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Toronto
Terence Dick
Morning Star at the Jackman Humanities Institute
February 01, 2018

The Jackman Humanities Institute is one of the stranger spaces to view art in the city. The lobby of the building has been restored to its Art Deco heyday right down to the brass Brooks Brothers nameplate above one of the interior doors and the illuminated glass wedge that announces the elevator has arrived. Entering the gold and mirror chamber feels like you’re cast in an episode of Mad Men or about to ascend through the phallic Chrysler Building of Cremaster 3. The impression of this particular historical phase is all encompassing until you reach the top floor and transition into an immaculate, modern-design office zone that resembles a law firm more than any academic department that I experienced during my years in university. But place of scholarship it is and with it comes the whiff of ivory tower isolation that renders academia even more removed from the real world than the art world. However, this is a place dedicated to the humanities and as such the scholars here are presumably engaged with the texts of life. While art is just one aspect of what gets studied here, it serves as a provocative and appealing entry point for the JHI’s annual thematic concern.



Joi Arcand, ēkāwiya nēpēwisi, 2017. Neon channel sign (pink) (photo: Paul Litherland)

For the 2017-2018 school year, the theme is Indelible Violence: Shame, Reconciliation, and the Work of Apology. Jason Baerg and Darryn Doull have curated a selection of works by Indigenous artists that “renounce naïve impressions of (re)conciliation” and instead make Indigenous agency visible through vernacular means. A small painting on paper by Alex Janvier (whose ceiling mural at the Canadian Museum of History lends this exhibition its title) sets the stage with its non-linear, abstract psychedelia that suggests cultural codes while also refraining from any explicit message. Then again, it depends on where you’re coming from and how much you’re willing to reconcile. Joi Arcand’s neon text translates from the Cree to read “don’t be shy” and invites the viewer to step forward and bathe in its far-from-demure glow. The light alters the institute’s interior intellectual environment and allows for something other than the heads-down analysis that presumably goes on in the surrounding cubicles.



Adrian Stimson, Calling My Spirit Back, 2017, nine black and white digital prints, inkjet text on paper

Adrian Stimson’s dream diary from Calling My Spirit Back invites a reading of the evidence that emerges from his unconscious. Homes are threatened and fellow artists appear and each night follows the next with no clear progress. Stimson’s photo essay from Burning Man has an equally dreamlike/nightmarish quality. You don’t have to be a Freudian to know that our sleeping minds reveal things our conscious selves don’t want to process. Bracken Hanuse Corlett’s silent, animated short film Ghost Food tells the story of two siblings searching for food in a post-apocalyptic landscape. It too has the quality of a dream as one sibling falls asleep and is tempted by the ghost king. However, when discussing the apocalypse, colonized people can say it has already happened for them. Future is shifted into past and the order of history is upended. 


Morning Star continues until August 14.
The Jackman Humanities Institute: http://artmuseum.utoronto.ca/exhibition/morning-star/
The gallery is accessible.


Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

 

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