21 February 2018

TOWERING EXHIBITS: BEYOND TRADITION ON CAMPUS (PART TWO)

BEYOND TRADITION

BY: AMY INTRATOR

Welcome back to Beyond Tradition on Campus, a series where I explore innovative museum spaces right here at the University of Toronto! In my second edition of this series, I am exploring the exhibition space in the Jackman Humanities Institute. My last edition focused on Talking Walls, located in the heart of UofT, so today I’m looking at a far less visible campus space.

The latest exhibit at the Jackman Humanities Institute is titled Morning Star, which seems pretty fitting given the exhibit’s location. In the exhibit, Morning Star (otherwise known as the planet Venus) acts as a symbol to explore Indigenous agency and renounce naïve impressions of reconciliation. On a more literal level, the exhibit is situated in the sky, or at least in a high-rise building. The Jackman Humanities Institute is located on the 10th floor of a high-rise building, and the exhibition space is also situated on the 10th floor, far higher than most exhibits on campus. 

Exterior shot of the Jackman Humanities building. Photo courtesy of Amy Intrator.

If you’re like me, you may have absolutely no idea what a humanities institute does. The Institute is described as creating networks for interactions between humanities scholars across different disciplines. The Institute’s interest in collaborative, interdisciplinary learning isn’t so different from a museum, but the Institute takes a more academic approach to collaboration through organizing seminars, lectures, fellowships. Every year the Institute’s programming revolves around a theme, and this year the theme is Indelible Violence: Shame, Reconciliation, and the Work of Apology. The theme also structures the Institute’s annual exhibition.

This year’s exhibit, Morning Star, is a collaborative effort between the Art Museum and the Jackman Humanities Institute. While most exhibition spaces on campus are located in high-traffic areas, the exhibition space in the Institute is more of a hidden treasure. The space is unusual as it is located on the 10th floor of a high-rise, but even within the space, the art is displayed differently than most campus exhibitions. Rather than visibly displayed artworks in one area, the artworks in the exhibition are dispersed across connected offices, seminar rooms, and lounges, and the pieces are often displayed on the periphery of the room. 

One of the exhibition spaces in the Jackman Humanities Institute. Photo courtesy of Amy Intrator.

The exhibit unfolds across various rooms and hallways, which transforms the process of passively viewing art into more of an exploration. Although the layout was a bit unexpected the first time I visited the space, I came to appreciate the unusual design. As I travelled between the lobby, the lounge, and a couple of the seminar rooms, I started to think about how the various artworks on display related to one another. Some of the pieces demand your attention, like Joi Arcand’s work, ēkāwiya nēpēwisi, a neon sign in Cree that translates to read “don’t be shy”.

Joi Arcand's piece, ēkāwiya nēpēwisi, on display at the Jackman Humanities Institute. Photo courtesy of Amy Intrator.

While Arcand’s piece hangs larger than life in the lounge of the 10th floor, other works are hidden in plain sight. The first time I visited the exhibit, I completely missed the Alex Janvier print. The print is tucked in a hallway off the main corridor, so it’s not exactly front-and-center. The semi-hidden art makes the viewing experience interesting, as you have to be hyper-aware of your surroundings or else you risk missing major pieces in the exhibit!

Image of the Alex Janvier print, Key to Everyone, semi-hidden in a hallway in the Jackman Humanities Institute. Photo courtesy of Amy Intrator.

The artwork within the Jackman Humanities Institute space really forced me to think about the relationship between the artworks on display. The exhibition wasn’t about asserting one curatorial voice, or presenting one representation of Indigenous identity today, but rather, the various artists with pieces on display seemed to be in conversation with one another. For me, the space was integral to bringing the artistic dialogue to life. The display of the artwork required me to explore the space more than I’m used to in a gallery, as there isn’t a linear pathway between the pieces, rather you have to explore the area and try to draw connections yourself.

My overarching question after exploring this campus space: Are campus exhibits better when they are extremely visible to all, or when they activate certain classroom environments? Luckily, at the University of Toronto, we have the best of both worlds, thanks to the numerous on-campus exhibitions.

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