“This is a festival for and by the people,” says Darcy Killeen, Contact’s executive director. “It’s the result of an open call that provides an invaluable opportunity for emerging artists to contribute alongside leading professionals.”
And, with a thousand local, national, and international artists showing at more than 220 venues, there’s truly something for everybody. This year’s highlights include exhibitions by top names like American-Canadian Lynne Cohen, whose resonant photos of empty interiors grace the Olga Korper Gallery, and New Yorker Jeff Bark, whose luminous nudes are on view at Nicholas Metivier Gallery, as well as public installations like Canadian Louie Palu’s War Zone Graffiti, which transposes startling photographs of graffiti taken in Afghanistan to alley walls into Queen West. There’s also a lecture series, 18 film programs on photography, and seminars and workshops with industry experts such as Magnum photographers Peter Marlow and Mark Power.
In order to navigate the many, many options, ARTINFO enlisted the help of Betty Ann Jordan. A former arts journalist, Jordan now runs Toronto’s lauded Art InSite, a program that offers art, design, and architecture tours of the city. We began at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) on Queen Street, with the festival’s premiere exhibition, “Still Revolution: Suspended in Time,” which runs through June 14.
The survey show features photographic stars including Canadians Barbara Astman and Stan Douglas, Americans Trevor Paglen and Martha Rosler, South African Mikhael Subotzky, and Brits Walead Beshty, Idris Khan, and Mat Collishaw. Each deals in his or her own way with how the art form influences political and social change: Especially powerful was Douglas’s Abbott & Cordova, 7 Aug ’71, which recreates a violent scene from the 1971 Gastown Riots in Vancouver. In Subotzky’s tender Michelle, Mallies Household, Rustdene Township, a young girl looks wistfully into space, the wall behind her bed splattered with blood.
After MOCCA, we moved on to Edward Day Gallery, which shares a courtyard with the museum. A big, handsome space, Edward Day perfectly accommodates Toronto-based artist Joshua Jensen-Nagles large, photo-based works presenting the majestic interiors of grand European buildings, such as Versailles, as well as landscapes of Toronto and Venice. Aptly titled “Decadence,” the show serves as a reminder of the excesses of past ages — the soft focus giving them a particularly sensuous appearance.
Heading to the Queen Street galleries — there are almost too many to count — Jordan took us to the trendy Gladstone Hotel, which, like the nearby Drake Hotel, has become an artists’ meeting place, music club, restaurant, and exhibition space, all in an area that was once the city’s seedy skid row. A standout in the Gladstone’s group show, Michael Krauss’s Turner-like pictures of a seascape movingly evoked a mysterious place between dream and reality, echoing the atmosphere felt throughout the century-old building.
Just around the corner from the Gladstone is IndexG, a photo gallery owned by Hong Kong photographers Holly and Ka-sing Lee. Strong on Canadian and Asian works, the gallery has given over most of its space to the riveting works of a photographer working under the name anothermountainman, who creates ominous, incongruously domestic scenes within unfinished buildings in Hong Kong.
Stephen Bulger, whose gallery was the next stop on our tour, has been in the forefront of Toronto’s documentary photography scene for some time, and he was also recently elected president of the board of AIPAD, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers. His current exhibition of beautiful monochromatic works by American artist Alison Rossiter, “Lament,” gives a good indication of his superlative taste. Rossiter has been intrigued with the materials and processes of gelatin-silver-based photography since 1970, and in 2003, she volunteered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she was immersed in the field of photograph conservation. That experience led to a profound appreciation of the history of photographic materials, and the resulting experimentation led to the haunting, lonely landscapes in “Lament.”
Nothing could have been more different from Rossiter’s creations than Canadian Geoffrey Pugens surreal, digitally altered landscapes/dreamscapes, being shown in the nearby Angell Gallery. One of them, Morning After, shows a Cadillac floating in a swimming pool and another, Swan Lake, depicts swans being bombarded by explosions. Witty and theatrical, they appeared almost futuristic. For each one, he used innumerable photos to create a digital montage, building his intriguing scenes as meticulously as a stage director.
Jordan had barely covered the length of Queen Street, and already we were overwhelmed, with Richmond Street and Spadina Avenue still to be explored.