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Sharing public spaces

The AGO's latest exhibit explores urbanization and domestic life in Beijing

Sharing public spaces

On Saturday, January 30, contemporary Chinese artist Song Dong opened his latest art exhibit, Communal Courtyard, at the AGO. The exhibit is an homage to Beijing’s rural living spaces and features more than 100 vintage wardrobes linked together. Collectively, they form a series of labyrinth-like pathways, an artistic homage to domestic life in rural China. 

The installation is part of Dong’s The Wisdom of the Poor series, a project that began in 2005 and focuses on low-income communities in, and around, Beijing.

At first glance, the wardrobe doors appear to be quite similar. Each appears to be crafted from the same wood, and all are the same shade of ochre. As it turns out, however, the differences amongst these wooden entranceways are based upon the scraps of history left on each one.

Bits of wallpaper, scratches, nails, and pencil sketches help form our impression of the individual who once owned this piece of furniture. Mirrors and stained glass windows are spread out amongst various pieces of furniture as well, and as viewers walk by, they’re caught off guard by sudden reflections of themselves.

Through the glass windows, visitors are able to see others walking through the parallel pathway. If a door is positioned close to another wardrobe, people are able to see both a glimpse of their reflection, and the silhouettes of other people walking by.

Shared living spaces were crucial to Dong’s development of Communal Courtyard. The wardrobes and wooden doors are all taken from traditional households in Beijing prior to the city’s rapid urbanization. Dong displays these household possessions in order to demonstrate his respect for both specific Chinese homes and the suburban environment as a whole.

In an interview played on screen the exhibit, the artist notes how he hopes to draw attention to Beijing’s rapid urbanization through depictions of a nation’s history. Since the Communal Courtyard is part of a larger collection, Dong notes how he strives to “incorporate the state of poor people wisdom into [his] work.” Dong shows how a community is “sharing public space,” and keeps it through an interactive installation of linked vintage wardrobes.

The overall enthusiastic mood in the gallery contributes to the visitors’ interest. As new viewers walk in, their curiosity is attracted by those who have already started exploring the Communal Courtyard

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Living in a material world

UTSC's Doris McCarthy Gallery opens its latest exhibit, Material Girls

Living in a material world

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he “feminized body” and “capitalist desire[s]” are two themes explored in the Doris McCarthy Gallery’s latest exhibit, Material Girls. Running from February 3 to April 9, the exhibit tackles new wave feminism as it pertains to the visual arts from varying cultural backgrounds.

Jennifer Matotek, director of the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, co-curated Material Girls with assistant curator Blair Fornwald and curator of education and community outreach Wendy Peart. The exhibition is a collaboration between the curators, with each of the three registering their own unique influences.

“As female co-curators ourselves, while we collectively agreed on who to include in the exhibition, we each see the works in the show from different perspectives, and all of the works speak to our perspectives,” Matotek says. “Blair’s interest is in the idea of excess, and feminine excess in particular; Wendy’s interest is in the tactile quality of the materials, and how they include consideration of the human body in various ways; and my interest is in how various works in the show utilize pattern and repetition from various cultural perspectives.”

Color — an operative medium throughout the exhibit — fills every blank space in the gallery. Most of the gallery is thematically pink. The exhibition itself utilizes a combination of different works and styles, from self-portraits, paintings, and photography, to various abstract structures.

“The ‘white cube’ look that galleries and museums have adopted is not neutral, and not particularly inviting,” says Matotek, explaining the excessive use of vibrant colour schemes. “It is our hope that through the design and layout of the exhibition, and our approach of turning the gallery into a kind of packed teenage girl bedroom, we can create a different kind of art-viewing experience.”

Material Girls provides viewers with humanistic commentary on a number of social justice issues. Sara Anne Johnson’s photographs were supposedly meant to portray female sexuality, but Matotek believes they’re intended to portray “sexuality in general.” The exhibit is impactful and thought provoking, and attempts to “write an essay about contemporary art history” that “presents many different ideas.”

“Alex Cu Ujeng’s wallpaper is a graphic (and I don’t mean explicit) representation of the female body, but in doing this, reminds us of something opposite — about how we are literally always surrounded by representations of phalluses in the forms of tall buildings although we never really think about it or talk about it,” says Matotek. “Allyson Mitchell’s work is a representation of the female body, using found craft likely fashioned during the period of first wave feminism. Moreshin Allahyari’s work looks at how the female body is viewed in a conservative Muslim world.”

Matotek conceptualized the exhibition’s premise on the notion of female artists increasing their presence in the world of visual arts. Material Girls builds upon the movement towards gender equality, especially in an industry which is often billed as male dominated.

“I think we are at a place where having an all-male show, or largely male show, is so common that to have an all-female exhibition somehow feels radical,” Matotek says. “I would like for us to be in a place where we can have an all-female show, and acknowledge that that’s what it is, or we can have an all-female show, and not acknowledge that that’s what it is.”

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From fist-pumping to dabbing: the evolution of dance in the 2010’s

Where did dabbing come from, and why is everyone on our campus' Snapchat story doing it?

From fist-pumping to dabbing: the evolution of dance in the 2010’s

Dancing and I have a weird relationship. Most of the time I assume that my dancing skills are similar to Tinashe’s, when in reality they’re more like Carlton in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Flailing my limbs in all directions, I wind up injuring those around me both physically and psychologically. For those of you wondering why everyone on our campus’ Snapchat Story is “dabbing,” we’ve compiled a brief timeline of the decade’s most popular dance moves, and how they came to be.

2010: The Year of the Fist pump

2010 was a good year for doctors and chiropractors everywhere. From the whiplash resulting from Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” to the pulled leg muscles of the “Stanky Legg,” 2010 marked a year of aggressive dance statements and long medical bills. Also, Jersey Shore was going through its second season, inspiring it’s audience to fist pump their way through the nightclubs. Needless to say, it was the worst of times.

2011: The Year of the Dougie

Remember the Cali Swag District? Of course you do. The short-lived rap collective was responsible for an infectious dance move called the Dougie that defined 2011. Chances are you couldn’t do it, but there was at least one student in your high school class that could pull it off surprisingly well. Nonetheless, you weren’t alone; after all, the song was titled “Teach Me How To Dougie”.

2012: The Year of Gangnam Style

YouTube views skyrocketed, parody videos ran amok, and before you knew it, everyone was singing along endlessly to K-pop artist PSY’s “Gangnam Style.” The song was undeniably catchy, to the point that everyone around you was shouting “AYYYYY SEXY LAD-AY” while riding an invisible horse. Despite the dougie-ing and fist pumping that preceded it, nothing was ever quite as ridiculous as Gangnam Style.

2013: The Year of the Harlem Shake

If it wasn’t for the Harlem Shake, the Gangnam Style dance may have never gone away. It seems as though the only thing that can put a cork in one popular dance move is another, perhaps crazier dance move. Even better, the ‘Harlem Shake’ required collaboration with others in order to pull it off. At one point, an entire Con Hall lecture participated.

2014: The Year of the Twerk

Although twerking rose to fame in 2013 when the word was added to the Oxford Dictionary, the release of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” brought new meaning to the art. It was at this point that twerking not only required a low-to-the-ground stance and speedy hip movement, but allowed for other options as well, such as the infamous wall handstand.

2015: The Year of Hotline Bling

Thanks to the “Hotline Bling” dance, our cherished 6ix God crying at the club became not only acceptable, but stylish as well. Fake-calling your ex and pretending to use a tennis racket became the highest form of art.

2016: The Year of the Dab

This brings us to the Dab. After years of trendy dance moves, the Dab is nothing but another brick in the wall, and perhaps the defining move of 2016. Unlike the previous dance moves, which are awkward and difficult to muster, the Dab is perhaps the simplest dance move yet, begging the question of whether or not this actually qualifies as a dance move. As the illustration instructs: stand up straight, point your arms upwards on a diagonal axis, and look down at your feet. Congratulations, you’ve just dabbed.

The makings of a play

In the lead up to the U of T Drama Festival, we tracked a UC Follies production

The makings of a play

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he logistics of a theatrical production can be complicated. Finding a performance venue, or even just rehearsal space can be an arduous process. Fortunately, Twenty-Two Troubles Theatre Company — founded by three U of T drama students — found out about a UC Follies initiative that would provide them with administrative and creative support. They were taken on as the Follies’ incubator project, which came with a conditional spot in the annual U of T Drama Festival.

The company is curated by Madeleine Heaven, Sophie Munden, and Carmen Kruk. It will soon premiere What She Said, an experimental piece that uses the real words of real women to create a story.

The journey from inception to performance has been a long one. Munden has always wanted to work ‘in verbatim,’ but was daunted by the prospect of gathering enough raw material for an entire play. Once she, Heaven, and Kruk began working together, they started to discuss what they “wanted to say with the work that [they] were doing in theatre.” They decided to collect true stories of women, hoping that “sharing these stories [would] expand the cultural understanding of what it means to be a woman.”

The support of the Follies has been helpful, says Kruk. “They were very clear with us [that] if we ever needed anything, we could go to them for support, whether for administrative reasons or artistic reasons.”

They began by interviewing different women. The process was difficult at first, as the directors found it hard for the women involved to open up in such an intensely personal setting. Eventually, the team decided that the best way to move forward would be to approach the interviews as conversations, by gathering groups of about six or seven women, and participating in the interviews themselves.

“We never asked anybody to speak about something that we didn’t feel comfortable doing ourselves,” Kruk says. The questions became more specific, but the atmosphere was more conducive to personal connection. What they learned from this process, says Munden, was that “you can ask people anything and they’ll talk about the things they want to talk about. They’ll find a way to get there. People often found a way to talk about what they needed to talk about, regardless of the format of the question.”

The participation of the directors themselves in the interview process also created a deeply personal connection with the material. When the three started combining the stories of their interview subjects into composite characters, something felt off. “It felt like we weren’t doing their stories justice if we started putting them together to make characters out of them,” says Kruk. They agreed that “if we wanted to tell narratives, the best way to do that was to use the words of the females to whom the narratives belonged,” says Heaven.

Though the production has been in progress for about a year, it wasn’t until the winter holidays that the script was finally written. Even now, Kruk says, “We’ve been making little changes here and there.” The script has a conversational, but deeply intimate tone. It deals with themes of miscommunication, self-perception, and belonging. It’s about how people can isolate themselves in their own worlds, but have more in common than they think. “When you’re doing a show that’s about women’s narratives, you’re going to get things that are difficult to talk about,” Heaven says.

Rehearsal for What She Said is an exercise in organized chaos. There are seemingly endless questions to be asked and answered, about everything from the arrangement of the boxes that comprise the sparse set, to the precise number of seconds an actor will need to bounce her leg nervously. Everything is complicated by the busy schedules of everyone involved and sometimes the actors even have to rehearse around another’s absence.

There is no central message, though, and the directors make a point of saying so. Kruk says, “the heart of it has always been to try to do justice to the stories, and to the girls who shared with us.” Munden adds, “The important thing is that [the viewers] listen. I think that’s pretty much what it is for me, is that they just take a moment to listen to other people.”

Twenty-Two Troubles Theatre Company’s What She Said will debut on Thursday, February 11

Coming to a podcast near you

A theatre company from the Distillery District is transforming their plays into podcasts

Coming to a podcast near you

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen searching for theatre in Toronto, the Distillery District can be one of the best places to look. The neighbourhood is buzzing with artists and actors, and is home go some of the best production companies in the city. In the digital age, however, going out to see live theatre is far less common than going out to a movie or simply watching something at home.

One particular theatre company from the district has found a workaround they hope will get people back into stage drama. Expect Theatre, formed in 1996 by YorkU graduates Laura Mullins and Chris Tolley, is adapting to the tech driven times by creating PlayME, a series of podcasts intended to broadcast contemporary Canadian plays.

The idea for PlayME came a decade ago while writing a radio play for the CBC, explains Tolley. “We were present for the recording and found the whole process of creating an audio play really fascinating. With the rising popularity of podcasts, it made sense to us to pair our audio knowledge with our theatre skills.” This realization combined with the financial challenges that come with funding a production, forced Tolley and Mullins to develop a new way of achieving their goals; they did so by creating their own work and showcasing original, Canadian content.

As series’ like Serial have proven, podcasts are becoming an increasingly popular medium for listeners to absorb information and entertainment. Tolley and Mullins explain that their goal for PlayME is to publicize performances and make them available to podcast users. Needless to say, the visuals of a performance don’t matter in this context, as long as the actors’ voices are of a high calibre, the performance will allow for an enjoyable podcast. The two pledge to include both established playwrights and up-and-comers looking to find their voice.

With lack of diversity such a prominent subject in visual arts, Expect Theatre have made it their priority to represent Toronto’s diverse population. Tolley says that this has been their goal since the formation of Expect Theatre.

“From day one we realized we couldn’t engage our audience unless we reflected our audience… Since the very beginning, we’ve been dedicated to producing work that helps tell the stories of diverse cultural communities,” he says, citing their second play, Better Angels, which tells the story of a Ghanaian woman who moves to Toronto to become a nanny.

Tolley admits that the number of people attending theatre on a regular basis has been declining, as has theatre coverage from radio and TV news outlets. With the rise of podcasts and other new media formats, however, he hopes that more listeners from Canada and other parts of the world will rediscover the theatre industry, albeit in a different format. “In just our first two weeks, we’ve seen a massive number of people subscribing to PlayME, and we’ve had listeners from as far as Cyprus, Germany, and Ireland,” he says.

As this new venture grows, the entrepreneurs hope that it will increase interest in attending the actual shows. “They believe that the Internet can help Canadian theatre reach a global audience, letting people enjoy art in a more contemporary, ‘on demand’ way.”

All you need is Lovebot

Matthew Del Degan is behind little robot drawings around the city

All you need is Lovebot

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n your travels around Toronto, you may have come across a small imprint, or a sticker, of a robot with the outline of a heart on its chest. Meet “Lovebot,” designed by graffiti artist Matthew Del Degan for a cold and unwelcoming city. “We are not robots in this concrete jungle,” he assures me. “We have the ability to love.”

In the laboratory

Del Degan recounts sitting in a streetcar, joking and laughing with another man whom he believed to be homeless when he noticed that the other passengers around them appeared like robots lost in their own digital worlds. Through Lovebot, he aimed to create a design that represented the joy we’re capable of.

“It’s been blood, sweat, and tears, many times for all three,” Del Degan tells me. He’d developed the design for a sculpture project in university, where he studied product design. It began as a clay sculpture of a robot with a heart, which soon turned into stickers, concrete robots, posters, toys, and more. Over the years the Lovebot has evolved from an art project to a large-scale movement.

Now, what started in the streets of Toronto has attracted international attention. On the occasions that Del Degan receives criticism for his art — which he notes happens from time to time — he is dismissive, saying, “We all just need a hug.” Despite the challenges, he has remained committed to his vision of expanding the Lovebot movement.

Learning to love

In 2013, there were 100 concrete Lovebots placed around the city. The locations were chosen aiming to monumentalize acts of kindness which had taken place in the corresponding location. The project also intends to acknowledge parts of the city that provide something good for the community, like food banks or homeless shelters.

“Each Lovebot has a story of love and kindness attached to it,” Del Degan says. One of the locations chosen, for example, is next to the A & C Games shop at Spadina and College. He chose the game shop because it offered people the opportunity to play games and interact with others in person, as opposed to simply buying a game and leaving. The community that the shop fosters, in Del Degan’s opinion, warrants a Lovebot. 

The various Lovebots seen around the city are captured and shared on the Instagram page, @lovebottherobot, or accumulated under the hashtag #loveinvasion. They vary from life-size renditions of the robot to smaller stickers that can be found outside restaurants or coffee shops.

The art is supported by volunteers and enthusiasts who work to place the robot around the city and to maintain the website. When new Lovebots are placed in Toronto, the website’s map is updated to show where each and every Lovebot is situated.

Next steps

Meanwhile, Degan is mapping out the next steps of his artistic career. “I’m working on many things,” he says. “New works of art, a massive spectacle or an art show…a shareable sticker package that my fans can use to share the love.” Next September he’ll be pursuing a masters in interdisciplinary media arts and design, but before that he’s headed to Japan to showcase his art. “Life is my playground,” he says emphatically. “I live that way until I’m done living… a lot of what’s built Lovebot is a way of life and philosophy.”

Should students care about the American presidential election?

In the grand scheme, the presidential race is trivial

Should students care about the American presidential election?

This article is part of a response to “The Question”. 

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is not often that simply caring about something in this country causes any grave harm. With regards to those Canadians invested in the outcomes of American presidential elections, this is doubly true. At the very worst, passing comment on the seemingly constant candidate debate schedule or self-righteously posting exaggerated poll results on Facebook every week is likely only to bore everyone around you.

‘Should’ is a difficult word; I’m not willing to argue in favour of U of T students avoiding the ongoing American presidential election campaign simply because there is no real obligation to pay attention. Really, students don’t need to care about the American presidential election for an entirely different reason: because it doesn’t matter.

It’s not that the election just doesn’t matter to Canadians specifically either; the campaign is generally of little consequence to most audiences when we remember that, in the American system of checks and balances, the President wields surprisingly little power. It doesn’t really matter who comes to occupy the presidency at the end of this cycle because whoever they are, they will remain a relatively small though not completely inconsequential piece in the machine that is American government.

This isn’t a matter of political cynicism; hamstringing the executive branch of the American government is written into the design of the whole system, and it shows. President Obama’s most meaningful domestic legislative success thus far was the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a sweeping health care socialization initiative most notable for, in fact, not socializing health care. On all other political priorities — from gun control in the face of multiple mass shootings to emissions control in the face of climate change — America has made minimal legislative progress in the last eight years.

What matters in America is congress — which is akin to our parliament — in that it actually creates and votes on the country’s legislation. The ACA, for instance, was passed by a clean party line vote in the senate (all voting democrats voted ‘yes’ and all voting republicans voted ‘no’). The American executive, so intently focused on one individual, is the most digestible branch of the federal government, but all of its notoriety is worth nothing when compared to the actual power wielded by congress.

One only needs to look at the number of articles and studies concerning political gridlock in the US to see how weak the US President is in the face of a hostile congress, not to mention how the US government shut down for more than two weeks in 2013, because two chambers of congress failed to pass resolutions concerning the appropriation of funds for the 2014 fiscal year.

This is on top of the well-trodden issue that the American legislative agenda is controlled to an enormous degree by political donors. Influence is exerted overtly by the publicized focus of specific laws passed, and also more insidiously by the numerous benefits and earmarks handed out within the footnotes of legislation. 

There are numerous obstacles between the individual who wins the presidency and their ability to implement their political priorities. It is a wonder the office continues to garner as much attention as it does. 

This is not to say we should dismiss American politics as a whole. Rather, that there is no pressure to concern ourselves with whomever happens to find themselves in the ‘seat of power’; they will be far from the most influential force in American politics.

Theodore Yan is a fourth-year student at New College studying political science.

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Back to the drawing board

The New Democratic Party is in need of leadership reform

Back to the drawing board

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]tudents following the ongoing US presidential election have surely been counting themselves lucky lucky to be in Canada — our system of government can seem downright regal in comparison. 

A fundamental difference between our systems is the number of viable parties Canadian voters can choose to support, and the consequent lack of polarization. With so much attention being paid to improving Canada’s electoral system, it’s easy to lose sight of the representative purpose of the parties themselves. The benefit of having more than two major parties is that voters can choose a candidate who represents their opinion more closely. It can be damaging to the entire system when ideologoical diversity is lost. 

If Canada only had two major parties, voters would be made to settle for candidates who barely represent their beliefs. Currently, Canada has three nationally viable parties: the right-wing Conservatives, centrist Liberals, and left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). This should, theoretically, provide voters with options that are roughly reflective of their political opinions. 

Unfortunately, the NDP’s drift — or arguably, lurch — to the centre, evident in the last election, threatens the crucial distinction separating them from the Liberal Party. For the health of Canada’s political climate, the NDP needs to reassert itself as a distinct, principled, progressive party. This challenge cannot be confronted by their current leader, Tom Mulcair.

During last fall’s election period, during which August polls projected that the NDP were poised to win, Mulcair — who had previously considered jobs with both the Liberals and Conservatives — announced that his party would advocate for austerity measures. Given that this stance is generally considered a conservative policy, many considered it a ploy to widen the party’s support among moderate voters.

This strategy backfired. The Liberals outflanked the NDP on the left, and the rest is history. Since then, there have been countless editorials asking why, if the NDP suddenly wants to be centrist, the party even exists as a separate entity from the Liberals. When a party is facing an existential crisis of this magnitude, something is clearly wrong with their strategy.

Because of Mulcair’s austerity gamble, Canadians are left with the misperception that the Liberal Party offers a truly progressive platform. Yet, the NDP remains to the left of the Liberals on almost all major issues — issues many U of T students hold dearly— such as raising corporate tax rates and programs aimed at reducing climate change. 

Tom Mulcair has lost his ability to articulate these positions because of his reputation as a political opportunist. The NDP needs a leader who can energize the left, has true progressive credentials, and will be able to provide a credible alternative to Prime Minister Trudeau. 

There are plenty of candidates who understand the needs of students more than either the Liberal Party or Mulcair currently do. Former Halifax MP Megan Leslie would be an ideal choice: alongside her popularity in Ottawa, she also served as the deputy leader of the party and received widespread acclaim as the opposition’s environmental critic. MPs Nathan Cullen and Niki Ashton are similarly qualified, and will likely compete for the leadership position in Edmonton if it becomes available.

The NDP platform is centred on issues that affect students disprportionately across the country, like economic inequality and climate change, and yet many responded to the sunny ways and anti-austerity of Justin Trudeau. It is unlikely that Tom Mulcair can make a credible case to represent them in 2019.

If the NDP wants to remain relevant, it will have to differentiate itself from the Liberals and demonstrate to Canadians the value of a principled, truly progressive party. The first step in that difficult process is the selection of a leader prepared to confront that challenge. 

If the NDP becomes too similar to the Liberals, it will hurt not only progressives, but the health of our political system. Drifting towards a two-party system harms everyone; we should be invested in the way the NDP grapples with their leadership issue in months to come.

Jack Fraser is a third-year student at Innis College studying international relations.