Science Rendezvous Street Festival celebrates intersections between research and art

Festival aims to make science more accessible to the public

Science Rendezvous Street Festival celebrates intersections between research and art

On a cloudy afternoon on May 11, professors, students, parents, and children enjoyed the annual Science Rendezvous street festival at U of T’s St. George campus. The event let them celebrate and learn more about advancements and achievements in research.

The unifying theme of the festival this year was “S.T.E.A.M Big!”, which focused on the intersections between science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). While art is often seen as separate from STEM disciplines, it is becoming increasingly common in the scientific community to encourage taking inspiration from the arts to drive innovative research.

Street stalls and displays exhibited the relationship between art and science

Displays that exemplified the relationship between art and science included outdoor music and dancing, as well as a visual art gallery inspired by math and science.

The focal points were the stalls and displays lining all of St. George Street. These exhibits presented some of the hottest topics and projects in science today, focusing on big interdisciplinary innovations found at the intersections of these rapidly advancing fields.

Over 80 faculties and community organizations set up exhibits. Highlights included displays of solar-powered cars, rockets, robots, and a wide array of other projects that would fascinate even those who have a passing interest in scientific inquiry.

This wide range and diversity of subjects represented by the participating volunteers brought the 2019 theme of STEAM to vibrant life.

Booths and demonstrations were highlights of the festival

The street festival included over 100 fascinating and interactive booths. Some leaned toward the classic science fair vibe, such as displaying glowing bacteria and allowing patrons to look through a solar telescope. Others opted to take a more creative approach, such as the station inviting attendees to paint with acids, bases, and plant juices.

Some displayed student innovations, such as the demonstration set up by U of T Blue Sky Solar Racing, an undergraduate team that designs, builds, and races solar powered vehicles. There was also a plethora of digital demonstrations interspersed between all the other projects, ranging from virtual reality tours of archeological sites to demos of the many student-made video games.

Street fairs like Science Rendezvous increase engagement with science

One of the goals of the festival was to raise interest in U of T’s science programs, as many high school students attended and participated in the event. An example was the molecular genetics-focused science fair that took place in Bahen Centre for Information Technology.

Besides attracting prospective students, the festival is intended to improve public involvement and investment in STEAM fields. From the number of students competing in the science fair, sporting U of T shirts with palpable excitement on their faces, to the sizeable crowds drawn in by the street festival, it is safe to say that both of these goals were achieved.

A rendezvous is a meeting or an appointment. In a way, St. George Street is a science rendezvous every day, with labs, classes, and seminars running regularly. What was special about this festival was that it took experiences that are often inaccessible and presented them in a way that could appeal to all.

The pretension and exclusivity that often seems to follow research was stripped away, and all that was left was mystery, excitement, and curiosity. This contributed to why the event drew in hundreds of people, and why volunteers and attendees come back year after year.

While Notre Dame burned

A reflection on internalized colonialism

While Notre Dame burned

Lately, I have been on a quest to consume more art by people of colour. I have also been listening to a lot of French music and fangirling over Shawn Mendes. Am I a hypocrite? But I feel guilty about it. Is that worse?

On April 15, the Notre Dame Cathedral burned and I was moved to guilty tears. For the sake of arts and literature, and not religion — or so I told myself — I welled up. For the sake of Quasimodo’s haven and the beautiful architecture. At least, that was my justification. I actively pursued the news minutes after the story first broke. I began to read hourly updates. “Notre Dame may not be saved.” People sung hymns on their knees. Then I turned to Twitter. After my tears had subsided, they were replaced by a wandering thought: what kind of tragedy is this? Some people on Twitter said that this was a religious tragedy, but I’m not so sure.

I read a tweet that said, “A 23-year-old white man destroyed three Black churches in Louisiana last week. The 800-year-old Keriya Aitika mosque in China’s Xinjiang province was also razed to the ground by the Chinese [government], the latest in a string of historic mosques destroyed. Pray for these histories, too.” I liked the tweet, but with a shadow of guilt. I do not follow the news of mosque razings, because they are not actively present in the media. I have always been wary of the Eurocentrism of the media, and I have felt uncomfortable when terror attacks in France made Muslims around the world akin to folk devils. I have chastised the way that the mainstream media covers issues in Palestine or Pakistan with very little nuance and inspection. And still, the destruction of multiple important Black churches has barely been discussed in the way that the burning of this French Catholic institution has.

I’ve been moved to shakes and tears over Black and Brown and European deaths. The difference might be anger. I am angry when Black and Brown people are killed. When Muslims are killed, I feel fiercely protective of my Muslim family. I do not need to make classifications, but I make them because even death has become a politicized deed. I must critique and analyze death in the same way that I would with news or literature.

To explain my sadness about Notre Dame, I start by thinking that Paris has always been among my dream vacation destinations. I have never travelled outside of my home country, Canada, except for a few days in New York, but I used to Google the street views of Rome and Paris during the summer and lust over the visual spaces of Call Me By Your Name. Notre Dame has become another place that I will never get to go. Everyday things are changing, and Paris itself is not the same city that I once dreamed about. But it is there, in the songs, in the literature, in the art, new and old. Images of Paris permeate culture and media institutions across the globe. The idea that there was something out there that was always waiting for me was a comfort, but it is one I now have to release. I always assumed the stagnancy of things, places, and people. This time it burnt down. For me, this was an awakening.

It’s somehow poetic to say that “Notre Dame is burning.” It has a magic poignancy that the Christchurch headlines did not have. On a macro-level, everything about Christchurch on the news was ugly. But then there was the vigil held in our city of Toronto, in our Nathan Phillips Square. As soon as the presider started reading the introductory du’a, I cried. That is another place I will never get to go. I don’t think I have ever been a good Muslim. I do not pray five times a day and I do not feel legitimized by other members of the Muslim community. But I still feel the effects of Islamophobia. I still feel angry when it touches my life.

In different ways, Islam and Christianity have wounded me. Christianity underwrites most public television, either explicitly or implicitly, which frustrates me. The frequent villainization of Islam injures me, but somehow I feel conflicted. I wonder if it’s not my right to grieve, not my right to share this pain. But I am mourning today for that feeling of being left behind. This, I think, is not a political issue. But that irks me still, that I would brush away politics in favour of emotions. Was my crying at the vigil for Christchurch political? It has to be.

White Parisians did not drop to their knees and pray whenever Muslims were attacked in their country. France has a terrible track record when it comes to its treatment of Islam and forced religious assimilation; we all know this. We have given them more empathy than they have given us. The Catholic struggle has been privileged over any other religion’s and the white struggle over any other race’s or people’s; we all know this. We have given them more attention than they have given us. This empathy and attention needs to redirected. That does not mean that marginalized communities shouldn’t attend to the feelings of Parisians and empathize with their situation. It just means that we need to acknowledge that our communities have suffered deeper losses, both historically and contemporarily. People may equate marginalized communities’ reactions to Notre Dame as inhumane or unfeeling, but it is simply a reaction to a system of oppression that has left people of colour in the dark. These are valid emotions.

The main structure of Notre Dame has been saved while most of the tangible history and beautiful architecture has been burned to ashes. The collective pain surrounding this event serves mainly as an expression of the loss of European history and a symbol of Catholicism. Of course I feel for the pain of the French people and Catholics all over the world. But my eyes remain dry because European history is an erasure of Indigenous and non-European cultures as well as the birth of colonial and neocolonial forces that impact our lives everyday. That can never be burned away. How do I reconcile this with my almost-tears? Do I choose not to feel anything? Or maybe the indicator is my lack of actual crying. My sobbing for the attacks on Muslims and people of colour is another indicator. The difference between these is mourning a story and mourning a flesh wound.

And so what if I am always checking myself? Checking myself is a small way of decolonizing my consumption. My tears are political, even if I don’t think they are, and even if they are in private. My emotions are an expression of my social learning. The magic of Paris is a construct perpetuated by the media, but it manifested itself in my soul, so it has splintered my heart slightly. But my heart is not broken.

To be on the brink of tears for a social emblem that I do not actually relate to is a strange sensation. I have started to embrace the guilt, to take care of it, and to understand why my sadness feels so unnatural. That pang of guilt is a way of moving toward deconstructing the deification of white colonial structures, both physical and cultural.

Theatre review: TCDS’ Art

Friendships are akin to art: they help fill the voids within us

Theatre review: TCDS’ <i>Art</i>

Rating: 3/5 stars

Last weekend, the Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) performed Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play, Art. The play, set in Paris and written in French, premiered in 1994 and was quickly adapted and translated, before making its way across the Atlantic and onto Broadway in 1998.

Performed at Trinity College’s George Ignatieff Theatre, curator Liana Ernszt made a conscious effort to integrate the performance with a gallery of boundary-pushing student artwork, providing an altogether more interactive experience.

By presenting opportunities for more direct engagement, Ernszt encouraged audiences to step outside of their comfort zones and provided a more visceral account of the play’s major themes: drifting friendships, weak bonds, senses of taste, and identity. This challenged audiences to consider the value and purpose of art and greatly enhanced the communication of Reza’s message in art.

Art follows three friends, Serge (Ezera Beyene), Marc (Kody McCann), and Yvan (Brendan Rush), who’ve unwittingly grown apart and suddenly find their friendship under considerable tension. Catalyzing the end of their friendship is Serge’s wildly exorbitant purchase of a painting that, rather humorously, is just a completely white canvas with white lines.

Marc disparages the painting, and it is this disagreement in taste between Marc and Serge that forces Yvan in the middle. Naturally, this devolves into a no-holds-barred contest of mockery, cynicism, and disillusionment, ultimately spiralling out of control and into referendums on taste, character assassinations, and a pervasive mood of indifference. Just when it’s most important for them to pull together, they instead push themselves even further apart.

The play, directed by Ryan Falconer, brought out a unified and true-to-form communication of Reza’s Art. The production was well-orchestrated with timely, effective lighting and use of the stage to entwine the audience in an intimate affair of theatre and drama. The band, with Shreya Jha on keyboard and Mira Riselli on bass, helped execute seamless transitions of scenes, building and releasing tension to complement the mood of the cast.

The cast succeeded in captivating the audience by effectively conveying the emotional rifts between their characters. Beyene’s performance of Serge as an eccentric art connoisseur left the impression of a focused approach to his role, by projecting his emotions not impulsively but sincerely. This was nicely juxtaposed by McCann’s performance of Marc, whose condescending demeanour and language really broadcast a sort of austerity that reached beyond the confines of the stage and into the minds of the audience. This contrast worked especially well in heightening the tension between the two characters. Rush’s performance of Yvan was ambitious and intense, though certainly not lost because his character was the most difficult to portray. Rush successfully supported the unfolding interactions between Serge and Marc, which would unravel even more to crash down like a game of Jenga.

The more salient point in Art and the blank canvas is not the trivial senses of taste, but the understanding that friendships are to be nurtured and not taken for granted. As with anything that is abandoned or neglected, if we lose sight, we also stand to lose clarity and, ultimately, the confidence of our friendships.

Friends are a sort of artwork in themselves; like art, friends help us overcome times of adversity and suffering by making light of dark situations. They fill the voids within us to cure our emptiness.

Ultimately, I wish to congratulate Falconer and the TCDS on a great show and laud their commitment and passionate dedication to storytelling, art, and the audience.

Decolonizing Art History

What do Kent Monkman’s paintings reveal about Canada’s history?

Decolonizing Art History

At first glance, the Winter Garden Theatre is gorgeous. There are hundreds of tiny lights dotted around the ceiling, interspersed with a thick foliage of colourful leaves and twisting vines that make up the underside of the only operating two-tiered Edwardian theatre in the world.

On the night of November 14, the theatre was packed with people eager to see Kent Monkman, renowned Cree painter and artist, and the mastermind behind the Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience exhibition.

First showcased in the University of Toronto Art Museum for Canada 150, Shame and Prejudice was just a portion of Monkman’s prolific output, charting the trajectory of Canadian art history itself.

And that is what we had all gathered for: Monkman’s lecture, titled “Decolonizing Art History.”

Throughout the lecture, Monkman displayed an array of images from photographs to paintings, and sculpture to film stills and etchings. He began with several introductory images of the works of early settler-colonial painters, whose vast, lush paintings depict rich green forests and towering mountains that stretch into the distance.

Often the sun is shown bursting up from behind these mountains, denoting “biblical subjects transposed to North America,” as Monkman explained. The greenery and golden glow of the sun was not entirely at odds with the beautiful interior of the theatre — yet it was there that Monkman shattered the beauty of these early settler-colonial paintings.

The vast, gorgeous landscapes were barren of people, except for the European settlers who ‘discovered’ the land.

Many of Monkman’s earlier works were direct responses to these pieces, and inspired his transition from abstract to representational.

The first painting Monkman discussed was William Ranney’s “Boone’s First View of Kentucky,” which shows a sweeping skyline, with a small band of European settlers in the foreground, surveying the land before them. This use of nature as a vast empty space to conquer effectively painted over the very real Indigenous people who lived in these places before white settlers arrived.

Monkman admitted that he “rejected everything that [he] learned in college because [he] thought that representational artmaking was actually passé.” But he noted that it was upon learning more about celebrated early Canadian artists, such as George Catlin, that he became frustrated with the confining nature of his art. So, he turned to representational art.

Tracing Canada’s growth as a nation, his two-spirited identity, Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle, sauntered her way through several of the paintings that Monkman deconstructed for the audience.

Miss Chief, as Monkman refers to her, is the iconic look for which Monkman is most well-known. Clothed in red, Miss Chief’s first appearance was in the painting “Artist and Model,” towering in platform heels and scantily clad in a fluttering pink loincloth and enormous, body-length feather headdress.

If you’re looking for an explanation, you’ll find one in her origin story, which Monkman promises can be read in his upcoming novel: The Memoirs of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.

My first experience with Miss Chief and Monkman himself was through his short film, The Group of Seven Inches. A short black-and-white, the film opens with Miss Chief riding a horse to the McMichael Collection and dismounting beside the replica Tom Thompson shack. She enters the shack to find two white men with whom she proceeds to dress and fondle with a kind of reckless abandon that one can only have, apparently, in a log cabin outside of one of Ontario’s most beloved art collections.

Monkman proceeded to note that this was shot entirely on a weekend when the gallery was closed, although that did not prevent a family with young children from peering through the windows of the cabin to be pleasantly surprised.

Monkman does not invoke Miss Chief merely to draw humour from Canadian art history, though. Rather, Miss Chief is his way of critiquing the way that queer and Indigenous narratives were and are erased from Canadian history through the medium of painting.

In turning our eye toward the history that we have been taught, Monkman’s lecture and his career of decolonization through art causes us to think about the structures that we inhabit and their compliance in upholding history and 150 years of colonization — no matter how beautiful they may be.

The Blackwood Gallery: Miruna Dragan’s When Either But Not Both Are True

Chaos in harmony: a search for truth in representation

The Blackwood Gallery: Miruna Dragan’s When Either But Not Both Are True

The Blackwood Gallery in Mississauga is currently hosting Miruna Dragan’s When Either But Not Both Are True. The exhibition reflects an artist’s exploration of the relations we hold with the world around us, as well as the way our beliefs shape these relations.

Dragan explores the limits of knowledge vis-à-vis the unknown with allusions to spirituality and logic systems, addressing fundamental questions of harmony, representation, and epistemology.

Entering Dragan’s display is a sensory overload — bright hues of reds and blues advance to meet the viewer against a churning backdrop of grey. The traditional blending with the contemporary, sharp lines beside soft contours; juxtaposition upon juxtaposition, opposition followed by opposition; all in all, a seemingly chaotic mess.

Once viewers recover from the initial confusion, accept the lack of understanding of the objects in the surroundings, and gather the courage to approach the display and consider what’s before the eyes one entity at a time, then the initial discord will slowly begin to fade.

The individual pieces greet the viewer by presenting a landscape of their own. From afar, as the viewer takes in the space as a whole, they cannot help but feel the presence of a great emptiness, that of alienation from theenvironment, as humans maintain their distance and consider it from a rational, or perhaps theoretical, perspective.

On the far left, a glimmering box rests on the floor before a tapestry, upon which four blue petals embedded with logic symbols find themselves surrounded by Suminagashi patterns inked on rice paper; all of this isagainst a softly textured salt wall. The allusion to the natural world is obvious. However, the underlying presence of the supernatural, reflected by Eastern symbolism, light, and water, highlights the presence of an additional dimension to perception; this can only be achieved by rekindling our relationship with our environment.

A few steps to the right, there is a more pronounced contrast between the vivid geometric patterns and the soft backdrop, further establishing the lack of harmony between reason and spirituality. Yet this also hints that our understanding of both the physical and the metaphysical are ultimately part of a whole, despite superficial disparity.

When Either But Not Both Are True seems to reflect a return to the tradition of Romanticism, through its focus on the lack of unity and spirituality in contemporary society, as well as the emphasis pon the importance of our environment. Likewise, its appeal to Eastern philosophy, which challenges what we know of conventional, Western logic, encourages an acceptance of chaos as a part of a greater whole.

The infinitely expandable rhizomatic tree resting in a corner attests to the above. The rhizome can be understood as a symbol of resistance from traditional linear organizational structures; there is no beginning or end and everything is united. This addresses our current framework of knowledge and understanding, according to structured hierarchies, and considers the natural world through a network of multiplicities.

Ultimately, we are asked to re-evaluate not only our relation to nature, but to question the very foundation of our beliefs.

Addressing financial illiteracy through art

UTM adjunct professor Radha Maharaj’s campaign seeks to improve student financial literacy

Addressing financial illiteracy through art

Financial illiteracy can be a recurring issue for many university students, so Dr. Radha Maharaj of UTM’s Communication, Culture, Information and Technology department wants to tackle the issue through a campaign called Elly. Maharaj’s financial literacy campaign involves a study, a survey, an artistic competition, and a series of interviews, all of which aim to improve financial literacy.

The study aims to assess the level of financial literacy among students and the extent to which students are affected by debt and other financial issues.

The survey, which runs from September to March, is an opportunity for all UTM students to take stock of where they are financially while also voicing any concerns and issues that they may have about personal finance.

The competition aspect, entitled “Elly in Action,” involves students submitting a creative presentation — be it song, dance, art, or a short film — that has a financial theme. The campaign encourages students to artistically explore topics such as being burdened with student debt or getting finances in order. The submission period for the competition ends on November 15.

Finally, the interview component is meant for students to ask questions, receive advice, and share their concerns regarding personal finance management.

Maharaj wrote in an email to The Varsity, “There is a taboo around talking about money. This is a generational problem. It’s simply a topic that we have not discussed about openly in the past and it continues today.” She added that students “are usually overwhelmed and apprehensive by the topic itself, because finance has a reputation of being complicated and boring.”

The use of music, dance, and art therefore aims to connect with finance in a way that students can more easily engage with. According to Maharaj, though art and finance are seemingly juxtaposed to each other, they “are in fact essential and complementary to our daily existence. Elly is the start of the movement to make this connection.” Maharaj is also in the process of designing “immersive personal finance courses” that will incorporate creative works.

Engaging with students through a seemingly non-traditional manner is key for Maharaj, who is also eager to improve the program and determine the best way to deliver the appropriate material to students who need assistance and are interested in learning more. “We do a good job of preparing students for the world of work and making money,” Maharaj said, “but we hardly spend the time teaching them how to manage that money in their personal life.”

Becoming Banksy asks the age-old question: who really is Banksy?

The up-and-coming comedy provides a commentary on society’s relationship with the world’s most well-known graffiti artist

<i> Becoming Banksy </i>asks the age-old question: who really is Banksy?

The Varsity sat down with Caitlin Driscoll, Daniel Pagett, Imogen Wilson, Elan Farbiarz, and Anurag Choudhury, who make up the cast and crew of Becoming Banksy. Becoming Banksy is a comedy that explores what happens when a confused tourist is mistaken for the world’s most famous artist.

The Varsity: There is quite a difference between the way that visual art and theatrical art portray their message. The visual component is very different; you convey time and expression a lot more fluidly, more dynamically as actors. Since Banksy is known for movement and attention-grabbing hooks, did you struggle to convey that same sort of ‘hook?’

Elan Farbiarz: Everyone has a different viewpoint on the art itself, graffiti, Banksy, what have you. It is pretty cool — it’s completely anonymous and people will just show up and gawk at it and care. The anonymity is so exciting for everyone to see. If we knew who Banksy was, I don’t know if people would care.

Imogen Wilson: Banksy is quite unique in the way that it has this anonymity where you could venture to what it could be, like Batman, these individuals that exist in the zeitgeist, but exist where you can’t see them.

Daniel Pagett: They represent the idea, not just themselves.

EF: Some of Banksy’s most prolific works are his installation pieces, which bridge the gap between the theatrical and artist. You’re expected as an observer to contribute — see, touch, manipulate. Your relationship to the space and time you’re in takes your experience. Much like here, a very powerful part of theatre is the ‘now.’ What if we were to expose Banksy?

TV: Banksy’s work is sometimes satirical, but most of the time political. Do you feel a comedy suits Banksy better than a tragedy?

Caitlin Driscoll: When does the artist become the art? It’s about him. Like, the humour that surrounds him as a person — you gotta be able to laugh. His stuff, it’s political, incendiary in some way, but at the same time, the way people get caught up in the fame — it diminishes the messages. It’s interesting to do a comedy about that.

EF: There’s something [ominous] about the rise of our collective zeitgeist and the rise of this artist, which is making very poignant comments on this relationship, between our lives, corporations, privacy.

IW: There’s a quote that Banksy has, it’s, “People only cared about what I had to say when they didn’t know who I was,” which I think is quite cool and quite telling.

DP: Social media carries his art to a larger audience. It carries a similarity with graffiti in that they are both ‘local’ [accessible] mediums. They exist in one place, at one time. I would argue that theatre is more ‘local’ now because of the internet, but with graffiti you can see a picture of it and it kind of works.

EF: But it changes all the time; like theatre, a month later it could be faded, a few weeks later it could be gone. It happens under the cover of night. One morning you could wake up and just be like, ‘Oh what’s that, another piece?’ on your way to work.

PHOTO BY KRIS ROESKE

TV: Did making this ‘local’ theatrical experience have anything to do with the fact that there is a Banksy exhibition happening right now?

IW: I’m from Toronto originally and I always wanted to come back and do something here, and once I saw that Banksy was coming here, it was like, ‘Of course, Toronto.’ You never know how many people ‘know’ Banksy, though. In New York, London, LA, there’s a good base that understands it. All [of a] sudden, people are going to be like, ‘Oh what’s Banksy like?’ The exhibit was great for people who know nothing about Banksy. Our show gives you more depth to what it’s actually all about, the phenomenon. How we talk, the questions, the people who don’t like the work. It’s one of those things where we ask those questions and we give you more than what the exhibit could give you.

EF: I’m a bit of a self-proclaimed renegade. I always loved those stories of people existing outside of convention, and being bold, and making strong choices, you know, Banksy, Batman, Robin Hood, these unsung heroes. On an artistic level, I like his work. It’s clever, well-executed. The stencil work is great. I think his exhibition pieces are his best work.

DP: In terms of the comedy of the show, Banksy uses satire and political messages, and that’s always been a big thing for me as an actor. If I have a message to [the piece], or dramatic catharsis, there should be an equal amount of comedy and accessibility for audiences. A spoonful of sugar is missing from a lot of art. I think that’s one thing that’s really important. Some artists want their voice to be heard, but if it’s not accessible, or if no one wants to listen, then you’re really just shouting into the void.

CD: I’ve always been a big fan of Banksy as a ‘moment in time.’ He’s like, all the things. Banksy is the ultimate stand-up comic. He can do his whole set — no one needs to look it over. He’s there.

TV: If there was one thing you could impress upon Banksy, what would it be?

CD: That’s a big one. My main thing would be, I don’t want to know who you are. I want you to remain anonymous. I like the choices being made. I don’t want to meet you, I don’t need to meet you.

DP: Because I think of Banksy as more of an idea than a person, it’s hard to say what I’d say to him necessarily — I’ve already said a bunch of things ‘to’ him. It’s harder to say something to an idea than to a person. I’d just say thanks.

EF: I’d ask him where the treasure is buried. I mean in the same way, it’s my belief that it’s bigger than one person. If I were to meet someone from ‘Banksy Inc.,’ I’d probably want to participate. What’s the secret code? How can I join?

IW: Obviously Banksy has all this money now. I’d want to know what, or how much he profits off his works and his projects and exhibitions. How much do you control, what power do you have, and how do you earn all of this? It’s a big corporation.

Anurag Choudhury: I find it strange to ask people about their professions, so I’d probably just ask for a pint and then ask about his politics.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Becoming Banksy opened on September 28 and will run until October 14. Tickets are available at www.becomingbanksy.com.

An afternoon with Emily Carr and co.

Exploring rare Canadian post-war and contemporary art

An afternoon with Emily Carr and co.

Earlier this month, Heffel Fine Art Auction House presented the public with a free preview of its Fine Canadian Art and Post-War & Contemporary Art Auction, which opens in Vancouver on May 25. The preview allowed for patrons to explore historic paintings that are rich with Canadian sentiment and private artworks that have rarely been displayed.

It was a dreary Saturday afternoon when I approached the Heffel Fine Art Auction House, located in the heart of Yorkville. The possibility of an unprecedented look at the works of painter Emily Carr presided in my mind, and urged me to brave the weather.

The auction house’s narrow interior was intimate: white walls created an impressive negative space, tightly wrapping its close quarters. The magnificent art hanging in various shapes and sizes on each and every wall created an organized mosaic. It was a warm place for collectors, savants, artists and just regular folk interested in a historical trip through art.

Carr is arguably Canada’s foremost female artist. She often chose to illustrate the livelihood of First Nations people and the vast landscape of British Columbia.

Carr is arguably Canada’s foremost female artist. She often chose to illustrate the livelihood of First Nations people and the vast landscape of British Columbia. The auction house itself is no stranger to Carr’s work. Last May, Carr’s mature period painting Forest Light sold for $1.53 million, far above its presale estimate value of $400,000–$600,000.

Five of Carr’s pieces are up for auction, including Woodland Interior, a lustrous oil painting also from her mature period.

Her 1927 watercolor Gitwangak is my personal favourite. It depicts a row of large totem poles on the edge of the coast, with a forest and rolling mountains in the background. The watercolor blends light and dark browns to capture the warm image of an Indigenous child playing with dogs central to the foreground. Gitwangak is expected to sell for between $200,000–$300,000 but may draw in far more.

Carr’s work is easy to praise and feels like a tribute to the beauty of nature, a sentiment she captured well throughout her career. Gitwangak specifically serves as an unfiltered look at the Pacific Northwest and its First Nations culture, a perspective that isn’t explored enough today.

However, the auction house included more than just Carr’s work. Throughout the adjacent buildings were examples of two distinct styles: post-war and contemporary art.

Legendary Québécois artist Jean Paul Lemieux, known for depicting desolate, boundless spaces, also has several pieces up for auction. Fellow French-Canadian artist Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté’s painting La vieille église de Sherbrooke-Est par temps de neige is a painting commissioned to the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church in Sherbrooke. Initially a gift from Suzor-Coté in 1913 to pastor Father Joseph-Arthur Laporte, the piece is set to be auctioned for the first time.

Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris’ 1913–14 oil painting Laurentian Landscape is another notable artwork. Harris created it prior to the group’s formation, yet it reflects the ideals of natural landscapes that the group would later seek to present in their work. The oil painting is estimated to receive between $1.2 million–$1.6 million, a huge leap from its original purchase price of $8,400 in 1966.

Celebrated Canadian artist Alex Colville’s Swimming Dog and Canoe may be the highlight of the post-war and contemporary section. An acrylic masterpiece of Colville’s signature detailed dot style, the piece is an exceptional composition about an everyday event. Colville, who regularly used animals as subjects, depicted a black dog in contrast to the green water and tree line, while a pair of paddlers in a canoe observe the scene in the background.

A virtual tour is available on the Heffel Fine Art Auction House website: see the works before they are auctioned off and enter back into obscurity on May 25.