We learn from studying history that things don't just happen. Every unexpected event will, on closer inspection, reveal the roots that lead to the revolution, the riot, or the reaction that none of the experts predicted. The most obvious recent incidence of this was the American presidential election and the subsequent soul searching from both left and right as to how it all went down. Who were all these people voting for Trump? The same questions resounded after Brexit. Who were they who voted? And, by association, are we who we think we are? These questions of identity tied to place served as a catalyst for some of the most provocative group exhibitions in Toronto this year. Perhaps such queries are always being raised, but it feels like they’re becoming increasingly critical.
Pansee Atta, Afterglow, 2015, GIF animation (from Canadian Belonging(s) at the Art Gallery of Mississauga)
The year was bookended by exhibitions that attempted to say something about the artists who live and work in this fair city. Showroom at The Art Museum started the ball rolling on the question of what makes Toronto Toronto, and the tag team of Form Follows Fiction (also at The Art Museum) and Tributes + Tributaries (at the AGO) wound it up (for the time being). All three were inevitably inconclusive but served as opportunities for debate, criticism, historical revision, and plain old artistic appreciation. While identity crises aren’t necessarily any fun to experience personally, they certainly provide fertile ground for artists.
One reason for the current prominence of this theme is the ever-shifting populations that make up the GTA. Two other exhibitions – Canadian Belonging(s) at the Art Gallery of Mississauga and Yonder at the Koffler Gallery – assembled work by artists who have moved from place to place and are working to represent the hybrid sense of self (of what’s lost, gained, threatened, learned, hidden, etc.) that comes with being in flux. The other reason is the increased space given to aboriginal artists and curators whose own investigations into identity and place derive not from migration but from the ongoing impact of colonialism and their efforts toward decolonization.
Sheila Hicks in front of elements from The Treaty of Chromatic Zones, 2015 (photo: Cristobal Zanartu)
The counterbalance to predominantly younger artists figuring out who they are could be found in the surfeit of senior female artists exhibiting this year whose work demonstrates a mastery and a clarity that only comes from doing something fearlessly for decades. Among those who reminded me of the power of art over the past twelve months, there was Ann MacIntosh at Nicholas Metivier, Wanda Koop at Division, Spring Hurlbut at the Ryerson Image Centre, Iris Haussler (and, of course, Sophie La Rosiere) at the Art Gallery of York University and Scrap Metal Gallery, Judith Scott at Oakville Galleries, Sheila Hicks at the Textile Museum, and Shuvinai Ashoona at Mercer Union.
Lastly, the fact of the matter is that if you don’t toot your own horn, no one is going to toot it for you. Which is why I’m flagging the ten years of reviews that have run on Akimblog as something of a highlight this year. The anniversary passed in April (the 26th to be exact) and I meant to write about it, but was too busy doing the rounds to reflect. Now that I have a moment, I want to say that the artists, curators, museums, artist-run centres, galleries, gallerists, collectives, and creative folks of this city are a gift to all who find themselves here. Even after a decade, I still head out ready to have my mind blown, my eyes fried, my world warped, and my assumptions thrust assunder, and I am rarely disappointed (and even when I am I try to find something of value for balance). I’m guilty of missing more than I’ve covered, but I hope whoever is reading this feels like I do: art writing is in service of the art, the artists, and the art lovers, and ongoing critical reviews are essential for all three. That, if anything, is going to keep us here at Akimblog going for another ten.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.
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Posted by Linda Hershkovitz, on 2016-12-23 13:23:05It's wonderful that Terence Dick has recognized this group of female artists who've shone their light in the Canadian art scene for so many decades. But surely you could have found a more complimentary descriptor than "a surfeit of senior female artists."? Surfeit implies "an excessive amount" which is hardly the case!