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.
Vince Timpano (left), with 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize winner Erin Shirreff and AGO director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum.
In November 2013, before an excited crowd at AGO First Thursdays, Canadian artist Erin Shirreff was named as winner of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize. Shirreff receives the $50,000 cash prize and will head to the Maritimes in spring 2014 for her residency. Meanwhile, visitors to the AGO can see her work and that of the other shortlisted photographers — Edgardo Aragón, LaToya Ruby Frazier and Chino Otsuka — until Jan. 5, 2014, inside the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize exhibition.
In the new year, another exciting part of the Prize program begins. The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Scholarship Program will award three $7,000 scholarships each year to students entering their final year of study toward Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees with a focus or major in photography. The scholarships are awarded to students at select Canadian academic institutions who have shown extraordinary potential throughout their undergraduate studies. This year’s partner schools are OCAD University, Ryerson University, Concordia University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University (NSCAD), Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), Université du Québec and the University of Manitoba. The program also awards $1000 CAD honorariums to the schools of the winning students.
Starting in March 2014, each academic partner institution will form a jury of three faculty members to review their students’ submissions and select one finalist, and the finalists will be evaluated by the Scholarship Program jury, consisting of two representatives from the Art Gallery of Ontario and a previous winner of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize.
In November 2014, the three winners of the scholarship and a faculty member of their respective institution will be invited to Toronto to celebrate their success, where they will meet the artists short-listed for the Prize and attend the winner announcement celebration.
Next year, the Prize cycle will begin again, with nominators and jurors named in early spring, long-list and short-list announcements over the summer, before a new round of voting next fall. We hope you’ll follow along with us and discover some of the world’s best photo-based art in 2014.
Stay connected with the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize on Facebook and Twitter.
AGO Director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum (left), with three of the four photographers shortlisted for the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize 2013: (l-r) Erin Shirreff, LaToya Ruby Frazier and Chino Otsuka, and President of Aimia Canada Inc., Vince Timpano.
On Nov. 7, join us at the Gallery to celebrate photography and congratulate the winner of the $50,000 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize. The announcement will take place at a special edition of the AGO’s monthly First Thursdays party series, which will be followed by a performance by Polaris Prize nominee Zaki Ibrahim. Tickets to the event are available now from ago.net and more details about the night’s programming are here.
All four nominees will be present for the announcement, which will feature special presentations by local personalities about each of the artists. In addition to the $50,000 grand prize, the winner will also receive a fully funded six-week residency in Canada. The three other finalists will each receive cash honorariums of $5,000 and artist residencies.
You’re also invited to unleash your inner photographer and share images of their favourite AGO spaces and features on Instagram. Photos hashtagged with #MyAGO will be displayed on screens all night long in Walker Court.
Visit the Prize’s website to watch videos featuring the artists in their studios, view their artwork and cast your vote. If you’re in Toronto, see the artists’ work up close in the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize 2013 Exhibition, on view at the AGO until Jan. 5, 2013.
For Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2013, our current artist-in-residence, Diane Borsato, presented a major new performance with 100 regional beekeepers in Walker Court. While exploring the tangible effect of collective meditation, Your Temper, My Weather asked viewers to reflect upon the health and temper of bees and their keepers and on the policies and environmental conditions that affect our shared future. The night’s choreographed performance featured periods of guided, silent meditation, plus synchronized stretching and musical accompaniment.
The live performance ran from 6:51 p.m. until midnight with short, periodic breaks, and a video of the performance was screened in Walker Court from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m.
An accompanying piece by Toronto artist Winnie Truong, Beekeeper, was on display in the Elizabeth & Tony Comper Gallery. Borsato commissioned Truong to create this large illustration of a beekeeper stung in the eyes by bees.
About Diane Borsato
Diane Borsato is a visual artist working in various media. Recently, she has worked with amateur naturalists including mycologists (botanists specializing in fungi), astronomers and beekeepers in projects that explore social, mobile and multisensory ways of exploring natural phenomena. Borsato will be in residency at the AGO until Nov. 8, 2013.
Today is a brand-new day for Canada’s largest photography prize, and we wanted you to be among the first to hear it.
This morning we announced the expansion of one of Canada’s largest and most innovative art prize programs. The Grange Prize will now be known as the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize, with a greater international focus and a new national scholarship program fostering the next generation of Canadian photographic artists across the country.
What’s changing? First, we’re going international. The new Prize will invite a group of eight leading Canadian and international experts in photography (critics, curators or artists) to each nominate two artists for the Prize — one international and one from their home country/region of expertise, forming an international long list for the Prize. From there, a jury of three experts led by the Lead Juror (an AGO curator) will select a shortlist of four, including at least one Canadian artist.
Second, we’re introducing a major new initiative: the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Scholarship Program. The scholarship program, valued at more than C$20,000, is intended for full-time students — Canadian or international — who are entering their final year of study toward a bachelor’s degree with a focus in studio photography. Eight respected and established visual arts institutions from across the country will participate in the first year of the Prize with the hope of expanding the roster of participating schools in the coming years.
And of course, there is our new name. Aimia, a global leader in loyalty, is the new presenting partner of the Prize. Aimia is also the parent company of Aeroplan, the Prize’s founding partner.