Selfish, an exhibit of work by York artist and faculty member Barbara McGill Balfour, will open Thursday at the Koffler Gallery in the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre, 4588 Bathurst Street, Toronto, with an artist’s talk and reception from 6 to 8pm.
Selfish brings together semi-autobiographical works produced over the past seven years by Balfour, who is head of print media in the Faculty of Fine Art’s Department of Visual Arts. In this collection of diverse self-portraits, the artist humorously reflects upon the enigma of identity. The show, which runs through April 22, will also be highlighted by bus tour on April 3 from 1 to 5pm.
Exploring the formative influences of popular culture on identity, Balfour has generated life-sized digital images of herself in the guise of her favourite television characters. Barbara As Emma (the “Avengers” Emma Peel) and Barbara As Buffy (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) convey the artist’s fascination and identification with these invincible heroines and their impact as female role models. Similarly, in Tenure Track Barbara (left) and Happy in Traction, she exteriorizes herself by creating action figures in her own likeness. Alluding to the ubiquitous Barbie doll and her innumerable fashion ensembles, Balfour’s adaptations and attendant attire capture both her private self inhabiting a world of pain and healing, as well as her public, academic persona.
The notion of reproducibility informs many of the works on view, referencing Balfour’s primary orientation as a print-based artist. In Persistence, she continues her investigation into the ontological history of Silly Putty – a pursuit evident in her 2001 exhibition, Offspring, at Toronto’s Open Studio Gallery. Employing this amorphous children’s toy, she renders her own image in the form of a glow-in-the-dark life mask. In another project, the artist’s fingerprints infiltrate the gallery space. Evidence of labour, these errant traces are read as distinctive markers. Balfour’s use of rubber stamps in this installation however subverts the incontrovertible uniqueness of this icon of individuality.
Balfour’s engagement with self-portraiture extends to several new projects such as 100 Things That Make Me Happy, a collection of works on paper that illuminates her flawed quest for contentment. While encompassing a necessarily impossible list, it nonetheless offers an accurate, if transitory, self description. Success as a measure of self identify often arises in the wake of failure. Seventeen crumpled balls of paper, cast in bronze, compose Plan B, materializing the unacknowledged, yet cumulative burden of discarded ideas.
Given the varied approaches to autobiographic representation in Selfish, Balfour, ultimately, points to the impossibility of defining what constitutes a stable sense of self. Identity is always in flux: a work in progress.
About the artist
Barbara McGill Balfour was raised in Montreal and received a BA in French literature from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., an AOCA from the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, and an MFA from Concordia University in Montreal. Balfour taught print media and feminist art and theory at Concordia before assuming the position of head of the Print Media Area at York in 1999. She has exhibited across Canada and the United States since 1988.
On Sunday, April 3, there will be a free, guided bus tour from downtown to the Koffler Gallery, the Art Gallery of York University and the Doris McCarthy Gallery in Scarborough. The bus departs at 1pm from 100 McCaul Street (main entrance of Ontario College of Art & Design, just south of Dundas). Return time is approximately 5pm. To reserve a seat, call 416-636-1880, ext. 270.
The Koffler Gallery is located three stoplights (two TTC stops) north of Sheppard Ave. The gallery is accessible by TTC via the Bathurst 7 bus north from the Bloor/Bathurst subway station, or the 160 Bathurst North bus from Wilson subway station. Buses stop at the community centre. The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday, 10am-4pm, Sunday, 12-4pm, and Monday by appointment. The gallery is closed Saturday, statutory holidays and Jewish holidays. Admission is free.