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Archive: August, 2013

Announcing the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize 2013 short list…

August 27th, 2013


Today, four extraordinary international photographers were selected as finalists for the 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize, Canada’s leading award for contemporary photography and the first major art prize in the world whose winner is chosen entirely by public vote. Voting opens today at and, for the first time, on Facebook.

The finalists, selected by jury from a long list of 14 artists, are: Edgardo Aragón (Mexico), LaToya Ruby Frazier (U.S.), Chino Otsuka (Japan/U.K.) and Erin Shirreff (Canada). As a group, these four artists represent a snapshot of current directions in photography and video in which images are used to build powerful, complex and often personal narratives.

  • Edgardo Aragón was born in Mexico, and his work invites reflection on the history of violence in his homeland. Deeply engaged with political and social histories of Oaxaca, the province where he was born and still lives, his video and photography often document performance and sculptural interventions against landscapes that appear at once serene and foreboding.
  • LaToya Ruby Frazier was born and raised in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Her work is informed by late 19th- and early 20th-century modes of representation in documentary practice. She uses the conventions of social documentary and portraiture to expose untold stories of post-industrial decline in the United States, filtered through the experiences of her own family and community in Braddock.
  • Chino Otsuka was born in Tokyo and moved to the U.K. at age 10 to attend school. Often mining her own autobiography, Otsuka uses photography and video to explore the fluid relationship between memory, time and photography.
  • Erin Shirreff was born in 1975 in Kelowna, B.C., and now lives and works in New York. Her work interweaves photography, video and sculpture to extend and explore the act of looking, asking questions about the often paradoxical relationship between time and space and the image, and the impact of perception on the location of meaning.

A jury of three — comprising lead juror Elizabeth Smith, former AGO executive director of curatorial affairs and current executive director of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation in New York; Urs Stahel, director, curator, and editor of Fotomuseum Winterthur; and artist Kader Attia — selected the four finalists from the long list.

“The jurors were delighted with the strength and diversity of the long-listed artists,” said Smith. “In choosing the four finalists, we responded most to qualities that made the work fresh, powerful and original in some way. We looked for strength, coherence and consistency in the interplay of imagery and content and selected the artists whose work made the most pronounced impact on all of us.”

An exhibition of works by the four short-listed artists, curated by Smith, opens at the AGO on Sept. 11, 2013. We’re also hosting a free public launch party that night, with presentations by nominators and members of the jury about each of the four artists.

The following evening, Sept. 12, 2013, at 7 p.m., the four artists will speak at a special panel event at the AGO alongside Smith; AGO associate curator of photography Sophie Hackett; and nominators Jennifer Blessing, senior curator of photography at The Guggenheim; and Helga Pakasaar, curator at Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver. Tickets to the event are available now.

Updates on the Prize, further details on the shortlisted artists and additional information are available via, the Prize’s Facebook page and @AimiaAGOPrize on Twitter.

Conservation Notes: Photo-storage tips from a conservator

August 26th, 2013

By Katharine Whitman, AGO Conservator of Photographs

Photographs are often a family’s most precious objects. Whether they are of your great-great-grandfather or your daughter, they act as a record of your family for generations to come. What follows are some pointers for ensuring that your photograph collection will still be around — and in good shape — for many years.

One of Jack Chambers' photographic studies for  Lunch, part of the AGO archives. Two photos are layered, and when the one on top is pulled back, you can see the protected image and the original colour of the bottom print. The top of the print has been faded by exposure to light.

One of Jack Chambers’ photographic studies for Lunch, part of the AGO archives. Two photos are layered, and when the one on top is pulled back, you can see the protected image and the original colour of the bottom print, its upper portion faded by exposure to light.


  • Store your photographs in acid-free, PAT (Photographic Activity Tested) materials. The PAT logo should be on the packaging of the material if it has been approved.
  • Keep your photographs in areas that have controlled temperature and stable humidity, like your living room.
  • Photos on display (framed or otherwise)should be kept out of direct sunlight and behind UV-coated Plexiglass. They should also be backed with acid-free materials, not regular cardboard.
  • Photographs should only be held by the edges to keep fingerprints from forming in the image. Handle photographs with cotton gloves whenever possible, for the same reason.
  • Store your negatives in a separate place from your photographs — if something happens to your photographs, you want your negatives available to make more prints.
  • If you are shooting exclusively digital photographs, make sure you back up your collection regularly to an external drive and store that drive in a separate place from your computer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Stand by Ai Weiwei at First Thursdays in Solidarity Buzz: Shaving for Free Expression

August 23rd, 2013

Photo of Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, 2010, Photo credit: Gao Yuan

Sean Martindale
Solidarity Buzz: Shaving for Free Expression
at AGO First Thursdays
September 5, 2013
7 to 11:30 p.m.

Join in a performance by artist Sean Martindale and friends by getting a free buzz cut in solidarity with Ai Weiwei and others around the world similarly persecuted for their political views and public expression. In 2009, after sustaining a cerebral hemorrhage as the result of police brutality in China, Ai had to have his hair shaved off for the emergency brain surgery in Munich that saved his life. Ai’s head was shaved again for his unwarranted detainment by Chinese authorities in 2011. Although not a ubiquitous practice, this removal of hair is frequently part of the unjust authoritarian processing of prisoners of all kinds.

We’re looking for 12 volunteers to sign up and get their heads shaved as part of the performance, during which Martindale will also have his current shoulder-length hair buzzed off. Participants will have the option of getting pre- and post–buzz cut photo portraits shot as documentation of these gestures of solidarity to be shared both on the night and afterward.

Sign up by emailing Participants will each receive a free ticket to the event, which features a performance by Fucked Up and a live video chat with Ai Weiwei and AGO Director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum.

Heavy lifting: How we installed Ai Weiwei’s Straight

August 16th, 2013

Ai Weiwei: According to what?

Each exhibition at the AGO presents special challenges for our installation team. Hanging valuable paintings can be complicated, but some pieces demand a whole other level of planning, on-the-spot problem-solving and good old elbow grease.

Some of the works in the upcoming exhibition Ai Weiwei: According to What? were particularly complex to place: one of them, Straight, is a work that consists of no less than 38 tons of rebar (the steel bars that are used during construction to reinforce concrete).

The installation process, led by AGO Senior Project Manager Iain Hoadley, started with the arrival of four flatbed trucks, hauling a total of 40 crates, each weighing 2,500 pounds. The crates were off-loaded in our parking lot with a forklift and then brought into the building through the shipping dock and up a freight elevator to the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion, the exhibition space for According to What? and almost all of our major shows.

Two crews of 10 installed one piece of rebar at a time, working a total of 70 hours over six days to finish the final piece, which measures 40 by 20 feet, varying in height from two to 15 inches off the floor. All staff in the area wore earplugs and heavy duty gloves for this complicated installation.

Given the enormous weight of the work, Hoadley enlisted an engineering consultant for advice on the placement of the work within the gallery space, as well as the thickness of the rebar layers and the placement of the crates during the unpacking process. Straight has been installed in numerous galleries, and each time its presentation is different. Based on our space and the conditions set by our engineering consultant, Ai’s studio provided a layout specific to the AGO. And, since the Gallery has never before hosted a work this heavy, a surveyor monitored the reaction of the pavilion’s floor on a daily basis to ensure safe display conditions were maintained as installers layered the rebar.

installation of "Ai Weiwei: According to what?"

More about Straight

Ai created Straight from rebar he recovered from collapsed schoolhouses following the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The artist had every piece of mangled rebar straightened through a laborious process that served as a memorial to each earthquake victim.

This massive work is Ai’s response to the government’s refusal to acknowledge the victims. It also reflects his anger over the government’s desire to move forward as if nothing had happened. The fissure that runs through the centre of the piece represents both the impact of the earthquake and the gulf between values in Chinese society.

Ai Weiwei’s feline friends

August 8th, 2013

Besides being one of the world’s most influential and most talked-about contemporary artists, Ai Weiwei is a cat lover. The artist lives with about 40 of them in his Beijing studio home, and they have become a constant element in his life, both public and private. Alison Klayman’s 2012 documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry begins with a scene in which the artist ponders one of his pet’s special skills, linking it to the power of the individual: “Out of the 40 cats, one knows how to open doors. If I’d never met this cat that can open doors, I wouldn’t know cats can open doors.”

During a recent interview with ARTINFO, Ai took photos of cats lounging in between him and the writer, noting that they can’t keep away when a recording device is nearby: “Are they national security guards? Or are they’re just interested in sound?” Ai asked. For an artist known for work that investigates serious and sometimes grave issues like his government’s restrictions on freedom of expression and mishandling of national tragedies, Ai’s Instagram feed offers fans a rounded view of his life at home, his friends, family and visitors and what brings him joy, including his cats. Lots of cats. Have a look at Ai’s recent cat-snaps below, and follow @aiww on Instagram to see what else is happening in his world. Read the rest of this entry »