New exhibition seeks to define documentary art, and redefine our understanding of both its form and content.
When we hear the word “documentary,” many of us think of stark black-and-white photographs of people in poverty, video footage of civilians struggling in war-torn countries, or perhaps a Hinterland Who’s Who episode on the loon.
Few would readily imagine sculpture, board games, interactive software, or quilts as natural platforms for documentary creation—yet an art exhibition opening tonight aims to expand our understanding of what a documentary can be and the forms that it can take.
Corbin Smith, Ryerson MFA graduate student (and Torontoist photo editor and staff photographer) brings together four international artists with sharply different approaches to documentary art–making in his exhibition Fundamental Requirements of a Documentary Work: A Manifesto.
Building on his research into documentary art past and present, Smith’s exhibition functions as a kind of experiential thesis. In his mixed media installation introducing the exhibition, Smith presents five fundamental characteristics of documentary creation as a series of doors through which the audience travels, emerging into an area dominated by a striking collection of works from Florian Thalhofer (Germany), Keisha Luce (USA), Flavio Trevisan (Canada), and Paula John (Canada) that lead the viewer to consider how each characteristic of documentary is illustrated or demonstrated within each piece.
As befits the subject, all of the artists show considerable technical skill and a gift for compelling detail. Luce confronts the viewer with a set of chilling sculptures derived from body casts of second- and third-generation victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Thalhofer showcases a series of films on subjects of European identity and nationalism, created on the fly through an interactive software framework for a database of thematically tagged filmclips.
Toronto artist Trevisan presents key elements from his larger work, the Museum of the Represented City, which looks at the city’s geography and topography as a series of reliefs and constructions, the highlight of which is a “Game of Urban Renewal” centred on the Regent Park redevelopment project. And finally, John displays a child-sized quilt that she has sewn together from fabric transfers of the medical files related to her institutionalization as a youth diagnosed as manic-depressive.
Donations will be collected during tonight’s opening reception to benefit Habitat For Humanity Mississauga and the participating artists. In addition to the times listed above, after-hour exhibition visits are available by request.