When creating the piece “Empty,” Toronto artist Julieta Christy channelled themes of vulnerability, instability and self-destruction.
These themes, she said, perfectly encapsulate her battle with depression.
“It depicts the unexplainable emotions of how scary and helpless it can feel,” Christy said. “Because you do forget there is a world beyond depression.”
“Empty” is among 10 artworks — ranging from paintings to photographs to digital illustrations — displayed prominently across 200 posters and 375 screens on the Toronto Transit Commission subway lines until Jan. 16. The artworks, part of a project dubbed “Life on the Line,” aim to bring awareness to themes related to mental health, communicating the struggle of mental illness through visuals when words cannot convey it.
“Unlike physical illnesses that can be measured and scanned, mental health disorders don’t have the same privilege, and that further stigmatizes those who suffer,” said Megan Kee, founder of Toronto creative agency TwentyTwenty Arts, which is behind the project.
“I think art has the potential to cut across boundaries and connect us with one another’s humanity.”
Prints of artworks featured in “Life on the Line” can be purchased through TwentyTwenty Arts, with 70 per cent of proceeds going toward the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Toronto Family Outreach and Response Program, which helps families and friends who have a loved one over age 16 experiencing a mental health issue.
Gillian Gray, the manager of the program, said demand for its services has increased about 10 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.
“Our program is pretty unique in that we fill a big gap in the mental health system,” Gray said. “For most of the families we work with, their loved one isn’t actually getting any mental health care whatsoever.”
All 10 pieces in “Life on the Line” channel complex themes of mental illnesses and the path toward acceptance and healing. In “Empty,” a golden hand cradles the face of a sombre man. For Christy, the hand represents the hope she and others struggling with depression hold on to — a hope that she wants viewers struggling with their own mental health to feel by reminding them that they are not alone.
“There are many resources and people they can talk to,” Christy said. “We are all here to listen and empathize with one another.”
Another piece, titled “Agoraphobia” by Toronto artist Seri Stinson, channels the fear of going outside and the artist’s personal journey with this form of anxiety by turning nature and flowers — commonly viewed as serene and pleasant — into something disjointed and disturbing.
“Through COVID-19, (my anxiety disorder) has become a lot more heightened, to the point where I do feel an intense form of anxiety when I do need to go outside,” Stinson said.
While this is the second instalment of the “Life on the Line” project (the first was showcased at the end of 2018), this year has brought a host of unprecedented challenges for Kee, who questioned whether the project was possible this year.
But despite the TTC’s drop in ridership, Kee said there’s no better time to spark a public, widespread conversation about mental health, as the pandemic has led to widespread isolation and loneliness, and a reckoning with inequities faced by vulnerable populations in Toronto.
“I feel like several different social issues, including mental health, addiction and homelessness have reached a tipping point as a result of COVID,” Kee said. “We’ve seen worsening mental health, rise in the number of encampments and an unprecedented number of overdose deaths.”
The TTC itself also hit a grim record of its second-deadliest year in 2020, with 23 people dying by suicide on TTC property between January and November.
Union Gallery highlights student art with two new exhibitions – Queen's Journal
In an emerging digital environment, artistic productions across the globe have moved onto our computer screens and iPhones. Despite digital restrictions, however, Union Gallery managed to keep the spontaneous energy of film and the art of sculpture alive in its two virtual exhibitions, Lens/Visions and Growing ; pains.
On Nov. 12 and 13, Lens/Visions, a virtual screening of 11 short films created by Queen’s students and recent graduates was streamed on Facebook Live. The amalgamation of creative projects ranged from themes of environmentalism to romantic relationships, and varied in terms of film approaches, showcasing the breadth of creativity at Queen’s.
The production was curated by Roy Zheng, Union Gallery curatorial assistant, who introduced the films and led a Q&A session following the screenings. This collaborative space where viewers could actively engage with artists created a real sense of community and proved how impactful film can be in the midst of global unrest.
The films were organized into two guiding themes, with ‘Mobile Lens’ on the first day and ‘Critical Visions’ on the second. The films of ‘Critical Visions’ encompassed the more palpable themes of isolation and unrest, which carried a heavier tone compared to films in the ‘Mobile Lens’ collection.
James P. Hoban’s Dinner was an emotionally tense six minutes, expertly shot in a single take. The short film revolved around a young couple struggling to sit down for dinner, as sounds of violence and destruction were present outside. Though dialogue was minimal, the film captured the existential fear and chaos around us as we struggle to maintain normality.
Other notable productions included Ming Winx and Siyang Hu’s Lahu in the Clouds, which depicted the Lahu peoples living in the high mountains of China’s Yunnan Province. The cinematography and imagery were particularly breathtaking, transporting viewers to a completely different cultural landscape.
Winx and Hu’s poetic documentary juxtaposes Nanpo—a quiet paradise—with the spread of COVID-19 around the rest of the world. It specifically emphasizes the relationship between contemporary Chinese ethnic minorities and nature. Undertones of the pandemic were present in multiple films, both explicitly and covertly.
After the festival screening on Facebook Live, Lens/Visions was transformed into an on-site exhibition at the Union Gallery in the Project Room.
In addition to Lens/Visions, Union Gallery also displayed Growing ; pains, which the Gallery described as a portrayal of “the oftentimes painful journey of growth through whimsical and vulnerable larger-than-life sculptures.”
Growing ; pains featured the work of Hannah Gommerman, who is a third year BFA student at Queen’s studying sculpture and painting. Her work is described as interactive, and at times humorous, bridging the poetic with the often uncomfortable and funny reality of opening up.
Gommerman’s sculpture Heart Strings required viewers to physically engage with an oversized geometric heart, folding the sculpture open to reveal inner details. It was a profound exercise on deepening human relationships and the hard truths buried under layers of emotional protection.
Both exhibitions displayed the talent of young artists in the Queen’s community, captivating audiences both virtually and in-person. The innovative work in Lens/Visions and Growing ; pains reminds us that deep connection can be catalyzed in varying ways—allowing us to reflect on our own unpredictable emotions.
'This is too much': Art shows children's struggles during pandemic, says researcher – CTV News
A collection of children’s drawings made during the pandemic illustrates the mental toll the pandemic is taking on Canadian youth, says the researcher behind a project analyzing their artwork.
Many of the submissions by kids and teenagers on childart.ca depict people alone, haunted by shadowy spectres, or worse, their own thoughts.
Collectively, the images paint a stark picture of how the trials of young life under lockdown could shape the next generation, says Nikki Martyn, program head of early childhood studies at University of Guelph-Humber.
While the study is still underway, Martyn said initial observations suggest that coming of age during the COVID-19 crisis can create an emotional maelstrom during a critical period of adolescent development.
Being a teenager is tough enough at the best of times, she said, but finding your place in the world while stuck at home has left many young people feeling like they have no future to look forward to.
“The saddest part for me … is that kind of loss of not being able to see through to the other side,” she said.
“There’s so much pain and so much struggle right now that I think needs to be shared and seen, so that we can support our youth and make sure they become healthy adults.”
Since September, Martyn’s team has received more than 120 pieces from Canadians aged two to 18, submitted anonymously with parental permission, along with some background information and written responses.
Martyn marvelled at the breadth of creative talent the project has attracted, with submissions ranging from doodles, sketches, digital drawings, paintings, pastels, photos and even one musical composition.
Researchers circulated the call for young artists at schools and on social media. While the collection includes a few tot-scribbled masterpieces, Martyn said the majority of contributors are between the ages of 14 and 17.
As the submissions trickled in, she was struck by the potent and sometimes graphic depictions of adolescent anxiety, despair and isolation.
Recurring themes include confined figures, screaming faces, phantasmic presences, gory imagery and infringing darkness.
Some images contain allusions to self-harm, which Martyn sees as a physical representation of the pain afflicting so many of the study’s participants.
Just as unsettling are the words that accompany the images. Some artists transcribed the relentless patter of pandemic-related concerns that pervade daily life, while others expressed sentiments like “I’m broken,” “this is too much” and “what’s the point?”
Martyn said many participants wrote of struggling to keep up in school, while some were dealing with family problems such as job loss, illness and even death.
Many of these feelings and challenges are common across age groups, Martyn noted. However, while adults are more accustomed to the ups and downs that life can bring, young people are less likely to have fostered the coping skills to help them weather a global crisis.
A coalition of Canadian children’s hospitals has warned that the pandemic is fomenting a youth mental-health crisis with potentially “catastrophic” short- and long-term consequences for children’s wellbeing and growth.
This would be consistent with research from previous outbreaks suggesting that young people are more vulnerable to the negative psychological impacts of quarantine, including increased risk of post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and behavioural problems, according to an August report by Children’s Mental Health Ontario.
An online survey of 1,300 Ontario children and young adults last spring found that nearly two-thirds of respondents felt that their mental health had deteriorated since COVID-19 hit, with many citing the abrupt end of school, disconnection from friends and uncertainty about the future as significant stressors.
Lydia Muyingo, a PhD student in clinical psychology at Dalhousie University, said when she looks through the images in the childart.ca gallery, she can see how these concerns are confounding the typical turmoil of being a teenager.
Adolescence is a time for young people to figure out who they are through new experiences, interests and social interactions, said Muyingo.
This transition tends to bring about intense emotions, she said, and the pandemic has exacerbated this upheaval by replacing familiar anxieties about fitting in with fears about mortality.
Muyingo said she’s encouraged to see that the childart.ca project is giving young people an outlet for these difficult feelings they may not even be able to put words to.
She encouraged adults to keep an eye out for children’s silent struggles, perhaps setting an example by sharing their own vulnerabilities.
“I think parents are sometimes scared of talking about dark themes, but the reality is that kids know a lot more than we think,” she said. “I think art like this can be used as a tool to communicate that it’s OK to feel this way.”
Martyn said the study has given her hope for what a future led by the quarantined generation could look like, because while pain pervades many of the illustrations, there are also symbols of resilience, connection and compassion.
“One of my visions from the very beginning of this was to have this as an art exhibit in a gallery, and to be able to go and be enveloped by it, have it around us and fully experience that lived idea of what children in Canada experienced.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.
Art is having a virtual birthday party, a 'buffet' on Saturday – Regina Leader-Post
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Dunlop director Alyssa Fearon encourages experiencing these events, which are free admission, “just to see the format.”
“Everything that we’re doing right now in this COVID era is very experimental, and this is very much part of that. So I like that the heart of it is still there, even though it can’t take place in person,” said Fearon.
Art’s Birthday Buffet has four main menu items — or maybe three, plus dessert.
— From 2 to 3 p.m., Clive Robertson (Kingston, Ont. artist, critic and curator) and Craig Leonard (Halifax artist and teacher) will discuss Filliou’s impact on shaping artists collectives, spaces and alternative practices.
— From 7 to 9 p.m., “Every Possible Place” features various artist performances. It includes Jeff Morton, Sbot N Wo (experimental musicians/married couple WL Altman and Helen Pridmore), Jon Vaughn, Laura Kavanaugh, Ian Birse, Hilarey Cowan and Ian Campbell.
— From 9:30 to 11 p.m., there’s karaoke on Zoom. Sing along to cover songs and see videos by artists including YGretz, Kablusiak, Lucien Durey, respectfulchild, Peter Morin, Josie Whitebear, Erroll Kinistino, Piper Burns and People Tanning. Sean Dunham is hosting karaoke and there will be prizes. Register in advance through neutralground.sk.ca.
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