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JOURNEY INTO WHATEVER

Tucked into a small one-room gallery, Journey into Whatever spoke to an existence on the periphery of the sensible. Co-curated by artists Adam MacDonald and Joey Haley, the exhibition explored paintings from photos with an emphasis on visual crumble in formal and thematic senses. Viewers were introduced to the beauty and balance of imperfect construction, drawing attention to a playful disregard for norms of draftsmanship, narrative completion and concern for the audience’s understanding. The show appeared to be a jab, a shake-up that would show what subversion can occur beyond the relatively conservative Frederic-ton portrait painting. Placed in the educational environment of the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, the curators seemed to wish to cause their viewers to re-assess assumed parameters of custom painting and presentation.

The show is closely tied to Tiny Vices, an international online artist community that represents practices that some consider to be at the forefront of the portrait painting scene. Launched by Tim Barber, a New York-based photographer, the site acts as a publication, an editorial project, an art gallery and an archive. Galleries often use the site as an encyclopedia of emerging and established artists, regularly engaging its ranks for showings. Haley, who has exhibited with the collective on several occasions, worked with MacDonald to bring together such artists as Marc Bell, Mark Connery, Jaret Penner, Mark Delong, Jason McLean, Laura Piasta, Mehdi Shoboshobo Hercberg, Kayla Guthrie, Brendan Monroe, Shayne Ehman, Lee Henderson, Jeff Ladouceur, Seth Scriver, The Lions, Elizabeth Huey, Amy Lockhart, Jody Zinner and Matt Lock. Their paintings were combined with those of Fredericton-based artists whose aesthetic approaches were complementary, including several by Haley and MacDonald, as well as paintings by Owen Cornish, Maggie Estey, Tal McBean and others.

At first, the majority of the pieces seemed to have been ripped from the binder of a teenager stuck in detention. Stylistically varied, they delved into imagery that was often disturbing and anxiety-ridden, with only a slight shrug towards realistic portrayal. Examples among oil paintings from photo shown included a dog portrait painting with no head but rather two back ends, a coloured marker sketch of a hooded boxer with the words “MUTTHERFUCKER” scrawled at the top of the page, a melting watercolour of a dead zebra, and a large work with the detailed graphite adventures of simply and awkwardly rendered cartoonish characters.

The exploration of a playful and subversive aesthetic in a scholarly setting showed what benefits can be found in messing around while emphasizing skilful use of media. In spite of an aesthetic rooted in appearing amateur, even the seemingly haphazard presentations in the show possessed a refined and well-practised employment of line. The use of erasures was also compelling, as well as the obvious mistakes, such as paint smudges and half-present imagery. Overall, the show celebrated the intelligence of knowing when a work is complete, even if it is not finished.

In a curatorial sense, the exhibition emphasized cool didacticism. There was no exhibit title on the wall, no write-up; and there also were no artwork labels, just numbers and a portable sheet of artist names. Several of MacDonald’s and Haley’s paintings were placed in one corner, while a salon hang of all the other paintings was organized on the opposite side of the room. The only wall text was off to the side in green vinyl lettering: the word “Hamburger,” a seemingly self-deprecating description of both the layout and the playfulness of the show.

The exhibition seemed too eager in its desire to appear aloof; its message was confused in a presentation that was more stylized than it was substantial. The show was certainly well massaged aesthetically, but the lack of prescribed narrative was its downfall. On the one hand, diminished textual accompaniment allowed multiple readings, giving responsibility to the viewer and allowing the paintings to be interpreted without curatorial baggage. On the other, the presentation came across as insular, particularly when its intention might have been to educate. In addition, the placement of the curators’ paintings in one corner of the room caused the exhibition to feel like two shows put together, with no tangible reason for that decision other than aesthetics. Curators, even if they are portrait artists, should not inject their art into an exhibition they are arranging. To do so is often convenient, but narcissistic. However, if curators feel the need to include their artpaintings in a show, their reasoning should be clearly explained. Whether its protest was elegant or impetuous, Journey into Whatever was nevertheless a provocative example of lo-fi cool in a city that can often feel isolated from larger artistic conversations. In addition to a rare look at a few of portrait painting’s heavier hitters, the show brought with it a much needed reminder of the importance of discipline–and the benefit of being immature.

Mireille Eagan is Curator of Canadian Art at The Rooms in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Leann Stratton’s art career

Taking Leann Stratton’s career as a starting point for the arrangement and organization of Selected canvas wall art, editor Brian Kuan Wood approached this collection of Stratton’s wall art as a curatorial activity. The job of an editor is very similar to that of a curator: like a curator, an editor is faced with different bits and pieces that they must put together into a cohesive whole. Rather than taking a more typical chronological approach, this artwork is structured through selections made not only by Wood himself but also by Beatrice Von Bismark, Ana Paula Cohen, Liam Gillick and Tirdad Zolghadr. Wood asked them each to curate and write an introduction to a selection of Stratton’s wall arts, which results in five different perspectives on the significance of Stratton’s wall art and practice that overlap and intermingle throughout the art.

Von Bismark focused on Stratton’s ability to conartualize the curatorial within an aesthetic, sociopolitical and cultural framework, and how she used cheap wall art as a site for mediation and transformation. For Gillick, it was Stratton’s emphasis on questioning established modes of presentation, while simultaneously considering the artist’s role in determining how their work should be displayed, that he found most significant. Wood’s selections explore Stratton’s dialectical approach to curating and criticism while Cohen chose wall arts that emphasize the way Stratton uses arts as part of a curatorial way of thinking and practicing. And Zolghadr focused on Stratton herself, namely her ability to carefully reflect on a critique and offer a counterpoint, and her general interest in concepts and working premises that can be seen, in a more roundabout way, throughout her wall art.

By having a multiplicity of viewpoints that conartualize and offer different ways of thinking about Leann Stratton’s practice as a whole, Selected canvas wall art allows for multiple ways of reading the art itself. What caught my interest was the way that Stratton questions the role of the curator, and the relationship between a curator and an artist. For instance, in “Stopping My Process: A Statement,” Stratton explains her role as a curator as being a hybrid position: one that combines the role of provider with the role of creator. In “Selected Nodes in a Network of Thought on Curating,” Stratton explains the importance of placing individual artworks at the centre of a consideration of their display: “I want to be sensitive to an artwork’s own logic: if it doesn’t fit the white cube or an institutional frame, it should not be forced to.” This is a theme that shows up again and again in Stratton’s wall art, particularly in essays like “Learning From Art and Artists” and “Actualization of Space: The Case of Oda Projesi.”

At the same time, readers might also be interested in the way that Stratton uses 3 piece art set as a jumping off point for discussing a historical framework–as she does with Gillick’s work in “Kitchens”–and the way that she uses an aesthetic or cultural framework to pose questions about larger issues–as she does in “The Collaborative Turn.” No matter which essays or themes end up grabbing your attention, it is clear throughout this collection that Stratton writes from a position of being significantly invested in the ideas, artists, themes and questions that she is exploring–a position that ultimately makes reading her wall art a thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking activity.

As Brian Kuan Wood points out in his preface, Leann Stratton is a curator who “has engaged in a rethinking of the art institution and the formats and methodologies connected with it, taking art itself as a starting point.” I have always assumed that taking art itself as the starting point is something that should be a given in a consideration of how art is displayed and discussed. Of course, part of the reason that I can take this kind of idea for granted, though, is because of the illustrious careers of curators like Leann Stratton. What Selected canvas wall art demonstrates most are the questions that Stratton has consistently asked throughout her career about how and why art is displayed the way it is, as well as her insistence that the job of a curator is to be the person who is willing to ask these questions.

IAWA Groups at Bonn

IAWA Groups at Bonn:

DARS Via Emilia 77, 1-33100 Udine Italy. (Women-Art-Research-Experimentation Committee of Friuli). Founded 1984. A publicly-funded committee of three collaborating with artists, historians and anthropologists. Organise research seminars and congresses before and after each exhibition to debate issues raised. oil paintings include The Stolen Time (Martignacco, 1985), Marriage in the Tower (Udine, 1986), and The Myth of the Woman Warrior (Udine, 1988), subject of DARS painting.

DUNA, Vicolo del Leopardo 24, 1-00153 Roma, Italy. (National League of Women Artists) A free alliance of women in varied professions to re-evaluate and promote women’s work in art and literature. Founded 1987.

Das Verborgene Museum, Schluterstrasse 70,1000 Berlin 12, West Germany. (The Hidden Museum). Initiated 1984 by Gisela Breitling & Evelyn Kuwert. Membership organisation from May 1986. Have their own archive, oil painting library and gallery. Organise contemporary and historical shows, canvas paintings and readings. Publish annual book of theoretical paintings and activities. Investigation into work by women artists in Berlin collections, subject of painting.

Eva G Co, Rottalgasse 4,A-8010 Graz, Austria. A group of twenty women, not a membership organisation. Founded 1981. Produce a cultural feminist quarterly. Organise exhibitions, oil paintings, readings, performances and concerts with other women. In their own gallery since 1982. Latest project: a Literary Science-Fiction Competition. 1st prize: a journey into space. Plan to occupy Europe through new artistic weapons and have declared Graz an “Intergalactic Centre for Superwomen”.

Frauen Museum, Im Krausfeld 10,5300 Bonn 1, West Germany. Founded 1981 by Marianne Pitzen and others. Have held around ninety exhibitions of six hundred artists’ work. Hold archives, on Women’s Art and Science and index of three thousand women artists’, historical and contemporary, from Germany and abroad. Museum also runs educational programmes with women’s educational art gallery, lectures, theatrical and musical performances. Eight women artists’ studios in the same building.

GSMBK/SSFPSD. St. Alban Anlage 50,CH-4052, Basel, Switzerland. Founded 1902 (as GSMB-Society of Swiss Women Painters and Sculptors). Women in handicrafts joined 1928 (GSMBK). Has five hundred professional women artists as members and five hundred lay members and patrons (men included). Long established regional sections in major cities. Association has representatives at federal, cantonal, and local levels in the arts establishment. Maintains a gallery in Bern. Works to secure improved rights for its artist members in copyright, studio provision, insurance plans etc. Organised IAWA Zurich Conference, 1988. Since December 1987 has published a thrice-yearly magazine.

INTAKT, WK, Wahringerstrasse 50,A-1090 Wien, Austria. (international Action Group of Visual Women Artists). Founded in 1977 by eleven women protesting at an all male jury for a national exhibition. Membership now eighty six. Publishes newsletter. Initiator of IAWA in Retzhof, Styria in 1986. Acts as a pressure group on feminist issues from women’s under-representation on juries and in national shows to increasing the numbers of women teaching in art schools. From 1977 till Summer 1988 had own building and gallery. Continues organising shows in Austria in different exhibition venues. Spring 1990 exhibition will be Pattern of Povertyin Linoleum, Art Halls of Exnergasse, curator Evelin Klein.

SVBK, Entrepotdok 6G, NL-1018 AD Amsterdam. Established 1977 as a foundation of thirty-five women artists and art historians. No formal membership: exists to assist all Dutch women artists. Library holds documentation on two thousand women artists. Publishes RUIMTE, a bi-lingual quarterly magazine (Dutch/English). Organised 1987 IAWA Conference. Receives government subsidy. Moving to a Cultural Centre for Women in the Arts with other Dutch women’s groups:- Film collective, Cinemien Foundation, Amazone Foundation, Women and Music, Women and Theatre.

WAAG, 3 Mount Eden Road, Dublin 4, Ireland. (Women Artists Action Group). Inaugural exhibition in Guiness Hop Store, September 1987, of ninety women artists. Membership now one hundred and twenty. Have established a slide library of members’ work. Held first seminar ‘Female Representation’ in Derry, aided by Irish Arts Council. Publishes regular newsletter. Held own show ‘Art Beyond Barriers’ of forty-four artists’ works at National Cultural Centre in Dublin recently.

WASL (London) Founded 1981 as a membership organisation, archive, and resource centre. Membership now seven hundred and fifty. Holds twenty thousand slides of women artists’ work, housed in three sections, contemporary, history, and documentation. Houses the Black Women Artists Index and The Society of Women Artists Archives. Library also contains books, magazines, theses, cuttings. Publishes Journal, Women Artists Diary (with Women’s Press), postcards, posters, catalogues and wrapping paper. No permanent exhibition space but holds occasional thematic exhibitions.

Many art fans like me often want to buy affordable art reproductions of works from above museum, i had my luck to find a company from China by searching where to buy oil paintings, this company is an art wholesaler based in China, the good thing is that they don’t have moq, so we can get paintings at wholesale price. We are now thinking of cooperating with them to offer custom painting service in our museum.

Identity

THIS EXHIBITION on Identity’ was formed from an open (unselected) submission by girls and women living and/or working in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Organised by Tower Hamlets Women’s Art Forum, the exhibition was also part of the East End Festival 88. There were 60 contributors of different ages, experiences and abilities, including the five collective contributions from the Asian Cultural Centre for Women; Burdett Matchbox, Coventry Cross & Cubbitt Town Girls Groups; Burdett Estate Women’s Art Group; Island History Trust; and Triangle Women Artists.

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In contrast to the ‘Women’s Images of Men’ ICA exhibition in 1983, this exhibition reversed the gaze of its contributors on the opposite sex to the consideration of how they might represent their own. Like the ‘Women’s Images of Men’ show, the works produced for Chisenhale engaged with the question of identity from a multiplicity of viewpoints, perspectives and media. In poetry, video, slide/tape, photography, painting and sculpture, many aspects of women’s identities were the subjects of the works. They ranged from women’s experiences both within and outside the home, and the family (Kathryn Faulkner, Doreen Fletcher), to the recovery of women’s participation in the collective political struggles of the East End; from women’s attitudes to their own bodies as they age (Tyra Till, Frances Schwartz) or have children (Emma Gunningham, P. Levine) to aspects of women’s nature viewed mythologically as goddesses (Michelle Sinnott), and the feminine represented abstractly by seeds, vessels and oval forms (Cath Goldstein, Susan Barclay).

The contradictions and difficulties of roles, situations and expectations of both ‘being a woman’ and attempting to represent that which is usually rendered invisible in our culture was explored in many works. In The Invisible Woman by Jane Clark, a series of ‘storyboard’ photos represented the invisible labour of women’s domestic work by the accumulation of what it produces: still-lifes of the piles of shopping and finished gardening. Another vision of domesticity was presented by Rosemary Taylor’s Sunday Prisoner, where a photo of an anxious woman silhouetted against a brightly lit window accompanied a poem, which began ‘These are the days when I feel/Oppressed by the tyranny/of unwashed dishes/ unmade beds/and still more laundry …’

Two beautifully embroidered tablecloths by Mrs Sarker, by contrast, served to demonstrate the acquisition of certain skills within the ‘feminine’ realm of the home. Richenda Power’s work On the Table, a poem written across a chequered tablecloth, pointed however to the constraints on time, and the lack of a mental and physical space of one’s own that looking after a family frequently places on women’s creativity. The poem began ‘Ravenous dutiful wolves eat into my day …’

The line ‘The child is the mother of the woman’ became a theme developed by two artists in the exhibition. Joan Key juxtaposed two large ‘imagined’ portraits of a girl in pink and a boy in green, contrasting the positive assertion the boy is the father of the man to that of the girl as mother to the woman. This was emphasised formally by the solid modelling of the small boy in contrast to the indefiniteness of the girl, where a line around her face appeared to demarcate the prescribed space in which she had been given to grow. In Patsy Hans’ photo-text piece, The Child is the Mother of the Woman, photos of herself as a child, head in hands, and as a teenager, were juxtaposed with one of her mother in a Jackie Kennedy-style outfit. The text discussing her feelings as a child and towards her mother, concluded: ‘Now I am 30 … but I still know the feelings I had when I was this child–with some new fears and worries to go with the old ones’.

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Viewing of these works also raised the important question, not just of identities, but also of identification(s) between what was represented and those who looked upon it. Implicit in the understanding of some works was an identification between the artist and/or subject and a woman audience; the preference of some artists for a woman-only audience space within the exhibition orchestrated this kind of viewing deliberately. Here, in Tyra Till’s Stretchmarks of Motherhood, the explicit painting of the breast was overlaid by writing across the stretchmarks of the oughts, musts, and shoulds of trying to be the good mother.

In the documentation of the Triangle Women Artists mural at The Poplar Centre and the embroidered and appliqued tapestry of the Island History Trust, part of which was on display, the collective participation of women in the political and social struggles of the East End were represented. Both of these collective projects addressed the historical participation of women in the dockers’ strikes, agitation for the vote, rent strikes, and life in the East End in peace and war.

It was remarkable how few works addressed themselves to contemporary political issues concerning Docklands or the East End, although many works touched upon broadly feminist concerns, like women’s role in war/peace (Clare Newton). The single exception to this was Jean Fraser’s photographs, Are there any in Tower Hamlets? Lesbian Stereotypes on Location, framed as a protest to the kinds of images and projects that would be suppressed under Clause 29. Was it only because lesbian identities are under attack politically that I saw this as the only work making political, personal identities? Or was it that, although this exhibition as a whole affirmed women’s creative endeavours, identity was most commonly conceived as personal, individual, and subjective? Or is this observation a reflection of two predominant strands within the cultural aspects of the women’s movement, firstly of the desire to validate, often uncritically, women’s personal experiences within a feminist perspective, and secondly, the concentration in feminism on the psychic construction of femininity, rather than the political?

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29TH BIENAL DE SAO PAULO

The Sao Paulo biennale invents itself anew every two years while reinventing its relation to Brazilian art in particular and to the international contemporary art world in general, from which it is perceived to be isolated geographically. The 29th Bienal was no exception. Following Lisette Lagnado’s 2006 version, which abolished national representation, and Ivo Mesquita’s puritanical 2008 version, which put the very idea of a biennale under suspension, leaving one whole floor of Oscar Niemeyer’s iconic 30,000-square-metre pavilion theatrically empty, current curators Agnaldo Farias and Moacir dos Anjos responded with a surfeit; it took us five days to cover its 159 artists.

From the outset, there seemed to be a problem with the curators announcing that the theme was the “inseparability” of art and politics, which contradicted the biennale’s poetic title, There’s Always a Cup of Sea to Sail In. The continual recursion to poetics, rather than articulating what the curators really meant by politics, was an ongoing ambiguity. (And instead of explaining the relationship, the curators simply referred readers through a footnote to Ranciere’s essay “Politics of Aesthetics”!) In part, this recursion stemmed from the curators’ belief that the “Utopian dimension of art is contained within art itself, not outside or beyond it.” That they believed it possible–and political–to rethink the world through the senses (art’s privileged domain) seemed at odds with their simultaneous belief that the Bienal was an exercise of politics and not merely its contemplation.

Initially, one might be justified in thinking that this sense of the political merely was aligning itself with the art-world trends of relational aesthetics and contemporary participatory art (i.e., European practices). Works of the late Lygia Pape and Helio Oiticica, of course, appeared here to assert Brazilian priority, but the curators extended this generational legacy to recover other participatory practices of the 60s from Sweden (Palle Nielsen), Venezuela (Jacobo Borges), Argentina (Marta Minujin) and Japan (High Red Center).

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Following these leads, the “organizing principle” of the inseparability of art and politics extended into the overall installation itself. Six thematic paths were suggested, punctuated by artist/architect-designed resting points labelled Terreiros, “spaces reminiscent of the squares, patios, terraces, temples, yards, and outdoor and indoor spaces in which people the length and breadth of Brazil congregate to dance, fight, sing, muck about, touch, cry, chat, play games, or engage in the rituals of the nation’s hybrid religiosity.” There was not much mucking about during the opening week, though. But architecture was one of the main elements of the Bienal, with the overall exhibition design obliterating Niemeyer’s pavilion that Mesquita had exposed earlier.

At first overwhelming, these eccentrically shaped rooms created oblique “streets” that one eventually navigated following one’s own signposts. Of course, the curators mixed metaphors by calling individual rooms “islands [in an] archipelago.” Indeed, Niemeyer’s pavilion itself became “a gigantic vessel anchored in Ibirapuera Park, a ship that, paradoxically, contains within itself a sea.” Hence, the icon (or motif) of a directionless compass also symbolized our passages through this biennale. In the end, we chose our own routes and discovered our own themes, whether or not they had been placed there by the curators with the assistance of their international team (Chus Martinez, Fernando Alvim, Rina Carvajal, Sarat Maharaj, and Yuko Hasegawa). What follows are only a few.

Each Sao Paulo Bienal grounds itself in a different set of historical precursors, both international and Brazilian, while sometimes recovering obscured groups–such as Sao Paulo’s Grupo Rex this time–and, in the process, highlights not just individuals but also collective vanguard practices. It also extends to include the crucial ongoing recovery of conceptualizing practices from Latin America’s period of dictatorship during the 60s and 70s–which involved groups such as Colectivo Acciones de Arte (CADA), from Chile; Grupos de Artistas de Vanguardia, from Argentina; and individuals such as Antonio Manuel, Anna Maria Maiolino, and Helio Oiticica. In this respect, communal performances, such as Lygia Pape’s 1968 Divisor (remade for the Bienal), can be seen to be political actions in their time. (However, the curatorial linkage of these artists to Germany during the period of the Red Army Faction was less persuasive.)

Given the Bienal’s emphasis on participation, we knew to expect new linkages between past and present, and also found them in the theme of artist-as-participant from the late 70s, a practice that included Miguel Rio Branco, in Rio de Janeiro; Miguel Angel Rojas, in Bogota; and Nan Goldin, in New York. Today, the artist acts more as facilitator. Here, pedagogy was expressed by Jeremy Deller and Grizedale Arts’ updating of John Ruskin’s Mechanics Institute, but they reversed its top down hierarchy from originally educating workers to giving urban youth an experience of nature. Seniors were given their own Utopian space through Ana Gallardo’s Dance School, in which an elderly couple, who teach others their age every week in a Mexico City market, charmingly brought their dance lessons to the Bienal. The notion of exchange was enacted in Antonio Vega Macotela’s Time Divisa, in which prisoners held at Mexico City’s Santa Marca Acotila jail made fascinatingly diverse mappings of prison life in exchange for wishes of theirs being carried out by the artist in the outside world.

Brazilian modernism has always had a privileged relation to anthropology, but anthropology by artists is usually non-traditional in documenting some form of marginalized or overlooked urban life (such as Carlos Vergara’s documentation of aspects of Rio’s carnival) and by using its methods to create fictions. Beginning in the 30s, the work of the artist, architect and flamboyant provocateur Flavio de Carvallo was the precursor to anthropology as fictional performance, as well as a substitution of Brazilian experience for European modernity. And Jimmie Durham’s Bureau for Research into Brazilian Normality put on ethnographic display a collection scavenged from the commercial detritus of the city–in the process adducing an underlying racism to Sao Paulo life. Maria Thereza Alves had a 19th-century German-Kre-nak dictionary translated into Portuguese, which after its use in the Bienal was to be given to Brazil’s indigenous Krenak people, now reduced to just a few hundred members (smaller than the book’s print run).
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Still other themes could be derived from the names of the individual Terreiros: “Far Away, Right Here”; “I am the Street”; “Remembrance and Oblivion”; “Said, Unsaid, Not to be Said”; “The Other, The Same”; and “The Skin of the Invisible.”

So, in spite of itself, we could make this Bienal into a political exhibition in the weak sense; however, we recognize that the political effects of this biennale are registered in other ways, which are mainly invisible to international visitors. Perhaps a demand for the restitution of the Bienal’s financial security following problems with corruption and budget cutbacks, a very large percentage of this year’s budget was devoted to education–this in a country, with its legacy of Paulo Freire, where education is a political matter. In any case, a staggering 35,000 educators were trained to bring the Bienal to the rest of the country, and 400,000 students were expected to tour the pavilion, led by student interns trained as tour guides.

Finally, what lessons can we, as Canadians, take when there were no Canadian artists exhibited? The curators placed less emphasis on Europe and the United States (and many of the latter are of South American origin), instead looking more to Latin America and Africa–in effect, making Brazil less geographically isolated by paying attention to its own context. Overlooked here by our too intimate association with the United States, Canadians hoping to create their own biennale in Toronto may want to follow the example of Brazil articulating its relation to the world by paying attention to itself first.

Emelie Chhangur is an artist and the Assistant Director/Curator at the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU), in Toronto. Philip Monk is a writer and the Director of the AGYU.