The latest video project by Edgardo Aragón – a finalist in the 2013 AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize – tracks bison across North American, in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories, in Yellowstone National Park and near Chihuahua in Mexico, his home country. We talked to him about the project, made possible by his AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize residency.
AGO: Of the three places you visited for your project, which was the most surprising, in terms of defying your expectations? Why?
Edgardo Aragón: I was very surprised and still I am about Fort Smith. Given the conditions under which people live in this place, it could seem impossible that there’s life there, but life exists, along with one of the strangest lights that I will ever see in my life.
Since going to these places, has your plan for the project changed?
Whenever I plan a new project, I always expect that the circumstances change the nature of the project itself. In this case the change happened, without a doubt. Natural conditions modify the project a great deal, complementing and giving body to it in a way that a sketch could not. I’m satisfied.
Many animal species migrate – why did you choose to focus on bison?
I chose the bison for two reasons. The first is that it had a natural frontier that would shift according to the climate conditions, modifying substantially the life of the First Nations people who depended on the bison to survive. They would conform to the bison’s behaviour. That’s why the project is not, in fact, trying to create a portrait of bison so much as one of the invisible men that has ceased to live in harmony with it.
The second reason is that this animal species does’t migrate. After nearly becoming extinct at the hands of the white man, it has endured some sort of domestication. Today it is a species in the process of recuperation in Mexico and Canada. It is curious to note that in the U.S., where there are more reserves, the bison is not a protected species and is limited to its territories. This domestication is an aspect of extermination as well, of the animal and its animal nature and, of course, of what little spirit of the First Nations people remains.
Why did you decide to use video for this project instead of still images?
Video is a more organic tool, more malleable. You can move it in many directions to generate a specific discourse or an open one. I think I choose video because I like having elements that are closer to a sense of physical presence, closer to the movement of the apparatus, to the presence of a witness and specifically to the manipulation of time. Duration plays a fundamental role in establishing the dimensions of the theme. The sounds of the places or the absence of such sounds plays a fundamental role in the atmospheres that I’m trying to convey and generate in the project.
When you gave an interview to the Northern Journal, you said, “In a way, the real subject of the video project does not exist…It’s an invisible phantom.” Can you elaborate on that? What is the real subject?
The subject I am portraying is the human who lived with the presence of the bison. That way of life is poorly understood by Eurocentric cultures. That was what I was interested in discovering or portraying. I followed the path of the bison because it represents the way First Nations people lived. All the vacant spaces left around the bison are the spaces left by earlier lives – lives lived within the cultural shock generated by contact with Europe – and the near-extermination of the bison. The creation of reserves for the native people of the Americas were really the extermination of a spirit that generated a sense of life.
With the westernisation of North America a philosophy of life was destroyed – a loss which we have not been able to fully understand yet. This is why I like to think about this video as a portrait of an invisible human being, a portrait of a philosophy of life inherent to the creative and cultural spirit of a human being that disappeared many years ago. The presence of reserves for human and animal species is only one of its forms of annihilation. This is the central objective of the project.
All photos courtesy of the artist. Keep up with this year’s Aimia | AGO Photography Prize on Twitter and Facebook.
Drawing Restraint 6, 1989. Documentation still. Copyright Matthew Barney. Photo: Chris Winget.
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.
Matthew Barney, Drawing Restraint 17
Drawing Restraint 17, 2010. Production still.
Copyright Matthew Barney. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.
We’re excited to announce that Matthew Barney’s DRAWING RESTRAINT 2, 6 and 17 from his acclaimed Drawing Restraint series will be on view at the AGO from May 31 to Sept. 28, 2014. Taking place on the fourth floor of the AGO’s contemporary tower, the exhibition of these videos is organized in conjunction with the Luminato Festival 2014. Barney is renowned internationally for his provocative and richly visual sequences of sculpture, video and performance. Elaborate and mysterious, projects such as The CREMASTER Cycle (1994-2001) – a series of five feature-length films – weave mythological narratives and art-historical references.
DRAWING RESTRAINT (1987-present) is a significant and long-term project for Barney in which he proposes art-making as parallel to athletic training: the development of form occurs through resistance. Begun while still a student at Yale, DRAWING RESTRAINT shows the influence of Barney’s background as an athlete and model and his intent to foreground the physical body and its tensions in a studio practice. The complete series, DRAWING RESTRAINT 1-17, now comprises drawings, sculpture, photographs and video works emerging from his self-imposed and increasingly complex obstacles and scenarios. Considered together, DRAWING RESTRAINT forms an ongoing proposition for the harnessing of human impulses and drives into a desired output, artistic or otherwise. It demonstrates the underpinnings of Barney’s work, in which the body plays a central role and ritualistic processes of creation are explored through manifold materials, settings and personas.
The earliest work in the series, DRAWING RESTRAINT 1-6 (1987-1989), shows simple studio experiments, where Barney attempts to mark the ceiling and the walls while bouncing on a tilted trampoline or tethered at the thighs with bungee cords. From the 1990s onwards, he began to introduce the spectacular cinematic narratives for which he is best known. DRAWING RESTRAINT 17 (2010), filmed in Switzerland, is a two-channel video bearing Barney’s signature high production value and allegorical storytelling. Usually, in this series, Barney subjects his own body to physical tests; here for the first time, the protagonist is an athletic young Swiss woman, while Barney now plays the removed role of the established artist.
On June 7, 2014, join us for Meet the Artist: Matthew Barney, when he will be in conversation with Luminato Festival Artist Director Jorn Weisbrodt and our curator of modern and contemporary art, Kitty Scott.
Itee Pootoogook, Fuel Tank, 2011. Pencil crayon and ink on paper , 121.9 x 121.9 cm. Purchased with the assistance of the Joan Chalmers Inuit Art Purchase Fund, 2012.
We were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of leading contemporary Inuit artist Itee Pootoogook (born 1951) following a battle with cancer. Itee created distinct and powerful images of life in the north and was best known in recent years for his large format drawings. His works have the haunting simplicity of Alex Colville’s paintings, while bringing a scale and monumentality to the details and daily rituals of contemporary Inuit life. Along with fellow Inuit artists Shuvinai Ashoona, Tim Pitsiuolak and Jutai Toonoo, Itee brought international and critical attention to an important and bold new approach to art in the north and inspired an emerging generation of artists. He will be missed and has left us too soon.
The AGO has been committed to Itee Pootoogook through the acquisition of a dozen works including Fuel Tank (above), acquired in 2012.
—Andrew Hunter, Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art
Thanks to everyone who helped bring it together, inside and outside the Gallery, especially to our friends at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, lead sponsor BMO Financial Group, generous supporters Gail & Mark Appel and Joan & Jerry Lozinski and hotel partner Eaton Chelsea Toronto. And to all 142,360 of you who visited the exhibition: we hope you’ll be back. Keep sharing your thoughts with us on Facebeook and at @agotoronto on Twitter and Instagram.
The Guggenheim exhibit at the @agotoronto was the best exhibit I've seen at the AGO yet! Definetly worth a visit if your in #Toronto#Art
The Great Upheaval: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918 was made possible by lead sponsor BMO Financial Group, generous supporters Gail & Mark Appel and Joan & Jerry Lozinski and hotel partner Eaton Chelsea Toronto.
Recorded: Jan. 17, 2014, in Baillie Court, Art Gallery of Ontario
A leading authority on modern art, John Elderfield offers us an in-depth and insightful look at Henri Matisse and his ongoing relevance in contemporary art and culture. Elderfield brings a wealth of knowledge to this talk, as an independent curator and art historian, a consultant to Gagosian Gallery and as chief curator emeritus of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where he directed more than 20 exhibitions, including Fauvism and its Affinities (1976), Kurt Schwitters (1985), de Kooning: A Retrospective (2011), and Henri Matisse: A Retrospective (1992).
This one-hour talk included a self-serve brown bag lunch of a sandwich and small pastry, created by the AGO’s culinary team.
The Brown Bag Lunch & Talk series is generously supported by
Recorded: Oct. 17, 2013, at Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario
Paul Graham is a British photographer based in New York. Lauded as “a profound force for renewal of the deep photographic tradition of engagement with the world,” he was awarded the 2012 Hasselblad award for major achievements in photography.
Recorded: Jan. 15, 2014, at Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario
Artist-in-residence Sara Angelucci; writer and historian Matthew Brower, Mark Peck, Royal Ontario Museum Ornithology Technician; and Bridget Stutchbury, author and Professor of Ornithology at York University, gathered to discuss the extinction and endangerment of North American birds as well as art and society’s relationship with the natural environment. The talk was moderated by the AGO’s curator of Canadian Art, Andrew Hunter.
The discussion was followed by a three-course meal served in FRANK restaurant, specially prepared by executive chef Jeff Dueck in consultation with Sara Angelucci. The main dish featured a vegetarian “pigeon-less” pie to mark the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The passenger pigeon, formerly one of the most abundant birds in North America, was pushed to extinction in 1914 due to habitat destruction and over hunting. Dinner and dessert were each paired with a choice of white or red Ontario wine.
Sara Angelucci is a Toronto-based visual artist who works primarily with photography, video and audio, exploring vernacular archival materials such as home movies, snap-shots and vintage portraits and their limited ability to convey the exact sense of a lived experience. Working with these images Angelucci seeks to reposition them in the present, shedding light on their broader context and histories outside of the frame.
Matthew Brower is a lecturer in Museum Studies in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. He writes on issues in animal studies, the history and theory of photography and contemporary art. He is the Author of Developing Animals: Wildlife and Early American Photography (University of Minnesota Press 2010). He has curated exhibitions in historical and contemporary art including Mieke Bal: Nothing is Missing, Gord Peteran: Recent Works,The Brothel Without Walls, Suzy Lake: Political Poetics, and Collective Identity │Occupied Spaces.
Mark Peck is the Collection Manager in Ornithology, Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. He is also involved in museum exhibits and programs and field research in South America, New Jersey and the Hudson Bay Lowlands of northern Ontario. In addition, he is the coordinator of the Ontario Nest Records Scheme, the ROM liaison for the Ontario Bird Records Committee and the program director for the Toronto Ornithological Club. In his off hours he is an avid bird photographer, traveling extensively for both his profession and his hobby. He has authored or coauthored numerous scientific and popular articles on birds and hundreds of his images have been published in books, magazines and on websites. Mark has been with the ROM since 1983.
Bridget Stutchbury is a professor in the Department of Biology at York University, Toronto. She completed her M.Sc. at Queen’s University and her PhD at Yale and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution. Since the 1980s, she has studied migratory songbirds to understand their behaviour, ecology and conservation. Her current research focuses on studying the incredible migration journeys of songbirds to help halt the severe declines in many species. She serves on the board of Wildlife Preservation Canada and is the author of Silence of the Songbirds (2007) and The Bird Detective (2010).
In 2013, the Art Gallery of Ontario proudly presented a career-spanning exhibition of artist Sorel Etrog’s work, featuring his archetypal sculptures and his rarely seen film, Spiral, plus drawings, paintings, book illustrations and prints from both the Gallery’s and private collections. Born in Romania, Etrog came to Toronto in 1963 and his career here left an undeniable mark, both on our cityscape and the many people in Toronto’s art community who knew and admired him.
Recorded: Jan. 8, 2014, at Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario
This talk features former artist-in-residence Sara Angelucci in conversation with artists Spring Hurlbut and Marla Hlady about their work, points of convergence and departure.
Sara Angelucci (born Hamilton, Ont.) is a Toronto-based visual artist who works primarily with photography, video and audio, exploring vernacular archival materials such as home movies, snap-shots and vintage portraits and their limited ability to convey the exact sense of a lived experience. Working with these images Angelucci seeks to reposition them in the present, shedding light on their broader context and histories outside of the frame.
Spring Hurlbut (born Toronto, Ont.) is a Toronto-based artist whose installations, sculptures and photography explore life, death and the human condition. Hurlbut, through her sculptures, which incorporate bone, egg shells, and claws, her photographs of human ash and her solemn monochrome portraits, encourages the acceptance of one’s own mortality and attempts to find the beauty in this inevitability.
Marla Hlady (born Edmonton, Alta.) lives and works in Toronto as a sound and kinetic sculpture artist, exploring ways of experiencing sound through spatial and social contexts. Hlady’s pieces deal with the nature of sound, often materializing it for viewers and reorienting their connection to everyday auditory experiences.
In the early years of Canada, to the late 1800s, pigeon pie was one of the most common dishes on our tables. Made from the passenger pigeon, at the time the most common bird in North America that numbered in the billions, this popular dish provided readily available and hearty sustenance. Indeed, the Quebecois tourtière would have originally been made with passenger pigeon meat. However, because of over-hunting and habitat destruction the passenger pigeon was wiped out, and has now been extinct since 1914. The last bird, “Martha,” died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Read the rest of this entry »