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U of T student draws on art history, English classes to reach finals of video game design competition – News@UofT

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Reynold Tsui, a student at the University of Toronto Mississauga, recently won top honours in an international video game design competition, despite having little actual experience in the field – and he credits his English and art history classes for providing the necessary inspiration. 

The fourth-year student was named a finalist in the inaugural Intergalactic Murder Gardening Contest, a video game design competition from Toronto-based interactive media company Stitch Media. Tsui, who studies art, art history and English, was inspired to enter the competition after spotting a YouTube ad about designing a level for Terrorarium, a 3D video game developed by Stitch. Contestants were asked to build upon the basic foundation of the game, adding unique landscape features and devising challenges for players to solve.

It was Tsui’s first-ever foray into competitive video game design.

“I really wanted to accomplish something before I graduate and take that next step,” he says. “When I saw the advertisement, I thought, ‘Why don’t I give it a shot?’”

The competition for students and new graduates drew more than 260 entries from across Canada, the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Top prizes included a cash scholarship, Nintendo game gear, as well as design credit and inclusion of the winning levels in the final version of the game, which is set to launch later this summer.

Tsui says he took inspiration for his entry, “Abandoned Castle,” from the ruins of Italian and French castles that he studied in his art history classes at U of T Mississauga (screenshot) 

Taking the form of a grandmotherly humanoid bug accompanied by an army of tiny, blobby creatures, players of Terrorarium must navigate different levels to solve puzzles and ultimately win “the blue ribbon from the Intergalactic Horrorcultural Society.”

Tsui’s entry, “Abandoned Castle,” challenges players to navigate through a stacked maze of crumbling buildings and overgrown garden paths peppered with carnivorous plants, terrifying insects, fire-breathing monsters and other traps. The budding designer says he took inspiration for the game’s landscape design from ruins of Italian and French castles that he studied in his art history classes at U of T Mississauga. 

Tsui also drew upon his experience with an English course on video game design, taught by Siobahn O’Flynn in the department of English and drama. In the course, students learn about plot development and critical game theory and create a story-based digital word game.

“That class established a fundamental understanding of games for me,” Tsui says, noting that the game he created for the course was designed to trick and confuse players.

His Terrorarium entry takes a similar tactic. As players move through Tsui’s maze of ruins, they are faced with choices that may lead them down the wrong path – sometimes to their doom if they fall for the tricks Tsui included to keep players on their toes. “It might seem straightforward, but the player might get a reward or they might be sent back to the beginning,” Tsui says.

“Games are supposed to be fun,” Tsui adds, noting that he played the entire level five times to ensure players could solve it. “It’s a tricky course, but I didn’t want to make it unbeatable. When I play it, I walk into every trap to see what will happen. I really put myself in the player’s shoes.” 

In a recent online showcase of the winning entries, Stitch’s designers lauded Tsui for his maze design, noting that his entry helped them better understand the possibilities and challenges of creating a multi-level maze within the game. “It shows a lot of patience and dexterity,” said one of the panellists. “We referenced your level a lot when we were trying to improve visibility of the Gardener.”

Encouraged by his competition result, Tsui plans to spend more time learning about programming and working on game design. “I would like to make contributions in authentic reality and virtual reality,” he says. “Games really inspire me. I want to learn more and apply my knowledge.”

Tsui says his personal credo, both in the virtual worlds and real life, is all about stepping into the unknown: “It’s about having the courage to make that step forward and take a risk.” 

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Remember the pandemic? Canadian museums and art historians are working on how to do that – Toronto Star

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When the Museum of Vancouver closed in March, the acquisitions team was already thinking deep into the future, strategizing how they’d preserve this pandemic moment in time.

Museum people tend to see the world a little differently. Take last year, when the city of Vancouver approved a ban on plastic straws. The museum’s acquisitions team made sure to snag a couple for the permanent collection, so the citizens of the future can see what they looked like in person.

During the pandemic, they have had to be nimble to save items from the dumpster of history.

As the lockdown in British Columbia eased and businesses started to reopen, many of the murals that had been painted on the boarded-up storefronts were being tossed away, said museum spokesperson Lorenzo Schober. The museum worked with a local business improvement association to help curate an outdoor art show, and it plans to keep a few of the murals for its permanent collection.

It also acquired a pair of John Fluevog shoes made in honour of B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. They plan to collect COVID-19 signage when it is no longer needed.

Across the country, museums and arts professionals are collecting materials and planning for future acquisitions that reflect people’s experiences with COVID-19.

Months of lockdowns have made people across the country “desperate to reconnect,” and the possibility of using art to create conversations can be healing, said Ulrike Al-Khamis, director of collections and public programs at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.

“People have been turning to art to overcome isolation, to stay sane and healthy,” said Al-Khamis, who also teaches in the department of art history at University of Toronto.

The museum management knew the importance of “reacting in the moment” so it reached out to the public for submissions of art depicting things that have provided a sense of comfort, stability and hope. The museum will add these submissions to their pre-existing “Sanctuary” exhibition and plans to work with a renowned Pakistani artist to create a special project with these items in the future.

Guelph Museums sent out a similar call for artwork and objects that would help tell the story of Guelph during COVID-19.

Usually, they collect items years after an event occurs, so this was a new approach, manager Tammy Adkin said in an email. More than 50 people have submitted artwork, items and suggestions, including locally created masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, photographs of through-the-window visits at long-term-care homes, photographs of signs supporting front-line workers, written reflections from students, and painted rocks planted in front of a local hospital with messages of love and support.

“I’ve been so touched by the very personal stories people have shared about how their lives have been impacted — separation from elderly parents, struggles with home-schooling, and inspiration to rally as a community,” Adkin wrote. “What is essential is that we recognize this pandemic is affecting different people in different ways, and we need to ensure that we are representing the entire story of the impacts.”

Irina Mihalache, the director of the Master of Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto’s faculty of information, agrees that future exhibits on the pandemic should reflect the social inequalities revealed by the virus, because the pandemic and the protest movement surrounding anti-Black racism are intertwined, she said. From what she has seen, museums seem to be taking that direction.

“Hopefully, 10 years from now,” she said, an exhibit will show “how things have changed based on those realizations. That’s my hope that I have for museums.”

Letters received as part of the “Dear Glenbow” project at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. The museum asked people to write letters or send emails about their experiences during the pandemic, and hundreds responded.

In the early days of lockdown, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary asked people to send letters and emails about their lives in this moment. They launched “Dear Glenbow” with a few prompts — What brings you joy right now? What is your daily life like? What are you worried about? Have you learned anything new? What should our descendants learn about this time in our lives?

A couple of people have written about Black Lives Matter. “It’s been a pretty intense period all around,” said museum spokesperson Jenny Conway Fisher. “I’m really happy this is a potential outlet and a way for people to share how they’re feeling.”

Everyone is experiencing the pandemic differently, she said, depending on factors like privilege and geography.

“It’s important to capture that variety of experience because it isn’t one thing,” she said. “There are so many cascading impacts, economic and social and personal — but in order to get a sense of it, you need those individual stories.”

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So far, they’ve received about 250 letters, 460 emails and 20 social media posts. In a time when people have felt helpless and uncertain, the project has given focus — “I’m going to tell my story, and it’s going to mean something,” she said.

A boy who developed a 3D-printed ear protector for masks sent one with a letter. Children wrote about how surprised they were to miss school; how happy they were to spend more time with family. Some people have written about difficulties at work, loved ones who died of COVID-19, and the pain of family separation.

They are collecting letters until the end of July. (Torontonians are welcome to write, she said: “The thread is only made richer if we witness other people’s experiences across the country.”) The collection will be used later as a resource, and eventually, as an exhibit, pending permission requests.

Guelph Museums sent out a call for artwork and objects that would help tell the story of Guelph during COVID-19. Photos of the rock garden outside of Guelph General Hospital are one of the images that will endure.

In April, the Museum of Vancouver launched a similar outreach campaign encouraging citizens to document lockdown life by tagging their social media posts with #isolatingtogethermov. They’ve had hundreds of digital submissions that live on their website.

Traditionally, museums have collected items many years after an event — and often receive donations from families when a loved one dies. One risk in asking for submissions in the moment is the potential performative element.

People “might not necessarily be genuine or authentic in what they collect because they’re thinking, ‘Oh the museum is collecting from me I have to send them the best representation of my COVID behaviour,” Mihalache said.

Curators at the ROM have already started collecting artisan-made and sustainably produced facemasks for the museum’s textile collection.

Swarupa Anila, the senior vice-president for exhibition and gallery development at the ROM, believes that one of the themes artists will explore are the intersections of racial and economic disparity through the lens of the pandemic.

“I think artists have often shown us what has been and needs to be broken, to see solutions differently,” she wrote in an email.

When it comes to physical artifacts, Mihalache can all but guarantee that the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Fashion Institute of Technology will have a mask exhibit. Masks are already being collected heavily as a focal point of this moment: a tool, a point of protest, a fashion statement.

As she reflects on the many items and narratives that will likely be collected, Mihalache said it’s important that specific voices are given space in exhibits, like grocery store workers. And when museums collect, they need to remember the needs of the community over their own.

“You have to ask what is the need? Why am I bothering this community,” she said. “Is the collecting going to be a support to them, or is it going to be a form of exploiting them to make the museum look better?”

Museums have to be accountable to people about what they are going to do with these stories, and they should approach any collecting in a spirit of solidarity, she said.

“You’re collecting fragile objects or memories from people who might be experiencing trauma, from people who maybe have lost people during these times, and you’re also collecting funny videos from people who are doing yoga with their cat or dog.”

Gilbert Ngabo

Katie Daubs

Katie Daubs is a Star reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @kdaubs

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How I learned to stop worrying and love online art galleries – The Globe and Mail

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Joanne Virgo and her son Keenan look at an installation called The Brain, in the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, on Feb. 15, 2015.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

It is from a position of great privilege that I acknowledge some of my greatest losses of this time have been the inability to travel and the inability to visit art galleries and museums. I have longed for both of these experiences like missing a faraway friend, one you are not sure when you can see again.

I have always resisted the online art experience – other than for research, it seemed as if it was beside the point. You need to be in front of the piece to really appreciate it, dammit.

COVID-19 has taught me that there’s another way to look at it.

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The National Gallery of Canada’s excellent series of “Virtual NGC” videos were a pandemic balm for me. Tom Thomson’s The Jack Pine, Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet, Annie Pootoogook’s Cape Dorset Freezer are explored in detail by curatorial staff.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, a place I haven’t visited in probably 15 years, has a “3 Minutes with an Artwork” series, which I also recommend. You can learn a lot in three minutes, as it turns out, as in a knowledgeable volunteer guide’s talk about Marc-Aurèle Fortin’s painting Storm Brewing over Hochelaga, during which she discusses its contemporary resonance in the age of COVID-19.

Google’s Arts and Culture app – which I have spent countless hours using during the shutdown – allowed me to “visit” some of my bucket-list museums that I began to worry I might never actually get to. The glory of Paris’s Musée D’Orsay – the museum itself, its magnificent collection and the way the works are installed – was evident, even on my little iPhone. (The experience is better on a larger screen, though, like your laptop.)

I was moved almost to tears by Diego Rivera’s murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) (a place I have somehow never visited, despite having grown up in not-very-far-away Toronto) and by the work Frida Kahlo produced during their time there. Then I had a good laugh at the headline of a newspaper clipping the DIA included in its online exhibition Frida Kahlo in Detroit: “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art.”

The Google Art experience was particularly effective, I realized, when visiting places I have been and loved. “At” the AGO, I spent time with paintings I have seen for years at every visit, so familiar yet so far away right now – works by Emily Carr, Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven. Augustus John’s The Marchesa Casati, James Tissot’s La Demoiselle de Magasin, Paul Peel’s The Young Biologist. Seeing these works – even on my computer screen – felt like visiting home.

Visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery (which has now re-opened) online was a particularly emotional experience; the only way at the time that I could visit the place I have toured through countless times, for work and for pleasure.

Its online exhibition offering was Douglas Coupland’s 2014 show “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything.” Looking at its intricate and whimsical Lego towers, colourful Pop Head series and his massive installation The Brain (made with thousands of found items), I felt such joy remembering what art can do, and such a loss wondering when it will ever be the same again.

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In Toronto, art lovers head to drive-in for safe Van Gogh show – CTV News

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TORONTO —
While some museums have had to cancel or postpone long-planned exhibits because of the coronavirus, organizers of a Van Gogh show in Toronto had a novel idea: offering art lovers a drive-in option.

“Of course, because of COVID, we had to think creatively,” said Corey Ross, a co-producer of the exhibit, which was initially slated to start in May and was delayed by the pandemic.

As Canada’s largest city gradually comes out of lockdown, the exhibit began this week with two viewing areas in a huge Toronto warehouse: one area with social distancing circles on the ground for those who prefer taking in their art on foot, and another for people in cars that drive right into the building.

Viewing art from inside a car provides a safe experience for people who are physically fragile, fearful of the virus or vulnerable. And it is a unique experience, said Ross.

“You’ve never had an experience like this in your car,” said Ross. “The feeling is almost as if the car is floating through the art.”

The show was set up in collaboration with the creators of “Van Gogh, Starry Night,” a hugely popular exhibit presented last year at l’Atelier des Lumieres in Paris.

CRUISING IN A PLYMOUTH

The Toronto show features a similar, digital concept: works by the Dutch painter are projected in high definition on walls and floors.

The warehouse has space for up to about 10 cars at a time, parking in designated spots.

Car engines stay off during the projection of the artworks, which is accompanied with music. The paintings are positioned so people can see them through their windshields.

Some people take photos with their kids in their lap as they spend 35 minutes in the bold, intense world of Van Gogh.

Jessica Counti, 17, came with her family for the first drive-in edition on Friday to celebrate her sister’s birthday.

“It’s just a really immersive experience that you can’t really get in a regular art gallery. So I really appreciate that, even though we can’t walk around art pieces,” she said.

Another visitor, Patrick Corcoran, took in the show from the steering wheel of his vintage 1950 Plymouth. 

“The whole thing of sitting in your car and being out and enjoying the art –- it was comfortable, it was safe. With all the stuff that’s going on in the world with the COVID, it was an experience. It was great.”

Ross said the idea is turning out to be a hit but will just be temporary.

“If you’re a car enthusiast, it’s a very special moment,” he said.

“But I think overall as soon as there’s an opportunity for the public to go back to experiencing art in the way that we love to, in groups, beside other people, where you can talk and see strangers and see how they react and be part of a community, I think we will go back to that,” Ross said.

The art hall for cars is booked almost solid through its end on August 9.

The show will remain open to pedestrians through September.

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