AGYU wins prestigious awards

Innovative activities developed and curated by the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) have been recognized by the Ontario Association of Art Galleries (OAAG) with four prestigious awards.

Philip Monk (right), curator and director of AGYU, received the association’s major curatorial writing award for his book, Spirit Hunter: The Haunting of American Culture by Myths of Violence: Speculations on Jeremy Blake’s Winchester Trilogy. The book was also recognized with a design award presented to Lisa Kiss of the Toronto-based company, Lisa Kiss Design.

Spirit Hunter looks at American artist Jeremy Blake’s hallucinatory work inspired by the 19th-century mansion of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Repeating Rifle fortune. Blake’s original exhibit Winchester Trilogy probed the psychological aura of this architectural wonder constructed by Winchester over the course of 38 years, beginning in the late 19th century, as a response to tragedy in her life. A medium told her that spirits had claimed the lives of her only daughter and late husband in revenge for those killed by the rifle that made the family fortune. The visions that haunted her are revisited through the images of Blake’s multimedia presentation, which was exhibited at the AGYU in May 2004 (see story in the May 13, 2004 issue of YFile). Blake’s art genre of video projection as time-based painting lies somewhere between video and painting and serves as the medium through which Winchester’s mad architectural project transmits its ghostly inheritance.

The book represented new technique in critical writing. “It is a wide-ranging book that covers many topics,” said Monk. “Jeremy Blake’s Winchester Trilogy is phantasmagorical. It is a morphing series of abstract colour images inspired by a ghost story. There is no content voice-over or script. I wrote Spirit Hunter using a fictional technique and incorporated elements of noir and horror.

“I am delighted that Spirit Hunter received this recognition,” said Monk, “since my last book, Double-Cross: The Hollywood Films of Douglas Gordon, won the award two years ago.”

Spirit Hunter examines how the message of the violence-haunted mansion’s design as interpreted by Blake reverberates today in America’s latest wars. Monk’s book ranges widely through frontier myth, American foreign policy, technology, war, film history, psychoanalytic theory (Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok’s cryptonymy) and philosophy (Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas), as it weaves art analysis into the troubled history of a social artifact. Spirit Hunter pursues Blake’s speculations on the secrets Winchester kept through architecture, and questions whether she was hostage to her haunting or to national myth.

The AGYU also won the prestigious 2006 Educator Award for its program AGYU Frosh ‘o5. Organized by Emelie Chhangur (left), assistant curator of AGYU, the AGYU Frosh ‘o5 program consisted of a month of activities that took place as part of York’s orientation in 2005.

“The AGYU is very happy about this award because we are competing against much larger institutions including the Art Gallery of Ontario,” said Monk. “Emelie worked very hard and the award recognizes her effort.

“Even though, technically, we were closed due to the delay in moving to the Accolade East Building, we did not slacken our pace during the fall,” said Monk. Chhangur organized a month of dynamic events including revisiting some of the gallery’s installation highlights from previous years. The AGYU also developed video program from past participation of artists, such as separate screenings of work created by The Atlas Group and Walid Raad, Mike Hoolboom, Steve Reinke and Scott Treleaven.

Chhangur and her team commissioned performances by Darren O’Donnell (Looking to Get Laid) and a Hazing Party by the West Side Stitches Couture Club. Curatorial interns also developed two evenings of video art screenings.

Throughout the month, the AGYU held launches and open houses to create a convivial atmosphere of welcome.

“There were lots of giveaways courtesy of the AGYU and our affiliated downtown art institutions,” said Monk. “Each event brought students downtown to learn about and integrate themselves into Toronto’s art community.”

The AGYU received an honourable mention in the 2006 Exhibition Award category for Istvan Kantor: Machinery Execution which was curated by Monk. The exhibition featured machines, videos and a new work by Kantor titled, Spielraum/Playroom –– Remains of a Revolution, which  transformed the AGYU into an interactive installation involving live video feeds, projections and robotics. Also shown was the feature-length video Lebensraum/Lifespace –– Spectacle of Noise (2004), a semi-autobiographical, science-fiction allegory on the battle for living space in Capital City (Toronto) and the resistance to the city’s gentrification.

The AGYU was among 14 Ontario public art galleries that were recognized by OAAG during its annual awards ceremony on June 16. The association presented 22 juried awards of merit and one honourable mention for outstanding achievement  in seven areas of public art gallery activity. The award categories included the exhibition of the year, curatorial writing, design, exhibition design & installation, education, community partnerships, and volunteer of the year.

For more information on the Art Gallery of York University, visit the AGYU Web site.