A series of thought provoking art works commissioned by Toronto History Museums wants to shake up your understanding of local history. The collective project called Awakenings approaches tales from the past that have gone unheard, or highlight the efforts of people traditional ignored by historians. The project isn’t just about recognizing the past, it’s also about recognizing the present. The ongoing series features features local Black, Indigenous and artists of colour in all aspects of its creation. The short films are powerful and here’s hoping that they change the modern discourse of history.
“When you acknowledge this land and its history, what are you actually acknowledging? Do you know who these nations are?” asks actor Nadia George. Well, do you? Watch and learn a few things about the city’s Indigenous origins, such as the 250,000 acres, stretching from the lakeshore up to King City, sold to the British for a paltry 10 shillings, worth about $40 today.
“It’s really a call to action. So when you see all of the different … artistic interventions, they’re meant as a jumping-off point. So we’re not just illustrating what took place; we’re saying, OK, how does it relate to the present? And how can it help shape our future?”
Making an art gallery accessible is more than providing a ramp for people to enter, an accessible art gallery ought to include accessible art. The bare minimum a gallery or performance space can do is follow the guidelines around accessible buildings (ramps, floor space, etc.). Over at Art News, Sara Reisman, executive and artistic director of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation in New York, argues that 2021 should be a turning point for the art world to make the entire field accessible so more people can create and appreciate art.
During our talk, Papalia presented examples of sensory experiences that diverge from the art world’s focus on visual art and its bias toward sighted audience members so frequently referred to as “viewers.” In the past few years, he has become known for participatory performances that he describes as “nonvisual walks,” using his cane (and sometimes a megaphone or even, in the case of a special event on the High Line in New York, a marching band) to lead groups in daisy-chain-like formations that enact the kinds of interdependenciesarticulated in the principles of “Open Access.” Like Papalia’s approach to conversations around accessibility in general, instructions for the walks avoid medicalizing terminology and frame the experience as a function of embodiment instead.
I have participated in three such walks, and each has recalibrated my relationship to the environment and people around me. In a rural setting, I felt rocks and dips in the dirt road under my feet. In an urban landscape, I felt pavement, curbs, and the presence of vehicles in constant motion. Each time, I have experienced the world with a heightened sense of perception—and my understanding of the sensorium has been further transformed.
In North America and Europe we are bound to have to spend the winter mostly in our own domiciles due to political mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic alongside the scourge of ignoramuses who don’t wear masks. Being stuck in one environment all the time will inevitably lead to boredom, so we must find ways to keep ourselves occupied. Consider crafting.
Pickup a hobby, any hobby, and get crafty with it to make these long winter months fly.
That’s another side of crafting that I personally find, perhaps paradoxically, valuable: how separate it is from my actual work, and how it makes me feel productive without that productivity being tied to the pursuit of money. Of course, plenty of people make their living in part or wholly by selling what they make, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with picking up a craft with the hope that you might be able to sell your finished products. Especially at the beginning stages, though, I’d advise against focusing on that as your end goal, and instead concentrate on turning off your anxious brain, deciding which skills you’d like to get the hang of, or thinking about who you might like to give the first (or, let’s be real, third) fruit of your labors to. No shame whatsoever if that recipient is yourself.
So how do you choose which craft is right for you? There’s no such thing as a “crafty person” versus a non-crafty one, IMO, but your mileage may vary in terms of how much time, attention, and money you’re willing or able to invest. This goes triple during, say, a pandemic, when it should be considered a rousing victory simply to get through the day.
It’s well known that industrial fishing is bad for the environment and bad for the fishers involved in it. A local fisherman, Paolo Fanciulli, had enough of the industrial fishing in their area and decided to fight it using art. Fanciulli creates large marble art pieces on land then drops them into the water. The art then functions as an obstacle which inhibits the use of nets and over fashioning, the art itself can also be listed by sea creatures and human alike!
He asked a quarry in nearby Carrara if they could donate two marble blocks that he could use to make sculptures. “They donated 100 instead.”
Via word of mouth, contributions from tourists and online crowdfunding, Fanciulli persuaded artists including Giorgio Butini, Massimo Lippi, Beverly Pepper and Emily Young to carve sculptures from the marble. Then he took them out to sea and lowered them in.
The underwater sculptures create both a physical barrier for nets and a unique underwater museum. The sculptures are placed in a circle, 4m apart, with an obelix at the centre carved by the Italian artist Massimo Catalani. Emily Young provided four sculptures, each weighing 12 tons, she calls “guardians”; nearby lies a mermaid by the young artist Aurora Vantaggiato. Lippi has contributed 17 sculptures representing Siena’s contrade, or medieval districts.
The world of art may one way to help people understand issues around the climate crisis. The impacts of climate change are diverse and interconnected, which makes it difficult to conceptualize. Single use plastic use is connected to the tar sands, inequality is connected to palm oil production. It’s all so overwhelming.
Artists can help us get an understanding on what the climate crisis is to humans in practice through their works. Some artists try to capture the anthropecene while others make art to rile up politicians to act. Art and artists provide another way to understand the changing world around us.
While it’s hard to know what effect any one work has on the audience, creators — from authors to filmmakers to visual artists — are making a case for their role in tackling climate change: to engage people’s emotions and imagination in ways that straight data just won’t.
“Film … has the capacity to move people in a number of ways simultaneously … intellectually, emotionally, viscerally, all at the same time,” said filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal in an interview with Lynch.
“Using that medium to open up that consciousness, to move people in that way is our goal. Whether it works or not is another matter.”