GESTURE: The Forced Migration of Toronto's Artistic Neighbourhoods

Added on by Emily DiCarlo.

In conjunction with long-time friend and EQUΔLΔTERΔL collaborator, Jacqui Arntfield, we planned and executed a conceptual "art crawl" or "gallery hop". Unlike a traditional gallery tour, we took a subversive approach and focused on the migratory history of cultural institutions, galleries and artist-run centers being displaced through the gentrification process and the sky-rocketing prices of real estate in Toronto. In some cases, many of the stops on the tour were not galleries anymore, rather ghost sites where institutions once stood.

We started our tour in front of the recently shut down site of the Museum for Canadian Contemporary Art (MOCCA) on the now fully gentrified Queen West Street. With the MOCCA now gone, most Torontonians see this as the end of an era for Queen West. With the institution in flux, we took advantage of this moment in time to use the MOCCA as a symbol of displacement. Our intention would be to then to end the guided walk at its yet-to-be-opened site, located in an abandoned automotive factory in the far west end approximately 3.5 km away. 

Tour participant peeks through hole at the original MOCCA building, now walled off to public.

Tour participant peeks through hole at the original MOCCA building, now walled off to public.

Between the starting and ending points of this walk, we uncovered the history of many converted neighbourhoods through our research. The designated route of the art walk became a quiet gesture and acknowledgement of the vicious circle that the art institutions play in gentrifying neighbourhoods and the ironic inevitability of their presence eventually pushing themselves out to more affordable areas. 

Tour continues up Ossington Avenue, a neighbourhood that used to be considered a prominent gallery district. Today, this area predominantely houses restaurants and new condo builds.

Tour continues up Ossington Avenue, a neighbourhood that used to be considered a prominent gallery district. Today, this area predominantely houses restaurants and new condo builds.

Participants discuss the recent departure of O'Born Contemporary Gallery, one of Ossington Avenue's last artistic spaces to leave the area.

Participants discuss the recent departure of O'Born Contemporary Gallery, one of Ossington Avenue's last artistic spaces to leave the area.

Participants continue tour across Dundas Avenue West. Even galleries who resided close to Ossington Avenue, such as Cooper Cole pictured here, have been pushed further west by soaring real estate prices.

Participants continue tour across Dundas Avenue West. Even galleries who resided close to Ossington Avenue, such as Cooper Cole pictured here, have been pushed further west by soaring real estate prices.

It was interesting to learn that even in the time of the new MOCCA site being announced, rent had doubled in the area, already pushing out artists from their studios. With larger cultural institutions being at the top of the "gentrification ladder", they are the last to leave an area due to their stable funding models, and the first to push out those at the bottom of the ladder - individual artists, who have the least financial support.

Participants arrive at 158 Sterling Avenue, the future home of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. 

Participants arrive at 158 Sterling Avenue, the future home of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. 

Q&A: Exploring Experimental Pedagogy, Chaos and Non-Art with Department of Biological Flow

Added on by Emily DiCarlo.

Q: As one of the co-founders of the collective Department of Biological Flow (DoBF), could you briefly explain how it was formed and what the collective's mission is?

A: Barb Fornssler and I met at the European Graduate School in 2007, where we were beginning their experimental doctoral program in Media Philosophy. Following this we were both living in Toronto and after a year of coffees and chats began to work on arts-based research projects as the Department of Biological Flow, the first being a walking study about surveillance and flux in public space titled Gait Surfing. There were aesthetic and political concerns for us from the outset of this practice, especially concerning the body and its relation to abstraction, but also a certain desire for experimentation and sharing of work that could exist outside of the academic publishing industry.

Since then we've moved along many constellations near and far to that original interest in surveillance, and today we often consider ourselves in terms of working "toward techniques for thinking about life in the control society". Sometimes this takes this form of traditional plastic arts practices, and other times in various forms of spoken/oral practice or expanded social practice.

Q: What type of projects does DoBF create/program?

A: The expanded social practice projects by Department of Biological Flow have typically taken the form of either pedagogical workshops blending art, philosophy and movement together, or curated events in the style of social sculpture. A type of the latter sort was a major capstone event for us last summer titled Channel Surf.

Department of Biological Flow, Channel Surf (2015). Photo Credit: Yasmine Louis

Department of Biological Flow, Channel Surf (2015). Photo Credit: Yasmine Louis

Channel Surf was an open platform for arts-based research and alternative pedagogical expression that unfolded during a 200km journey paddling canoes from Kingston to Ottawa along Canada’s Rideau Canal in June 2015. For the 30 participants of our ambulant and athletic atelier, the canal of Channel Surf metaphorically assumed the role of digital information channel and the canoe paddlers that of data packets invested with an inventive agency in a durational co-compositional transit----what we considered an "ecological diagram" for newly considering the internet/tv/network.

We invented certain specific techniques to fold back into this thematic, such as a "canoe time share" system for accommodating different time block needs and frequently regenerating the group composition; and a "poste resistante" opportunity expanding the trip to those who couldn't come----to participate by mailing a cryptic postcard made from détourned consumer packaging, which would become a bit of diagrammatic data for the paddlers to activate once picked up at general delivery en route the Rideau.

These types of inventions were meant to sustain the conditions of possibility for considering the canal-as-channel during the event, though in many other ways Channel Surf was simply about the event itself taking place and inventing styles of working and living along the journey----its unfolding with each day, each conversation, each paddle stroke.

After months of collective wiki-planning prior, Channel Surf began at a warehouse in Kingston with a one-day workshop on "energetics and generation" and ended at Gallery 101 in Ottawa with a banquet inside a "performed anarchive" of the two-week event. The event was one of five projects worldwide accepted to the 2014-15 cohort of Project Anywhere, a peer-review system for site-specific arts-based research inquiry, with the curatorial work for the project being presented at Parsons The New School in New York.

Q: Do you consider what you do as art? Why or why not?

A: I'm not so sure I consider "art" to be a very stable category to begin with, so there's that. When one blurs the boundaries between art practice and life practice, and when one works collectively with a partner in a very processual manner of creating, this stability seems even more tenuous to me. I think sometimes as the Department of Biological Flow we make things or events that would be considered "art" in its more traditional or academic sense. There are other times we do things that might not fit these frameworks, but which we still consider part of our "art" practice. Sometimes it seems more like attempts toward "living artfully" instead of "art" itself. And sometimes it is more explicitly a sort of diagrammatic process of philosophical thinking that we're working through in the guise of aesthetic research inquiry.

Mostly I feel like we resonate with Deleuze and Guattari's call for a "non-art" to complement art, just as non-philosophy would complement philosophy and non-science would complement science. They suggest that each of these three "non-" gestures of thought blur together in a zone of indiscernability or ambiguity that is turned toward the domain of chaos. Our methods of working together as "artists" often move very fluidly between the affects and percepts of art, the concepts of philosophy, the functors of scientific experimentation, and openings to the unpredictability of chaos----even if these are in a sense "illegitimate" movements that stand outside the traditional categories to begin with. It's in this sense that I'd consider what we do as the Department of Biological Flow to be first and foremost a practice of non-art.

Department of Biological Flow, Imago (2011).

Department of Biological Flow, Imago (2011).

Q: Do the terms "relational aesthetics" or "social sculpture" resonate with your practice? Or do you feel these terms are not fluid enough to describe what you do?

A: In some ways, yes these terms resonate, "relational aesthetics" and "social sculpture", but also "alternative pedagogies" and others. I'm not sure if we're very rigorous at thinking these things formally, but yes, there are resonances for sure. But we also resonate with some of the critiques of these terms as well, and I also wonder if sometimes we borrow these terms as a sort of lingua franca to describe to the art world what we do when maybe that's not we are doing at all.

I'm not sure if these terms capture or don't capture what happens with some of the other projects that have inspired us in this practice, either, and it's probably these influences that describe what we try to do much better than the terms per se. When the Department of Biological Flow began it was very heavily influenced by the Situationists----flux, micropolitics, spectacle, walking----but since that time has also been inspired by "social" artworks such as Elaine Ho's HomeShop project in Beijing; the work of the SenseLab research-creation collective in Montreal; Lygia Clark's Neo-Concrete relational art practices; Isabel Löfgren's Satellitstaden project in Fittja, Sweden; Duane Linklater's continually shifting Wood Land School project; the writings of Brian Holmes and the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor; the experimental pedagogies of the European Graduate School; and many others.  

Department of Biological Flow, Cottage University III: Energetics and Assembly, (2014).

Department of Biological Flow, Cottage University III: Energetics and Assembly, (2014).

Q: Can you speak more on the creative potential within the unpredictability of chaos? How does the state of instability open the field for new ideas?

A: I think sometimes we consider our art practice about ourselves learning to become more open to the world----as collaborators, or with the material, or with an attempt to open oneself to chance and chaos. As you mention, chaos is unpredictable but it also has a certain strange order to it and perhaps we can learn from this as artists by getting better at attuning to the flux of what happens in intensive situations.

Chance on the other hand, which we are exploring more recently with an influence from John Cage, is a turn to the completely random for us, a decentering operation in the sense that we need to decenter ourselves or decenter our starting points for an artwork with a "roll of the cosmic dice". With both the chaos and chance elements bringing these different states of instability in our work, it seems for us that practices of noticing become increasingly as important to the overall composition as the techniques of making themselves. Simply learning to notice differently offers us such a great way to destabilize our habitual modes of working and open the field toward the potential for new ideas.

Q: What is next for DoBF?

A: Immediately, we are folding up some of our ongoing pedagogy projects, which include the finale of a small-scale arts-research retreat series titled Cottage University; a field study "platform layer" for performing mobile pedagogy inside IKEA stores; and a "soundwalk" conference/atelier on the work of Gilles Deleuze to be held at a nearby amusement theme park.

Otherwise we are at an inflexion point in our work, figuring out new trajectories with new work and life demands, lilting and stuttering along. We're quite uncertain as to how the turn will look after the flip, but "ecology" seems to be a fairly resonant potential for both of us at the moment.

Department of Biological Flow, Fück Yoü Jeff Kööns (Umlaut Gait Surf), (2012).

Department of Biological Flow, Fück Yoü Jeff Kööns (Umlaut Gait Surf), (2012).

GESTURE: Displacement and the Spatial Politics of Water

Added on by Emily DiCarlo.

When thinking of physical displacement, the idea of fluidity came to the forefront and manifested in a literal sense: water. A simple element, its function and purpose transforms based on site and context. Because we talk about the spaces that the public inhabits, I chose to create an individual intervention that performed through travel and transformed through place.

Public fountains inhabit a liminal state that straddles between architectural monuments and functional signifiers for public congregation. Usually found in outdoor squares or in front of notable buildings, I chose instead to venture indoors to a local mall to find my site of origin. Using an indoor shopping mall fountain - the antithesis of  famous fountains such as the Trevi  - I filled a jar full of the recycled, coin-filled water.

Collecting water from the Toronto Eaton Centre mall fountain.

Collecting water from the Toronto Eaton Centre mall fountain.

With a dense circle of people surrounding me as I squatted to collect the water, eyes darted at me in disbelief, as though I was taking something that was not mine. The commodification of water seemed to subliminally surface in the surrounding public’s mind. With the jar of fountain water in hand, I began my journey south to the harbour, where the shore of Toronto meets Lake Ontario.

Collected water sample from Toronto Eaton Centre mall fountain. 

Collected water sample from Toronto Eaton Centre mall fountain. 

Traveling by subway, I imagined myself speeding down a river, an urban artery connecting place of origin and final destination. When I reached the lake, a large yacht floated by as I slowly poured the water back into the place it came from. 

En route to the lakefront.

En route to the lakefront.

No immediate public was present to witness this final action. The sun had set and the stillness of the lakefront seemed to appropriately fit. The natural world reclaimed what the densely populated mall had taken from it. As ephemeral as these gestures were, my final action did not require a crowd in the way that it had when I initially took the water. The water in the fountain was already displaced from its natural context. I was simply putting it back where it belonged.

Final gesture of returning water sample back to Lake Ontario.

Final gesture of returning water sample back to Lake Ontario.

EVENT: Sophie Bishop and The Commercialization of Beauty Vlogging

Added on by Emily DiCarlo.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending OCAD’s Graduate Conference “#trending: mobilizing art and culture”. With a packed day full of diverse presenters, I honed in on a morning panel, titled “selfies, self-care, socializing”, which featured lectures by Sophie Bishop, Estelle Wathieu, Margeaux Feldman, and Jenna-Lee Forde.

The panel investigated how “social media provides many tools for constructing digitized yet fully formed online selves”. Presented through a feminist lens, the four presenters looked “at how new considerations of the self affect visual culture”.

Kicking off the panel, and peaking my interest, was Sophie Bishop, an artist and scholar, who dove into the politics and celebrityhood of beauty vloggers in the UK. Working in public relations myself, and knowing the behind-the-scenes mechanics of native advertising, I was elated to hear a critical and academic breakdown of this subject.

Bishop discussed the strange performativity of these self-made YouTube celebrities and explained the necessary tenants for creating a successful online presence. One commonality between these beauty vloggers was the appearance of authenticity, despite the reality of their carefully curated construction - through manufactured bloopers, in-situ background environments of lived-in bedrooms, and the committed enthusiasm of blogging for the love of it, and not for monetary gain.

Interestingly enough, Bishop revealed that prior to going back to school, she had worked for a marketing agency in London where her main clients were L’Oreal and Harrods, granting her privy information on how corporations work with beauty bloggers.

Bishop went on to examine where female vloggers have found success with online audiences. Statistically, their popularity largely falls into one of two traditional, domestic spaces:  mommy bloggers sharing intimate details on how to successfully raise a family, and lifestyle/beauty bloggers sharing their insights on the best make-up and beauty products on the market. Both relegated categories reinforces the idea that a woman’s life is a never-ending project of improvement.

Within this same conversation, she brought up an interesting point why traditionally women were thought to be best suited for public relation roles. Falling into gender normative stereotypes, females were known for their placidity, ability to articulate  and communicate, and their natural hosting capabilities. Knowing that my line of work is deeply embedded in a history of sexism and continues to propel gender normative stereotypes makes me want to invert this world, in order to re-invent it.

EVENT: 3rd Annual Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

Added on by Emily DiCarlo.

Yesterday, on the weekend before International Women's Day,  I had the humbling experience of participating in and contributing to the 3rd Annual Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. As a global event, it is described by its founders as "a rhizomatic campaign to improve coverage of women & the arts on Wikipedia, & to encourage female editorship”. 

Participating as a node of activity, The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) hosted the event in Toronto, inviting participants of “all gender identities and expressions” to bolster Wikipedia content on topics related to art and feminism. Never having edited a Wikipedia page, let alone understanding what is at stake, AGO’s Special Collections Archivist and event organizer, Amy Furness led a hands-on tutorial on the culture and coding of the Wikipedia universe. So what is really at stake? The urgency of the matter is that if pages lack certain levels of citation, they risk being taken down all together. In a world where the visibility and written history of female artists is already under-represented, this issue swings to a critical state.

Amy Furness delivers an insightful workshop on how to edit Wikipedia.

Amy Furness delivers an insightful workshop on how to edit Wikipedia.

"The reason for this edition of the Edit-A-Thon is just as compelling as when we started: only an estimated 10% of Wikipedia editors identify as female, an imbalance which skews the content of this prevalent information resource,” said organizer Amy Furness on the AGO’s Art Matters blog.

Having always consumed information from Wikipedia, never was I privy to the basic rules that brings the known integrity of the site: neutrality, verifiability, and notability. For many living artists (especially emerging), to meet this criteria is very difficult. If an individual has not been written about in an academic or peer-reviewed publication, newspaper, or magazine, credibility is not found and the Wikipedia page will be removed together all together.

With laptop in hand and eagerness to contribute, I selected Barrie, Ontario born, and Maritime-based video artist Jan Peacock as my topic from the “pages to improve” list. I set out to protect her place in history and cement her presence in the public domain. Leveraging the AGO library, I was able to source rare exhibition pamphlets and artist books to footnote and legitimize Peacock’s seminal video works.

While I feel my contributions were small, I still feel the weight of their importance. To bring gravitas and a sense of validity to someone’s work and practice, enough so that their page remains indexed in the public realm, feels like a battle won. Now, multiply those efforts by a room full of people with the same commitment - and again, multiply that by more than 125 participating locations around the world. While they may be tiny steps forward in what feels like an uphill battle, we must celebrate these victories together.



JOURNAL: Found Gestures for Lost Loved Ones

Added on by Emily DiCarlo.

While walking through Toronto's east end beaches to check out the "Winter Stations" public art exhibit, I noticed what could be classified as small site-specific interventions peppered along the boardwalk. The intention of these interventions are clear: to honour and memorialize lost loved ones. While not part of the outdoor exhibition, I am struck with the power of these individual gestures, and it seems appropriate to re-contextualize and ask the question, "yes... but is it art?". What do you think?

"In loving memory of former beach residents - Roy (1918-1997) & Doreen (1923-2010) Campbell - We love your to the moon & back"

"In loving memory of former beach residents - Roy (1918-1997) & Doreen (1923-2010) Campbell - We love your to the moon & back"

"In memory of Ronald H. Jackson 1929-1994"

"In memory of Ronald H. Jackson 1929-1994"

"In Loving Memory of Piero Zambotti 1977-2003 - Brave, Bright, Beautiful"

"In Loving Memory of Piero Zambotti 1977-2003 - Brave, Bright, Beautiful"

"In memory of our son Leonardo Antonio Cristiano June 14, 1963 - December 23, 1995 - Loved by Family and Friends"

"In memory of our son Leonardo Antonio Cristiano June 14, 1963 - December 23, 1995 - Loved by Family and Friends"

JOURNAL: The Surreal World of Winter Stations

Added on by Emily DiCarlo.

During my last year of university while obtaining my undergrad in fine arts, I took a public art class that transformed my views on what large-scale, outdoor art could be. Rejecting the classic memorial/monument in the 1960's and 70's, notable artists such as Agnes Dene and Robert Smithson produced ephemeral works with the intention of being exhibited and experienced outside gallery walls. During this period, land art became a movement of large gestures with temporary lifespans.

While poised with a more formalized, architectural intent, Winter Stations - the annual design competition and art event that brings creative, colourful installations to the east end beaches in Toronto - delivers surprise and delight to viewers by turning abandoned lifeguard stations into creative works of art. One of my favourite aspects about temporary public art is that any interaction with viewers and the natural elements of the environment inevitably becomes part of the work.

Ted Merrick,  a landscape architect, and one of three founders of the design competition explained to the Toronto Star that the temporary structures “could be tagged (with graffiti), it could be burnt to the ground. Anything could happen to them, and that should be part, and is part, of life as an architect.”

Walk with me now, hand-in-hand, down the icy beach and into the surreal world that is "Winter Stations".

"Aurora Borealis" by Laurentian University

"Aurora Borealis" by Laurentian University

“Lithoform” by Ryerson University

“Lithoform” by Ryerson University

“Floating Ropes” by MUDO (Elodie Doukhan and Nicolas Mussche)

“Floating Ropes” by MUDO (Elodie Doukhan and Nicolas Mussche)

“Floating Ropes” by MUDO (Elodie Doukhan and Nicolas Mussche)

“Floating Ropes” by MUDO (Elodie Doukhan and Nicolas Mussche)

“Flow” by Calvin Fung and Victor Huynh

“Flow” by Calvin Fung and Victor Huynh

“In the Belly of a Bear” by Caitlind Brown, Wayne Garrett, and Lane Shordee

“In the Belly of a Bear” by Caitlind Brown, Wayne Garrett, and Lane Shordee

“Steam Canoe” by OCAD University

“Steam Canoe” by OCAD University

Q&A: The Curators' Network Canada and the Importance of Advocating and Organizing

Added on by Emily DiCarlo.

We talk a lot about those creating art, but what about the individuals behind the scenes? Curators play an integral role in the creation of public exhibitions. To shed some light on the business of putting on a show, I caught up with Adi Baker and Elizabeth Underhill to talk about their national initiative, "The Curators' Network Canada", and how the philosophy of strength in numbers is important for Canadian curators.

Q: What is "The Curators' Network Canada"?

A: The Curators' Network Canada (CNC) is a recently formed collective of independent professional curators based mainly in Ontario. Our mandate is to support the practices of independent curators through networking, expertise sharing, exhibition facilitation, cross promotion, and advocacy efforts.

Q: When was CNC initially formed and what was the catalyst for this?

A: The Curators' Network was officially launched in November 2013. The impetus for creating a national collective for independent curators in Canada came about through an initial meeting held by independent curator Katherine Dennis and Toronto Arts Council grants officer Peter Kingstone at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto. This meeting brought together local curators to discuss project funding for individual curators, and how to advocate that this funding be implemented by the Toronto Arts Council. Under Peter Kingstone’s advice, it became apparent that a critical mass would be required to demonstrate a reasonable need and demand for such funding. Shortly after, the CNC was formed between Katherine Dennis, Earl Miller, and Elizabeth Underhill. In 2014 Earl Miller stepped away from his role with the CNC and was replaced with member Adi Baker as a lead organizer of the collective along side Dennis and Underhill.

Earl Miller, Katherine Dennis, and Elizabeth Underhill present The Curators' Network Canada for the first time.

Earl Miller, Katherine Dennis, and Elizabeth Underhill present The Curators' Network Canada for the first time.

Q: CNC is members-based. What are the benefits of being a member, and what is expected of them?

A: Currently, CNC membership is time-based. At this time, to become a member requires a 4-hour annual time commitment. This time commitment can involve many roles including (but not limited to) hosting or speaking at an event, bar or door service, and donation of skills such as graphic design or exhibition documentation. Ultimately, we are open to creative contributions of all types.

Membership benefits include:

  • Personalized exhibition tours as forums for discussion, networking and professional development
  • Invitations and free admission to private networking and knowledge-sharing events such as the Curatorial Hardware Series and gallery tours
  • Opportunities to participate in the Artscape Youngplace & Curators’ Network Canada Partnership
  • Participation in advocacy efforts for increased funding, standardized fees for indie curators, etc
  • Discounts on publications, gallery admission, events, and more
  • Free access to relevant job and call for submissions postings
  • Opportunities to have your curatorial programs shared and promoted through our social media channels
  • Voting power at Annual General Meetings
  • Playing a role in an organization growing towards increasingly ambitious programming that may include exhibition facilitation and curatorial intensives
  • Public recognition for the work you contribute as a member

Q: CNC holds and supports various events. Can you describe some of the initiatives CNC has taken on?

A: Two of the main activities we have focused on in the last two years are our Curatorial Hardware Series and facilitating exhibition opportunities through our partnership with Artscape Younplace (AYP).

The Curatorial Hardware Series provides an entertaining spoken word forum for independent curators and their collaborators in which expert practitioners – from installers, to photographers, to editors – discuss exhibition materialization and documentation. So far, this Series has been hosted by Gallery 44 and Artscape Youngplace, and has featured local arts professionals including Peter Kingstone of the Toronto Arts Council, photographer Toni Hafkenshied, lighting expert Paul Mathiesen, editor Caiomhe Morgan-Feir, designer and curator Zach Pearl, artist Zeesy Powers, gallery director Shani Parsons, and others.

In May 2014, Artscape Youngplace and the Curators’ Network Canada announced a partnership to create professional development and exhibition opportunities for our members. The first exhibition was with CNC member Emily DiCarlo’s show Between You and Me (October 3 – November 8, 2015). Through this exhibition CNC worked with the curator/artist Emily DiCarlo and AYP to facilitate a multi-media exhibition installed on the 3rd floor of AYP.

Q: Describe your background as a curator and how you got involved with CNC?

A: (Baker) After graduating from school (BAH from Queen's University and a MA in Art History and Graduate Diploma in Curatorial Studies from York University), I felt kind of lost. Not only within the global art community but in Toronto. School gave me all sorts of theory and expertise, but not necessarily the practical tools that are necessary to build a career as a Curator (such as how to light a show). There are so many paths that people take to become a curator, but I needed to find my own. After looking at the successes of some of my former classmates I came to realize that a pre-existing place for me didn’t exist, I had to carve out my own niche through practice.

I joined CNC in the fall of 2014 after looking for my place in the Toronto arts community. Upon going to one of the Curatorial Hardware Series sessions I knew that I had to become involved with CNC and join in their mission to support independent curators.

A: (Underhill) I began curating shortly after finishing my BA in Art History. When I was at the University of Toronto, I had some very cool professors of modern and contemporary art, I went to visit New York City and these amazing museums for the first time, was a member at the AGO, and worked at the Justina M. Barnickie Gallery - this whole huge world of curating opened up and got me really interested in making exhibitions as this thing I could do as an art historian. What else do you do with an art history degree? I figured out that I wanted to make art accessible to the public, advocate for artists and share their work - so, I would be a curator. When I graduated, I had this degree and not a lot of relevant work experience so I started volunteering - with Gallery 1313 and with curators Maiko Tanaka and Sarah Todd for their Toronto Free Library project at Toronto Free Gallery. Both the organization and these wonderfully brilliant women gave me opportunities to try my hand at putting shows together and working with artists. From there, I went on to curate exhibitions for Xpace Cultural Centre and the Art Gallery of Mississauga. My desire to engage communities with art eventually led to opportunities in education, and it felt like a more natural fit than curating. Being an arts educator became my full time job. But I didn't want to stop curating, and when the meeting with Katherine and Peter came up in 2013, I went, hoping it would lead to more opportunities to keep practicing as a curator. I had a lot of people along the way tell me how important it was to make connections and build a network, and I took it seriously. Getting shows as an independent curator is super hard (particularly when you're already working full time and moonlighting isn't your forte), and getting grants as an emerging curator was even harder. So joining the CNC, getting to work with and learn from people like Katherine and Earl, plus being part of some sort of movement toward gaining critical mass in order to get funding support and more opportunities for independent curators was really a no brainer. It was exciting. 

Q: Speaking more about the practice of curating, do you feel curation is an art form in itself? Why or why not?

A: (Baker) It wasn’t until someone asked me this question a few years ago that I was made to recognize that what curators do is indeed a form of art creation. I think that it’s often hard for some people to perceive it as such because it is creating art with other people’s art (ie. curators work with artists, but are not themselves). This couldn’t be further from the truth. A good analogy would be to think of an artist that works in installation, where they are trying to create a completely immersive environment. That’s how I think of curating an exhibition. When I am putting together a show I am attempting to create an experience for the viewer through using the work of artists. That being said, I think that it is unique to each curator. I believe that what I do is an art form, but other curators may not perceive their own work as an art form.

A: (Underhill) To me, this is a complicated question. In the colloquial sense, sure, curating is an art form. There are clear congruities with making art - as a curator, just as an artist - you must have taste, an aesthetic, intellectual and conceptual rigour backing the work you do, originality, creativity, skill, discipline...but as the curator, you're there to let the artist shine. So it must always be clear that the artwork and the artist are the most important. Otherwise it gets very problematic. As a curator, you can't take their work and make it into your own or turn it into your own medium to convey a message. You are not the author or the artist - you are a conduit. Without the artist, there would be no curator. And too often artists are exploited for the benefit of the curator. And I think this is what artists hate the most, really. The exception I see to this is when the curator and artists are actively engaged in exhibition making dialogue - as Micah Lexier was when he curated Silent as Glue, which he saw as one huge art work of its own, maybe more so than an exhibition. And this show was really about him and the artists collaborating together on which works would be shown, how they would be set out in the space and how the works engaged each other. But there really needs to be a defined agreement that it is a collaborative arrangement. 

Q: Where do you hope to see CNC in five years? 

A: (Baker) In five years we will be in our eighth year of operation and will have grown in membership numbers. Currently we are heavily concentrated in Toronto, but in five years we will have more chapters across the country. In order to have the needs of independent curators met we need to act as a collective voice.

A: (Underhill) Just like Adi said, I do hope that the CNC will have a more active membership across the country, and more communication and collaboration with ally groups like the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective. I would love for independent curators across Canada to be meeting, sharing skills, educating and advocating for one another in professional, transparent forums without fear of competition or losing out on  opportunities to colleaguesI would like to see the CNC influencing the types and numbers of grants that independent curators can receive - such as funding for research, travel, exhibition and programming projects. And I'd also like to see a policy set in place that standardizes fair wages and work practices for curators working independently and as guests at institutions. 

Q&A: Stephanie Avery on gender dynamics in OkStupid

Added on by Emily DiCarlo.

I caught up with artist and brain-child of the "OkStupid" project, Stephanie Avery, to discuss art, online dating, and how she brought the two together.

Q: What is OkStupid?
A: OkStupid is an open-mic style event where people are invited to perform their worst/funniest technology-based dating conversations as though they were conversations happening in real life. The idea is to show how absurd and inappropriate these conversations are while turning a negative situation into something hilarious and cathartic.  

Q: This was not the first iteration of this project. How long have you been working on it? What was the catalyst to make it? Talk a little about its evolution.
A: Unofficially I think OkStupid has been in the works since I first tried online dating about 10 years ago. I didn't always keep my terrible conversations but there were so many of them, and they were all so absurd, that I soon started saving my favorites (though back then I had no intentions for them). Officially OkStupid has been in the works since November 2013. I decided to turn my terrible conversations into a video installation for an art show. I invited about 20 of my male friends over and we recorded ourselves performing these conversations verbatim as though they were conversations happening on an IRL first date. The response was incredibly positive and pretty much every woman I talked to about it had similar stories to share. That was when I realized how ubiquitous my terrible/hilarious experiences were. It seemed like the next logical step of the OkStupid project was to provide an opportunity for others to share their experiences. So I did!

Q: The three-night event held at Handlebar, do you consider this art? 
A: Yes. And not just because it started as an installation. We've reached a point, in large part due to new technologies, where art has become so much more than the traditional relationship of spectator vs. object. I've been classifying OkStupid as a combination of performance and found art. I hadn't thought to describe it as relational but, now that you mention it, that term kind of nails it.

Q: Your practice often has a sense of humour and playfulness. Was it important for you to insert this into this project? Why or why not?
A: Absolutely. It's important my practice deals with issues that are meaningful to me, and sometimes that can go to a dark place. From a lot of what I've seen, artists who attempt to deal with "serious" topics can get dogmatic or guilt viewers into sympathizing with the their perspective and, in the end, it alienates viewers from the art. Many of my projects deal with issues that could easily go down that road but humour and playfulness create a buffer that allows viewers to enjoy the work and be eased into a critical dialogue. When you boil it down OkStupid is confronting issues of entitlement and sexual harassment that many women deal with on a regular, sometimes even daily, basis. But you can bet if I introduced the project like that it would turn a lot of people away. 

Q: Is there a larger/more serious criticism at hand with this project? 
A: Indeed there is! Like I said in the previous question, OkStupid deals with issues of entitlement and harassment. I don't need to tell you about the harassment women regularly deal with (on and off line) and the reasons we often choose to remain silent about it. OkStupid is a window into a world that is so often shushed or treated with disbelief. No one will say we made these interactions up, or we're the ones overreacting (as opposed to the men who get abusive/more abusive when they're told 'no'), or we should take these messages as compliments, or we're asking for it by virtue of simply being on these platforms, or this isn't indicative of a larger problem/real threats women have to navigate in the real world. OkStupid is cathartic and legitimately funny but for every laugh there's a little moment of silence where the reality of the situation sinks in. My hope is that the project empowers women to confront the people who send inappropriate messages (we also get to take advantage on internet anonymity!) and to create a platform for open and honest dialogue about these issues. 

Q: I noticed it was generally women sharing their horrific stories on stage. Can you comment on why you think this is? What does this say about online dating?
A: I try very hard to make OkStupid inclusive to people of all genders and orientations. But no matter how much I welcome everyone onto the stage the sad truth is that this particular brand of entitlement and harassment is almost exclusively directed toward women. As far as online dating goes, this bad behaviour creates a lose/lose situation for everyone involved. It makes women extra wary of the men who pursue them (for example, I sometimes postpone responding to nice messages to see if they're from the kind of guys who will flip out if they have to wait too long for a response - which they sometimes are) and it creates a huge hurdle for the many wonderful men using these platforms. 

Q: Through all your experiences with online dating, have you gained a different perspective on humanity? Men? Women?
A: No, I'm not that naive. Occasionally I forget I live in a bubble of intelligent, liberal, fantastic people but I don't have to look far for that bubble to be broken. We live in a culture where male privilege is still prevalent. Until gender dynamics are equalized we will be in an environment that fosters the sense of entitlement displayed at OkStupid. Internet anonymity has a way of magnifying asshat-ery, if anything I would have been surprised if this behaviour didn't exist online. But I'm an optimist and I believe that projects like OkStupid can lead to positive change! 

Q: In your opinion as a feminist, is there hope for women when it comes to online dating?
A: Heck yes! The biggest flaw of OkStupid is that it focuses on the most negative aspect of online dating. Granted, it's a negative aspect many people have to deal with but it definitely does not represent the entire experience. I have a lot of awesome feminist friends of every gender and orientation who have met their partners on tech-based dating platforms. 

Q: Through all your experiences, have you ever had success with online dating?
A: I haven't. I go on these sites hoping to correspond with interesting men but then I get these terrible messages from terrible people and I feel like it's my responsibility as an outspoken feminist to confront them! After that I'm too emotionally exhausted to pursue anything else. 

Q: What is next for the OkStupid project? (Because I want more!)
A: There is a lot of room for OkStupid to grow. I will definitely do another rendition next year around Valentines Day, but that's a bit of a ways away. I might do another OkStupid at the halfway point, goodness knows there's no shortage of terrible conversations to read. I'm in talks to bring the event to Ottawa, which is inspiring me to consider a multi-city tour of the project. It's a bit of a pipe-dream but I think there's enough interest to make it happen!

Stephanie Avery in all her glory. Photo Credit: Jessie Park Wheeler

Stephanie Avery in all her glory. Photo Credit: Jessie Park Wheeler

EVENT: Stephanie Avery explores the tumultuous world of online dating with OkStupid

Added on by Emily DiCarlo.

I arrived early to Handlebar, a cozy bar in Kensington Market, before doors opened and a line-up had already formed around the block. Clearly the viral nature of word-of-mouth had worked. Everyone was here for one reason:  tonight's open-mic style performance of artist Stephanie Avery's  "OkStupid" - a live reading of the best worst online dating messages.

With only a few days away from V-Day, people were ready to commiserate about their online dating woes in "The Six". I wonder if anyone dared to make this event their first date?  Avery later confirms to me that anything can happen at her "OkStupid" events, saying that during the previous night's performance she witnessed someone running into their ex and promptly and awkwardly leaving shortly thereafter.

Once the venue was packed to capacity, the energy of the room became palatable with a crowd eager for catharsis. Nothing frees an individual more than laughter and self-deprecation. Even for those not participating, everyone in the room seemed to have a story to tell. Chatting with a couple at the bar, they dig deep into their emails to find the online conversations that went awry. Everyone has been on both sides of the conversation at one point (probably driven by too much red wine on a late, lonely night). 

The night is met with roars of laughter and rowdy boos and cheers. Set-up in a karaoke-style format, individuals were invited on stage to read online dialogue from their worst online dating experiences. If a participant was too shy, Avery offered surrogate readers to deliver the lines with theatrical flare. There was strange absurdity listening to these conversations read aloud. It's fascinating how the anonymity of the internet can produce painful opening lines such as: "Hi, I'm looking for a woman I can corrupt". With the shield of flat online dating profiles, complex humans are downgraded into the worst versions of themselves in the quest for a quick hook-up. Has the online experience killed courting altogether? Maybe. Maybe not.