11 December 2018


Beyond Tradition | Elizabeth Cytko

Today we are stepping out of Toronto to take a trip over to Montreal.

A sign outside of the museum advertises the shop.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko

The McCord Museum sits on the edge of McGill campus, in the bustling heart of the city. The vision of the museum is to promote Montreal's social history of the past and present.

A display case exhibits some of the local goods to be found inside.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko

The gift shop is located near the front entrance of the museum with attractive display cases which summons the eager visitor inside.

A small sampling of their book selection.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko

The overall layout of the store is compact. It is a well-lit space with shelves and tables full of goodies which draw the eye in all directions. The store is laid out by theme, with a section on Expo 67, another on local Montreal art, another on Canada books, and another on special and permanent exhibition themed items. It has a corner full of books about the history of Canada and Montreal. There is a diverse array of books suited to readers of all levels. I was heartened to see the graphic novel Louis Riel by Chester Brown included amongst them.

The tongue in cheek references to eternal construction is embraced in these local items.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko

Browsing the products, it was pleasant to see how local artists are included. It gives the shop a unique identity, where not only the museum’s collection is promoted, but the items act as a conduit for the living city. They are an entry point for the traveling tourist to get a taste of the talent and interests of the place. Local products include pencil cases, jewelry, art prints, and other items that have a local flavour.

This soap cheekily comments on Quebec language laws
which tried to outlaw the Montreal 'Bonjour Hi' greeting in shops.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko

I was impressed by the hand crafted products included. I got a kick out of the Mile End Soap brand, which had cleverly named soaps relating to current political issues.

A mixture of local places and the collection pieces viewed on various products.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko
A super cool aspect is that the online shop has something called “Design Your Own Product.” This is where you can browse the online collections of the museum and select which image you want on a mug, shirt, or print! Instead of hoping that your favourite photo will be on something, you can make your dream a reality. They also do online shopping, where they have their special exhibition items under a separate tab so you can find them immediately. The webshop only has a few of the products that are contained in the store so I recommend that you visit the physical shop.

Some items featuring the current special exhibition.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko
A major draw back of the shop was physical navigation. It was designed without accessibility in mind, which means persons who use accessibility devices may have issues navigating the space. When I talked to the staff member on duty, they told me that they are aware of this issue and that they are working to finding a solution to it. The museum works hard to reach out to all communities so the gift shop wants to be able to also accommodate them to have a full experience.

Overall the store was pleasant to browse, with pleasant helpful staff. The stock was diverse enough to cater to adults and children alike.

I rate the museum a 4/5 with a point removed for lack of accessibility.

My rating scale is included in this post.

10 December 2018


Exhibition Reviews | Maddy Howard

It's time to get optical!

Toronto has welcomed a new museum into its midst, and this one is pretty special. It's dedicated to the wonderful and weird world of illusions! 

The Rotated Room. Photo Courtesy of Maddy Howard.
The Museum of Illusions Toronto truly baffles the mind and tricks the senses! That's why this exhibition review is going to be a little different. The Museum of Illusions is so cool, that instead of focusing on one exhibition, why not review the whole thing? That, and also it's pretty small, so get ready to hear about some of the trippy and Insta-worthy things you can find here. 

The Ames Room. Photo Courtesy of Maddy Howard.
The Museum of Illusions has definitely lived up to the hype, and gives visitors an immersive experience into the world of illusions. They have several rooms to give visitors those wildly, head-scratching pictures for the Instagram feed. These rooms include a Clone Table, an Infinity Room (so check that out if you missed Kusama), and even a Vortex Tunnel! Similar to Kusama, the Museum of Illusions offers you a breathtakingly immersive museum experience. 

While these rooms do give you some great pics, they also put you into the illusion. The space, while small, does a great job of encouraging visitors to participate in these illusions and think about how their eyes are deceiving them. 

The Ani-Gravity Room. Photo Courtesy of Maddy Howard.
These optical rooms are definitely fun to play around in, but don't miss the different installations along the wall. These installations will make your mind spin. Visitors are encouraged to look at the image, with instructions from the label, telling you "What to do," such as look at the image for 30 seconds, then look at your hand. After you've participated in the illusion, the label beside the installation gives you a brief understanding of what's going on and why you're seeing what you're seeing. 

Turntables. Photo Courtesy of Maddy Howard.

I personally loved the blend the Museum of Illusions has, of giving a space for visitors to snap some awesome pics, while also teaching you about the world of illusions. This is a museum that may attract  those of you who are intimidated by those bigger, more sophisticated museums. That isn't to say that I don't also love my traditional museum experience, but sometimes it's great to be able to run around and touch things, especially when the museum is encouraging you to do so. I think the Museum of Illusions accomplished exactly what they set out to do, which is to offer visitors an intriguing visual, sensory and educational experience.

Hypnotic Vibes. Photo Courtesy of Maddy Howard.

The Museums of Illusions is not only a museum, it's also a playground. It encourages you to explore and interact with the material around you. It's the perfect combination of informative and fun (and you'll get some great pictures out of your trip).

Cafe Wall Illusion. Photo Courtesy of Maddy Howard.
A quick note, the space is very small. So if you want to avoid the crowds, definitely go earlier in the day when it'll be less busy. I would also recommend buying your tickets online in advance. Tickets are sold for scheduled times, so it might be best to plan your trip and buy tickets ahead. And of course, make sure your phone is charged to take those sweet, sweet pictures. 

The Museum of Illusions is now open to one and all, so wander on over to get lost in the wonderfully weird world of illusions.


6 December 2018


In my first weeks of my first semester studying Library and Information Science, I was assigned this blog post by Karen Pundsack to read for class. It's been one of those readings I've never forgotten, that has seemed to live in the back of my mind ever since.

Pundsack's post summarizes an ongoing conversation in Public Libraries about what to call the people who use the library. As Pundsack notes, each term brands the library in a different way.

Patron positions the library within a more traditional framework, but is perhaps problematically jargon-like.
Customer positions the library as a product and a financial investment; coming from the business world and carrying a strong corporate undertone, it is perhaps the most controversial of these terms.
User is active, and positions the library as a space to do things, but is perhaps impersonal.

The Toronto Reference Library. What does the Toronto Public Library call the people who come to use it? Source.

I recommend reading the whole article for more terms (student, member, guest, client, visitor) and various arguments for and against many of them.

What I find interesting is how hard it is for an outsider to even find out which term a library system uses, without doing some serious sleuthing (can you figure out which term Toronto Public Library uses, if any? I couldn't!). This lack of surface-level transparency shows just how much these terms exist for the library's own internal conceptualization of itself, rather than as tools for users.

Whichever word a library chooses to use, the decision reflects big questions each library system asks itself: How do we perceive the people who use our services? How do we want them to fit within those services? What do we want our library to be?

What about museums?

Falk & Dierking, who wrote about museum
visitor motivations, inspired Musings'
Falcon Deerking logo. Source.
Entering the Museum Studies half of my degree the following year, this was a big question on my mind: What words do we use in museums?

The answer, as you probably know? It's almost always visitors. 

Of course, there is some variation; I think guests is not uncommon, either. But museums seem pretty settled with their terms. On the other hand, museums focus more on a different set of questions: rather than what do we call people, they ask why do people come. This focus is illustrated in Museum Studies' core concepts like Visitor Research and Museum Visitor Motivations from Falk and Dierking (who inspired Musings' mascots!).

I don't have an argument here, but instead raise this topic to ask questions--

Why these different focuses?

What would it mean for museums if we called the people who walked through our doors users, patrons, or customers?

Why is visitor so standard in museums? What does this say about museums' own internal self-conceptualization?

Even if museums (and libraries!) are well-settled and content with their terms, I love the way that this debate prompts internal reflection on what we want to be as institutions, both individually and collectively.

5 December 2018


She’s My Muse | Kathleen Lew

What does it mean to “get ready with” Atleigh Homma?

If I've Been Enveloped in Tenderness at the Brandscape. Photo courtesy of Jamie A.M.

This Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist showed us her beauty routine from Nov 22-29 at The Brandscape with her first solo show. Curated by Kesang Nanglu, Master of Museum Studies student, curator, artist— If I’ve Been Enveloped in Tenderness made the beauty world a palette for art criticism and friendship.

If I’ve Been Enveloped in Tenderness references the closing song of the 1989 animated film Kiki’s Delivery Service, addressing themes of vulnerability and self-doubt—a soft-hitting familiarity to young women and emerging artists.

"It can be difficult to own your success as an arts professional and I think this is especially the case for many women. However, I don’t think vulnerability and self-doubt are necessarily weaknesses—they grant a curator (or anyone), compassion and empathy in the work that they do," Nanglu shares.

“Priming your face is really important you know? You prime your canvases… you need to do the same for your face.” (source)
Homma’s voice welcomed visitors entering the exhibition with a video installation of her series The Joy of Atleigh (Bob Ross anyone?). The project lives on YouTube, Homma taking on the role of Beauty Guru and Vlogger to explore her identity as an artist, mixed-race woman, and young person. Homma blends the boundaries between influencer and parody, with videos such as "GRWM: ART OPENINGS | The Joy of Atleigh". The work juxtaposes expectations of women artists with make-up tips, a criticism so casual that you almost miss it. These subtle subversions position Homma as the subject in a digital world full of objects for social media consumption.
“With going to art events there’s always other expectations involved that need to be maintained like socializing and networking. Here I am doing my mascara, I use waterproof mascara after curling my eyelashes because it holds the curl better.” (source)

Atleigh Homma, I like the idea of romantic thoughts, but I’m just not that poetic of a person, 2018.
Photo courtesy of Jamie A.M.

The exhibition continues with paintings and embroidery, Homma navigating images of the western art historical muse in a millennial context. An aesthetic self-portrait in her bedroom is sprinkled with imperfections of an old flannel shirt and a strange feeling of disturbing privacy. Glossier Balm Dotcom and a Stiegl Grapefruit Radler are turned into a hazy still life in embroidery. Homma’s work explores how millennial culture and digital media filter women’s image-making.

Homma explains, "I often feel like I am not taken seriously as a female artist because of my femininity (as well as being bi-racial) which expands to being overlooked or unheard. When I talk to other women about how I feel there is exchange of shared experience, validation and solidarity. So when I make work, I try to ask the art world (but also the digital world) how do we engage with women?"

Atleigh Homma, I Don’t Feel Better Yet, 2018. Photo courtesy of Jamie A.M.
Homma may be familiar to you, Nanglu wrote about The Joy of Atleigh in November 2017 with “Girls who Like ‘Urban Decay’ and Social Theory”. Almost a year later, Nanglu curates her friend’s first solo exhibition.

Nanglu and Homma’s relationship was clear the moment I entered, whether it was the portrait of Nanglu front and center or the subtle colour match of their opening night outfits. This intimate layer of the exhibition stayed with me long past the opening. It caused me to consider, how can emerging museum professionals and women in the arts & culture sector practice Shine Theory?

Shine Theory, coined by Anne Friedman and Aminatou Sow, refers to women supporting their peers without seeing it as a threat to their own success. Shine Theory’s solution to “intimidating women” is simple: befriend them, “surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better” (source). As two young artists in Toronto, Homma and Nanglu could easily perceive each other as competition, but If I’ve Been Enveloped in Tenderness makes it very clear that they, like many of us, are allies.

Kesang Nanglu [left] and Atleigh Homma [right] interact with visitors on opening night.
Photo courtesy of Jamie A.M.
"Ideally, I believe that collaboration between an artist and a curator should operate on equal ground, so having trust and respect for each other before the project even began really allowed for that" Nanglu recalls.

Homma describes the process of working with Nanglu as a blessing, "we are very good friends so she was undoubtedly an expert on my work. Furthermore, she was an expert on the YouTube genre itself as well as all the critical theory within my work (she’s brilliant!). I know for me I felt cared for in this experience, she made these amazing pamphlets and designed a fantastic hanging layout. But she also went shopping with me right before the show when I was in a state of panic and helped me. I think that’s really special."

As women in the art world, we are all simultaneously the idealized and the idealizer. When we turn our muses into friends, we support a culture that is collaborative rather than competitive. Perhaps a partial entry to vulnerability is a deeper awareness of how personal relationships shape our practice—enveloping ourselves in tenderness.

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