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.
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).
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.
AGO artist-in-residence Jim Munroe has transformed the Community Gallery into a classic arcade with a pop-up installation of three retrofitted arcade cabinets called Torontrons. Engineered by The Hand Eye Society and produced by Munroe, each Torontron is loaded with six contemporary video games designed by Toronto video-game artists. The pop-up arcade cabinets have appeared all over Winnipeg and in Toronto — recently at Academy of the Impossible, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Roy Thompson Hall and the Projection Booth Cinema — and have inspired similar international projects in New York, Shanghai, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and beyond.
Image courtesy of Jim Munroe/The Hand Eye Society.
From Feb. 1 to March 21, 2014, visit the Community Gallery on our concourse level to play – no quarters required! And before you visit, preview some of the Torontron games online:
Want to know more? In late January, Munroe spoke about his residency on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning (listen here), and he will also give a pop-up talk at our February edition of First Thursdays. On Feb. 21, Munroe will host Fancy Videogame Party in collaboration with Wild Rumpus and the Hand Eye Society, bringing together some of the best multi-player, party and physical video games from around the world for one night only at the AGO. And you can see him at our Meet the Artists talk in March, when he’ll be in conversation with fellow indie culture artists Mark Connery and Jonathan Mak about their work, indie culture and how playfulness factors into their practices.
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 »
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Sherry Phillips, Conservator of Contemporary and Inuit Art
One of the six bone porcelain tea cups, English, dated approx. 1822-30.
Tea Service (Conservators will wash the dishes)
Early 19th-century tea cups were temporarily removed from the AGO’s collection in order to be used for tea tastings by museum staff. Together, a group of conservators, a registrar, an interpretive planner, a curator, an artist and an art critic drank out of the re-animated cups, experiencing them through all of their senses and through shared conversation.
Three types of tea were served: Bai Hao Yin Zhen white tea (China), Tung Ting oolong (Taiwan) and a dark, 2001 Lahu Wild Trees 1,000-year-old Pu-erh (China). Before and after the action, a museum conservator washed the dishes. The action was documented by photography.
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.
On Feb. 10, AGO artists in residence Life of a Craphead presented a new edition of Doored, a monthly performance show that they have been curating and hosting since 2012. Doored features exciting new work from performance artists and comedians in Toronto. This edition’s participants were Bridget Moser, Cameron Lee, CN Tower Liquidation, Daniel Goodbaum, Fake Injury Party, Glenn Macaulay, Gwen Bieniara, Laura McCoy, Lisa Smolkin, and Neil LaPierre and David Tallis, with live music by Man Made Hill, visuals by Nikki Woolsey and door by Zoe Solomon.
Doored is part of the regular programming at the artist-run venue Double Double Land in Kensington Market.
About Life of a Craphead
Life of a Craphead is the collaborative work of Amy Lam and Jon McCurley, comprising performance, comedy, theatre and video. Established in 2006, their projects include transporting two psychopaths in a cage on the back of a truck, touring a live comedy show, giving away everything on a restaurant’s menu, and building a three-storey maze. Their first feature-length film, Bugs, is in post-production. Life of a Craphead have presented work at The Power Plant, Toronto; Gallery TPW, Toronto; Hotel MariaKapel, Hoorn, The Netherlands; Department of Safety, Anacortes, U.S.; and the Banff Centre, Banff, as well as at numerous comedy venues and music shows in Canada and the U.S.
Life of a Craphead live and work in Toronto and collaborate frequently with other artists and performers.
Bridget Moser is an interdisciplinary artist whose performances combine inanimate objects, affect, prop comedy, and escape art. She has presented work in various venues across Canada, the United States, and Europe.
Cameron Lee received his BFA in Drawing and Painting from OCAD U, the University of the Imagination. He hasn’t drawn or painted much since graduating.
CN Tower Liquidation is Sebastian Butt, Charlie Murray and Xan Hawes. They specialize in the dematerialization and reconstitution of objects into cubes. Recent shows include Free(or Best Offer), Ed Video Media Arts Centre, Guelph; THASDF FORDFBDFG CDFBLLimdbbing MEAD, Gendai Workstation; and Paul Petro’s Christmas Spice.
Daniel Goodbaum is either an artist/comedian or a comedian/artist. He’s attempting a ‘reverse Woody Allen’ by starting as a filmmaker and working his way into standup. He makes videos about food, fashion, film, and one or two things that don’t start with the letter ‘f’.
Fake Injury Party are three full grown men who know how to get the job done and have fun doing it! Experience: catering, dishwashing, serving.
Glenn Macaulay has been performing comedy in Toronto since 2005. He believes in true love and has to get to the theatre nice and early in order to fully enjoy the experience.
Gwen Bieniara is an artist from Toronto who works closely with performance.
Laura McCoy lives and works in Toronto.
Lisa Smolkin is an artist living in Toronto. Some of her creative stand-out moments include hosting a connectedness workshop, having a home-museum tailored to its visitors, and co-presenting a performative installation about the idea of emotional receptivity/industrial receiving areas.
Man Made Hill is the Solo Funk Agenda of Randy Gagne. Incubated in a crusty basement in Cambridge, ON, Man Made Hill has been steady mutilating sounds since 2004. Armed with a modest arsenal of synthesizer/sampler/drum-machine/voice/dance MMH assumes a series of transformational stage personas including Extra-Terrestrial Sex Judge, Diseased Futuristic Priest, Energy-Mayonnaise Demonstrator, Prison Disco-Enthusiast etc…
Neil LaPierre and David Tallis are prophets of the hypercassional (events you’ll be finding yourself doing everyday several times a day). This is their first performance at the AGO.
Nikki Woolsey lives in Toronto and makes mostly sculpture and photography. She collaborated with Life of a Craphead at the Hotel Maria Kapel residency in The Netherlands and contributed to CN Tower Liquidation’s performative “Theory of Condensation” event at the AGO. She was included in the recent exhibition “That’s not a run in your stocking, it’s a hand on your leg” at Narwhal Art Projects. She sometimes works as a prop maker and production designer.