York profs and alumni on show at Art School {Dismissed}

Four Faculty of Fine Arts professors and nine alumni will have to stay after class this weekend for the Art School {Dismissed} exhibition.

They are among more than 50 artists who have extended their established creative practices into the realm of education as teachers and mentors, and who are showcasing their work May 14 to 16 in the decommissioned Shaw Street Public School, located at 180 Shaw St. in Toronto.

The school’s breezy classrooms and wide hallways serve as the very apt context and setting for the new works on view, which range from installation, sculpture, video and new media to drawing, painting and performance, as well as many hybrid forms that blend and cross boundaries. As a portrait of the current art education landscape, the exhibition is an opportunity to reflect on some of the most important voices influencing young artists in the region.

Visual arts Professor Nina Levitt contributes Elemental, a site-specific video installation. Inspired by her first tour of the Shaw Street School, which reminded her of her own school days, she solicited memories and class photographs from her family and friends. The responses she received ranged from sweet to heartbreaking: stories of crushes, friendships, embarrassing moments, breakdowns, punishment, bullying and other formative incidents from the 1950s through the 1980s. Levitt’s creation, a two-screen projection, is based on some of these stories, which will be projected on the second landing of the central staircase.

Above: An image from Nina Levitt’s video installation 

In another stairwell, dance Professor Holly Small (BFA ’77) has choreographed a site-specific performance: a trio titled Runaway Heart to be performed by Johanna Bergfelt, Jesse Dell (BFA Spec. Hons. ’03) and Graham McKelvie. She describes the work as “a rhythmically challenging, sporadically comical study of three high-school delinquent beatniks-in-training.”

Right: Holly Small

Small’s Dance Department colleague Susan Cash (BFA Spec. Hons. ’78, MA ’07) was also invited to create an original work for the show. She will be performing her solo, titled When the Other Shoe. It’s a piece inspired by her teaching practice, in which she encourages her students to know and experience all the rules so that they can break those rules in creative and intelligent ways.

Left: Susan Cash

“True individual expressiveness comes to light when they fall away from the rules that don’t make sense,” says Cash. “As a teacher I wait with anticipation for my students to ‘drop the other shoe’, jump the line and let chaos erupt.”

Visual arts Professor Barbara Balfour rounds out the York faculty contingent with two installations inside one of the school’s cloakrooms. Inspired by the memory of reciting an alphabetized list of prepositions, above about across incorporates various colours of vinyl text, in which each preposition spatially performs what it represents. Balfour’s other work, Teacher’s Pets, plays with the notion that teachers aren’t supposed to have favourites – or at least, no one should be aware of who they are. Balfour describes this installation, which employs a personal font based on the artist’s handwriting and clear vinyl text, as “a semi-truthful, semi-autobiographical” work.

Right: A work in progress illustrates Barbara Balfour’s inspiration. The completed work will be on display this weekend.

York graduates represented in the show, who have forged dual careers as professional artists and teachers, include: Ontario College of Art and Design faculty members Johanna Householder (BFA ’76) and Paulette Phillips (MFA ’08); University of Toronto (U of T) faculty Alexander Irving (MFA ’00) and Ed Pien (MFA ’84); U of T and Sheridan College faculty Lisa Neighbour (MFA ’09) and Lyla Rye  (BFA Spec. Hons. ’89), who also teaches at the Ontario College of Art & Design and the Toronto School of Art; University of Waterloo Professor Lois Andison (BFA Spec. Hons. ’90); Artist Space instructor Chrysanne Stathacos (BA ’73) and Shelagh Keeley (BFA ’77) of the Toronto School of Art.

Art School {Dismissed} is produced by independent artist and curator Heather Nicol. Her previous Toronto exhibitions include Making Room, which was seen by nearly 2,000 visitors over just two days in December 2006, and her sound-and-light installation Imminent Departure in the Great Hall of Union Station, acclaimed as one of the must-see events of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche in 2009.

This dynamic and extensive program of art, dance, music and performance will be combined with a cafeteria menu of food and beverage offerings to encourage visitors to linger, explore and return for a second look. Admission is $5 for students, artists and seniors; general admission is $8.

For more information, visit the Art School {Dismissed} Web site.