Spring 2018 Newsletter
Relinked, (Relayed), Related

The Beyond, Beyond

The middle of every narrative represents a moment of uncertainty before an arrival or change. Artists and curators know this productive process is also purgatory because arrival and change are also ruptures. What if one used this time-before-the-arrival to shape the change-about-to-happen?

For 2018, we have proposed The Beyond, Beyond as a way to speculatively consider this interstitial awakening … and—in true AGYU style—to experiment with artists in order to explore where this thinking might lead us together. If we learn anything from the artists we are hosting this year, it’s a kind of circular nomadism: a movement full of detours, interludes, and delays; a multiplicity inspired almost entirely by the “toute monde” of the Americas. As Martiniquan poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant reminds us: the Americas make the multiplicities of the world comprehensible.

“Borders” and “thresholds” are concepts necessary to think through The Beyond, Beyond. And so are migration, survival, and connection to place—be that land or locality. Our 2018 program criss-crosses the Americas: from the USA this past winter with Postcommodity, now to Brazil with Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, and upcoming in the fall to Mexico with Betsabeé Romero. These artists’ work engages real borders, thresholds, and (aesthetic) frontiers to liberate our positions and perspectives-in-relation to each other and to the world—now and for the future. In 2018, we also stage actions that intentionally inhabit the civic spaces that surround the gallery—including our new Line One subway extension. We seek to open up our city to new kinds of possibilities for movement and agency: to relink, relay, and relate locations and cultures across time and space. With Wagner and de Burca, we wonder: What might constitute the creation of new traditions? Or, more interestingly, what will become our contemporary ones? Perhaps traditions can only be known, not from the past but from the future looking back at the here and now. “Our enduring popular culture is at the base of our reflexes…. It is what allows us to persist,” says Glissant in Le discours antillais (Caribbean Discourse).

One never knows what will come next, certainly not in these times of uncertainty. Can uncertain times mean new kinds of arrivals, new sorts of ruptures? At the AGYU, we, too, wonder, changing as we are.

– Emelie Chhangur, Interim Director/Curator

Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca

18 April – 24 June 2018

Opening Reception: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 6–9 pm

Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s works celebrate—and reframe—vernacular cultural forms as they have manifested through time, as popular traditions become pop culture, for instance. Through photography and film, the artists examine a space in between, where cultural forms of the past adapt in response to changing economic conditions—particularly in emerging economies or post-colonial geographical contexts—and where popular genres persist through cultural mixing and diasporic re-fashioning.

The artists’ practice looks to how performative forms of colonial cultural resistance in Brazil’s northeast—such as capoeira—continue today but in revised expression, such as in frevo, the subject of the 12-minute film, Faz que vai (Set to Go) from 2015. For the protagonists, self-fashioning becomes a means of cultural, economic, and social survival. This subtle cultural re-valuing is a key concept behind the photographic series Mestres de Cerimônias (Masters of Ceremony) and the film Estás vendo coisas (You Are Seeing Things), produced for the 2016 São Paulo Biennial. The film’s protagonists are part of Recife’s brega scene, a once-regional musical genre that has since gained global attention via social media. For Masters of Ceremony, Wagner followed some of brega’s best-known video clip producers to document MC culture in Brazil. The series of 16 photographs reveals an economy of desire for visibility, consumption, and celebrity.

Wagner’s documentary photography practice often acts as an initial research process, introducing the artists to the main practitioners of these burgeoning cultural phenomena who later collaborate on developing the film’s script and also play roles cast for them in the film by performing exactly what they do in real life.

Countering the impulse to categorize culture in terms that are fixed—or deemed “folk” by organizations such as UNESCO—the artists explore cultural change across generations and geographies. Shot on the island of Réunion, Cinéma Casino (2014) joins radically different kinds of rhythms and dance traditions through a synchronized split-screen film installation that explores the movement of and in bodies. Here, rhythms of mayola and sega set the stage for dancers of mixed cultural backgrounds to demonstrate choreographies adapted from dancehall, zouk, ragga-love, and coupé-décalé, all the while talking about the meaning of these gestures. As if in-between the split screen of this syncretic installation, a third space is navigated by a new generation of Réunionnese.

The self-fashioning of their subjects, the framing by the artists, and the conventions of film are entangled in the real-life politics of their films’ protagonists. Straddling the border of documentary and fiction, the artists have developed a subtle system of pointing that reveals rather than classifies. In the slippery spaces between the staged and the actual, the gendered, racialized, and socio-economic contexts of the subjects emerge. And, it is precisely there that the self-generated strategies of visibility and subversion between the fields of pop culture, high art, and tradition are performed anew.

Wagner and de Burca’s own hybrid practice may well be self-fashioned, too. Perhaps the artists’ different backgrounds—Wagner’s background in photojournalism and de Burca’s in collage—enable a strategy that allows them to stay open to the ways in which, as the artists have said, “the subjects choose their own formats” of presentation. The AGYU is currently doing the same as we commission their latest film. Situating their nuanced practice of examining the contemporary sense of what presents itself as tradition—but now here in Toronto—the film participates in the burgeoning scene of this city’s spoken word community and—in particular—the Scarborough phenomenon: RISE (see Pedagogy/Community/Action).

Bárbara Wagner (1980, Brasília, Brazil) and Benjamin de Burca (1975, Munich, Germany) have been exhibited most recently at Skulptur Projekte Münster, Germany; São Paulo Museum of Modern Art; 32nd São Paulo Biennial; the Biennale on La Réunion; EVA International, Ireland, and the 68th Berlinale. Wagner and de Burca live and work in Recife, an old colonial city in the northeast of Brazil. They are represented by Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo, and are the AGYU’s 2017–18 artists-in-residence.

Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca is a primary exhibition of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival and is presented in conjunction with the 2018 Images Festival Off-Screen program. The exhibition is curated by AGYU Interim Director/Curator, Emelie Chhangur.

Subway Cypher: Poetry and Rap Mobilized | Wednesday, April 18

Prepare to be moved!

Get on the AGYU’s inaugural Subway Cypher with some  of Toronto’s best and  brightest spoken word poets and rappers!

Featuring: Nasim Asgari, Nathan Baya, Bidhan Berma, Timaaj Hassen, Michael Morales &  T.Dot BANGERZ Brass, Tdot Rapstarz, and Thunderclaw Robinson.

Performances continue from the *new* York University Subway stop when the poets and rappers exit the station  and lead us to the AGYU  for the opening of Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s AGYU exhibition.

AGYU Vitrines

According to the wabi-sabi aesthetic principle of organic organ­ization, truth comes from the observation of nature, including all its imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness. With this as a guiding principle, Véronique Sunatori’s commission for AGYU Vitrines features the glowing moon on a clear night sky, the reflection of the sky in pools of rainwater, and the tops of tall grass emerging from a bed of fog— all moments of wonder and transience for us to contemplate in our three exterior colonnade windows.

Véronique Sunatori has participated in residencies at AIRY Yamanashi and the Société d’art et d’histoire de Beauport. Sunatori’s work has been presented at Studio Sixty-Six, Art Mûr, FOFA Gallery, and upcoming at Circa Art Actuel. She is currently an MFA candidate at York University.

Audio Out Listening Bench

For this edition of Audio Out, Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston, from YorkU’s Department of Theatre, curates Five Songs for Daddy, a suite of songs composed by Lynn Hutchinson Lee. Lamenting cultural displacement and the death of memory in the Romanichal Lee/Hutchinson family, who left England for Canada in 1910, these songs are part of a larger performative installation on the experience of Roma refugees in Canada. A collaboration of Red Tree and the Chirikli Collective, Canada Without Shadows was originally conceptualized by Hedina Tahirović Sijerčić and Lynn Hutchinson Lee for the Roma Pavilion, Venice. Canada Without Shadows was motivated by the need for Romani cultural agency and voice in an era of globalization and neoliberalism; for Romani women to speak of their lives; and by the need to address contemporary Romani experience as a critical response to prevailing dominant cultures.

Chirikli Collective was founded in January 2011 by Hedina Tahirović Sijerčić and Lynn Hutchinson Lee. This small, informal, and mobile collective is based in Toronto; Aldekerk, Germany; and Sarajevo, Bosnia. The collective explores processes, arts projects, and interdisciplinary installations intrinsic to a vision and practice of cultural identity.

Public Programs

Artist Talk: Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca | Sunday, May 27, 2018 @ 2 pm | AGYU

Rising international art-stars Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca give a tour of their AGYU exhibition and explore their works’ themes, production methodologies, and social-political contexts. Particular attention is paid to the role that documentary photography plays in their research-process and how filmmaking is used as a performative strategy that dramatizes new cultural traditions as they take shape. The artists also discuss their Toronto residencies and the development of their AGYU-commissioned film with spoken word poets from across the Greater Toronto Area.

Presented in conjunction with the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

Jane Street Speaks | Friday, May 4, 2018 @ 7-10 pm | AGYU

Jane–Finch community activist Jhaavani, rapper Nathan Baya, and AGYU are joining forces to bring you Jane Street Speaks, a monthly open mic event that provides a platform for West End artists to speak their truth through spoken word poetry, rap, and music. Don’t miss the series kick-off inside Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s exhibition. Doors open 7:00 pm. Show starts at 8:30 pm. Free admission.

Nathan Baya is a dancer, spoken word artist, and rapper who lives in the Jane–Finch community. Baya’s recent EPs include Battle With Depression and Pen Soul, a collaborative album with Nix.

Jhaavani Lisa Diaram is a recent graduate from the Social Services Worker program, Seneca College. Jhaavani works with Jane–Finch youth-serving organizations PEACH and Beyond At Risk and is an advisory member for the resident-led advocacy group, Grow Our Grassways.

Student Tour Series | Wednesday, April 25, 2018 @ 6–7 pm | AGYU

Join Tanzanian filmmaker and MFA candidate in Film Production at York University Amil Shivji for a tour of Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s AGYU exhibition. Amil discusses the artists’ surrealistic approach to narrative realism as an aesthetic strategy of picturing the worlds of the oppressed, whose protagonists dance through time as an expression of aspiration.

Amil Shivji is a Tanzanian filmmaker and lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam. He believes in using images to challenge the powers that be, in particular deconstructing urban façades of development and emphasizing the strength and struggles of marginalized communities.

Unaligned Seminar: The We Love Édouard Glissant Edition!

“To move from the oral to the written is to immobilize the body, to take control…”, so writes Édouard Glissant, and so, to free up that body, we have decided to move from the written back to the oral, putting our bodies into motion, aided and abetted by the TTC. This version of our occasional Unaligned Seminar is a peripatetic reading series of the poetry of Édouard Glissant. We’ve met a couple times already, the first at the gallery (to get a grounding on the border of the Postcommodity exhibition), and then, transit gloria mundi [sic]: A time is set, a text chosen, and participants read en route to a different subway station, where we put down some temporary roots, and discuss our collective thoughts in the archipelago of public transit.

Our host on this journey is Jonathan Adjemian, a musician known for his skill as a keyboardist and his knowledge of digital and analog audio. His compositions have been presented by The Music Gallery, Flowchart, the Canadian Music Centre, and Dancemakers. Jonathan is Administrative Director of Labyrinth Ontario, coordinates the Composer’s Toolbox project at the Canadian Music Centre, and runs informal academic-style seminars in Toronto art galleries. He holds a PhD in Social and Political Thought from York University, and translates from French to English.

Beside, Outside: Solidarity and/as Performance | Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 2–4pm | Special Projects Gallery, Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts, YorkU

From rallies, marches, and protests to hacktivism, citizen journalism, and hashtag activism, today we have more tools at our disposal than ever to organize for social justice. However, with the prevalence of online actions and virtual spaces, we might ask if embodied activism—showing up, being present—might sometimes take a backseat to these more remote and removed forms of solidarity.

Presented in conjunction with the opening of al lado, afuera. // beside, outside—a video- and installation-based exhibition initiated by Zoë Heyn-Jones that looks at human rights accompaniment in Guatemala—this round table asks: how is solidarity performed? Is it necessarily embodied? How has solidarity activism changed since the advent of the internet and social media? How do these differently-manifested forms of solidarity activism perform as tools for change? Speakers from the Latin American Working Group, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, and Idle No More examine how this performativity manifests in their particular contexts.

Zoë Heyn-Jones is a PhD candidate in Visual Arts at York University and graduate fellow at the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC), York University.

Contemporary Bus Tour | Sunday, May 27, 2018 @ 12–5pm

The tour starts at Koffler Centre of the Arts at Artscape Youngplace (180 Shaw Street) and then departs for the Art Gallery of York University, Art Gallery of Mississauga, and Doris McCarthy Gallery. To save a seat RSVP at may-art-bus.eventbrite.ca.

Research & Residencies

Betsabeé Romero: Vernacular Tradition as a Form of Cultural Resistance

Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero returns from May through August to produce a new body of work while in residence with upper-level sculpture students as part of the L.L. Odette Artist-in-Residence Program*, a key partnership between York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance, and Design (AMPD) and AGYU. Betsabeé enacts anti-modern gestures through collective handmade labour techniques that operate against the mechanization of industrial processes to decolonize materials (such as rubber or chewing gum). She is interested in how the global incorporation of influences can be a form of cultural dialogue in the aftermath of colonialism, particularly in the Americas. Betsabeé is known internationally for her large-scale public works and unconventional approaches to trace making that explore themes ranging from the megalopolis of Mexico City to pollution, border culture, migration, and movement in contemporary life. A publication that documents this project and exhibition will be released in 2019.

*The L.L. Odette Artist-in-Residence Program is an intensive, hands-on production residency that provides upper-level students with the opportunity to work with a professional artist to produce elements of the artist’s work and reflects York’s commitment to experiential learning.

Upcoming Exhibition

Betsabeé Romero: Trenzando raíces / Braided Roots

Our fall exhibition consists entirely of commissioned work by Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero. These works are produced in Toronto over the summer of 2018 through an unprecedented partnership between the AGYU and the L.L. Odette Artist-in-Residence Program in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) at York University.

Braided Roots is shaped by the experiences, encounters, and exchanges the artist had during her initial site visit to Toronto in May 2017 as well as further research developed over the past year—particularly in the aftermath of the Mexico City earthquake—into Canada and its mining practices in the Americas. The site-specific work is developed through workshops with the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and experimentation with materials and techniques in the AMPD sculpture studio: from bronze casting to weaving human hair by hand. The exhibition is curated by AGYU Interim Director/Curator Emelie Chhangur and Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation Band Council Member, Cathie Jamieson.

The exhibition uses the three gallery spaces of the AGYU as a structuring device to explore the entangled relationships of land, culture, and communication through the lens of shared symbols, materials, and traditions that overlap and persist in Indigenous cultures of the Americas. Comprised of three monumental works—one in each gallery—the exhibition performs as a kind of cultural ouroboros, folding back on itself as it comes full circle. Bookended by a post-apocalyptic landscape of “lost” marker trees—Indigenous wayfinders—pointing in all directions and an invitation to commune under a Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent)—the Aztec god of wind and learning—reinterpreted as a series of inter-connected plumes suspended from the ceiling, Braided Roots weaves together a sophisticated story of strength, solidarity, and wisdom.

An off-site component of the project takes place at New Credit, the present-day land of the Mississaugas. This in-situ work is developed through workshops that explore and evolve new symbols, which are then installed in public space as silk-screened metal signposts, like the ones you would find along the highways going in and out of the surrounding township of Hagersville, Ontario.

Pedagogy/Community/Action

Time-Before-the-Arrival…RISE: An AGYU-commissioned film by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin De Burca

Five years ago in Scarborough, located in Toronto’s east end, the young poet Randell Adjei formed a creative community—a self-professed “safe space”—named RISE (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere). Meeting once a week in community centres, participants share their spoken-word poems and songs in an environment inspired by the concept of “Edutainment,” a phrase coined by the legendary New York rapper KRS-1, one of the founding fathers of Hip Hop.

At RISE, performers are encouraged by a sympathetic audience, who fully participate in an atmosphere of mutual support and collective therapy. The meetings are punctuated by different forms of acceptance through equally affective audience responses (finger snapping, deep throated intonations, mmmmmms)—indeed a twenty-first century call-and-response—that calls upon the individuals who perform to exhort self-belief  and betterment through art and education.

The majority of poets who perform at RISE have one foot in another land, culture, or  language. The audience, too, shares their status as both Torontonians and as immigrants—having come predominantly from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. As a result, a sense of non-belonging, “in-between-ness,” or duality is often discursively expressed, performed, and debated at each RISE meeting.

No newcomer to Toronto— the most culturally diverse city in the world—can ever truly claim Toronto as their own, as we all rightfully recognize Torontonians as settlers who occupy borrowed land— land taken from the Huron-Wendat, the Haudenosaunee, and, most recently, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

This new sense of being—a type of postcolonial non-belonging, in fact—is explored in the film by shooting in the non-spaces of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), rather than in the community centres where these meetings have traditionally taken place. This underground space is a passage, not a destination. It shares an in-between-ness that is felt in the daily life of Torontonians. Treated as a mise-en-scène, the subway acts as a literal and conceptual platform  to frame concerns expressed by artists at RISE. The film also questions whether this space, too, is not also a logical outcome of contemporary globalized society.

The experimental documentary RISE is not “about” RISE. Instead, it is made “with” RISE. Wagner and de Burca adopt the concept of Edutainment as a conceptual tool for the film’s structure. RISE participants’ performances and poetry form its methodology and script.

Post-production support provided by the Film/Video Studio at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Equipment support provided by YorkU’s Department of Film.

Truth Be Told: Youth Voices In Poetry

In partnership with RISE (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere), AGYU is offering spoken word poetry workshops for youth in Scarborough and Regent Park. Taking place throughout the spring, workshops are facilitated by a team of emerging artists including Thunderclaw Robinson, Bidhan Berma, Michael Morales, Nasim Asgari, Timaaj Hassen, and Nathan Baya, who are mentored by established spoken word poets Joshua “Scribe” Watkis and Randell Adjei. The program provides emerging artists and members of RISE with the opportunity to collaborate with acclaimed artists Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca on the conceptualization, screenwriting, and production of their new experimental documentary film. For our cast of poets and rappers, this project represents a rare immersive opportunity to gain hands-on experience in filmmaking as well as a creative platform to experiment with autobiographical narratives of displacement, migration, and immigration. The film provides a vehicle to chronicle the liminal state of postcolonial non-belonging that grows out of the diasporic reality of not being entirely rooted in Canada. At the same time these young artists cultivate and preserve strong connections to their respective countries, languages, and cultures of origin—an identification that permeates their performative rituals of self-fashioning and artistic self-presentation.

This project evolves out of the AGYU’s ongoing commitment to merging the once separate fields of exhibition-making and education in order explore this intersection as a mutually enriching source of cutting-edge artistic production and pedagogical innovation.

Join us for the following Truth be Told Spoken Word showcase events:

Truth Be Told – REGENT PARK

Friday May 25, 6-8 pm

Centennial College Performing Arts Commons, Daniels Spectrum

585 Dundas Street East

Truth Be Told – SCARBOROUGH

Monday May 28, 6:30 – 11 pm

Burrows Hall Community Centre, Scarborough

1081 Progress Avenue

RISE thanks the Ontario Arts Council – Artists in Communities and Schools Projects for generously supporting the workshop component of  this program.

Creative Campaigning | Wave

Visit AGYU’s new website  for the debut of photographer and filmmaker Alyssa Bistonath’s beautiful documentation of Meera Margaret Singh’s project WAVE. The film captures a three-day workshop and investigative-performance with a wide spectrum of self-identified women students.  As part of the Creative Campaigning series, the workshops were led by YorkU dance professor and choreo­grapher Terrill Maguire, who taught movement techniques for participants to access agency within their bodies.

Student Cash! Writing Award

AGYU has two cash awards  for undergraduate critical writing! Send us your review  or essay on one our 2017/18 exhibitions (Migrating the Margins, Postcommodity, and Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin  de Burca) and we will send you AGYU CASH—$150 for a review and $200 for a thematic essay. The review discusses the exhibition and offers a brief critical analysis of its content (word count: 500-1000) and the thematic essay thoroughly explores one or two underlying themes of the exhibition (word count: 1500-2000). Email submissions to agyu@yorku.ca by May 4, 2018.

Publications

Currently on our publication plate is the hybrid book on Allyson Mitchell’s Killjoy’s Kastle project. The Lesbian Feminist Haunted House, you might remember, was a complete hit, both here in its AGYU-sponsored incarnation (2013) and at the Hollywood-One Archive in Los Angeles (2015). Together with One Archive at the University of Southern California and the University of British Columbia Press, the AGYU is publishing the book-of-record on the project, a peer-reviewed academic-tome edited by Cait McKinney, University of Toronto post-doctoral fellow in Information Studies, and Allyson Mitchell herself, YorkU Women’s and Sexualities Studies professor … and Deep Lez artist extraordinaire. That’s right, Peer Review!!!

Of course, we’re not all fusty elbow-patched tweed, so we’re even more excited about the various artist interventions into the book, and couldn’t be more pleased that designer Cecilia Berkovic is bringing her top game to the design end.

An important document for the development of our collective understanding of the Toronto art scene, the Migrating the Margins publication is slow in the making, as we take some extra time to finalize its content and contributors. Thank you to the Royal Bank of Canada and the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts for their help in getting this important book to fruition.

AGYU @ Toronto Art Book Fair | 5-8 July, 2018 | Chinatown Centre, 222 Spadina Avenue

In light of the location—and the print and resistance theme—of the Toronto Art Book Fair, we’re bringing our newest artist book project as a solo offering: Fusion Cuisine: Now with Added MSG, a rollicking romp through culinary stereotypes by Shellie Zhang, with Real™ Toronto Daily Star recipes! Designed by Furrawn Press.

[*Newsletter theme courtesy of Édouard Glissant’s The Poetics of Relation]