International performance artist returns to York

International artist Humberto Vélez returns to the Art Gallery of York University this month to fine tune The Spirit, a large-scale public performance piece to be performed in Toronto next spring.

Vélez began work on The Spirit during his first AGYU residency in 2009-2010. Commissioned by the AGYU, The Spirit will be performed in Toronto May 14, 2011. It will be presented as an “art ceremony” about Canada from a First Nations perspective and feature dance, music and processions.

Left:  Humberto Vélez (right)and AGYU curator Emelie Chhangur chat last summer during Vélez’s first AGYU residency  

As he often does, Vélez is collaborating with others to create this project. For The Spirit, he is working with Philip Cote and Rebecca Baird, members of the Tecumseh First Nations Community Organization, with native and non-native youth, with Urban Runners and the Toronto Sport Council.

“This project defines new territories for the active involvement of youth, promotes social inclusion, celebrates First Nations perspectives and creates alternate experiential real-time relationships within the existing built environment of the City of Toronto,” says Emelie Chhangur, co-curator of the project with Regina-based independent curator Elizabeth Matheson.

Freelance photographer and writer Len Grant is documenting the process of collaboration and his photographs will be exhibited at the AGYU in May 2011, to coincide with the public performance.

Based in Manchester, England, Grant focuses on urban regeneration as a major theme in his work. Since 2007, Grant has worked as a curator on the British Council’s OPENCities project, which explores how immigration contributes to city success.  

Vélez will be artist-in-residence at the AGYU from Aug. 8 to Sept. 17.

Right: Humberto Vélez with AGYU director and curator Philip Monk (left) in 2009 at Bark Lake, where the artist met his First Nations collaborators 

Born in Panama in 1965, he studied filmmaking in Cuba before venturing into large-scale collaborative performance art that explore expressions of popular culture, power and ethics. He collaborates with communities and other artists and performers to create his artistic projects. Such community collaboration is central to his work, which, as curator Gerardo Mosquera says, “interweaves personal memories, dreams, visions and the determination of pretending to invent new worlds.” For this, the artist works with diverse media, ranging from the popular to the high-tech, from the traditional to the contemporary. 

He has been an artist in residence in Vienna, London and Paris, presented his work in at biennials in South and Central America, Europe and Asia, and exhibited at the Tate Modern in London. This year, he has created major performance works for the Pompidou Centre in Paris and at conferences in Chile and New Zealand. For next year, Vélez is preparing a major performance for the opening of the Casa Daros Latin America in Rio de Janeiro and presenting his work at the world- famous Venice Biennale.