Have you ever been curious about what goes on behind the scenes when preparing an art show? Mercartto's Lillian O'Brien Davis shares the thought process and challenges she faced curating her latest show Reading Faces, Reading Minds at University of Toronto's Jackman Humanities Institute, 170 St. George St. @ Bloor St. W., running September 12, 2018 - June 30, 2019.
The Jackman Humanities Institute is a space at the university of Toronto focused on advancing scholarship through establishing networks, both virtually and physical. Each year the Institute invites fellows from a diversity of backgrounds at U of T to take up residency at the Institute in order to do research in their field, but under the umbrella of the annual theme. This year the theme was ‘Reading Faces, Reading Minds’. It was my distinct honour to be selected out of the first year curatorial masters students at U of T to curate a show at the Jackman Humanities Institute (JHI) under this year's theme.
It is both a blessing and a curse to encounter a broad theme like ‘Reading Faces, Reading Minds’ because it invites a lot of interpretation, but I welcomed the challenge. After lots of research and some consultation I settled on the theme of ‘Misreading’ for my exhibition. Much of my research during my masters has been based around concepts that are interested in the “grey area” between two binaries (Right/ Wrong, Black/White, Abstract/Representational). I was curious about what possibilities can evolve out of the in-between. What happens when we misunderstand something? What about the unreliability of reading, as each time we return to a text, object or even a memory it will have changed based on our circumstances, experience, or even our mood!
I selected artwork which thinks about these concepts in different ways. Many of the artists have photographic backgrounds and like to consider how a subject or object is framed, or how a viewer’s experience might affect the work's meaning.
As it's a 10-month exhibition (9/12/18 - 6/30/19), I worked with the artists to select pieces especially suited for longer exhibitions. Two works in the show, one by Laurie Kang and the other by Colin Miner, focus on time, considering how objects change and thus how and what we see is directly affected by the passage of time. These works will look very different a year from now from when they were originally installed due to changes in their material and environment (so a good excuse to come back a visit the exhibition more than once).
The curator’s job is always evolving. As I am still a student of curation, this exhibition was a real learning curve. I had to confront challenges that I didn’t even know existed but proved to be very important. For instance, who knew how much time it would take to hang wall labels, discuss titles with artists or decide on the language to be used in the brochure! Luckily both the JHI and the artists involved were gracious and we worked well together as a result.
As I am beginning to understand, the curator works to present an idea, concept or experience through an assemblage of work. In this case the idea was fairly straight forward: what happens when we misread? I wanted to leave room for the artwork to speak for itself, while there is text on the wall and a brochure with information, the viewer can look at the artwork and experience it without needing too much context.
The show is all about experiencing a sensation—the sensation of misreading—through the artwork. Hopefully the viewer who visits the show will take the time to look and think about how they are looking and what experiences and sensations they encounter as a result. Happy Looking!