York takes academic leadership role at Congress 2023 

Female conference lecture teacher professor

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, editor, YFile

Upwards of 250 York University faculty members and scholars are among the presenters during the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, where they take an academic leadership role in sharing their research with colleagues from across the nation. 

The flagship event of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences – taking place May 27 to June 2 at York University’s Keele Campus – returns to an in-person format this year, following a hiatus in 2020 and the subsequent virtual format in 2021 and 2022. Congress is the largest academic gathering in Canada, with at least 10,000 participants attending this year. The event was last hosted at York University in 2006. 

Congress 2023 provides a platform for critical conversations, including diverse voices and perspectives to create collaborations that help drive the future of post-secondary education. This year’s theme “Reckonings and Re-Imaginings” will guide the direction of discussions and knowledge sharing in presentations, panels, workshops and more.

Andrea Davis
Andrea Davis

“I am excited by this theme because it’s a call to reflection on where we (as scholars, activists, artists and thinkers) are and how we got here,” said York University Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Professor Andrea Davis, who is serving as academic convenor for Congress 2023, when the theme was announced. “Rather than simply centering the problems, this theme insists that we imagine otherwise – that we consider what a different set of possibilities might look like and that we come together collectively to create the kind of world we want to live in.” 

York faculty and scholars will contribute their humanities and social sciences research and expertise through more than 250 different events scheduled in a variety of programming streams, such as the Big Thinking Lecture Series, Career Corner, Black and racialized programming, Indigenous programming, scholarly presentations and more. 

Contributions come from all 11 York Faculties, three Organized Research Units, two divisions and other units, such as the Teaching Commons and York International. 

“We took the opportunity to apply York’s strengths as an institution that is known for supporting social justice and social responsibility. At Congress 2023, the University is playing an active role in igniting and sustaining positive change through scholarship, creative practice and conversations that generate new perspectives,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic.

Philipps is also a member of the Scholarly Planning Committee for Congress, which is comprised of York faculty, staff, graduate students and senior leadership, who together have helped to guide and shape the themes and programming for this year’s event through broad consultation with the York community. Learn more about the Scholarly Planning Committee here

York programming at Congress 2023 

The School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design will feature work from faculty and graduate students with topics exploring culturally relevant pedagogy, accessible tech for Canadian artists, film screenings and more. 

Diverse programming from the Faculty of Education – which contributes to more than 60 events – includes re-imagining teacher education, book launch events, the risks of queer lives during the pandemic, findings from a Black feminist qualitative study and more from faculty and graduate students. 

Both faculty and graduate students from the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change will participate and explore topics such as the intersectional feminist approach to gathering and analyzing stories that reconsider risk, and a look at ceremonies of mourning, remembrance and care in the context of violence and more.

Glendon College faculty members will consider the ascent of right-wing populism in Canada, the politics of refusal in the Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette novel Suzanne, and more. 

Research by graduate students will be the focus of contributions from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, with a variety of presentations on diverse topics, including the impact of the pandemic on intimate partner violence in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, a focus on mental health and the suicide of Black men, female activists and their relationships with their mothers, and more. 

From the Faculty of Health, faculty members will explore how academic nursing leaders addressed the complexities of sustaining quality nursing education programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, participate in a roundtable on transnational Black communities and overcoming epidemics and a panel on promising practices that support aging with equity. Faculty will also present research on Indian immigrant fatherhood in the perinatal period, the experiences of immigrant Pakistani youths, and Asian Canadian exclusionary experiences in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to research contributions, a graduate program assistant will perform at the Swag Stage.

Lassonde School of Engineering will have contributions from faculty and an undergraduate student that focuses on designing a more equitable science curricula and York’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4), which will be presented in partnership with a student from the Schulich School of Business.

Knowledge sharing from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies will come from undergraduate students, graduate students, teaching and research assistants and faculty, with participation in upwards of 80 different events at Congress. Some of the research will cover racial profiling among Canadian university professors of Chinese descent, re-imagining criminal justice, activism and inclusion, decolonizing transnational human rights engagements and partnerships in Africa, queer rural teacher activists and more. 

Osgoode Hall Law School faculty members and a visiting Fellow will present their research on girls and Young Women before the Cour du bienêtre social of Montréal, conflicting interpretations of women in Canada’s thalidomide tragedy and Indigenous laws and jurisdiction for addressing harm. 

Faculty members representing the Faculty of Science will share their research on geological fantasies, the stark effect, and offer perspectives during a roundtable on overcoming epidemics and the transnational Black communities’ response. 

Find more information about open programming events at Congress here: https://www.federationhss.ca/en/congress2023/york-programming.  

Encounters brings augmented reality to Congress 2023

An AR image of water on campus

By Elaine Smith

Experience York University’s Keele Campus with new eyes during Congress 2023 by participating in Encounters, an augmented reality (AR) event commissioned for the event.

Using AR technology, participants can engage with their surroundings in new ways, potentially deepening connections with each other in the process.

“The Encounters app was designed to encourage users to get together, as opposed to staying apart, as might commonly be expected with digital interfaces,” says artist Elahe Rostami, from the Artifact Lab where she works with brother, Amir Bahador Rostami, a graduate of the Digital Media program at York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD). Both artists have expertise in experimental interfaces and virtual world building.

Once participants download the app to their mobile phones, they are prompted to invite another person to join them for the experience.

“The users embark together on a journey of exploration and discovery, sharing new perspectives and insights about their intersubjective experiences of the landscape,” Elahe said.

“The app also generates an avatar that’s overlaid on your body,” said Joel Ong, a professor in the AMPD and member of the Congress 2023 Scholarly Planning Committee. “It’s a fun experience that also invites conversation and the relationship building that is an important aspect of Congress 2023.”

Using the app, participants will be guided to various spots around the Quad at the Keele Campus in a choreographed walk, including wayfinding to locations for other Congress 2023 activities. As they walk, bodies of water appear virtually, providing the opportunity to pause for conversation or contemplation.

A body of water as it appears through AR
A body of water as it appears through AR

“When the lake or pond is there, it connects people back to each other, and they can discuss the latest talk, event, other possibilities and futures or just celebrate connection,” Elahe said. “It’s a moment of trust.”

Elahe, who immigrated to Canada from Iran, hopes people will think about ways people come together, whether in celebration or in protest, as was the case in her homeland during the past year. Citizens there gathered regularly to protest the prison death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who was jailed for not wearing her hijab properly.

“If there are images projected on the ground, it’s something to come together around, to collaborate,” Elahe said. “Why not think about the future of public spaces and democracy when we think about interfaces?”

In various ways, Encounters evokes the theme of Congress 2023, Reckonings and Re-imaginings.

York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences will host Congress 2023 from May 27 to June 2. Register here to attend, community passes are available and term dates have been adjusted to align with timelines for this year’s event.

Congress 2023 mural reflects community, attendee artistry

Second Student Centre

By Elaine Smith

Congress 2023 attendees at York University are invited to take part in the creation of a community mural that addresses the conference theme, Reckonings and Re-Imaginings.

Throughout Congress 2023, two local artists and five student artists from Westview Centennial Secondary School in the nearby Jane-Finch neighbourhood will be painting this three-panel mural on the patio of York’s Second Student Centre. They will be on site daily to work on the mural and answer questions about the concept and process. Everyone is welcome to stop by and add some colour to their creation.

“This project was conceived as a way for Congress 2023 to mark a milestone in our commitment to supporting the communities in and around our campus,” said Joel Ong, a professor in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design and member of the Congress 2023 Scholarly Planning Committee. “This amplifies the work of initiatives like the Jane Finch Social Innovation Hub and the York U-TD Community Engagement Centre to provide opportunities for students and faculty to contribute to the relationship-building process between the University and its neighbours.”

Local artists Andre Lopez and Philip Saunders, and the students who are part of a specialized arts and culture group at Westview Centennial, are the main artistic team for the mural. It will depict Canada and the diverse faces that have contributed to our country. Attendees are invited to stop by en route to their meetings to see the mural develop over the week.

“The students involved in this project have vision and creativity, but haven’t had the opportunity to work on a big project before,” said Kayode Brown, who is driving the project. Brown is a graduate student in the Faculty of Education and founder of Just BGraphic, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to revolutionize arts education by challenging and decolonizing arts as they are currently taught in the educational system. “The group took the words Reckonings and Re-Imaginings and brainstormed about what it meant to them. The mural will draw on the history of different cultures who have contributed to Canada and emphasize those voices.

“The border will be wrapped in Indigenous words and imagery and the inside panels will depict natural features with diverse faces blended into them.”

Brown is working with Ong, and Ana Medeiros, head of the arts at Westview Centennial Secondary School, to bring the mural to fruition. Westview Centennial has just been named an arts school, and Brown sees the mural as “modelling a way to decolonize the arts.”

The artists and student artists will also work with Brown to create a 10-minute podcast that gives addition context. A QR code posted on site will give visitors audio access to their perspectives.

After Congress 2023 comes to a close, the finished mural – approximately 7 metres by 1 metre – will be installed on the ground floor of Ross Hall outside the offices of the Jane Finch Social Innovation Hub (N141) – a campus space where York students from the local community have access to study groups, tutoring, information workshops and trips – all services that help with navigating the academic, social and administrative elements of university life.

It will serve as a perfect reminder of York’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) such as reduced inequality; sustainable cities and communities; and partnerships for the goals.

York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences will host Congress 2023 from May 27 to June 2. Register here to attend, community passes are available and term dates have been adjusted to align with timelines for this year’s event.

Artist-researchers present exhibit on research harassment during Congress

Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts

Sarah Hancock, an artist-researcher and undergraduate student at York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD), is using data to bring awareness to the harassment experienced by scholars when sharing their work in online spaces. Her work is part of an exhibit running through Congress 2023.

When conceiving her artistic vision, Hancock was inspired by a York University Libraries-led co-curricular workshop she attended that was part of a series on data literacy, research computing, digital methods, research skills and media creation.

Taught by librarians Alexandra Wong and Priscilla Carmini, the workshop “Crochet Your Way to Data Fundamentals,” combined maker and data literacies through experiential learning. With crocheting, it brought data to life through the act of data physicalization, aiming to help students explore, understand and communicate data using physical representations while introducing participants to a research creation modality.

The goal was to not only teach students to crochet and create a physical item visualizing temperature data change in Toronto, but to also purposely foster diversity and inclusivity, and build confidence to engage with data. Student participants interacted with local temperature data, reflected, and chose how the use of different yarn colours could best encode the data to communicate data creatively. The workshop offers an introduction to the Maker Literacy programming that will extend to Markham Campus Library’s Data Visualization, Makerspace, Media Creation and Extended Reality (XR) and Gaming spaces.

Using this data visualization skill, a team of researchers has collected stories from graduate students, known as “storytellers,” on their experiences facing harassment due to their research. The team and resulting exhibit, both titled “Bearing Witness: Hate, Harassment and Online Public Scholarship,” are led by Alex Borkowski and Marion Grant, both PhD candidates in the Department of Communication and Culture in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, supported by Associate Professor Natalie Coulter, director, Institute for Research on Digital Literacies. The project will be displayed as part of a larger exhibit during Congress 2023.

Exhibit by Sarah Hancock on research harassment
Exhibit by Sarah Hancock on research harassment

The exhibit invites three artist-researchers to interpret the interviews and create artistic pieces that allow viewers to experience first-hand research harassment. It is part of an ongoing effort by the Bearing Witness team to establish a research community focused on addressing scholar harassment by providing a safe space for students to voice their experiences, and to highlight the need for institutional change and support.

“My installation is meant to be a space of confrontation. I wanted to highlight the ambiguity of the media’s usefulness in our society,” says Hancock.

She explains that she views data physicalization as a bridge between data and comprehension.

“The first reason I decided to use data physicalization is that I wanted a relevant medium and an art form that could highlight their identity as a researcher, yet humanize their work,” says Hancock.

Wong and Carmini led a consultation with Hancock to discover and understand the existing data for online researcher harassment. Although the topic is under-researched, the Libraries were able to support Hancock in finding an academic survey with data the artist could isolate to compare the victimization of researchers with a monthly online presence versus researchers without a monthly online presence.

“I settled on this data because it demonstrates how removing one’s online presence is not a solution, it promotes erasure and demonstrates that online harassment is independent of the researcher’s online usage,” says Hancock.

Leveraging the expertise of Wong and Carmini, Hancock chose to create her data physicalization as two stacks of cease-and-desist letters to represent the victimization of researchers with and without an online presence. Blending mediums, Hancock crafted a physical “online troll” with a QR code linking to a video simulating the threat of online harassment.

“We are really excited that a small spark of inspiration from our data physicalization workshop could snowball into an ongoing discussion on data and research skills, and finally to being part of an exhibit bringing light to an important topic like researcher harassment,” says Wong. “It really shows the potential of creative teaching pedagogies and the strengths of the Libraries’ support throughout the research lifecycle. Through our participatory workshop, we were able engage Sarah to see data in a new light, which led her to her art exhibit project where we could help her to continue to build her research skills; it was very rewarding to assist Sarah’s learning to critically read academic articles, understand how to read complex statistical analyses to retrieve the data she desired, and then to transform that data into a physicalization.”

Borkowski says the current guidance when encountering harassment online is insufficient.

“Researchers are told to respond to harassment by making themselves smaller, like to use a pseudonym, or to not share on Twitter, which is very detrimental, because so much about being a graduate student is about building a public profile and building a network. It also has the result of limiting what research is allowed to take place, which perspectives are silenced, and which are permitted to be shared. We’re really trying to highlight the stakes of the issue, not only for individuals, but for academia more broadly,” says Borkowski.

The Bearing Witness exhibit will be on display from May 27 to June 2 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in the Special Projects Gallery in the main lobby of the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts at York University (86 Fine Arts Rd., North York).

More information for this project, exhibit and related Congress panels can be found here.

For more information on York University Library workshops, visit https://yorku.libcal.com/calendar/libraryworkshops/. To learn more about the data physicalization workshop, visit https://yorku.libcal.com/event/3706464.

C4 team receives teaching innovation award

Award stock image banner from pexels

Members of York University’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4) team were awarded the 2023 D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), which recognizes post-secondary collaborative teams for their innovative approaches to promoting student-centered teaching and learning.

C4, launched in 2019, enables students to work on real-world challenges with social impact, promoting team-based collaboration, advanced research and design, critical and strategic thinking, and more.

The award was bestowed on those associated with C4’s innovative approach to pan-university interdisciplinary experiential education, including:

  • Danielle Robinson, co-founder and academic co-lead of C4, as well as associate professor in the Department of Dance;
  • Franz Newland, co-founder and co-lead of C4, as well as associate professor of Space Engineering;
  • Rachelle Campigotto, classroom coordinator assistant for C4 and contract faculty in the Faculty of Education;
  • Dana Craig, Libraries liaison for C4 and director of student learning and academic success in the Libraries;
  • Danielle Dobney, team culture strategist of C4 and assistant professor in Kinesiology and the Athletic Therapy Certificate program;
  • Andrea Kalmin, curriculum lead, classroom coordinator for C4 and adjunct faculty in the Department of Social Science;
  • Alice Kim, scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) research lead for C4 and interim assistant program head for Psychology at the University of Guelph-Humber; and
  • Natasha May, Teaching Commons liaison for C4 and educational developer in York’s Teaching Commons.

The D2L Innovation Award is an international recognition, open to applicants from all countries. It evaluates and rewards innovations in pedagogical approaches, teaching methods, course design, curriculum development, assessment methods, and more. It is named after D2L, a cloud-based learning analytics platform.

Award recipients are invited to a retreat held the day of the pre-conference at STLHE’s Annual Conference. This retreat includes a facilitated session, lunch, and a social and learning excursion focused on innovation. At the conference they will be recognized at the Conference Awards Ceremony and receive a certificate in recognition of their work.

Congress 2023 attendees get a taste of the arts at York

An image from Respair

By Elaine Smith

York University is known for its vibrant, diverse arts programs and the Arts@Congress Showcase, happening on May 27 at 3 p.m. at the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre in Accolade East, brings to Congress 2023 a sampling of this creativity.

“The arts are one of our strengths at York,” says Joel Ong, director of Sensorium: Centre for Digital Art and Technology and a member of the Congress 2023 scholarly planning committee. “This program will be a celebration of the arts and culture at York and a culmination of the Year of the Arts program that has been ongoing at AMPD. “Congress 2023 Director Liz McMahan, Academic Convenor Andrea Davis and the performance facilities team at AMPD led by Jacquie Lazar and I have been working hard to put forth a rich and diverse program that builds on the variety of such performances we’ve had over the year.”

Still from Ancestor73
An image from Ancestor73

The performances scheduled for the afternoon draw on the conference theme Reckonings and Re-imaginings. The roster includes the Gospel Ensemble directed by music faculty Corey Butler; a video piece, Black Ballerina, by dance Professor Syreeta Hector; and three dance pieces choreographed by York students and external guests led by dance Professors Tracey Norman and Patrick Alcedo at AMPD. In addition, the Showcase will feature students from Downsview Secondary School performing a winning entry from a spoken word competition organized by Davis. 

Ancestor 73 is a dance choreographed and performed by alumnus Rayn Cook-Thomas (Gwagwadaxla) from the Kwakwaka’wakw nation in coastal British Columbia. It honours the 73 remaining southern resident orcas living near his home.

Cook-Thomas noted that orcas are important spiritual leaders for him and his nation because they carry ancestral knowledge. His dance piece attempts to show the strength, beauty and spirituality of these mammals as they face the impact humans have had on their ocean home and the detrimental effects colonialism has had for the planet.

AMPD alumna and choreographer Blythe Russell is presenting Respair at the Showcase, an original, contemporary dance duet that she created in a 2022 collaboration with fellow alumni Cook-Thomas and Phoebe Rose Harrington.

An image from Respair
An image from Respair

“I’m so excited to be sharing this piece at Congress,” Russell said. “In creating this new piece, we sought to understand what was driving these two bodies to come together. We discovered a human perspective that produced beauty in the form of a more tender, vulnerable magnetism between two people. Respair is about accepting the challenges that make us who we are and bringing them forward with us in a hopeful way.”

Ong says the Showcase is also a reminder that there are many different forms of expression and exploration and that the creative arts play an integral role in work done in the humanities and social sciences.

York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences will host Congress 2023 from May 27 to June 2. Register here to attend. Community passes are available and term dates have been adjusted to align with timelines for this year’s event.

Project champions audiovisual heritage of minoritized communities

Film reel

Archive/Counter-Archive (A/CA): Activating Canada’s Moving Image Heritage is a seven-year research-creation project focusing on preserving the audiovisual cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples (First Nations, Métis, Inuit), Black communities and people of colour, women, LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities. Two events at Congress 2023 will demonstrate its ongoing objectives.

Janine Marchessault
Janine Marchessault

“The project itself grew out of a crisis,” says Janine Marchessault, principal investigator and professor in the Department of Cinema & Media Arts at York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design. A/CA was created in 2018 with $2.499 million in funding from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Grant. “As a film scholar doing a lot of research in archives, I kept hearing the same story that archives are completely underfunded,” she says, which has led to a negligence of Canada’s audio-visual heritage. Most at risk were materials belonging to marginalized communities.

“Archive/Counter-Archive rose out a sense that we have to do something,” says Marchessault. Since 2018, it has pursued its objective to activate and preserve the moving image heritage of those most vulnerable to disappearance and inaccessibility, along with pursuing educational outreach to promote greater archive care and use.    

In the process, A/CA aims to counter the hegemony of traditional archival institutions that have normally neglected marginalized communities, at the same time as offering education and advocacy.

In its first five years, A/CA has seen collaborations with dozens of community repositories, artists and archives. It has also helped create educational resources, host student and postdoctoral researchers, and support several case studies.

For example, there was the exhibition launch of “Inuuqatikka: My Dear Relations” in 2020, which featured work drawn from the archival materials of the world’s leading women-centered Inuit filmmaking collective, Arnait Video Productions. Another example is “AIDS Activist Media: Toronto Living with AIDS & Second Decade,” which looks at archival AIDS activist media in Toronto from the late 1980s and 1990s, including a public access cable television program called Toronto Living With AIDS, running 1990-91, as well as 10 public service announcements (PSAs) created by Canadian artists at Banff. Another case study by the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre (CFMDC) has focused on key Canadian LGBTQ+ films made between the mid-1970s and the early 2000s that lay dormant because queer works in the collection from this period exist solely on celluloid or outdated video formats.

A/CA’s work will also feature in two upcoming Congress 2023 events.

The first is a May 28 hybrid screening and live expanded cinema performance event – ticket price is $10 for the general public –featuring the work of artists: Lindsay McIntyre, a filmmaker and artist of Inuk and settler descent, who works primarily with analogue film drawn from archives, exploring place-based knowledge, portraiture and personal histories; and Peter Bussigel, a composer and intermedia artist working with sound, video and performance.

The event will screen projects – ranging from animated, documentary and live performance – produced by McIntyre, concerned with lost histories and intergeneration traumas of her Inuit matrilineal heritage, the beauty of her Inuk great grandmother’s beautiful beadworks, and the framework of tree/human relationships on unceded Pacheedaht territory at Fairy Creek.

The second Congress event, on May 29, will see the Film and Media Studies Association of Canada host a panel called “Making Counter-Archives: Artist-in-Residence as Research Methodology” (more information can be found here). Free for audience members who are Congress registrants, the panel is moderated by Marchessault and features four of A/CA’s current and previous artists-in-residence, allowing these artists an opportunity to discuss their experiences working with their hosting institutions and how it has informed their ongoing practice.

It is an event that represents something of an encapsulation of A/CA to encourage the preservation of the visual-media past of marginalized communities in order to promote their future. “The panel is about research methodology, bringing artists into archives to discover things and create bridges to the outside, to translate the material, to remediate them, and generate new things from the archives which is what Archive/Counter-Archive is about. It’s about generating new life for archives in the 21st century,” says Marchessault. 

York alum named new imagineNATIVE festival director

empty theatre

Kahstarohkwanoron Lindsay Monture, who graduated York with a bachelor of arts in film and media studies, has been named the new festival director of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, the world’s largest showcase for film, video, audio, digital and interactive media made by Indigenous creators.

In her new role, Monture, who is Kanyen’kehá:ka (Mohawk), Turtle Clan from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, will select and oversee the festival’s programming team, as well as choose curators and jury members.

Lindsay Monture
Kahstarohkwanoron Lindsay Monture

The position isn’t Monture’s first with imagineNATIVE. Over the course of her 15-year career in media, she has been a programming and industry co-ordinator for the festival. She has also worked on behalf of Indigenous communities elsewhere too, including non-profit organizations such as the Kaha:wi Dance Theatre, Native Earth Performing Arts, Maoriland Film Festival, Revolutions Per Minute, the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Woodland Cultural Centre and Indigenous Climate Action.

imagineNATIVE launched in 2000 to dedicate itself to presenting the work of Indigenous artists and advocating for Indigenous narrative sovereignty and representation on screen – in Canada and abroad. Last year’s festival screened 19 feature films and more than 100 short films, and was attended by thousands of people. This year’s festival – its 24th iteration and Monture’s first as director – will take place from Oct. 17 to 19.

Goldfarb Summer Institute to explore border politics through art

Man's silhouette sitting in front of illuminated art gallery exhibit in the background, stock banner image from pexels

The 15th annual summer institute, presented by the Department of Visual Art and Art History at York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD), will offer panels, screenings and talks running until May 19.

Since its inception, the Goldfarb Summer Institute aims to provide University graduate students, and the wider community, the opportunity to engage with critical ideas with prominent national and international theorists, artists, educators, curators and critics.

Organized by AMPD professors Natasha Bissonauth and Tammer El-Sheikh, this year’s institute is titled “Border Forms: (Re)Drawing Lines,” and will consider how many key art historians, artists, curators and more think about the visual through anti-colonial discourse and critical race theory to disturb the white, colonial, Eurocentric roots that undergird the field and the residues that remain in the discipline.

The featured events will investigate how region-specific genealogies are so foundational to art history and what it would mean to trespass the borders so generative in art making and thinking. By emphasizing Black and brown art histories that reorder and disorder the bordered logics of the discipline, and that imagine possibilities for the visual beyond surveillance regimes, the 2023 Goldfarb Summer Institute will examine the border as a political tool, a conceptual device, and an aesthetic gesture.

Among the artists participating in this year’s programming are acclaimed York associate professor and filmmaker John Greyson, visual artist Larissa Sansour, art historian and author Iftikhar Dadi, award-winning Manitoba artist Divya Mehra, curators Sarah Rifky, Eunice Bélidor and Cheryl Sim, as well as doctoral Fellow at the University of Ottawa, Anna Shah Hoque.

Upcoming events include:

May 11, 4 to 6 p.m.
Panel Discussion “On Curating Borders,” moderated by Marissa Largo
Accolade East Building, Room 244

May 12, 4 to 6 p.m.
Divya Mehra in conversation with Natasha Bissonauth
Accolade East Building, Room 244

May 18, 2:30 to 5 p.m.
Film screening of Photo Booth (John Greyson) followed by discussion with Tammer El-Sheikh
Ross Building, N102

May 19, 2:30 to 5 p.m.
Film screening of work from Larissa Sansour followed by discussion with Amanda Boulos
Ross Building, N102

Further details about dates and times can be found in the York University Events Calendar.

Sculpture by York professor debuts at Keele and Finch

Digital rendering of "The Heights" from far away

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

Designed by Brandon Vickerd, artist and professor of visual arts at York University, the 41-foot sculpture made out of Corten steel is titled “The Heights” and is meant to evoke how the history of a place informs its present and future.

Brandon Vickerd
Brandon Vickerd

The seed of “The Heights” began in 2020, when the Duke Heights Business Improvement Area (BIA) put out a public call for professional Canadian artists to propose a landmark public artwork that would bring back and reassert the Finch-Keele community after years of construction in the area preparing for the forthcoming Light Rail Transit (LRT) line.

Among the resulting 80 applicants, five artists – including Vickerd – were chosen to submit detailed proposals. Vickerd knew the BIA wanted something that addressed the history and future of the location, so he began researching what architecture had existed near the LRT site in the past. He discovered that, between 1873 and 1956, the one-room Elia Public School once stood near the sculpture’s current location before being demolished to make way for future developments.

For Vickerd, the old schoolhouse, and the education it would have provided as a driver for social and communal change, neatly connected the past to the present with how another school – York University – has helped shape and drive the community it belongs to. He found his inspiration and submitted his proposal to the Duke Heights BIA: a multi-faceted open design and architectural abstraction of the school made of Corten steel, which has a rusted metal finish that he says would give the sculpture a weathered, aged appearance, embodying a quiet assertiveness that is distinctive in its depth and the richness of its colour.

Elia School House
The original Elia School House which once stood near Keele and Finch
Digital rendering of "The Heights" sculpture
Digital rendering of “The Heights” sculpture

The work ahead wasn’t without its pressures. Vickerd, who has previously created sculptures for cities like Edmonton, Thunder Bay, Calgary, Ottawa and others, had never worked on something quite so close to home as York University, where’s he worked for the last 20 years. “I can almost see the location of the sculpture from my office window on campus. I knew all my colleagues are going to be driving by it every day, and our students live in that community,” he says. “There was a pressure of doing something that honoured a community that I was part of.”

Nonetheless, Vickerd’s art often works with notions of history and community, which made “The Heights” project well within his comfort zone. “The way I think about public art is it’s about giving back to the community,” he says. “It can’t be about making something that I just want to see or that I think is cool. It has to be something that comes from that community and contributes back to it.”

The design process – including engineering revisions and community feedback – took six months, then the actual creation took another six months. Vickerd credits the University too with not just the academic knowledge, but practical knowledge he’s gained that enabled him to create projects like “The Heights” sculpture. “It’s the accumulation of years of working with my colleagues and students in a way that can only happen at a university like York, which allows us to push boundaries, try out new ideas, think through things and experiment with materials. So, when opportunities like this come up, we can then better develop projects that are successful and create a greater experience in the community for the people who live it day.”

The Hights sculpture by Brandon Vickerd being installed
“The Heights” sculpture by Brandon Vickerd being installed (photo supplied by Brandon Vickerd)

Part of the experience he hopes “The Heights” creates is the opportunity for locals to reflect on the physical, social, and economic changes in the neighborhood with the opportunity to literally see the community in new ways.

“Because its design is open, and there’s so much negative space, it changes and evolves as you move around. It was important to me to give the viewer the opportunity to have the piece shift and change. It’s never static. It’s never just one perspective. I’m trying to connect that to how we experience community and how we experience urban geography. As we move through the city, things change,” says Vickerd.

Currently, the sculpture – funded and managed by Duke Heights BIA, but now a permanent collection of the City of Toronto – is visible because of its size, but not yet accessible for closer viewing. Remaining landscaping and roadwork must be finished first, estimated to take six months, then the piece becomes open to the public.

Vickerd is excited for residents then – and even now – to take in the sculpture, and what he intends it to do more than anything else.

“The goal of this project is to acknowledge the historic significance of the site while celebrating the changing dynamic of the Keele and Finch intersection. ‘The Heights’ accomplishes this through a design that balances the monumental sculpture with a sense of dynamic tension and wonder. This sculpture is about the relationship between time and memory. It reflects on the role of history in providing a guiding light that illuminates a path forward into the future,” he says.