In streets and kitchens across Canada, viewers and participants can interact with virtual public art to be reminded of diverse histories and communities. This is through Nuit In Your Neighbourhood, a new virtual component of Toronto’s ongoing Nuit Blanche festival, which runs until Oct. 12.
Nehiyaw text-based artist Joi T. Arcand’s artwork celebrates just this when she writes “Never Surrender” in Cree syllabics to honour her own heritage and efforts of solidarity-building between Indigenous communities.
The neon words are delivered to viewers’ spaces in three dimensions through virtual reality and augmented reality technologies. Viewers visit the Nuit in Your Neighbourhood site on a smartphone or tablet, click on avatars of the images, and then can use their device to photograph artists’ works wherever they direct their cameras (some versions of devices may require users to download an app).
Nuit Blanche’s artistic director, Julie Nagam,
brings an approach to curating art that focuses on coalition-building through dialogues and collaboration. I am a research assistant to Nagam working on Nuit Blanche programming and I research Islamic art histories and transcultural curatorial practices.
Both the COVID-19 pandemic and recent debates around public heritage and public monuments shape how Nuit Blanche Toronto is seeking to remap cities. The festival features artists who imagine different futures for BIPOC communities that have been marginalized, and whose work realizes a more liveable present through remapping what an urban space and a community can be.
Re-visioning community & public space
Now, when many people globally are facing another COVID-19 lockdown and the unknowns of stepping into yet another pandemic month, it would be a cliché to state that most of us are exhausted. Many of us are feeling disconnected from what we might have once called community and connection. Both social distancing measures imposed at the outbreak of COVID-19 and vigilant transformations of shared public spaces seen in the removal of colonial monuments have led some people to announce the end of public spaces.
Our societies are reckoning with the fact that public spaces marked by these monuments are not accessible or desirable for everybody.
While we’re witnessing the end of a public space as we know it, it is certainly not the end of its possibilities. A recent panel discussion, “Thinking Through Public Space in the Time of COVID,” was part of Nuit Talks, a series of in-depth conversations with Nuit Blanche artists, scholars and curators. During the discussion, Mazyar Mortazavi, board chair for The Bentway, a public art space and park located under Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway, said: “Grief is the first step for recovery.”
There are infinite possibilities for how viewers might engage with Nuit in Your Neighbourhood artworks, from the safety of their own homes or walking through public space.
Nuit in Your Neighbourhood
A common thread that ties together the commissioned works in Nuit in Your Neighbourhood is the artists’ engagement with virtual technologies to critically elevate marginalized histories. Such practices are also seen where Indigenous artists, curators and writers make and imagine space in art exhibitions and in contemporary arts commentary.
Nagam has approached decolonial curating through similar gestures of affirmation and presence. Alongside curator Jaimie Isaac, Nagam curated the groundbreaking exhibition, “INSURGENCE/RESURGENCE” at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2017 that created opportunities for a young cohort of artists and BIPOC communities in the city. To this day, it has been the largest exhibition on contemporary Indigenous art in the country.
With Nuit in Your Neighbourhood images, a person might interact with artists’ images in their domestic or shared public space.
Consider When The Fam Lose Faith, Hold Them Up, by Toronto-based photographic artist Yung Yemi. Viewers could choose to mark the distance gained through Black Lives Matter protests against colonial monuments
by photographing the disgraced statue of Egerton Ryerson in Toronto with this image layered overtop.
In the digital medium, the artist’s depicted Afro-futurist figures can travel and establish their own relations, and are both ephemeral and fluid. They bring into reality what Toronto’s own philosopher and communications theorist Marshall McLuhan prophesized: “The medium is the message.”
Another artist whose work invites people to mark space is video and performance artist Rah Eleh’s #Bluegirl. This work is an immersive video that considers self-immolation practices involving young women in the Middle East and Persian-speaking nations in Central Asia.
In #Bluegirl, Eleh visualizes alternatives of survival for these figures that massage out the possibilities of not only the present, but the cosmic past and future.
Memories of origins
Maureen Gruben’s Kagisaaluq visualizes cultural traditions to demonstrate their vitality and survival. Kagisaaluq presents a “fox stretcher,” an Inuvialuit tool to stretch and preserve animal skins carved by Gruben’s father to help the family and community thrive in the Arctic. In reproducing this, Kagisaaluq feels as if it reorders space and time to honour traditional forms of survival and knowledge.
Artist Chun Hua Catherine Dong has discussed the idea that tradition needs to be expanded. Skin Deep is the artist’s most recent exploration in an ongoing series, where faces are wrapped by different Chinese silk fabrics.
When explored in its augmented reality construction, threads in the form of a fluttering butterfly start to lift from the face. For me, this signals a slow but enduring deconstruction of tradition.
Solidarity across cultures, peoples
Nagam’s prioritization of BIPOC artists living in diverse cultural conditions generates solidarities across diverse cultures and peoples. From an esthetic perspective, what is of lasting remembrance is an encounter between the artwork and audience.
In the expanded universe of augmented reality and virtual reality, the artworks engender what curator and artist Amalia Mesa-Bains has referred to as “inter-ethnic intimacy,” borne out of exchange.
Within processes of play and exploration, audience members are invited to understand and feel the different layers and propositions of how space is made. When we are longing for the rush of the Nuit crowd, we are, instead, offered deep connections with other people and other communities, where multiplicity is the work.
Teens behind latest art damage on Berlin's Museum Island – The Battlefords News-Optimist
BERLIN — Several teenagers sprayed graffiti on a piece of art outside one of Berlin’s most famous museums and that the vandalism was unrelated to the damaging of more than 60 other art works on the city’s Museum Island that were smeared with an oily liquid early this month, police said Saturday.
A huge granite bowl in front of the Altes Museum, which is part of the German capital’s museum complex and houses antiquities, was defaced Friday night by some teenagers and adults, Berlin police said. Two of the suspects were temporarily detained.
Museum Island is a UNESCO world heritage site in the heart of Berlin and one of the city’s main tourist attractions,
Dozens of other exhibits at the Museum Island complex were vandalized Oct. 3. Investigators said they had watched hours of surveillance camera footage but not found any obvious sign of anyone applying the liquid.
Museum experts have said the motive remains a mystery and there appeared to be no thematic link between the targeted works. They expressed optimism that the apparently random damage can be repaired.
Berlin police said the graffiti sprayed on the granite bowl did not have any political content or appear related to the damaging of the other art works.
Saving the saints: St. Ninian's restoration reveals art history in Antigonish – CBC.ca
Michelle Gallinger spends more than nine hours a day pressed against the grand walls of St. Ninian’s Cathedral.
She’s slowly revealing a piece of Canadian history that’s been hidden for decades.
Under the painted walls and columns of the Antigonish, N.S., church, is an extraordinary mural by Quebec painter Ozias Leduc.
Gallinger, a fine arts conservator based in Dartmouth, considers him the Michelangelo of Canada.
“It’s pretty exciting. You get to have your hands on somebody’s painting who nobody has seen in its entirety since 1937,” said Gallinger.
Leduc has been recognized by the federal government as a national historic person, a designation given to people who’ve made unique and enduring contributions to Canada’s history.
He painted 150 churches, mostly in his home province. Gallinger said St. Ninian’s is the only one in Eastern Canada.
Leduc and his team painted the church in 1902, 26 years after the cathedral opened.
His work covered the entire interior from floor to ceiling. But in 1937, the cathedral needed an update and the first layer of paint was added, covering up some of the murals.
Over the years, as many as seven layers of paint covered up the masterpiece, leaving only some of the saints exposed. They became known as the “floating saints.”
The rose medallions on the ceiling were filled in. They’re now blue circles, but their intricate designs can be seen peeking through the layers.
Most people have no idea what’s actually on St. Ninian’s walls.
“The columns are actually painted marble,” said Gallinger. “On the outside aisles, the Stations of the Cross are all painted by Ozias Leduc and there are stencils that go up the wall.”
It’s Gallinger’s job to bring that work back to life, and she’s working against the clock to save Leduc’s masterpiece.
A few years ago, there was a steam leak inside the cathedral that travelled up the columns.
“That actually caused the paint and all the subsequent layers to flake off or come forward,” said Gallinger. Those curling pieces of paint are taking the original mural with them.
In 2012, the church decided to start a campaign to save the murals. It started fundraising and every time donations total $80,000, Gallinger comes in with her team to save two saints.
In all, it’s expected the work will cost more than half a million dollars.
“The best part of it is when you get to take the four layers of artist paint off the faces. They no longer look dead or tired — they come alive,” said Gallinger.
In this phase of the project, Gallinger and two of her colleagues have been tasked with revealing two saints, Matthias and Peter, as well as two angels that have been completely covered since 1957.
It’s incredibly slow, detailed work that is done by hand.
“We actually have to glue it all back down using steam irons and adhesive and hot irons,” Gallinger said of the peeling paint.
“Then we have to use what’s called a poultice, which is basically a wad of cotton with a solvent on it, to remove the top layers down to the original layer.”
Once the layers are removed, she can see the original brushstrokes and paint colours.
“Right now, the two angels are just standing on clouds and it’s just glorious to see them,” she said.
But the damage of time is clear: some parts of the walls have peeled in large chunks, leaving behind blank white sections. That’s where Gallinger and her team are trying to fill in the blanks with their own paint.
“We will put a fine art varnish on it,” she explained. “They could always take our overpaint off without ever affecting the original Leduc.”
Rev. Donald MacGillivray, rector of St. Ninian’s, has been watching the church walls transform.
“Beauty is important,” he said. “The artwork here was made beautiful, and to have it restored brings beauty back into the building.”
He said it is incredible that people have been willing to donate to the project over the years. Every dollar has been an anonymous contribution.
“People come up to me and say, ‘I want to give money to help with this, but I don’t want my name to be known.'”
The church is filled with posters showing old photos that give hints of what’s hidden on the walls, and explaining the work that needs to go into each of the saints.
When this phase finishes up next week, St. Ninian’s still has seven saints to save.
MacGillivray’s goal is to have the money raised in the next two or three years.
And while he waits to bring Gallinger’s team back to Antigonish, MacGillivray takes the time to appreciate the section that they have almost completely transformed.
“It’s wonderful,” he said.
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GRT public art display misused to display hate symbol in Cambridge – KitchenerToday.com
A quick response from the region’s transit provider after a hate symbol was briefly seen on Sunday on the Cambridge Centre Mall transit terminal’s public art display.
Peter Zinck is the Director of Transit Services for the Region of Waterloo – speaking with 570 NEWS, he said that the station’s pinboard had been manipulated to show a swastika and that the behaviour was promptly addressed by GRT staff in under an hour.
“We’ve turned the matter over to police, who will investigate. We will be fully supporting their investigation in any way that GRT can.”
Zinck said that the report came through from a media service on Sunday morning around 9:00 a.m. Staff members were sent to the Cambridge Centre station to re-arrange the board before forwarding the issue to regional police. He said that Grand River Transit places a high priority on these kinds of issues – whether it’s a public art display or a reported piece of graffiti.
When asked about problematic behaviour with the pin-board display and whether a decision would be considered to remove it, Zinck said that this is the first reported circumstance of the public art piece being misused in this way.
“Hopefully this is just a one-off, and that people recognize this is there for public art and not for use of hate symbols.”
Zinck said that Grand River Transit remains committed to providing a safe environment for all riders and that they condemn symbols of hate or racial intolerance without reservation.
He added that if members of the public see anything like this on transit, they can report the behaviour on GRT’s website or through their call centre.
“… it’s just not acceptable on our services. We’ll deal with the matter quickly, and follow-up through the Waterloo Regional Police Services to ensure it’s investigated.”
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