Art Gallery of York University turns up the heat

The Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) turns up the heat this winter with a daring and imaginative new series of exhibitions that move art onto the centre stage.  

The gallery, which received critical acclaim for its most recent exhibit, The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, returns with an interactive series of exhibits that feature a whole new cast of characters, as well as some familiar and returning York faces.

Whimsical, fluid and thought-provoking, this season at the AGYU is unlike any other because it will surround visitors, drawing them in as active viewer-participants in the exhibitions, says Emelie Chhangur, the gallery’s assistant director/curator.

"The viewers become performers on the exhibition stage at various degrees as they move from Brendan Fernandes’ Relay League for the AGYU vitrines through Oliver Husain’s Hovering Proxies into the performance space Of so, the animal looks back," says Chhangur.

Hovering Proxies moves to centre stage

It all starts with filmmaker and artist Oliver Husain and his exhibit Hovering Proxies, which opens Jan. 21 and continues until March 14.  

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Husain studied film and theatre in Offenbach, Germany and Gujarat, India. Now a resident of Toronto, Husain’s productions often begin with a portrait of a person or place, mixing a wide range of cinematic languages and visual codes, dance, puppetry, and animation, which disassemble and subvert fixed readings of the original material in new theatrical forms. In Hovering Proxies, visitors to the gallery become part of a social cabaret on the border between installation and performance. The new installation forms the backdrop for a new film filmed inside the exhibition for the exhibition. With both these elements on display simultaneously, the viewer penetrates a thin veneer to become a performer on the exhibition’s stage – indeed, only half way through the exhibition do you become aware you have replaced the hovering proxies.

Gallery visitors will be transported by Hovering Proxies into an urban garden in Jakarta, Indonesia. They’ll be surrounded by the images and sensations of a lazy summer day. Elegant wrought iron furniture, withered vines and broken flowerpots set the stage for the ensuing tropical drama. As they step behind a curtain flapping in the warm breeze, they suddenly become understudies in a play, watching and waiting for the lead performer’s fatal slip. Are they prepared? Have they studied their scripts? As with any drama the best action is backstage.

Oliver Husain, Hovering Proxies (installation detail), 2010. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of York University.

Husain’s films and video works include music videos, 3-D-animations and performance that are sometimes infused with the rich pageantry of Bollywood dance. The opening reception for Hovering Proxies will take place Thursday, Jan. 21, from 6 to 9pm. All are welcome.

Relay League illuminates the AGYU vitrines

York University graduate Brendan Fernandes (BFA ’02) returns to York University with Relay League, a staged and choreographed light performance that spills out from the gallery’s vitrines onto the York University campus. The exhibit, which runs Jan. 21 to June 6, features a chain of forwarding optical telegraphs that communicate messages of distress or celebration. Morse code patterns, pulsing within the vitrines, communicate SOS messages that are both sent and received. A neon African mask that is part of the exhibit vibrates more rapidly, inducing a trance-like state while a search light manoeuvring through an unidentified space adds to the mystery for those who dare.

Accompanying Fernandes’ exhibit is a text by Kenneth Montague, curator by night of Toronto’s acclaimed Wedge Gallery. The text, which is published in another coded format, is a free take-away item.

Born in Kenya of Indian heritage, Fernandes came to Canada in the 1990s. He completed the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art  in 2007 and earned his MFA in 2005 from the University of Western Ontario in addition to his BFA from York University. He has exhibited internationally, including The Third Guangzhou Triennial in Guangzhou, China (2008) and the Western New York Biennial at The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY (2007). Fernandes has held the position of Artist in Residence at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, in the graduate program for computer arts (2008) and is the a current recipient of a New Commissions Project through Art in General, NY (2010). He is based between Toronto and New York.

Fernandes’ project for the AGYU vitrines is supported by the York Alumni Office. Relay League will become part of the permanent collection of the AGYU.

The opening reception for Relay League will illuminate the AGYU on Thursday, Jan. 21, from 6 to 9pm. Once again, in classic AGYU style, all are welcome.

Return of the AGYU’s Performance Bus with Mantler

Strangers to the gallery are invited to make the trip to the gallery on AGYU’s Performance Bus with Toronto performer Mantler (a.k.a. Chris Cummings). Mantler’s Tour Bus is their free ticket to Oliver Husain and Brendan Fernandes’ opening night and offers some serious comic relief for the evening. Part tour guide and part musician, this “child-man” is all entertainer. The free Performance Bus departs from the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), 100 McCaul St., on Jan. 21 at 6pm sharp and returns downtown at 9pm. 

Right: Mantler

Far from the humble beginnings as a home-recording project together with his Wurlitzer electric piano and 1970s Rhythm Ace drum machine, Mantler has become a favourite in the Toronto live music scene. Mantler has released three albums – Doin’ It All (2000, Le Systeme Records), Sadisfaction (2002, Tomlab Records) and Landau (2004, Tomlab Records). His fourth album, Monody, will be released in early 2010 on Tomlab Records, Tin Angel Records and Blocks Recording Club.

And so, the animal looked back

She’s the coordinator of the front desk in the Office of the President by day and a set designer by night. York’s own Bojana Stancic together with Canadian writer and director Alex Wolfson decorate the AGYU with And so, the animal looked back. Opening Jan. 28 and running until March 14, And so, the animal looked back represents a unique venture for the AGYU into the world of experimental theatre. Rooted equally in the art world and queer performance, the AGYU has commissioned two new plays under the overall title of And so, the animal looked back. The performance of the first play will open and conclude with the opening of the second play. The installation retains the props, performance elements and projections from the first play. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Call 416-736-5169 to reserve.

And so, the animal looked back will celebrate its opening performances on Jan. 28 and 29 at 7:30pm both nights. The closing performances are on March 11 and 12 at 7:30pm for both nights. Tickets for the Thursday performances are reserved for individuals riding on the free performance bus departing from OCAD at 6pm sharp. There is no bus for the Friday performances, which are reserved for York University faculty, staff and students.

And so, the animal looked back examines how the Earth’s creatures interact with each other. Man’s interaction with the Animal Kingdom provides the central focus for the productions. During the first production in And so, the animal looked back, mankind’s domination of the animal world is explored in apocalyptic context when a sole survivor creates a world of "automatons" that combine animal and man. The lone survivor finds that he is no longer man, but is instead something else.

In the second production of And so, the animal looked back, Max, a laboratory chimpanzee, stuns scientists by speaking. Max begins to compose a long essay on the subject of the separation between man and animal, chimpanzee and animal, man and chimpanzee. Word leaks out to the world at large about Max. People become frenzied. Strange things begin to occur as the world starts slowly to fall apart. Pairs of animals, both human and otherwise, begin to congregate around the laboratory. Finally it becomes clear, Max’s essay represents the last words to be spoken before a new flood, a new apocalypse, but unlike the disaster that occurred before the first play, this flood does not simply destroy, it also reconfigures new identities, new shared subjectivities. The play ends not with a prescription of what must come but simply with an understanding that things must change and what will come is a mystery.

Above: Alex Wolfson and Bojana Stancic, windows, production still. Courtesy of the artists.

Stancic was trained at the University College Drama Program, University of Toronto. She has designed plays for The Disturbed Family, Ammo Factory, and other theatre productions, as well as for film and television. She recently designed the set for windows at the Summer Works Theatre Festival.

Wolfson is a playwright and director. His plays are often performed in art galleries, including If I’m Me Today, Must I Tomorrow at Gallery TPW in 2008. His recent work, The Sexual Aberrations: Part One, was presented at the Rhubarb Festival in February 2009 and windows was presented at the Summer Works Theatre Festival.

AGYU goes "off Broadway"

The Glimmering Grotto: Seven plays over seven days, running Feb. 11 to 17, at 8:30pm @The Department, 1389 Dundas St. W. in Toronto, is an outcrop week of performances by Oliver Husain, Bojana Stancic and Alex Wolfson. The artists will work through a system of limitations with each performance set up like a game of round robin: three solos, three duos and one group. Each non-performing artist sets the limits for the performing artists. The Glimmering Grotto is at once a location, place, idea and game.

The Art Gallery of York University is a University-affiliated public non-profit contemporary art gallery supported by York University, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council and through memberships.

For more information about what’s happening, visit the AGYU Web site. Admission to everything is free.