High-Brow Pictionary
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High-Brow Pictionary

Janine Marchessault speaks at the Ephemeral Art in the Digital Age public talk on Saturday afternoon. Photo by Tim Kiladze/Torontoist.

Unlike the divisive world of politics, the arts community embraces collaboration. Here in Toronto, it has inspired campaigns like ART ON THE MOVE, and has more recently brought downtown-based Art Metropole and the South Asian Visual Arts Centre (SAVAC) together to create REPLYall, an online visual dialogue.
This experimental conversation takes place between five Canadian artists (Daniel Barrow, Divya Mehra, Lorna Mills, Peter Morin, and Shaan Syed) who are located in five different cities, and who represent different ethnicities and specialize in different media. From its outset, REPLYall did not have a thematic direction and it imposed only two limitations on its participants: first, the artists had to submit one piece a week, for five weeks straight; and second, after the first round of work, the submissions had to be created in response to works from the week prior. To ensure that all five pieces from the past week were engaged, the project coordinators held the artists to a predetermined schedule, allowing them to respond to each of the other participants just once by the project’s end.
The five-week dialogue has now ended and the complete exhibition can be accessed online. Viewed in its entirety, the conversation appears disjointed; as an outsider, you may feel like you aren’t smart or artistic enough to decipher the code, but Lorna Mills, one of the five artists, admitted that she sometimes felt the same way because the participants did not explain the pieces to each other. In effect, she was forced to reply to works that she didn’t fully comprehend. Looking back, she now realizes that this confusion—which is exemplified in Shaan Syed’s final submission—guided the project, as it forced her to operate as both a reader and a creator, roles that artists often do not play contemporaneously.
REPLYall culminated in a public talk titled Ephemeral Art in the Digital Age at Art Metropole on King Street West this past weekend. Janine Marchessault of York University and Gunalan Nadarajan of the Maryland Institute College of Arts both spoke at the event, discussing topics such as ephemerality, globalization, digital communication, and metaphors, and speculated on the meaning of the messages within the REPLYall dialogue, demonstrating that even the most artistic of minds could only hypothesize at best—a comforting thought for those who aren’t artistically inclined. To take a shot at your own interpretation, visit replyall.ca.