Graduate student symposium taps McMichael collection’s roots

The home of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection

The tree has taken on many meanings throughout history and across cultures within mythology, religion, art, political and state propaganda, scientific study and other areas. In current environmental debates, the cultural significance of the tree is juxtaposed against the threat of its extinction posed by massive deforestation, over exploitation and urban sprawl.

The home of the McMichael Canadian Art CollectionThe home of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection

New Growth: Dialogues on the Tree is a one-day public symposium organized by York University’s Art History Graduate Students Association (AHGSA) that examines the tree and its many meanings. The symposium is presented in partnership with the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the country’s foremost venue showcasing the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. It takes place at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection Gallery in Kleinburg, Ont. on Saturday, March 31 from 9am to 6pm.

“This year’s Art History Graduate Student Symposium is a major step in bridging the divide between the academic study of art and its cultural institutions,” said Anna Hudson, director of York’s Graduate Programs in Art History and Art History & Visual Culture. “Our master’s students seized the opportunity to work with the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, which has so generously extended an arm toYork for applied training in art history and visual culture. The collaboration promises to be a remarkable event.”

Panellists from across Canada and the United States will gather at the symposium to speak on such diverse topics as “Iconographies of the Tree”, “Roots for Nationalism” and “Shifting Landscapes in Contemporary Art”. The full day of presentations culminates in a keynote lecture by Cynthia Hammond, associate professor of art history at Concordia University.

The home of the McMichael Canadian Art CollectionThe home of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Hammond’s talk, titled “Every Tree a Staunch Heart: Activism, Landscape and Suffrage in Edwardian England”, focuses on the creation and destruction of an arboretum in Bath, England that was planted by a group of suffragettes in the early part of the 20th century. Her most recent publication is the book Architects, Angels, Activists and the City of Bath, 1765-1965, published last month by Ashgate. In addition to her extensive publications on gender, architecture, public space and landscape, Hammond also maintains a studio practice. She recently co-founded the art/design firm, pouf! art + architecture.

View the full schedule of symposium presenters and topics.

New Growth: Dialogues on the Tree is part of The McMichael Tree Project, a series of tree-related exhibitions and programming taking place through April. The exhibition The Tree: Form and Substanceis curated by Katerina Atanassova, the McMichael’s chief curator and a PhD candidate in York’s Graduate Program in Art History & Visual Culture. It features works from the McMichael’s permanent collection in dialogue with contemporary artists’ interpretations of the tree. Also on view is the exhibition The Tree: From the Sublime to the Social, produced by the Vancouver Art Gallery. Admission to both shows is included in the registration fee for the symposium.

Katerina AtanassovaKaterina Atanassova

Atanassova has been chief curator at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection since 2009 and embarked on her doctoral studies atYork this year. She proposed the symposium partnership and topic, and is gratified that the project was selected by her peers in AHGSA. “I felt the McMichael would benefit from opening our collection to contemporary art dialogue with young artists,” she said.

Openness is a theme of The Tree Project, with a number of works being shown outdoors on the gallery’s 100 acres of treed property. From sculpture to photography, artists-in-residence at the gallery incorporated the McMichael Canadian Collection’s trees into their works for the program.

Admission to the symposium is $15 for the general public, free for students and McMichael members with valid identification. Registration is available in advance or at the door, and includes entry to the symposium, exhibitions, refreshments and a catered lunch.

For more information on the symposium, online registration and transportation options, visit the AHGSA website.