20 November 2017




Last year I visited Artscape Youngplace for the exhibition Yonder. Recently I returned to the centre to see the current shows on display: Soft: transformative queer love and care; Katrina Jurjans: for a moment it all comes together (and you’re the only one); Staring Back at the Sun: Video Art from Israel, 1970-2012; and Fermenting Feminism. Many of the exhibitions explore the intersections between social action and intimate relationships, and offer unusual sensory and emotional experiences for visitors.

Information on the exhibitions currently on display at Artscape Youngplace. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

What I like about the exhibitions at Artscape Youngplace is the way the artists and curators use the building’s features to their advantage. Exhibitions take over spaces that are not conducive to traditional art displays, including the hallways and stairwells of the building. Installations by Josée Pedneault and artist team Maggie Groat and Jimmy Limit feature vinyl wall decals wrapped into corners and plastered over the stairwell windows.

A component of Josée Pedneault's installation envisioning an imaginary island. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald. 

The second floor hallway is dedicated to Soft, an exhibition by Morgan Sears-Williams that displays photos of nightlife in queer spaces.* The hallway lends itself to unusual spacing of the works, a feature which is further embraced in the non-traditional displays; one panel is a long paper banner that trails on the floor. These design choices highlight the exhibition’s themes of gentleness and makeshift spaces.

One wall section of Soft. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

Sears-Williams explores the transformative nature of love in queer spaces and relationships. Past work by Sears-Williams has focused on trauma experienced by queer communities, but this exhibition branches off those ideas to examine the concept of queer people finding comfort and strength in each other.

In addition to the documentary photographs, Sears-Williams created an installation with old telephones. Visitors can hold the phone to their ear and hear recordings of interviews the curator conducted with queer people they know. The effect is that of listening in on an intimate conversation. One telephone plays a recording of Sears-Williams speaking to their partner Marie. The two have a discussion on how to dismantle oppression in their own thoughts. They also note how exhausting it can be for queer identities to be constantly subject to politicization. As Sears-Williams says, sometimes the most transformative and subversive part about queer identities is just about love: “I’m just so in love with you,” and that love is what is “keeping ourselves alive.”

The wall display in Soft with a silent telephone. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

This exhibition balances love and positivity with exclusive politics and conscious critique. One phone in the installation is silent; are there some voices we are not hearing? Sears-Williams and the people they interview grapple with the concept of oppression those in the queer community may be complicit in perpetuating. Soft is a quiet celebration of transformative queer love, but is not uncritical when exploring the parameters of that transformative quality.

Political critique and artistic validation continue to dovetail in the Koffler Gallery’s exhibit Staring Back at the Sun, which features Israeli video art from four different periods, spanning from 1970 to 2012. Some artists whose work is shown in the exhibition include Doron Solomons, Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir, Gilad RatmanAvi Mograbi, and Sigalit Landau. The videos cover about 3 hours of material, and visitors can walk through four dark rooms and observe at their own pace.

Some of the early videos are purely experimental artistic endeavours, but several videos tackle difficult topics. A few focus on how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has affected the worldviews and morality of ordinary people. For example, Boaz Arad’s video Gefilte Fish shows his mother preparing and explaining a traditional Ashkenazi dish while occasionally making prejudiced statements as she cooks; these scenes are intercut with Arad mouthing his mother’s words, showing how mindsets can be inherited. The videos in Staring Back at the Sun are frequently troubling and perplexing, but always thought-provoking.

The view from one of the four rooms in Staring Back at the Sun. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald

Human relationships continue to be explored in Katrina Jurjans’s third-floor hallway exhibition. Her colourful paintings depict tension and instability as well as intimate moments in relationships.

Fermenting Feminism presents a dialogue on an unusual relationship: the connection between feminism and fermentation. Curated by Lauren Fournier and featuring work by Sharlene Bamboat, Hazel Meyer, Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint, Sarah Nasby, Kayla Polan, Walter Scott, and Agustina Zegers, this visceral exhibition engages the senses of sight, smell, and sound as the artists explore concepts like consumerism and festering emotions through a feminist lens.

Sarah Nasby's display in Fermenting Feminism shows kombucha fermenting inside found ceramic vessels. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

It is important to note that many of the exhibitions currently at Artscape Youngplace feature work by emerging curators and artists. Sears-Williams is the recipient of the 2017 Artscape Youngplace Career Launcher prize, as is Madison Leeson, who wrote the text for Soft. Katrina Jurjans received the Artscape Award at the 2017 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. Fermenting Feminism and the stairwell installations are associated with Critical Distance Centre for Curators, a not-for-profit initiative that supports “the advancement of curatorial inquiry and practice in Toronto, Canada, and beyond.” Check out the space to see what new artists and curators are doing in Toronto!

I also recommend visiting Artscape Youngplace for your own benefit. The exhibitions show that being emotionally troubled and emotionally uplifted are not mutually exclusive experiences.

Artscape Youngplace and its associated galleries are free to visit, and while some exhibitions are subject to limited hours, the hallway and stairwell exhibitions can be seen every day until 9:00 pm. 

* The artist/curator uses the term "queer" in their writing on the exhibition, so the author has done the same in this article when referring to the LGBTQ+ community.

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