UTSG: Domus: Art Installation
Enlightened minds, illuminated research
How the AGO’s art inspires researchers at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
What does scientific discourse have to do with artistic expression? For a research team at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, the answer is “everything.”
We once thought of our right and left brains as separate forces responsible for logical and creative thought, respectively. But scientific progress has shown us otherwise, as mental processes require that the whole brain works together in harmony to approach a task.
Just as the corpus callosum brings our hemispheres together as a band of nerve fibres, so too should science and art harmonize — so believes Dr. Mathieu Lupien, a Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
Lupien incorporates art into his professional sphere to generate creative discourse between his close-knit team of researchers. He offers a unique approach to team-building by inviting his team to take a stroll through the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Each team member takes the time to walk through and choose a piece of artwork that speaks to them. Lupien then has the team come together as a group to share their chosen piece and engage in dialogue about what inspired them.
“I get to see the world from their perspective and they get to see mine from theirs,” said Lupien in an interview with The Varsity. The process helps the researchers better understand how they see the world through different lenses.
Lupien expresses that this is an exercise in using something creative, like art, to share who we are as scientists. It gives the team a glimpse into each other’s worlds. For example, if a member really enjoys the intricate detail in a piece, we can understand that the fine details they reflect in their own work are something they value. This helps us interpret the work they do in a more meaningful way.
“Our imagination is the only way to explore the unknown,” said Lupien. “We are working in uncharted territory sometimes, so creating an environment that is conducive to open, creative thought is important for our work.”
How can students integrate art and science into their own research methods?
Lupien describes that translating scientific works in an intelligible way is an art in itself. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can be highly complex areas, full of jargon which can be intimidating for many students interested in the field. Using creative expression is one way to translate complexities in an imaginative way.
He demonstrates this idea in his description of his research on epigenetics: the study of how the activity of our genes can change, without changing our DNA sequences. He describes the genome as six billion letters of DNA that form words that are different in nature. When they are organized into sentences, each of them tells a unique story.
In order to form specific parts of our body, such as muscle and brain tissue, we organize our genome, represented here as letters, in different ways to create distinct sentences. The folding process is guided by epigenetic events, or post-it notes, which highlight the regions of our genome that need to be read.
Perhaps we can say that art relates in the same way. Each stroke of the brush or strike of the pen creates a unique image, and the artist goes over certain areas of the painting with these tools to highlight parts of the piece. Sometimes this disrupts the image, which can create chaos. Other times, this enhances the image with clarity.
Like epigenetics, one must follow these fine lines or broad strokes to understand how the larger image, or genome, has come to be. Lupien emphasizes that fostering creative thought can open a world of possibilities for all walks of life. “Bringing these values into your everyday practice as a researcher can serve to nourish your approach to work,” he said.
Experiencing art can also serve as time for our ideas to incubate, perhaps creating a period of unconscious processing for approaching problems in research. Taking from the famous 1929 works of Graham Wallas, The Art of Thought, incubation allows us to process problems in a manner whereby no direct effort is exerted.
We can optimize the way we process pre-existing knowledge by exposing ourselves to creative mediums such as art. This may lead to new approaches in scientific work. Ultimately, generating a scientific discourse with the expression of art can bring forth creative magic that inspires research.
“In research, there are two things of value — there is knowledge and creativity,” said Lupien.
“You need to have balance. Never shy away from engaging in creative thought. You never know where it will take you.”
How and where to get your art published this summer
Hit up these galleries and publications for a complimentary feature
Entering the month of warm pavements and beams of sunlight may be exciting for those without paintbrushes or design pads, but for artists, the only vitamin we will get to soak up is Vitamin ECW, aka Endless Computer Work.
Summer is either the time to review last semester’s work and rebuild your portfolio or submit your art to various agencies for freelance work and internships.
Between all the Gen Zers and millennials vying for positions, it is exhausting trying to find work and it can be incredibly competitive. We are often left wondering how we will ever gain ingredients to our design career pie.
I realized quickly that sometimes the only option you have is to bake the pie from scratch, usually without a recipe.
There are plenty of other ways to get your work out in the open. Building your public portfolio is the first step in landing one of those sought positions, so getting your work published online should be your top priority.
As many artists know, Instagram which is one of the biggest platforms right now to connect with like-minded individuals and receive great feedback.
However, finding publications or pages willing to feature your work can take some digging. This is especially true since most ask for a publication fee — if you are in the position where spending any new coin is not an option it can be discouraging.
Don’t sigh just yet, content is on your side! Since most platforms rely on a constant uploading schedule there are a few gems amidst the crowd that need artists to keep their flow going.
Not to mention that because we are in the digital decade, you are open to the international market. Here are a few sites that are aesthetically pleasing for some great screen grabs and just what you need for exposure:
IGNANT is a gorgeous minimalist platform for design, architecture, photography, art, and more.
Its published works deal mainly with “contemporary aesthetics from a different perspective.” To submit, all you need to do is send an email and attach images with a width of 1800 pixels or more, along with a description.
Ballpit is a contemporary online art news magazine with over 52,000 followers on Instagram. It looks for consistent, high-quality work, and a positive attitude. If this sounds like you, fill out Ballpit’s small form for either a story feature or an Instagram post!
Colossal puts the world of art culture at your fingertips. It is a contemporary art platform that accepts submissions across different disciplines: if you make anything from embroidery, animation, or painting, you are eligible to submit your work! Keep your descriptions brief in your email and attach a few relevant works that are at least 1,200 pixels wide. You can send a link to your portfolio; just make sure that it’s easy to get around to the right spot.
Communication Arts is the perfect place for just about any artist, offering many opportunities to gain exposure. Submissions are open for its exhibit of new and innovative projects in graphic design, advertising, and outstanding websites. It also has online competitions, from which you can receive a personalized award if you win. How does that sound? There is a massive FAQ on the submissions page for each category if you are looking for extra information.
Empty Easel is a one-stop-shop for tutorials and a platform to showcase unknown, emerging, and established artists every week. There is no definition of what it looks for in terms of art — the canvas is your oyster.
EatSleepDraw is a very popular Tumblr-based online art gallery that posts 100 per cent original content, submitted by contributors across the globe. It receives about 1,000 submissions every week, which means that approved artwork might take between 20 and 30 days to be posted, so pause on that refresh button for one second. EatSleepDraw also has been featured in The New York Times, so who knows who will see your art!
Calling all ladies! Women Who Draw is an open directory for professional women and gender nonconforming illustrators and artists. Their mission is to increase the visibility of female illustrators and those of minority groups. Make sure to submit a portrait of a woman that best describes your work!
Remember to always keep your eye out for artist calls such as the Art Map, and galleries that are looking for a variety of skills. Gallery 1313 has a space that features innovative work by emerging artists featured in the Window Box Gallery at 1313 Queen Street West.
There is no cost involved in submitting your work. It’s a great opportunity to feature your art at the receptions taking place there, and expose it to new audiences. Bragging rights are included!
Of course, as with anything, getting your name out there takes time and patience, but the timer to take out your design pie will go off at any minute, with all the trials and errors of making it that much sweeter.
Science Rendezvous Street Festival celebrates intersections between research and art
Festival aims to make science more accessible to the public
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
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
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?
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 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.