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Q&A: AGO artist-in-residence Sara Angelucci

December 2nd, 2013

Toronto-based artist Sara Angelucci is the AGO artist-in-residence from November 20, 2013, to January 20, 2014, and we’re so happy to share her work with you. Working primarily with photography, video and audio, Angelucci incorporates archival materials such as home movies, snapshots, and vintage portraits into her work and recently has turned her focus to research on endangered and extinct North American bird species.

Sara Angelucci, Aviary (Male Passenger Pigeon/extinct), 2013. C-print, 26 x 38 inches. © Sara Angelucci. Courtesy of the artist.


Sara Angelucci, Aviary (Male Passenger Pigeon/extinct), 2013. C-print, 26 x 38 inches. © Sara Angelucci. Courtesy of the artist.



During her time at the AGO, Angelucci will explore works from our Canadian collection, particularly those with Canadian nature, aviary and forestry subjects. She’s planned a number of initiatives that will activate this research and provide points of engagement for AGO visitors and for staff, including:

  • a performance in February entitled A Mourning Chorus and featuring a cappella singing that will explore the sounds of disappearing North American song-birds through the historic framework of women’s public mourning rituals;
  • the installation of two works from Angelucci’s Aviary from November to February 2014 in our Canadian galleries;
  • a Meet the Artist talk in January, when she will talk to artists Spring Hurlbut and Marla Hlady about their work; and
  • a panel discussion, also in January, entitled “Art & Ideas: A bird’s eye view on art & extinction,” to be followed by a three-course meal served in FRANK restaurant, specially prepared by executive chef Jeff Dueck in consultation with Angelucci.

(More details on these activities here.)

As Angelucci settles into the artist-in-residence studio in the Weston Family Learning Centre, we wanted to know what inspired these plans. Here, she offers insight into her practice and its relation to the environment, her fascination with birds and her approach to residencies.

AGO: Do you consider yourself an environmental activist/conservationist as well as an artist?
Sara Angelucci: It is unfair to the true activists out there to call myself that. But, like many people, I’m deeply concerned about what is happening to the environment and in recent years the problems seem to be accelerating as we see weather conditions around the world becoming more extreme.

Where did your interest in songbirds come from? Do you have a personal connection or did you grow interested in them through your practice/research?
I’ve always loved birds and thought they were beautiful. I think a number of things have brought me to thinking about them in a more focused way. I have been spending more isolated time in the countryside and watching them there. Also, in my recent photographic series Aviary I combined images of endangered and extinct North American birds (which I photographed in the ornithology collection at the ROM) with images of anonymous cartes-de-visite.

Although the process by which I came to making this connection is a long one to explain, I think there are interesting overlaps between the craze for collecting cartes-de-visite in the 19th century and the craze for collecting natural specimens. Aviaries become hugely popular at this time, as did taxidermy. The Victorian parlour was a place where both the photographic album and these specimens came together. With this project I’ve been doing a lot of reading on birds and the challenges they face today, which include habitat destruction and pesticides amongs other things.

Sara Angelucci, Aviary (Female Passenger Pigeon/extinct), 2013. C-print, 26 x 38 inches. © Sara Angelucci. Courtesy of the artist.

Sara Angelucci, Aviary (Female Passenger Pigeon/extinct), 2013. C-print, 26 x 38 inches. © Sara Angelucci. Courtesy of the artist.


How do the actions of your residency — the installation of your Aviary portraits, the talks and special meal in FRANK, the chorus — relate to and inform one another?
All of these projects are an attempt to contemplate our relationship to the birds, and by way of extension, the natural world, in a directly embodied way. When we are implicated in a direct way, by combining images of the bird/human, through what we eat, or through the human voice, we cannot separate ourselves from nature. I feel very strongly that one of the reasons we are in such dire straits environmentally is that as humans we see ourselves as apart [from] or above nature. This disconnection is very dangerous for the earth, its species and, ultimately, for us and we are seeing its catastrophic implications.

Do you plan to continue to produce work related to these themes after your residency?
It’s hard to say. At the moment I am very focused on the projects at hand. It’s highly possible that I will, but I try not to get too far ahead of myself on projects.

You’ve done a number of residencies, at NSCAD (Halifax), the Banff Centre, and at Biz-Art in Shanghai – how does the AGO’s program differ from the others you’ve experienced? Did you do localized research during those residencies that influenced your practice afterward?
They have all been extremely different. In each case I have tried to think about what I can do which is special to that place, the people I encounter there and my interests. It sometimes takes a little while to figure that out.

The residency in Shanghai was in some ways the most challenging and so far the most fulfilling. China was a complete culture shock, and I was extremely jetlagged for a good week. So it took me some time to find my footing, and I couldn’t speak to many people. It was very interesting to be silent. You have to find different ways of communicating and making yourself understood. And you have to use keen observation to figure things out.

At the AGO I feel like I’m in luxury. There is so much going on at the gallery that I am invited to be a part of, and so much support for what I want to do. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming, and the resources at hand for an artist are amazing — from technical support to research and curatorial support. Also, it’s my hometown, so it is exciting to be sharing this experience with my family, students and friends as it is unfolding.


Visit Angelucci’s website to learn more about her and her body of work.

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