York sociologist curates Scotiabank Nuit Blanche exhibit

The words "things fall apart" can mean many different things. For York sociology Professor Katherine Bischoping these three words represent her desire to explore moments when a thing becomes something else. Such as, when a house turns to dust, a chair breaks down or a person dies and is transformed into ashes. The words are also the title of the exhibit Bischoping is curating for the upcoming Scotiabank Nuit Blanche in Toronto, as well as a phrase in a Yeats poem.

“The topic of the exhibit emerged out of a play I wrote as a sabbatical project, The Demise of Ordinary Objects, in which I was looking at moments in which animate subjects are transformed into inanimate objects, and vice versa,” says Bischoping. “I was interested in exploring how we give human qualities to inanimate objects and how we ourselves become inanimate objects.” That led to Things Fall Apart.

Left: Katherine Bischoping

As a methodologist, she was interested in conducting fieldwork on the sociological and theatrical ways of investigating social issues. “My interest began as a sociological, but also a philosophical, question: When do you stop becoming yourself?” says Bischoping.

“Artists make art out of what they glimpse out of the corner of their eye,” she says. “As a sociologist, I’m always looking at issues straight on.” That contrast fuelled her interest in how others would interpret the theme of things falling apart.

Natalia Laluque, owner of Laluque Atelier Gallery in Toronto where Things Fall Apart will be exhibited, was intrigued by the concept as well as by Bischoping. “I feel she is a person who can bring something very different and creative to my gallery,” says Laluque. “I thought her experience and her scientific approach could produce a very different approach and she combines very different artists than I would.”

When Laluque asked Bischoping to curate the gallery’s first Nuit Blanche entry, she was thrilled by the opportunity. The result is 10 artists – four from York – who call themselves Blackcurrant Productions. Each artist will bring their own conception of things falling apart. The exhibit, accepted as a partner-level independent project for Nuit Blanche, will include a loop of five short films, totalling 45 minutes, in an exhibit of jewellery, collages, theatre designs and sculptures.

“I’m very excited because she incorporates various artists and artists from different media,” says Laluque.

Things Fall Apart will show Ontario’s ghost towns dwindling, fast food icons congealing, an inked Japanese word running under a tap, and a fainting goat giving a blessing. The artists will contrast sudden implosions with slow declines and question the distinctions between animate subjects and inanimate objects. They’ll throw spotlights, not only on things as they fall apart, but also on the spaces into which they fall.

Right: A farmhouse at Bexley, Victoria County, Ont., by Susan Foster

York alumna and dancer Sarah Lochhead (BFA Spec. Hons. ’05), artistic director of Simcoe Contemporary Dancers, will contribute a new movement-based film inspired equally by the childhood game of telephone and by her grandfather’s use of photography to counter his flagging memory. Michelle Johnson (MFA ’99) will contribute silicone sculptures of congealing fast food icons. Susan Foster (BFA Spec. Hons. ’96), a media operations technician in York’s Department of Sociology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, will have a new film about her remarkable and long-standing research of Ontario’s ghost towns in the exhibit. One of Foster’s photos was selected to represent Things Fall Apart. A scene from Bischoping’s play The Demise of Ordinary Objects was made into the educational film, The Demise of a Focus Group, directed by Graham Porter, and will also be part of the show.

“It’s been very exciting to be working with an interdisciplinary group like this and seeing how, from our different disciplines, we reflect upon and represent the show’s theme,” says Bischoping.

“My first degree was in statistics. For me, mathematics had a very strong esthetic component. Sociology is not always pretty. Working with artists has been a way of returning to the esthetic concerns of mathematics, which I miss. I feel like I’m coming full circle. The experience has really been quite wonderful.”

Bischoping is currently at work on another project involving Norwegian Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House, which she translated into English, and plans to have read in a workshop format in December. “It’s a theatrical expression of a problem that’s sociological in nature,” she says. Bischoping would like to put on a modern day representation of the play in the future.

Scotiabank Nuit Blanche is an all-night contemporary arts event taking place on Oct. 3 around Toronto. The Laluque Atelier Gallery is at 1362 Bathurst St. at St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto.