’t what they could be, thanks to the pandemic. But even though the parade isn’t happening IRL, there are still opportunities to get out and explore Toronto’s queer history.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre has produced Pride In Place, reaching out to more than 75 artists to create 22 digital, in-person and object-based projects all over the city. One of them is Return, Seek, Carry, an installation created by Jocelyn Reynolds that presents the stories of 20 queer elders as a combination of portraits and oral histories. (It’s on the side of the Buddies building at 12 Alexander through July 5, and also available in a digital format.)

The goal is to create connections between the past and present generations of LGBTQ2S+ people. On the latest episode of the NOW What podcast, Reynolds and leZlie Lee Kam – who’s one of the project’s facilitators as well as one of its subjects – discuss the project, and how it points the way to a thriving future for everyone.

“That was always one of the original intentions, definitely,” Reynolds says. “To invite a dialogue between past generations and current generations, as well as future generations, by creating this archive. It’s something that a bunch of the elders touched on in their interviews: if we can have these conversations between generations, then there’s really no need for us to keep reinventing the wheel. We can share experiences and we can share wisdom, and then that will help us have these conversations and join forces in order to take down the oppressive institutions and individuals that are still marginalizing us.”

Looking for subjects to share their stories, Reynolds asked Kam – whom she’d met at one of Buddies’ intergenerational peer mixers – to reach out to her friends and fellow activists. And they ran into a couple of unexpected stumbling blocks.

“Every single person that I asked said, ‘Well, I don’t think I’m an elder. I’m too young to be a senior or an elder,’” Kam laughs. “So I had to talk them into that aspect of it [and] say to them, ‘Well, think about all your years of activism.’ And everybody is so modest; this is just the work that we do. These are just the lives that we lead.

“[From our point of view] we are not raging and ranting activists,” Kam continiues. “This is just our everyday; we feel we must do this work in order to survive, and in order for younger people not to have to go through what we went through. So on those two fronts, I had to be persuasive. And now I’m hearing people who are my friends and colleagues in the project saying, ‘Oh, I’m so glad I said yes, thank you so much!’ And Jocelyn made it so easy in terms of the conversations.”

And because NOW is collecting stories of radical moments that shaped Toronto’s queer history, here are Jocelyn and leZlie’s:

“A moment in Toronto’s queer history that was pivotal to the culture was Black Lives Matter-Toronto’s Pride Action in 2016. Their action was a powerful reminder that the first Pride was a protest, that the foundation of our movement is Black trans women, and that our most vulnerable community members are still fighting for their right to survive and thrive in this world.”

– Jocelyn Reynolds

“Mine happened in 1999, when for the first time in the Pride parade queer dykes, lesbians of colour and transgender women took up space, and we went under the banner of Queer Women Colouring The Century. And it was the first time that dykes and lesbians had a big truck, like the white boys – first time, and it’s never happened again – and on our truck we had two gigantic signs. One said ‘Stop police racism’ and the other said ‘Stop the criminalization of peoples of colour.’ And the Toronto police came to us and told us we could not be in the parade with those signs on our truck. And we said, ‘We are going into the parade,’ and they sent two white undercover female officers with their hands on their guns to tell us we could not go into the parade.

“And we defied them, and we surrounded the truck with media and people with cameras – because there were no cell phones back then – and we let them know they were being watched. And they had no choice but to let us go into the parade. So back in 1999 was the first time we defied the police. Dykes and lesbians of colour.”

– leZlie Lee Kam

Hear the entire conversation on the NOW What podcast, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or playable directly below:

NOW What is a twice-weekly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians are coping with life in the time of coronavirus. New episodes are available Tuesdays and Fridays.


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Diane Arbus exhibition opening in Toronto this June Mon, 21 Jun 2021 18:27:42 +0000 Corkin Gallery will open the month-long show Pursuing Difference on June 23

The post Diane Arbus exhibition opening in Toronto this June appeared first on NOW Magazine.

Diane Arbus, Two girls with their grandfather in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962. © The Estate of Diane Arbus. On view at Corkin Gallery (Toronto, Canada). Photo: Kitmin Lee.
The Estate of Diane Arbus / Kitmin Lee

Two girls with their grandfather in Central Park, N.Y.C., a photo by Diane Arbus from 1962.

A year after the pandemic interrupted a major Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition devoted to Diane Arbus, Torontonians will have another chance to check out the iconic American photographer’s work.

Corkin Gallery will open the show Pursuing Difference on June 23 and it will run through July 24. The exhibition will focus on photographs Arbus took during the 1960s, including many in New York City parks.

The show marks 50 years since Arbus took her own life, as well as the 30th anniversary of the photographer’s first Canadian exhibition, also at Corkin Gallery. The AGO has since acquired 500 Arbus photos, 150 of which were on display during last year’s Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956-1971, which was extended into the summer months after the spring lockdown.

“As an American who came to Canada in the late 60s, Arbus represents a cultural era that called for meaningful change,” gallery owner Jane Corkin said in a statement. “It feels important to be bringing Diane Arbus back to the public during a moment in time when people around the world are calling for change once again.”

Recent exhibitions of Arbus’s work tend to frame her black-and-white portraits in the context of contemporary conversations around identity and gender expression.

The show description for Pursuing Difference takes a similar view of her work, connecting the social upheaval of the 60s era to the present day, and emphasizing the artist’s focus on “diverse people whose bodies, genders, abilities and behaviours didn’t necessarily conform with socially prescribed or – sanctioned conventions.”

Corkin Gallery, located in the Distillery District, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm. Exhibitions are also viewable via appointments.


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Toronto artists call on Koffler Centre to divest from United Jewish Appeal Wed, 26 May 2021 00:37:25 +0000 Hundreds have vowed to boycott the arts organization if it doesn't dissociate from groups supporting Zionist goals

The post Toronto artists call on Koffler Centre to divest from United Jewish Appeal appeared first on NOW Magazine.

Hundreds of artists and arts organizations have signed a petition calling on the Koffler Centre of the Arts to divest and cut ties to the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation.

“While the Koffler has shifted to a social justice mandate, presenting work that is critical of settler colonialism and working with numerous racialized and politicized artists and organizations, this has not been extended to the Palestinian context,” reads the petition, which is signed by organizations like the Chinatown Biennial, South Asian Visual Arts Centre and Xspace Cultural Centre.

“This is artwashing,” the petition states, “in service of obfuscating its relationships to funders that uphold Israeli apartheid, namely the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation.”

The petition, which pledges a boycott of the Koffler Centre should it choose not to divest, says the UJA has “explicitly Zionist” goals.

The UJA’s strategic plan mentions strengthening Toronto’s Jewish community ties to Israel and a focus on combatting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. The latter is a Palestinian-led international movement inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and which calls on divestment from Israel.

The UJA is raising funds to support Israel and “initiatives related to the current crisis.” Eleven days of armed conflict between Israeli Defence Forces and Hamas in the Gaza Strip ended last week with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. More than 250 people were killed, the vast majority of them Palestinians.

The fundraising drive, according to the UJA’s website, is supported by, among others, real estate companies RioCan and Metropia.

Tony Hewer, director of marketing, communications and archives at Koffler, said in a statement: “The Koffler Centre of the Arts has received the joint letter from artists raising concerns about our organization and funding relationship. We take the views of the artistic community seriously and are engaging in internal dialogue about how to address the issues raised and provide a response.”

The UJA once disassociated from a 2016 talk the Koffler Centre hosted with Angels In America playwright and Munich screenwriter Tony Kushner because he sits on the advisory board of a group called Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). UJA said it opposed the JVP’s support for the BDS movement. Kushner, who is critical of Israel but didn’t support BDS at the time, told the Globe and Mail that he was “disgusted” with the UJA and compared the organization’s tactics to McCarthyism.

On top of calling on the Koffler Centre to divest from the UJA, the petition demands acknowledgement of “Zionist artwashing” and a public statement supporting the “decolonization” of Palestine. The petition also calls on the Koffler Centre to publicly state that it will not discriminate against artists who express anti-Israeli government views.

The petition describes a 2009 incident when the Koffler Centre cut programming with Jewish artist Reena Katz, aka Radiodress, who supported Israeli Apartheid Week, a series of lectures and rallies at the University of Toronto on the human rights situation in Palestine.

“To refer to Israel as an apartheid state is to call Israel a criminal state and to suggest that it be shut down,” Koffler’s former executive director Lori Starr told NOW’s Susan G. Cole at the time.

The petition notes that there has only been one instance where work by a Palestinian artist was showcased in Koffler’s 44 exhibitions. That was part of a group digital publication in 2020.

“For an organization whose mandate is ‘to value and foster social justice, equality and inclusivity,’ the absence of Palestinian narratives within its programming, or of critiques of the Zionist settler colonial movement, sends a clear statement on who deserves justice and equality and who doesn’t,” the petition states.

NOW has reached out to UJA for comment.


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Torontonians capture life during lockdown for AGO portrait series Tue, 25 May 2021 19:00:15 +0000 Portraits Of Resilience is an online group exhibition of paintings and photographs about how people are coping through the pandemic

The post Torontonians capture life during lockdown for AGO portrait series appeared first on NOW Magazine.

Neighbours - Heather, Nyiah, Isaya, Koa Béo & Mischa, June 2020 by Rick McGinnis
Courtesy of the Artist / AGO

Neighbours – Heather, Nyiah, Isaya, Koa Béo & Mischa, a photo by Rick McGinnis from June 2020.

In March, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) put a call out asking people to submit art to commemorate this “momentous and very difficult year.”

Portraits Of Resilience came together as people of all ages in Toronto and outside of the city submitted photographs, paintings, quilted pieces, illustrations, collages and more to the virtual platform. Now at over 2,000 submissions, the series is an archive of the small and big ways people have survived the pandemic.

Paintings from kids as young as eight are displayed beside the work of seasoned artists well into their careers in an online exhibition that prioritizes community sharing in a time when we can’t convene publicly in the gallery. Some works grapple with immense loss: Joyce Crago’s Worn: Brown (in the gallery below) sees the artist adorn herself in the clothing of her late sister, who she lost to COVID-19.

Portraits Of Resilience also taps into the many ways we have become resilient over the past year, with a clear focus on the virus but also the social and political upheavals we witnessed last summer and the willingness we all have to maintain our connections to humanity despite immeasurable isolation.

Submissions came in from around the world, including Hong Kong, Italy, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States and Turkey, further indicative of the widespread desire to understand these times through art. The AGO is accepting submissions until June 25.

The gallery plans to exhibit some selected works in person next spring, but for now here is a sneak peek into the creative ways Toronto is reflecting on the past 14 months. We asked seven artists to share what resilience means to them right now and how they channelled it into their art-making for Portraits Of Resilience.

A photo of Alexandra Kim's painting, Self Portrait, created for the AGO's Portraits of Resilience

Self portrait, Alexandra Kim, Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Self Portrait, Alexandra Kim

Eight-year-old Alexandra Kim painted this self portrait to express how she was processing the mental toll of the pandemic.

“I don’t like online school because I can’t see and play with my friends and it hurts my eyes. But my teacher is amazing! While painting I wanted to express that even though last year was difficult and I found myself sometimes in a bad mood for no reason and things felt wrong at times, that things were still okay somehow. I love that you are free when you make art and there is no wrong way to do it, you can draw whatever you like with whatever you like. You can use many colours and lots of different materials and there are no rules! I like drawing when I am sad because it makes me feel better.”

Julia Pletneva, Alexandra’s mother, says her daughter “has been drawing non-stop ever since she saw the online exhibition. Looking at other artist’s pieces gave her so many new ideas! So much better for her than sitting in front of the TV.”

A photo of Amanta Scott's encaustic painting of Dr. Theresa Tam

Hygieia’s Voice – Impressions Of Dr. Theresa Tam, Amanta Scott, Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Hygieia’s Voice – Impressions Of Dr. Theresa Tam, Amanta Scott

This encaustic painting of Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer of Canada, is from the artist’s Eyeing Medusa series. It is one of 25 works that were exhibited at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre gallery in March.

“I noticed that in the arts it’s normal to depict women being raped or abused or belittled as frivolous playthings. Women of colour are either hyper-sexualized, depicted as servants or notably absent. Women are either idealized and objectified or vilified and blamed. Prior to the pandemic I was in Italy prowling the galleries and museums, discovering artworks depicting women in various stages of violation and abuse and I found myself thinking that these works demanded a response.

“As I dug deeper into the issue, I realized I needed to do something to stop this pernicious cycle. I decided to start a new painting series that looked at women in an entirely different way. I decided to paint just their faces; recognizable yet abstracted, painted closeup so we look into their eyes without distractions. In avoiding the things and situations typically used to objectify women and focusing entirely on their faces, I aim to show what remarkable people they are. I chose to focus on contemporary women so that we could learn more about amazing women shaping our world today. Each painting has a title and story connected to mythology. Conceiving the paintings, I reimagined ancient goddesses as contemporary women because I see women today as drawing from the strength and resilience of these ancient archetypes.”

A collection of images taken by artist Deborah Farquharson as part of an artistic ritual practice that helped her through COVID winter

ICE MOONS, Deborah Farquharson, Courtesy of the artist / AGO

ICE MOONS, Deborah Farquharson

Throughout the winter Farquharson started foraging things from the forest floor on her daily walks. She placed her findings into her dog’s bowl and let them freeze together overnight. It became a ritualistic art practice to see how the discs would form together each day.

“My idea of ‘resilience’ has shifted over the past year. It has transformed from hustle towards the goal to an intentional focus on playful inquiry. I’ve found that when my resilience is driven by curiosity rather than end results, there is more energy, delight and surprising outcomes. The series came about one early morning in January. I noticed our pup’s water bowl had frozen with a few leaves and windblown bits in it. When I dumped it out, a beautiful ice disk flipped and landed in the snow. It’s luminescence and the dark shadows embedded in the ice made me think of the full moon. Paying attention to the arrival of the full moon each month had also become a ritual in marking the passage of COVID time. I photographed the ice disc lying in the snow – loving the variety of muted shapes held in cool whites. Then I picked it up and held it up to the morning sun where it glowed and presented the resilient bits of nature in a whole new light. They seemed to be crowned by the sun refracting through the ice. It felt like a treasure and I decided that I would give myself this little viewing gift each morning.”

Two photographs taken by Katy Catchpole, one of her father and one of her brother

Who’s Afraid Of Their Own Shadow, Katy Catchpole, Courtesy the artist / AGO

Who’s Afraid Of Their Own Shadow, Katy Catchpole

Catchpole is an emerging artist who began contemplating the intergenerational personality traits within her family while living in lockdown.

“We often think of resilience in terms of a very outward expression of strength and fortitude but there are so many things that go on internally that are less apparent, such as mental health. As a youngest child I think I have been sheltered from some of the mental health issues that are present in my family. This pandemic has forced us all into close quarters with one another, where we have to acknowledge the emotional and mental states of our loved ones. I’ve come to realize that resilience means simply taking it day by day, especially as we are all thinking about and anticipating the end – of this pandemic and potentially the end of life of our friends and family. I was moved to create this work when I saw my dad sitting on the couch, underneath a photograph of his father.

“The photograph of my grandfather on the wall made me begin to think about intergenerational experiences and identity. I viewed the photograph as a sort of makeshift family tree and I got my brother to sit in the same position, to really emphasize this theme. There is a running joke in my family that I am my mother’s shadow and my brother is my dad’s. When I produced this work I was thinking about my own identity and wanted to produce something that reaffirmed that I stem from something bigger than myself.”

A photo of Keith Eager

I Can’t Breathe, Keith Eager, Courtesy the artist / AGO

I Can’t Breathe, Keith Eager

Emerging artist Keith Eager wanted to chronicle the uprisings, movements of solidarity and general societal upheavals that he witnessed throughout the past year.

“Resilience right now means staying present, embodied and following my own path. Our lives and careers have been put on hold in many regards, but even slow progress is still progress. The painting I Can’t Breathe is part of a series of works that I painted in the spring and summer of 2020. I was responding to events in the news, from seeing our society shut down due to coronavirus, to seeing American society torn apart by authoritarianism and to seeing the just civil rights uprisings in response to a slow burn of state sanctioned discrimination, disenfranchisement and violence. I painted this piece from an outsider’s perspective but felt a strong charge around the subject. I had attended protests at the G20 summit years ago, but what I was seeing in America was so urgent, much larger in scale and so much more extreme. I couldn’t possibly look away from this moment.”

A self-portrait taken by Mariana Topfstedt of herself working as a cleaner inside of a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic

Cleaner, Mariana Topfstedt, Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Cleaner, Mariana Topfstedt

Topfstedt is new to presenting her photography as art, formerly working as a photojournalist. Her documentation of her time working as cleaner in a hospital during the pandemic highlights the crucial role that cleaners hold in keeping us all safe.

“When I worked as a freelance photojournalist in Brazil, I photographed the reality of ordinary people, which has always been my main subject. For the first time, I decided to document my existence and what I am experiencing. My days at the hospital with different patients and co-workers made me perceive cleaners and their importance. What was supposed to be just photographs for myself has become a small project to honour and remind others of the importance of cleaning workers. The method is simple, I waited for the COVID assessment centre to close and then started what we call ‘terminal cleaning.’ I supported my camera on the cleaning cart, pressed the timer and started cleaning as I usually do. In this photograph, I convey the invisibility and erasure of some workers in our society, who are essential. But at the same time, we do not do this work for recognition. The statue of a saint made me reflect that something more significant, beyond religion, protects us and certainly knows what each one of us is doing.”

A photo of Roman Bulgakov's painting The Flame, created for the AGO's Portraits of Resilience

The Flame, Roman Bulgakov, Courtesy of the artist / AGO

The Flame, Roman Bulgakov

Eight-year-old Roman Bulgakov uses painting to pass his time in lockdown. This painting was the result of a recent round of experimentation.

“The last year has been bad since I haven’t seen my friends at school. I don’t miss my homework though. It’s been hard to stay home for so long but at least I can play with my friends online. There is not much to do at home, so I wanted to make something new and colourful. I didn’t have a plan when I made this painting, I just picked my colours and went with it. I was very happy when it turned into a cool fire. It’s fun to try new ways of making art and I like giving my pictures as gifts to my family because it makes them happy.” 

Check out more highlights from the over 2,000 Portraits Of Resilience submissions below.
Life Under A Pandemic, John Hryniuk
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Life Under A Pandemic, John Hryniuk

Fortune Teller (Bay), Shanan Kurtz
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Fortune Teller (Bay), Shanan Kurtz

my my, there, there, Kelly Cade
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

my my, there, there, Kelly Cade

Worn: Brown, Joyce Crago
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Worn: Brown, Joyce Crago

Frontline, Kari Visscher
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Frontline, Kari Visscher

Pandemic Self Portrait, Tanya Hendriks
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Pandemic Self Portrait, Tanya Hendriks

In Anticipation, Subarna Talukder Rose
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

In Anticipation, Subarna Talukder Rose

Displacement, Gwen Hopkins
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Displacement, Gwen Hopkins

Covid-19 No 65, Mahmoud Meraji
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Covid-19 No 65, Mahmoud Meraji

Under Construction #5, Dionne Simpson
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Under Construction #5, Dionne Simpson

Peony, Mallory Tolcher
Courtesy of the artist / AGO

Peony, Mallory Tolcher

All images courtesy the artists and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Responses have been edited for clarity.


Artists Amanta Scott, Deborah Farquharson, Katy Catchpole, Keith Eager and Mariana Topfstedt discuss their submissions with Kelsey Adams and Norm Wilner on the latest episode of the NOW What podcast, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or playable directly below:

NOW What is a twice-weekly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians are coping with life in the time of coronavirus. New episodes are available Tuesdays and Fridays.

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How to experience Hong Kong’s vibrant art scene from home Fri, 21 May 2021 20:13:23 +0000 Sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourism Board

The post How to experience Hong Kong’s vibrant art scene from home appeared first on NOW Magazine.

Canada’s “one-dose summer” might not encourage international travel, but it won’t be long before you can get back on a plane and fulfill your wanderlust. You’re probably already making plans. 

While you wait, the Hong Kong Tourism Board has created a series of virtual itineraries for you to experience the city’s rich art and culture scene from home – and eventually, when the time is right, in-person again. 

You might not immediately think of art when you think of Hong Kong, but you should. It’s known for history, scenery and nightlife, and has thousands of restaurants. But Hong Kong contains multitudes. It’s a mix of old and new, East and West. And the best way to experience that multidimensional cultural identity is through art. 

“As the world cautiously looks to resume international travel and bring back events, it is fitting that art is a driving force to make this happen, with Hong Kong paving the way in the hope of safely staging large-scale events again,” says Hong Kong Tourism Board director Michael Lim.

Here’s where to start:

Check out these world-famous art events

May is a huge month for the Hong Kong art scene. 

One of the world’s hottest art events (or just events period), Art Basel is back after a two-year break during the pandemic, and Hong Kong is the art fair’s new home base. It’s a hybrid in-person/virtual event this year. From May 21-23, more than 100 galleries from across Asia, Europe and the Americas will showcase work in the Victoria Harbour area. Meanwhile, an online program called Art Basel Live: Hong Kong will let you tune into viewing rooms, live screenings, broadcasts and browse virtual galleries of some of the leading contemporary artists from all over the globe. 

Art Central is another major exhibition and art fair that both reflects the unique position of Hong Kong’s art scene for locals and for anyone across the world. Online, you can browse hundreds of artworks and livestream talks and events. 

Yim Tin Tsai Arts Festival takes place in the beautiful village of Yim Tin Tsai, which exemplifies the blending culture of Roman Catholicism and Hakka culture. The arts festival reflects that culture too, blending arts, religion and heritage with green elements under the triple concept of Sky, Earth and Human. The virtual aspect is a sight on its own, offering a 360-degree virtual reality view so you can look at and take audio tours of the scenic island, which has won awards and designations for its heritage conservation. 

The Hong Kong Arts Festival is also doing a hybrid/in-person format this year. The 49th annual event encompasses opera, music, theatre and dance, and features some of the leaders in each category from all over the world. Some things are in-person and livestreamed, others are created specifically for an online format – either way, you’ll want to tune in. 

M+ is a new arts and cultural hub in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The monumental museum is still rolling out in-person, but there’s plenty to experience online: the M+ Stories storytelling platform, over 5,000 objects and archival items from the M+ Collections, a series of videos about artist Shirley Tse, and a video series created to examine the works of the six shortlisted artists for the Sigg Prize and much more.

Explore Hong Kong cinema

Hong Kong has one of the most renowned international cinemas in the world. Wong Kar-Wai is one of the greatest living directors, and modern classics like Chungking Express and In The Mood For Love inspire pilgrimages all on their own. Some of Bruce Lee’s classic kung fu films arose from Hong Kong. Whether you know it or not, it’s also the spot where films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, James Bond: Die Another Day and Pacific Rim were filmed. And Hong Kong’s postmodern architecture even inspired the visual style of the classic sci-fi film Blade Runner. 

Here’s an exploration of some of Hong Kong’s most recognizable big screen moments. Scroll to the bottom to visualize it all on a map. And follow this itinerary for more. 

Take a virtual tour

All that doesn’t even scratch the surface. To explore even more, the Hong Kong Tourism Board has put together a series of virtual itineraries (including the aforementioned cinema itinerary).

You can take an Arts by the harbour tour through Victoria Harbour, which is the epicentre of tourism in Hong Kong. You can follow the Arts in the wild itinerary through the countryside. You can take a taste of the arts tour through Old Town Central, which is filled with hidden arts gems and historic buildings. You can explore Wong Chuk Hang itinerary, one of the city’s hippest districts with enormous factories and world-class galleries. And you can check out the stories behind Hong Kong’s most eye-popping street art

Art is everywhere you look in Hong Kong, from international arts fairs to the cafe you stop in for a bite to eat or the alley you take to get there. So be prepared to get lost – even if it’s in your browser. 

Find dining, arts and travel destinations in Hong Kong at

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40 at 40: Photographing one of NOW’s most challenging covers Mon, 10 May 2021 21:26:05 +0000 Photographer Michael Watier had a vision for his October 2014 Nuit Blanche cover, but when the unexpected happened he had to rethink it

The post 40 at 40: Photographing one of NOW’s most challenging covers appeared first on NOW Magazine.

So far in the 40 at 40 anniversary series revisiting 40 memorable NOW cover stories from the past four decades, we’ve mostly caught up with the subjects of a story, or the original writers. But since the Contact Photography Festival is currently on, we decided to focus this week on the photography behind one of our most memorable covers. 

Nuit Blanche covers are notoriously challenging – the installations are usually outdoors, and you have to shoot them at night to capture that “nuit” feeling, a few days before the event, when often the piece hasn’t even been fully assembled. 

Photographer Michael Watier has shot between 40 and 50 NOW covers, including TIFF celebrities and our memorable Nuit Blanche 2013 cover featuring a section of Ai Weiwei’s installation, Forever Bicycles. The challenges behind his October 2, 2014 Nuit Blanche cover of the Lars Jan water-based installation called Holocenes, however, were extreme.

“You can predict everything,” Watier says, looking back on that shoot, “but then something happens.”

Watier was set to shoot the cover on Nuit Blanche’s rehearsal night. Through NOW’s photo coordinator, he had set things up with the festival and performer Annie Saunders, one of four dancer/swimmers doing 90-minute shifts in a big square aquarium for the all-night installation. The night before he had scouted the location at Roundhouse Park, close by the Rogers Centre and the CN Tower.

Original photos by Michael Watier

“I had the perfect cover shot set up, where you could see the city in the background,” he says. “I wanted this transparent look, and I knew how to light it to make it work beautifully.”

Fast forward to the night of the shoot, however, and the water in the tank had mysteriously turned cloudy. The transparency was gone.

“They tested it – it wasn’t polluted, but it was cloudy. When Annie got in, you couldn’t see her face unless she was really close to the glass.”

When you could see her, however, it looked like she was floating in and on a cloud, like “this surreal, ethereal floating effect. It was a pleasant surprise.”

Watier took some shots, then consulted with Saunders, who would swim up to the surface and look at the back of his camera. He would show her some of the images and ask how she felt about them and what she wanted to do and was comfortable doing.

“I knew the shots I wanted, but she was going to be on the cover for a week so she had to like them, too,” he says. “The tricky part about something like Nuit Blanche is that you’re representing three things: the artist [Jan], the performer and me. I wanted this to reflect me as much as the other two.”

It’s also about NOW, of course. Watier phoned NOW’s then art director, Troy Beyer, to tell him his original concept wasn’t going to work but that he had found an alternative and was happy with it. He showed Beyer some of the shots.

Photo by Michael Watier

Watier took the striking image from the inside spread before the tank had filled up. The producers of the show were attempting to get rid of the cloudiness of the water so were refilling the tank. Watier captured Saunders, her feet planted on the bottom of the aquarium, half in the water and half out. Her upper body is in focus, while her lower body has that cloudy effect.

“I thought it made for a really interesting shot because there was this tension break,” says Watier. “It was a very unrehearsed moment, and Annie was just fantastic. She helped make the shoot. She could have said, ‘No, I don’t want to swim in this.’ There was a legitimate moment when I was like, ‘Okay, I might not have a performer in the shot.'”

For Nuit Blanche the year before, Watier faced another challenge. Ai Weiwei’s installation outside City Hall wasn’t completed yet. So how to photograph something that’s not done? (Engineers were still ensuring it was stable.)

“I wanted to make this capture the experience of being at the installation,” he says. “I didn’t want to show everything, because that’s not my work, it’s Ai Weiwei’s work, which hadn’t been installed yet.”

Photo by Michael Watier

Even as a student at Ryerson University, where he got a degree in Photographic Arts, Watier knew he wanted to work as an editorial photographer. He was so impressed with the work of Bryce Duffy – who shot many NOW covers – that he cold-called him after graduation and offered to work for free for a few days.

Duffy met him for coffee and decided to try him out as an assistant – provided he get paid.

“Photographers have their own way of getting into their field, or their niche in the industry, and mine was through apprenticing,” says Watier.

He credits his current cool-headed approach to Duffy.

“Nothing would faze him in a shoot,” he says. “During my first year of assisting him, we had a shoot where I had set up this seamless backdrop, and the wind blew it over, creating this rip. The set was ruined. But he just kept on shooting. And it created these awesome-looking shots.

“At Nuit Blanche, I could have freaked out and said, ‘This is not my shot.’ It could have been this deer-in-the-headlights moment, with me telling the art director wasn’t working. If I hadn’t pushed through that, I wouldn’t have gotten to explore and collaborate and find something new. It’s nice when you nail it.”

– Glenn Sumi

Below is Fran Schechter’s cover feature on Lars Jan’s Holoscenes, republished from our October 2, 2014 issue.

Photos by Michael Watier

Lars Jan’s ambitious human aquarium project probes the connection between the powers let loose by climate catastrophes and our mundane everyday activities

By Fran Schechter

What if, going about your daily routines, you suddenly found yourself underwater?

This is the premise of Holoscenes, an ambitious water-based artwork by Lars Jan’s experimental multimedia performance lab, Early Morning Opera. Fittingly, its genesis was an ordinary event: reading the paper.

Jan, who’s based in New York City and L.A., couldn’t get out of his mind a 2010 New York Times photo of people caught in a flood in northern Pakistan, a place where he has family. Its beautiful composition reminded him of Raphael, but at the same time it was an image of utter devastation. He had a vision of a person inside a box of water, the water level going up and down.

Research on floods and climate change led him to the concept of the Anthropocene, the idea that we’re no longer in the Holocene epoch of the last 12,000 years but a new geological era marked by the impact of humans on the planet.

He was surprised that few are aware of this concept. “It’s an interesting metaphor or lens into our total inability to deal with the problem of climate change, but also with lots of long-term issues that require thinking on a scale at which we’re not really evolved to think,” he says over the phone from New York.

“I want to access the imagination as a way to make up for our lack of sensory capacity to think and respond to the long-term.”

To draw a connection between the massive forces unleashed in violent weather events and our mundane habits, he and his collaborators began a search for repetitive daily rituals that performers could enact inside an aquarium. Their complex collection process involved a world map, connecting with people near 52 random GPS points and an open call for daily-life videos.

“I was looking forward to tremendous diversity in everyday behaviours. But what I’ve found is really interesting: people in a lot of different places make tea in a lot of different ways, but a lot of our lives are just about making tea.”

Holoscenes is slated to travel to art venues in Florida and California next year. “Every new place we go, we’ll use new videos to make new behaviours in the aquariums and add to the old ones,” he says. “My hope eventually is to create a menagerie of 24 behaviours that rotate between three aquariums in a 24-hour performance – a triptych, complementing and counterpointing one another in strange ways.”

In Toronto, where Holoscenes will be presented outdoors to a mass audience for the first time, the EMO team – which includes a fountain designer, an aquarium builder and the head of aquatics for Cirque du Soleil’s Vegas show O – is working with one 4-metre-tall rectangular tank. Four performers each take a 90-minute shift, rising to the surface for breath and sinking as they struggle to continue their actions. Two are Toronto dancers Ben Kamino and Lua Shayenne, a connection made through the project’s Nuit Blanche producer, choreographer Jenn Goodwin.

An algorithm based on climate conditions controls the speed of the system, which can drain or fill the aquarium with 12 tons of water, heated to 32°C, in less than a minute. Underwater and surface microphones capture sound that’s mixed with compositional elements.

For future iterations, EMO is collaborating with climate scientists on information handouts and considering using local docents to facilitate audience discussion.

“It’s a massive undertaking for our group of creators and the producers, MAPP International Productions – everybody is doing something that’s very far out of their comfort zone. It’s a scale that we haven’t worked on before,” says Jan. EMO’s previous projects have combined provocative performances with innovative projections.

“I often think of the performers as test pilots, getting in this thing that nobody’s ever gone in before. We’re extremely serious about safety. Water is an incredibly powerful and dangerous force.”

Though he’s building on the tradition of zoos and aquariums as well as aquatic entertainments like Vegas’s Bellagio fountains and Esther Williams movies, Jan’s also critiquing the practice of collecting and exhibiting exotic specimens.

“An art piece that’s part of a global conversation inherently holds lots of biases. I want to take up the challenge of having a global conversation while also acknowledging that there’s a colonial history of searching far-flung corners of the earth for diversity for cabinets of curiosities or menageries in European courts. Aquariums are also ways of looking at the world’s diversity and having people who don’t get to travel see those things and understand that they exist.

“It’s very tricky. The point is to be in a public space and create something that’s entertainment but also a location for conversation and consideration about issues that are not usually taken up in a spectacle.”

Jan’s background informs his approach to the global and the local. Raised in the U.S., the son of an Afghan mother and a Polish father (whose Cold War history is the subject of a new EMO project), he’s been travelling since he was 19. He’s done public art projects in Afghanistan, where his mother now runs a girls’ school, recorded traditional music in Ukraine and apprenticed with a Bunraku puppeteer in Japan.

“Central Asia’s been very important to me,” he says. “Travelling to less populated parts of the world allows me to get back in touch with a long-form thought process that we lose in urban places. It’s really great for thinking about origins or associative daydreaming, a rich source of my artwork.”

Will people make the connections between global and local, everyday life and climate catastrophe amid the hurly-burly of Nuit Blanche? Though granting agencies he’s worked with try to quantify the impact of art, as an artist Jan doesn’t find this process useful.

“I’m going on the assumption that some instinct I don’t have control over is guiding me, and somehow it resonates inside other people. That’s been my experience of other artwork that I’ve loved, and I’m hoping that’s also the case for me as a maker.”

Check back every Monday for a new 40 at 40 cover story marking NOW’s 40th anniversary year.


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The quiet ingenuity of places of worship in Scarborough Thu, 06 May 2021 14:25:00 +0000 Esmond Lee explores the architecture of immigration in suburbia at Contact Photo Fest

The post The quiet ingenuity of places of worship in Scarborough appeared first on NOW Magazine.

Faith Outreach Worship Centre, a 2019 photo by Esmond Lee
Courtesy of Esmond Lee

Faith Outreach Worship Centre, a 2019 photo from Esmond Lee’s Gods Among Us series exploring how architecture reflects the immigrant experience.

GODS AMONG US by Esmond Lee as part of CONTACT PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL at Malvern Town Centre (dates pending).

The suburbs are typically places young artists flee. The pull of the city centre, where all the festivals, galleries and big cultural events take place, is hard to resist. Architect and photographer Esmond Lee was one of those people – and then he moved back to Scarborough.

A self-described “architect who lives in the suburbs who really loves the suburbs,” he did a master’s in architecture at the University of Toronto, and has spent 10 years working on condos, malls, health-care centres and large institutions. After moving back home close to his Chinese immigrant parents in Scarborough, he noticed more sharply how what he learned in school was incompatible with how working-class immigrants create community with available buildings.

“In Scarborough, what you have are communities and migrants making things happen on their own,” he says. “Informal, adaptive reuse of buildings in commercial, retail and industrial spaces. It’s not conventionally pretty in the suburbs, but living here in the last 10 years, it’s become who I am.”

His Contact Photo Festival project Gods Among Us is a series of photos of churches, temples and mosques, many of which had prior uses. These buildings exemplify how immigrants start small. If they succeed, they might build a new free-standing temple or church, replete with amenities.

Lee is also mapping these places of worship, which he says number more than 300 in Scarborough alone. “The sheer number is quite miraculous,” he says. “But it’s about being hidden.”

When you think of a mosque you might imagine a grand minaret, an impeccably sculpted domed roof and a courtyard. In Scarborough, a mosque may look like a church, or a one-storey office building. It might have homey bricks and a gable roof, arched windows or no windows, or an austere cement exterior with only signage to indicate the building’s purpose.

“These places of worship are a process of migration,” explains Lee. “Because of Scarborough’s unique industrial history, they’re able to access low-cost gathering spaces from commercial units to industrial plazas. My photographs document how entrepreneurish [and] resourceful immigrants really are in adapting spaces for their own needs. Most of these spaces are less than ideal, but they make it happen.”

When Lee’s parents moved to Canada, the family attended a Protestant Baptist Church. He describes his family as “a little bit spiritual,” more interested in gaining a foothold in a new country than organized religion.

The church became a welcoming hub of social activity that, in some cases, served a purpose more important than religious observance. “I remember growing up and going to bible school, attending all these after-church events. I remember seeing my sister being baptized,” he says. “These are really important memories that I have. But really, it’s about remembering the open-heartedness.”

Esmond Lee, Shree Swaminarayan Temple, from the series Gods Among Us, 2021. Courtesy of Artist
Courtesy of Artist

Shree Swaminarayan Temple, from Esmond Lee’s series Gods Among Us (2021).

What makes Lee’s photos so compelling is that he’s able to communicate his fondness through subtle light and framing. His images are typically shot on sunny days; a pastoral light from an expansive sky dappling the environment around the image’s focal point. Slowly you realize you are looking at a church that used to be a factory.

“Something that you can really appreciate in the suburbs is just seeing the horizon, and seeing into the sky,” he says. “In my photographs I really try to capture that quietness, but vibrancy within the space.”

He feels his work is not “conceptually dense” enough for the art world. “I’m too punk for corporate but too pedestrian for the arts,” he tweeted recently. “My dual cultural identities prepared me for this.”

Contact will eventually exhibit his photographs in partnership with Doris McCarthy Gallery outside an entrance at Malvern Town Centre, which suits him fine. He’s happy that his parents will be able to see their architect son’s work in a familiar venue.

“Racialized folks aren’t just socially marginalized, but they’re spatially marginalized. When you have galleries and events that are all downtown, you already feel like you don’t belong,” he says. “For a lot of working-class people like my parents, art is seen as superfluous, a luxury in a way. When you’re forced to have economic survival instincts, you really can’t think of art as something that you belong to.”

As an architect, Lee is keenly aware that more density is needed to accommodate housing needs. Scarborough is now considered affordable by Toronto standards, and is changing as developers snap up land. Adaptive reuse of buildings is one lesson he believes all of Toronto should heed as the city grows.

“No one wanted to be in the suburbs for the last few decades because it lacks public transit, it lacks all the things that we would want in the city,” he says. “And now instead of recognizing what we’ve built, we want to push the lessons from downtown, which is densification, into the periphery. What does that mean for those that are living here?”

He sees a parallel in arts world, as big festivals like Contact and Nuit Blanche establish roots in the burbs.
“We should really listen to the communities here,” he adds, “as opposed to thinking, how do we take urban sensibilities into the suburbs?”

Esmond Lee, Sri Ayyappa Samajam of Ontario, from the series Gods Among Us, 2019. Courtesy of Artist
Courtesy of Artist

Sri Ayyappa Samajam of Ontario, from Esmond Lee’s series Gods Among Us (2019).

Esmond Lee, Jaame Masjid Scarborough, from the series Gods Among Us, 2021. Courtesy of Artist
Courtesy of the artist

Jaame Masjid Scarborough, from Esmond Lee’s series Gods Among Us (2021).

Esmond Lee, Jame Abu Bakr Siddique, from the series Gods Among Us, 2019. Courtesy of Artist
Courtesy of Artist

Jame Abu Bakr Siddique, from Esmond Lee’s series Gods Among Us (2019).


Listen to Kevin Ritchie’s interview with Esmond Lee in the latest episode of the NOW What podcast, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or playable directly below:

NOW What is a twice-weekly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians are coping with life in the time of coronavirus. New episodes are available Tuesdays and Fridays.

The post The quiet ingenuity of places of worship in Scarborough appeared first on NOW Magazine.

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Jeff Bierk takes friendship to new heights at Contact Photo Fest Thu, 06 May 2021 11:35:00 +0000 The portrait photographer celebrates a 10-year friendship with collaborator Jimmy James Evans in a photo series that subverts power dynamics

The post Jeff Bierk takes friendship to new heights at Contact Photo Fest appeared first on NOW Magazine.

In the Absence of Paradise, In the Absence of Virtue, 2019, oil on photograph on panel, 48”x72”, Jeff Bierk (photograph by Micheal C
Courtesy of Jeff Bierk

In The Absence Of Paradise, In The Absence Of Virtue (2019), oil on photograph on panel (48”x72”).

FOR JIMMY by Jeff Bierk and Jimmy James Evans as part of CONTACT PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL. At Dupont and Perth and Dupont and Emerson. May 1-30. ­

At the corners of Dupont and Perth and Dupont and Emerson stand two odes to friendship. For Jimmy, a series of two billboards that are part of the Contact Photography Festival, is first and foremost an outpouring of love from Toronto photographer Jeff Bierk to his close friend, Jimmy James Evans. In one portrait, Evans’s royal blue hair is scattered in the wind, his eyes piercing and electric as if looking out to the horizon.

Bierk has thoroughly documented the friendship in recent years. Although they’ve been friends for around a decade (neither is exactly sure of the exact time frame), they have a closeness that feels like it spans an eternity.
Bierk’s artist statement, a letter addressed to Evans, may be the first time he has let the outside world fully into the intimate dynamic. Near the end of the letter he imagines what it will be like for Evans, who now lives near Dupont, to see his face immortalized on a billboard in his own neighbourhood.

“I can see it. We’ll leave the spot where we made the photograph together with the golden sky that day. I can see the clouds as we drive up Dupont toward your building. I point to the billboard and there you are, larger than life,” Bierk writes. “In that moment everything sits perfectly, all of the memories, everything before, in between and the yet to come.”

Art writers and academics have seen their friendship differently, questioning whether Bierk’s photos of Evans, who was unhoused when they met, are exploitative. But he stresses there is a reciprocal and collaborative nature to the images he makes with Evans.

“I’ve been developing this practice around the ethics of photography and around consent and transparency and power dynamics in photojournalism and street photography,” Bierk tells NOW in a phone interview.

Ten years ago, the two friends met in the alleyway behind Bierk’s Annex apartment. It was a meeting place for unhoused residents in the neighbourhood to congregate and socialize – a world all their own called the Back 40. Now that they’ve both moved to different parts of the city and into different lives, Bierk reminisces about those heydays. “I miss our proximity, when he was living in the Back 40, I miss hanging out all day. just sitting on milk crates and talking and laughing and playing blackjack,” he says. “My favourite moments with Jimmy are all blurred together.”

Bierk started bringing his camera around and they made images together, which slowly gained public attention. They laughed off the art world’s hand-wringing about the ethical validity of the work. In the group shots, like Family Portrait, Bierk’s friends aren’t subjects in the traditional sense. They have complete agency over how they’re depicted: grimacing, smirking, aloof or staring down the lens, they’re in control.

“I’ve always just thought there would be this point where we’d break through having those kinds of conversations. The thing is, with us, on the block or on the corner, in our places or at the studio, [that question], it’s actually just laughable.”

When he met Evans, Bierk was on a precipice. He was newly sober, trying to make sense of himself through art and ruminating about the kind of photography he wanted to do. Previously, he believed if he documented the lives of overlooked people, he could affect change in some way, but eventually he came to see that as an empty gesture. When an indie publisher asked him to do a photobook of rough sleepers, it became clear that profiting from this work wasn’t the route he wanted to take.

Jimmy with Blue Hair and the Grey Sky, July 27, 2020
Courtesy of Jeff Bierk

Jimmy With Blue Hair And The Grey Sky, a photograph from July 27, 2020, will grace a billboard on Dupont during Contact.

Bierk’s practice is about creating communal space for people of all experiences to convene and be in conversation, an idea that became the impetus for the Jimmy James Evans Friendly Meeting Place and Centre for the Arts on Dupont. Located exactly between Bierk and Evans’s homes, it’s a drop-in centre, an artist studio and hangout spot.
Over the course of five years, the Annex went through a third wave of gentrification, they both moved to the west end and lost many of their friends.

“I opened [the Friendly Meeting Place] to be a clubhouse for my friends and it gave us an indoor space that was safe.”

It was really important for Bierk to have an art space that wasn’t focused on profit. He uses a barter system so artists can use the studio without having to pay. A Canada Council grant helped cover the first year’s rent in 2018 and now Bierk pays the rent out of his own pocket: “It’s killing me right now. It’s absolutely crippling me financially.”
The Friendly Meeting Place has been shut throughout the pandemic but he opened its doors for friends who were drug users to live there during the past year.

Displacement of unhoused and other vulnerable people is intrinsically linked to the work Bierk does outside art-making as a founding member of the Encampment Support Network.

Thinking about the ethos of consent and transparency he has cultivated in his work, Bierk is critical of the ways the media has photographed encampments without forging relationships with the people who call them home. He considers that approach extractive.

“Unhoused people or drug users are criminalized and treated by the city in very inhumane ways and often that’s replicated in the kind of image-making that goes along with telling those stories,” he explains. “I wouldn’t photograph my lover or my grandmother and take an embarrassing photo of them and put that on the front page of a newspaper. Why is that okay for a drug user or for someone sleeping in a tent?”

The reason Bierk’s images resonate is because he’s clearly asking these questions of himself. The images are deeply humanizing but they’re also full of wonder and a bit of mischievous whimsy. From his intimate close-ups of Evans to his everyday shots of Moss Park encampment residents or the Back 40 crew, there is a sense of palpable camaraderie that can’t be faked.

Me and Jimmy at The Spot, Lost a Friend to an Overdose, May, 28, 2020, Jeff Bierk
Courtesy of Jeff Bierk

Me And Jimmy At The Spot, Lost A Friend To An Overdose, a photo from May, 28, 2020.

Family Portrait, 1011 Lansdowne, Brent, Shorty (RIP), Carmella, Jimmy, Slick, Me. July 21, 2020, Jeff Bierk
Courtesy of Jeff Bierk

Family Portrait, 1011 Lansdowne, Brent, Shorty (RIP), Carmella, Jimmy, Slick, Me, a photo from July 21, 2020.

Jimmy at The Jimmy James Evans Friendly Meeting Place and Centre for the Arts
Courtesy of Jeff Bierk

Jimmy at The Jimmy James Evans Friendly Meeting Place and Centre for the Arts

A Eulogy to Jimmy, James and Carl
Courtesy of Jeff Bierk

A Eulogy To Jimmy, James And Carl


Listen to Kelsey Adams’s interview with Jeff Bierk in the latest episode of the NOW What podcast, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or playable directly below:

NOW What is a twice-weekly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians are coping with life in the time of coronavirus. New episodes are available Tuesdays and Fridays.

The post Jeff Bierk takes friendship to new heights at Contact Photo Fest appeared first on NOW Magazine.

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14 must-see shows at Contact Photography Festival 2021 Thu, 06 May 2021 11:12:00 +0000 The 25th annual photo festival's shows will roll out across public spaces and galleries throughout the year

The post 14 must-see shows at Contact Photography Festival 2021 appeared first on NOW Magazine.


Contact Photography Festival is celebrating 25 years of taking over Toronto billboards, building facades and galleries with photo- and image-based art. Since galleries remain closed due to pandemic restrictions, this year the festival is switching things up.

With more time to prepare than the 2020 edition, there was a concerted effort to bolster virtual exhibitions and outdoor programming. No longer working in the confines of the month of May, Contact will roll out shows into the fall to overlap with the city’s Year of Public Art initiative in September.   

Toronto and Markham-based artist Esmaa Mohamoud’s The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us, By Us) and Montreal-based artist Calico & Camouflage: Assemble! are two highly anticipated but delayed public exhibitions.  

Contact’s curatorial visions are often rooted in social, economic and environmental dilemmas. Following the groundbreaking year of widespread critical analysis of the power structures that govern our world, artists created works that explore the Black experience in contemporary and colonial times, Indigenous sovereignty and anti-colonialism, women’s bodies as sites of power, humanity’s impact on the environment and surviving extended periods of isolations throughout the pandemic. 

Here’s a mix of Contact Photography Festival shows to can see now and coming soon in the months ahead. For complete exhibition and event info and updates, visit

Will Munro, Every Action Tethered

Two years after his death from cancer in 2010, queer nightlife promoter and artist Will Munro was the subject of a survey exhibition at the Art Gallery of York University. That work is now on display for the first time since via Paul Petro Contemporary Art’s website. Munro was known for his hand-stitched reconstructed underwear, a medium that became the perfect canvas for blending his crafty ingenuity with queer and punk subcultures.

Online,, April 30-May 29.

Jeff Bierk and Jimmy James Evans, For Jimmy

The Toronto photographer best known for taking portraits of his close group of friends lands on two billboards during Contact with photos of his friend and collaborator Jimmy James Evans. His work explores ongoing consent between photographer and “subjects,” and the way unhoused people are represented in media. This show documents his decade-long friendship with Evans. Read our story on Bierk from our Contact Photo Fest issue here.

At Dupont and Perth and Dupont and Emerson. May 1-30.

Kim Hoeckele, Seated Woman in leisure (attributed to Ingres, after Man Ray), 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
Courtesy of the artist

Kim Hoeckele’s Seated Woman In leisure (attributed to Ingres, after Man Ray), 2019.

Kim Hoeckele, epoch, stage, shell

The New York-based artist’s overlaid and laser cut prints will take over billboards at Dovercourt and Dupont for the month of May. She takes black-and-white images of different parts of her own body and splices and cuts into them, remodelling her body parts to critique idealized conventions of beauty. On face value they’re intriguing images but on deeper inspection they’re alluding to art history, notably works by Gustave Courbet (L’origin du monde) and Joan Miró (The Birth Of The World).

Corner of Davenport and Dupont, to May 30.

Max Dean, Still – Living Through Cancer And COVID

If you were wondering what happened to the animatronic figures from Ontario Place’s Wilderness Adventure Ride, wonder no more. They wound up in Max Dean’s photo studio, collaborating on a number of projects. The latest is helping the artist work through his prostate cancer diagnosis, which happened to coincide with COVID-19. The resulting photographs are downright ro-bodily.

Online,, May 1-June 26.

 Girl In Ice Block, a photo from August 20, 1966 taken from the Canadian National Exhibition Archives, MG5-F1620-I4.
Courtesy of the CNEA

Girl In Ice Block, a photo from August 20, 1966 taken from the Canadian National Exhibition Archives, MG5-F1620-I4.

Erik Kessels & Thomas Mailaender, Play Public

The Canadian National Exhibition is a late-summer Toronto icon, but Dutch designer Kessels and French artist Mailaender were more interested in uncovering oddball imagery from the CNE’s archives (there will be cats) for this outdoor exhibit. The images will eventually be mounted on a large wooden structures at the Bentway, giving them a playful new context.

The Bentway at Canoe Landing (dates pending); June 17-September 6,

Aaron Jones, Ebti Nabag, Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, Three-Thirty

This multi-site exhibition curated by Anique Jordan opened last fall as part of the 2020 Contact Festival but it was extended. It’s an ode to Malvern, the neighbourhood she grew up in, and the children and teens who shape its identity. The exhibition is spread across cultural landmarks like the Malvern Public Library and Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute. Larger-than-life collages and photographs cover the building facades, imposing the stories and images of the Black and brown youth that give Scarborough its heart onto the landscape. Read more in our September feature on the project.

Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute, Malvern Public Library, ongoing; Doris McCarthy Gallery (dates pending).

Dana Claxton, Paint Up 1, 2009. Courtesy of the artist.

Dana Claxton, Scotiabank Photography Award 

This retrospective celebrates the work of the Hunkpapa Lakota photographer and filmmaker after she won the Scotiabank Photography Award last year. The exhibition spans from the 1990s until present day, with an emphasis on Claxton’s multidisciplinary practice of performance art, installation, film, video and photography. Freeing herself from colonial control, Claxton’s striking images defiantly challenge stereotypes about Indigenous life and people.

Ryerson Image Centre (dates pending). 

Esmond Lee, Gods Among Us

The Scarborough-based architect explores the experiences of immigrants via landscape and architecture photography. For his Contact show, Lee turns a lens on churches, mosques and temples that have turned relics of the eastern suburb’s industrial past into community hubs. His bright, simple images emphasize suburban vastness, turning unassuming structures into subjects of fond reflection. Read our feature on Lee from our Contact Photo Fest issue here.

Malvern Town Centre, June 1-October 15.

Luther Konadu, Figure As Index #2, 2020. Courtesy of artist.

Luther Konadu, Figure As Index

The rising Winnipeg photographer returns to Contact with photo collages of his ever-expanding community of family and friends who appear more like active participants rather than passive images to be gazed upon. Through his thoughtful constructions, Konadu draws attention to the limits of photography, shifting the focus from the people pictured to the medium itself and ultimately, back at the viewer.

Harbourfront Centre, parking pavilion, June 4-September 6.

Esmaa Mohamoud, The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us, By Us)

For Us, By Us has been a common parlance in the Black hip-hop community since the 90s. In the context of Mohamoud’s continued exploration into the public perception of Black men, it takes on new meaning. With her billboard and sculptural installations at Westin Harbour Castle Conference Centre and Harbour Square Park, she takes control of the image-making associated with Blackness and imbues it with a vulnerability and fragility that they are not often afforded in media, in the carceral system or the world at large.

Westin Harbour Castle, June 9-April 2023.

A Slippery Place 4 (2019) by Séamus Gallagher.
Courtesy of Séamus Gallagher

A Slippery Place 4 (2019) by Séamus Gallagher.

Group show, We Buy Gold

Artist (and former NOW cover star) Michèle Pearson Clarke moves into a curatorial role for this group show featuring 10 emerging LGBTQ photographers living and working in Canada. Featuring work by Séamus Gallagher, Isabel Okoro, Brianna Roye and more, the show aims to capture a younger perspective on queer life using portraiture, still life and sculptural elements. The gallery show is TBD but the AGO is hosting a talk later in May.

Gallery TPW (datings pending); AGO Art In The Spotlight: Talking Queer Photography, May 25 at 4-5 pm.

Isabel Okoro and Timothy Yanick Hunter, Is Love A Synonym For Abolition?

These emerging Toronto-based artists shared a workspace throughout their art-making, a collaborative process that included curator Liz Ikiriko and advisor Katherine McKittrick. The show draws its name from a June 2020 essay written by American writer Saidiya Hartman about the movement toward the end of policing. Incorporating photography and poetry by Okoro and archival footage projected on sculptural installations by Hunter, the works create a conversation about the possibility of abolition and the route to get there. The artists contemplate Black death and hopelessness with tenderness and optimism.

Gallery 44 (dates pending).

Miao Ying, How to sell a counterfeit ideology II, (GIF animation; element from Chinternet Plus) 2016
Courtesy of the artist

How To Sell A Counterfeit ideology II by Miao Ying (GIF animation; element from Chinternet Plus), 2016

Miao Ying, A Field Guide to Ideology

For her debut “offline” exhibition in Canada, the Chinese artist sends up the government of China’s attempts to apply technology to traditional sectors with her browser-based Chinternet Plus and Hardcore Digital Detox projects. The work will be refashioned for multimedia viewing stations at U of T’s Art Museum this fall and features original gifs and videos riffing on the visuals and architecture of Chinese internet culture to suggest a resilience among users in the face of state censorship.

Art Museum at the University of Toronto – Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, September 8-November 22.

Skawennati, Calico & Camouflage: Assemble!

The Montreal-based Mohawk artist’s 3D-cyberpunk avatars are coming soon to to the digital screens and concrete columns at Yonge-Dundas Square, tapping into the space’s frequent use as a site of protest. Her work is often about imagining a future for Indigenous people, with an emphasis on personal style as a form of protest. She recently made the jump from designing clothes in Second Life to exhibiting real-life garb at Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto.

Yonge-Dundas Square (dates pending).

Update (June 28, 2021): This post was updated with new dates for some of the delayed exhibitions.


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Immersive Monet exhibit to open in Toronto this summer Thu, 01 Apr 2021 17:24:04 +0000 Beyond Monet: The Immersive Experience will take over a space in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre

The post Immersive Monet exhibit to open in Toronto this summer appeared first on NOW Magazine.

Another experiential art exhibit based on a European painting master is planning to open in Toronto.

Beyond Monet: The Immersive Experience will have a world premiere at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this summer, but a specific date has not been announced.

The limited-engagement show is billed as a “three-part multi-sensory experience inspired by the intoxicating freedom and the rejection of conventions that run through Monet’s body of work.

“It is anchored in the unbridled pursuit of light from the leading figure of Impressionism and opens all the poetic, playful and dreamlike potential of his work,” the show description states.

The show promises to mix animated projections with music and sound effects that will bring the founder of French Impressionism’s work to life. The exhibition space is 50,000 square feet and the event will run on a timed ticketed entry system as per physical distancing and other pandemic protocols.

Tickets are not yet on sale, but pre-sale info can be found here. One dollar from every ticket sale will go toward the new fellowship program, the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) Fellowship, which aims to support the creative voices of the BIPOC community.

Beyond Monet was created by Normal Studio and produced by Beyond Exhibitions Inc.

This is the second major experiential art show based on the work of an old master to touch down in the city in the past year.

Immersive Van Gogh launched in the former Toronto Star printing press building last summer but has temporarily closed to walk-in visitors due to COVID-19 restrictions. (The drive-in version is still open).

The Toronto-produced show, which has since expanded to Chicago and San Francisco, is based on a similar Van Gogh audio-visual exhibition that took place in Paris and was featured in the Netflix series Emily In Paris.


The post Immersive Monet exhibit to open in Toronto this summer appeared first on NOW Magazine.

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Why some Toronto artists are getting into the crypto market of NFTs Thu, 01 Apr 2021 16:54:00 +0000 Non-fungible tokens are the new way to sell "true" versions of digital things, and some artists are taking advantage

The post Why some Toronto artists are getting into the crypto market of NFTs appeared first on NOW Magazine.


Super TRUper 5 and 6 by Trudy Elmore, part of an art series sold on the NFT market, Foundation.

Did you hear about the $208,000 USD LeBron James dunk? What about the digital art piece that sold for $69 million? How about the fact that someone bought the first-ever tweet for $2.9 million, or that $500,000 digital house… or the online sale of a literal fart?

By now, you’ve probably heard about non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, likely from a clickbait headline about some absurd sale. 

Short for non-fungible tokens, NFTs are a crypto-based format to sell goods or works that don’t necessarily exist in the physical world. They’ve exploded in value and notoriety in the last few months. They’ve also become a firebrand for discussions about artistic value, ownership, environmental impact and capitalism in an increasingly virtual world. 

“It’s very interesting that something as rote as a digital auction house has evolved into such a philosophical crater,” says Toronto-based electronic musician Jacques Greene. 

Greene is one of many local artists dipping their toes into the new market and asking: Is this a viable new source of revenue for work that has been increasingly devalued? Or is it the latest about-to-burst tech bubble?

An alternate reality art market

The first thing Trudy Elmore did after she made her first NFT art sale was go to the dentist. 

“I can’t tell you how good it felt to be able to go to the dentist and not have to worry about it,” says the Toronto digital artist. “Not having health or dental insurance and being scared of getting sick [beyond basic coverage], that’s a mindfuck most artists live with every single day.”

Elmore, who also works under the name TRU, has been surviving solely off her art career for about six years now and won the Governor General’s Award in 2016, but she says she only started to make a decent living after selling her work in the NFT market this year. You can check out her work on Foundation.

Visual art is likely the field where NFTs have made the biggest impact. Beeple’s $69-million art sale in March has been viewed as the watershed moment for the rising format. The American artist’s mosaic, The First 5000 Days, is a monumental collage that represents 14 years of digital images by the artist. 

Like Beeple, Elmore has chosen a medium that many, including her own art instructors, had discouraged her from as a viable career path. It’s a tough style of art to present in the gallery system or sell to art buyers. 

“The prospect of them handing me a cheque or sending me an e-transfer and me sending them a USB or a WeTransfer – most people aren’t down for that,” Elmore says. “They want the sacred art object.”

That “sacred art object” mentality has been at the heart of a lot of the debate around NFTs. Many people bristle at the fact that, when you buy an NFT, you aren’t actually buying the thing. Instead, you’re buying a token – a unique, traceable file that lives on the blockchain. Essentially, it’s a way of verifying ownership, somewhere between a digital certificate of authenticity and an encrypted ledger that traces a chain of buyers. 

For a digital artist like Elmore, it legitimizes the work in a strangely traditional “sacred art object” way. For work that can be endlessly duplicated, an NFT signifies that, no, there is a limited number of “true” versions – and you can buy, sell or trade them. 

There are a number of NFT art markets like Rarible, SuperRare, Foundation, Zora and hic et nunc. There are communities of crypto artists and buyers there and on social media platforms like Discord, creating an alternate art market divorced from the established gatekeepers. 

That’s one of the things that appeals to Elmore. Her recent work is inspired by tattoo culture, outsider art and pop art. Her most successful crypto series is a series called Super TRUper, a cultural mashup that plays off of Star Wars. 

It’s a popular style on NFT sites, but it’s not the kind of thing that holds weight with Canadian granting bodies or the gallery system, Elmore says. But she’s found a number of people happy to bid on it on Foundation.

“It’s so validating that strangers online are buying art that it feels like so many people didn’t believe in before,” she says.

The Super TRUper works have been selling on Foundation for 0.8-1.5 ETH, a cryptocurrency used on the Ethereum blockchain. Though it tends to fluctuate rapidly, 1 ETH is currently equivalent to about $2,271 CAD, so her sales have been around $1,800-$3,300. And she retains royalties in perpetuity, so every time the work gets re-sold, she gets a 10 per cent cut. 

Musicians get involved

That question of royalties is a big one for Jacques Greene. 

Greene recently sold his new song, Promise, as an NFT. It went for 13 ETH, the equivalent of about $28,000 Canadian. That’s around three times as much as he expected it to sell for, he says, and exponentially more than anything he’ll ever earn in royalties for the song on the streaming market.

Musicians have been dipping their toes in the NFT world, with Kings of Leon recently making headlines for releasing the first NFT album. Buying one came with perks like exclusive art, packaging and concert tickets, but those are technically add-ons. The thing fans are buying is the token – it is permanently encrypted on the blockchain, but is not the actual file itself. 

With Promise, Greene took the concept of ownership one step further. Though the NFT he sold was a one-of-one, it came with the song’s publishing rights. That represents the copyright of the songwriting, including music and lyrics (though in this case, Promise is an instrumental). So beyond the digital bragging rights, there is some extra inherent value: the buyer could theoretically license the song to TV or movies and make money from it. (Lest the buyer do something terrible with it, Greene does retain veto power.)

Music is an especially interesting arena for NFTs. Ever since music started getting recorded and sold, there have been questions over ownership, devaluation and the rights of artists. And with the concert market disappearing during the COVID pandemic, there’s been an awakening to the paltry royalties musicians make from streaming services like Spotify, with some even organizing unions and protesting for fairer payouts.

More fans have been mindful about supporting their favourite artists by buying music on platforms like Bandcamp, which pay more directly to the musicians without going through tech company middlemen. NFTs could potentially represent an even more profitable version of that. Other local artists like rappers Sean Leon, Killy and Shan Vincent de Paul have recently sold work on crypto marketplaces. 

For Greene, it’s less compelling to think about the financial implications than the technological ones. Outside of art, NFTs are often used to create smart contracts, a sort-of automated version of rights that exist on the blockchain. 

“Rights organizations and publishing rights are an archaic system, and if anything could use a shake-up outside of streaming royalties, it’s that,” he says. “There’s room for improvement, and there’s room for a technological upgrade.”

He sees the possible criticisms of NFTs, including environmental ones (more on that shortly) and the notion that it could either create a “libertarian casino” or just replicate the current systems of power and exploitation that already exist in the music industry. For now, though, he’s choosing to approach it with optimism. 

Greene sees the possibilities in one-off audio-visual collaborations made specifically for the medium, and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) that handle publishing or act as a record label or even a nightclub.

“There’s a lot of questions still unanswered and it’s still at a fever pitch,” he admits. “We need to give it some time to see where the chips fall.”

The first Oscar-nominated NFT

The people most active in the NFT world so far tend to already be in the crypto world, especially those who would already have a crypto wallet to spend on art or collectibles. People from more traditional art worlds are testing the waters, but it’s very experimental so far. Each NFT sale seems to be grasping at the possibilities of what the medium could actually do. 

Adam Benzine sees an opportunity to get in on the ground floor. The Toronto-based director is auctioning 10 tokens of his 2015 short documentary, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres Of The Shoah, as a digital “first edition.” It’s the first Oscar-nominated film to be sold as an NFT. 

It’s been slow so far, he says, but it will have historical value no matter what. If NFTs take off in the film world, his doc will always be the first. 

Benzine was a music journalist at the turn of the millennium and remembers the record labels bungling the rise of Napster, hoping that the internet would just go away, even suing their fans instead of finding a way to adapt to the new digital world of music. “If you don’t embrace the tide of history, you get swept away by it,” he says.

It’s possible that people will look back at his film sale in 10 years as a quaint way to use NFTs, and that the potential will be unlocked in different ways. It’s also possible this is a bubble that will collapse soon. It’s hard to imagine the high valuations continuing, but it’s also unlikely the technology is a fad. More likely, it will establish itself in ways we haven’t quite thought of yet. 

The way Benzine predicts NFTs will be used in the film world will be a perk for crowdfunding campaigns or a digital version of rich Hollywood types paying to have their name in the credits as an NFT.

Or, he theorizes, there could be a movie version of NBA Top Shot, the crypto market of basketball gifs that’s taken off recently as a digital version of trading cards. The most valuable thing in the movie industry, currently, is intellectual property, and the film studios have an abundance of that. Could they soon start selling the ability to “own” an iconic clip like Scarface saying “Say hello to my little friend” or Jack Nicholson yelling “Here’s Johnny”?

People want to show off their taste, and there’s still value attached to the concept of ownership. A physical collection is a way of displaying your bona fides as a fan or expert. But there’s been a shift away from physical ownership, which opens up the possibility of online galleries or collections that showcase your taste. 

Collector mentality

For all the hemming and hawing around the ephemerality of an NFT, it’s actually not that different from the current collector mentality. People spend huge sums on limited edition sneakers, for example, without any intention to actually wear them. The value is created by scarcity. 

Greene comes from the electronic music world, where limited edition records are big commodities. He points to the online database of physical records, Discogs

“It’s way closer to Foundation and Zorah than we probably want to admit,” he says. “There’s financial value ascribed to every record with the lowest it’s ever sold for, the highest it’s ever sold for, how many are in circulation. And there’s total asset speculation going on with every piece of music sold there.”

“The actual record itself is worth maybe three dollars in real world costs, and so what am I buying when I’m buying a record that I could stream on the internet? It leads to questions of: why do we value the things that we value?”

We’re increasingly living online, especially over the last pandemic year, so it makes sense we’d move that instinct into virtual worlds. But just because it exists online, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have real-world consequences. 

Right now, NFTs carry a major environmental footprint. Some estimates have said each Ethereum transaction takes as much energy as it does to power a house in the United States for two days. The tech world is trying to account for that with huge carbon offsets, now building that into every mint. And there has been talk of a newer version of Ethereum that would have much lower emissions. 

Elmore says the energy projections were way overblown and erroneous, and that artists like herself have even gotten death threats over it. It is possible that the new medium is being held to a different standard because it is new. The servers that power Google, YouTube and streaming services like Spotify and Netflix also have a huge carbon footprint, not to mention vinyl record processing plants and physical mail-outs. So does flying around the world to play shows and do publicity.

The art, music and film worlds could stand to get a lot greener in general, and quickly. But the energy issue is one that’s shouldn’t be overlooked amidst all the techno-utopianism. 

Until it’s addressed, Greene says he’s cautious not to flood onto NFT markets. But he also doesn’t want to ignore the potential of the new technology. Benzine agrees.

“Regardless of whether NFTs are here to stay, the technology that underpins them is definitely here to stay,” he says. “What we have now is an opportunity to figure out how best to use it.”


Listen to Richard Trapunski’s interview with Jacques Greene on the latest episode of the NOW What podcast, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or playable directly below:

NOW What is a twice-weekly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians are coping with life in the time of coronavirus. New episodes are available Tuesdays and Fridays.

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Why Chinatown is so important to Toronto Sat, 27 Mar 2021 17:54:30 +0000 Artist Linda Zhang is examining the past and possible futures of Chinatown with board games, speculative fiction and 3D scanning

The post Why Chinatown is so important to Toronto appeared first on NOW Magazine.

What is the future of Chinatown in Toronto?

To understand that, it helps to look at the past and how we choose to preserve it. Embedded in the history and architecture of Chinatowns across North America is community resilience.

That’s why, for artist Linda Zhang, Chinatowns are areas worth preserving and also projecting into the future. A professor at Ryerson’s School of Interior Design in the Faculty of Community & Design, she’s spent the last few years doing 3D scanning of buildings in Toronto’s Chinatown East. She’s turned those scans into ChinaTOwn, an interactive multi-player board game that puts players into a dialogue about what’s worth preserving and what the city’s Chinatowns should look like in the future.

It was on display earlier this year, including a large-scale 3D printed installation of Chinatown East Gate, at Vancouver’s Griffin Art Project as part of an exhibit called Whose Chinatown?, a collection of projects by Chinese Canadian artists about Chinatowns throughout the continent.

The project was originally slated for Myseum of Toronto’s Intersections festival in 2020 before it was postponed by COVID. Instead, she led a series of writing workshops called Imagining Chinatown In 2050. For this year’s Myseum Intersections festival (which runs April 1 to June 30), she’s building those 11 speculative visions of Chinatown into VR worlds based on her 3D models.

On Sunday, May 23 at 4 pm, the ChinaTOwn virtual exhibition launches, delving into conceptual installations designed and built by students from the Ryerson School of Interior Design that tell the untold and forgotten stories of Toronto’s Chinatowns. Then on Thursday, May 27, there’s the Future Heritage(s) of Toronto’s Chinatowns Symposium – a discussion of the past, present and possible futures of Chinatowns.

Here, Zhang talks to us about why Chinatown is such an important area of resilience and resistance, both the two in Toronto and the many across the country. It’s become the site of rising anti-Asian racism during COVID and dealt with ever-present spectres of gentrification and displacement.

More people are paying attention to anti-Asian racism since the recent murders in Atlanta, but as Zhang tell us, delving into Chinatown – its history of immigration and displacement and also its literal architecture – shows that none of this is actually new. It’s been going on for a century.

What drew you towards Chinatown as a subject?

In many ways, the history of Toronto Chinatown architecture is a socioeconomic and cultural heritage of Chinese and Asian people in Canada. We often take for granted how Chinatown looks or how our culture is being represented. I’m a licensed architect, and when you look at the architecture more closely and the long legacy of exclusion from indigent society, it’s also a larger story of how the community has continuously, strategically organized not only to persist, but to be able to carve out a space for lives to be lived. Spaces of love and joy.

You spent a lot of time collecting these 3D scans of Chinatown East without knowing exactly what you were going to do with them. Why did you choose to turn them into this interactive board game?

It’s really a way to encourage people to have a dialogue together, as well as for people to talk about the history of these sites.

The way that the game is set up, it’s made from 3D scans of every building in Chinatown East, which is about 99 buildings, but each game board only has 10-12 pieces. It’s a multiplayer game, at least two players per game, which means that in order to decide which of the pieces that you will incorporate, you have to negotiate what you choose to preserve.

In the field of architecture, when it comes to deeming what is worth preserving and what gets to be kept and what gets expropriated instead, these are usually decisions that are being made at an institutional level by the city, by international organizations like UNESCO or by local heritage and preservation boards. They’re generally not decisions that are being made by community members. So the often intangible heritages or community ways of life are things that almost never get chosen to be preserved.

Why is Chinatown an area that is in particular need of preservation? What’s the game meant to reveal about that process?

One of the standard ways we preserve things currently in architecture is 3D scanning. So if a site is deemed worthy of the effort to record it, it gets 3D scanned. But this is something that largely is not accessible yet to regular people, mostly just due to resources and cost. So part of the game is literally putting 3D prints of these buildings from 3D scans into the hands of the players, very literally putting it in the hands of people.

When they finish playing the game, there’s a docent who teaches the players how to use a 3D scanner and how to 3D scan the game that they’ve finished playing, which is, in a sense, their vision for the future of Chinatown. 

Afterwards, I’m taking all of the 3D scan futures and I’m casting them in porcelain, which makes them precious. The game board itself is made a larger scale installation of the East Chinatown gate made from a 3D scan. So when you’re finished the game, you add the pieces to the gate. It’s a sort of monolithic, easily digestible, often tokenizing representation of what Chinatown is, which is also what we think of when we think about Chinatown.

Xam Yu Seafood Restaurant, Toronto, 2016, a photo graph by Morris Lum.
Courtesy of the artist

Xam Yu Seafood Restaurant, Toronto, 2016, a photograph by Morris Lum, is on display at Griffin Art Projects in Vancouver.

What do you mean by “tokenizing”? Do you think the aesthetics of Chinatown create a stereotypical view of Chinese culture in Toronto?

Well my piece in particular, though it is based on Chinatown East [in Toronto], it really is a story about every Chinatown.

The history of Chinatown architecture is often traced back to San Francisco, and if you delve deeper into that story, it actually reveals a lot about Chinatowns today across North America. In 1906, there was an earthquake that basically levelled San Francisco Chinatown. Instead of offering support to rebuild, the city saw it as an opportunity to redevelop what they saw as a blighted, dangerous, corruption-filled neighbourhood – not unlike how Chinatown is being portrayed during COVID in Toronto.

The city wanted to replace [Chinatown] with Daniel Burnham’s 1905 plan of San Francisco, which is also known as the City Beautiful movement. It was all white buildings with uniform height, style and colour. In that time, of course, neither Chinatowns nor Chinese Americans really fit into this uniform model. And so the San Francisco Chinese community had to mobilize to prevent its eviction.

They hired a team of white architects to construct a new narrative for Chinatown, basically a Chinatown white Americans would also love. None of the architects had ever actually been to China and there were very few photographs of Chinese architecture in 1906, let alone modern Chinese architecture. So they drew inspiration from a pavilion at the World Expo.

Right before the Expo, the United States actually extended the Chinese Exclusion Act (on a similar timeline to Canada), preventing Chinese immigration to the U.S. So a group of Chinese Americans put up the money for this pavilion to correct the prejudice that (and this is basically a direct quote) that they were morally corrupt, that they took opium, that they were prostitutes and spread infectious diseases. The architecture of the pavilion was strategically made with stereotypical food and easily digestible architecture for mass consumption. It was orientialization, but it was also an act of community resilience.

How did this influence Toronto’s Chinatown?

The aesthetics of San Francisco’s Chinatown went to influence Chinatowns from then on. And the story is uncannily similar for almost every single Chinatown across North America. There’s this constant displacement of Chinatown to make something more “beautiful.” That whole legacy is still continuing today, and it’s often unknowingly adopted into well-intended preservation guidelines and city bylaws.

In Toronto, two years before San Francisco’s earthquake, we had our own great fire. It levelled what was the first Chinese settlement in Toronto, which was on York Street, south of Wellington. That community wasn’t big enough yet to mobilize, and where that community was is now Union Station. They moved to what we now know as Old Chinatown, which then also gets expropriated in 1947 to make way for New City Hall. And now we have Chinatown East and Chinatown West, but they’re also facing gentrification.

This project was originally supposed to be a part of Myseum of Toronto’s Intersections festival last year. Since then, COVID has brought a lot of eyes towards anti-Asian sentiment in Toronto, and the recent murders in Atlanta just showed how dire that racism is across the continent. How have those events influenced what you’re doing with these projects?

Well, if you talk to anyone from the community, we’ve been saying the same thing the whole time. It’s like nobody will talk about it until something really horrible happens. Even before COVID, we were talking about racism and displacement and how that impacts the community. Those are the same things that we saw in San Francisco a century ago, the same things that happened in Toronto during COVID, and that was predictable because the same thing happened during SARS [in 2003].

Something I learned during this project and all the hundreds of conversations that come from playing the game and writing the stories, is that Chinatown was born out of a resistance. It’s resisting city planning goals or rapidly advancing technology or gentrification or sentiments of “cleaning up Chinatown.” And it continues to be a resistance.

It’s this amazing example of an ethno-cultural community that actually got to be allowed to occupy space in a city. There are very, very few examples of that that are so pervasive across North America.

I think today a lot of people are asking “Is Chinatown still necessary?” because immigration patterns have changed and a lot of newly arrived folks are moving to the suburbs first. But for me, Chinatown is a symbolic representation of having a place in the city, and I think it serves a very important purpose. It’s a space for a community to live and to thrive. It’s a space of empowerment and resilience.

As long as it serves that purpose, it will continue to exist and evolve in dialogue with the heterogenous communities that live there.


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Outdoor art installations to light up Queen East Fri, 12 Mar 2021 22:54:53 +0000 The eight light installations are part of the month-long outdoor art exhibition Luminosity

The post Outdoor art installations to light up Queen East appeared first on NOW Magazine.

Queen East will be home to eight new light installations as part of the Luminosity outdoor art exhibition opening on Saturday, March 13.

The installations are spread out along a three-kilometre stretch of Queen East between Neville Park and Coxwell. The artworks will be lit up nightly until April 11, and the exhibition is completely outdoors and spaced out, allowing for COVID-safe physical distancing.

Here’s a preview of the installations, starting from the first installation farthest east on the path.

Share The Love

Artist Thelia Sanders Shelton, known for driftwood artwork like the Toronto Driftwood Sign, has incorporated a brightly lit red heart into her installation for Luminosity. It “speaks to sympathy, empathy and an inherent need as humans, to receive and to Share the Love,” according to her artist statement.

Out From Under The Shadows

This “figurative shadow mural” created by artist Bryan Faubert explores placemaking in urban environments. Fabuert, who’s art has included graffiti expositions, installations, pop-ups, public sculpture and more, said in his statement that placemaking in his practice is “a dialogic space where the people-in-place construct meaning.”

Beacon Silo

Acting as both a lighthouse and a disco ball, this installation by Chris Foster is inspired by the silos of southern Ontario. The beacon projects moving multi-coloured lights across the landscape.

Light Tree

Laura Wood and Dawn Tyrrell, the team behind Opus Art Projects, created this installation to add a bit of extra light and fun to a winter tree along the exhibition path. Colour-changing cables flow down along the branches of the tree, a beautiful addition to the city’s late-night landscape.

Sugar Mountain

The realistic (and delicious) looking pastries and cakes in this bakery display by Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky will light up at night, making for an abstract, glowing stop along Queen East that might put you in the mood for dessert.


Toronto artists Stoyan Barakov and Robert Mckaye, the team behind Collective Memory, upcycled discarded items like headlamps and clothes to give each of the mannequins a new life in this installation.


Artist Jungle Ling constructed the entire standing figure of his installation out of discarded materials. The figure, which holds an orphaned duckling, “acknowledge and celebrate acts of kindness and love that emanate from unexpected or unusual sources,” his artist statement states.

88 Keys Of Light

88 Keys of Light, an illuminated exhibition with a musical twist, provides an interactive, sensory experience for viewers. Creators Kristyn Watterworth and Edward Platero included different types of interactive opportunities, including the keys of the piano, buttons placed throughout the installation and even social media-focused options.


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