The Community is the Gallery: "Three-Thirty" at the Doris McCarthy Gallery and Beyond
While online exhibitions have become the new norm over the past year, there are many exhibitions and media that are not easily transformed for the digital world. Despite this, galleries such as the Doris McCarthy Gallery (DMG) have continued to engage audiences with their in-person offerings without any bodies passing through the gallery space. On October 3rd the DMG opened their first exhibition since their unexpected closure due to COVID-19 in March. Three-Thirty, curated by Scarborough native Anique Jordan, features work by Aaron Jones, Kelly Fyfe-Marshall, and Ebti Nabag. For a few short weeks, visitors were able to visit the exhibition in person before the gallery closed its physical space again to limit the transmission of COVID-19. Elements of the exhibition resisted being transformed into an online format. Kelly Fyfe-Marshall’s three-channel video POWER asks Scarborough community members “what does power look like for you in the midst of this moment of revolution?” The conversation that it presents calls for a three-dimensional interaction with the videos as the viewer is swept into the conversation from multiple directions. Creative curatorial approaches that focused on public art and making the exhibition accessible for, and in fact a part of, the wider Scarborough community, allowed some elements of the exhibition to continue to thrive at a distance.
Kelly Fyfe-Marshall, POWER (still from three-channel video installation), 2020. Image: Toni Hafkenscheid. Source.
As a whole, Three-Thirty focuses on the after-school hour to explore the way that young people assert their authority and more generally, how power is constructed and manipulated in particular spaces. The exhibition is concerned with how individuals influence their environments when they are told that they do not have the power to do so. While the gallery portion of the exhibition is presented at the DMG, Three-Thirty, is also made up of satellite installations at Malvern Public Library and Lester B. Pearson Collegiate which features monumental murals installed on the exterior of each structure. These exterior elements kept the exhibition alive in the COVID-19 era, however, they were not built into the exhibition to help keep us apart, but rather to bring the community together. Aaron Jones, worked with the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection to develop Seeing Knowledge, a series of collages that reflect on alternative models of classifying and building knowledge based in the body and ancestral worlds. The collages were combined to create the 23-foot mural that adorns Malvern Public Library.
Aaron Jones, Seeing Knowledge, 2020. Public installation at the Malvern Public Library. Image: Toni Hafkenscheid. Source.
Ebti Nabag’s photo-murals were developed with students from Lester B. Pearson Collegiate, depicting them smiling, laughing with friends, in their element, and in control of their own images. Two murals are installed on the exterior of Lester B. Pearson Collegiate, and a third at the DMG. The scale of the murals commands the viewer's attention and conveys the agency of the youth, depicting worlds of seriousness and playfulness where they are in control of the present and the future.
Ebti Nabag, Bubble of Youth, 2020. Public installation at Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute. Image: Toni Hafkenscheid. Source. Together, these murals take on the themes of power and agency taken up by Three-Thirty, while also thinking about where power and decision-making lie in particular communities. While DMG exhibitions are free, the external elements of the exhibition extend notions of accessibility, acknowledging that not all groups represented feel welcome or in control in traditional gallery spaces. Taking the work beyond the physical limits of the gallery and placing them at the epicenter of the wider community functions to promote engagement with art from different audiences and brings these themes into discussion in community spaces rather than exclusively in the gallery. The proximity of the installations also facilitates the opportunity for community members to stop and reflect on their neighbourhood as they move among important local landmarks. Jones and Nabag’s murals embody a sense of empowerment, exuding the agency and knowledge of those who are often cast aside. While they promote discussions surrounding power, agency, and place, they implicitly, and maybe even more powerfully, serve as a reminder of the individual agency of each member of the Scarborough community.
Three-Thirty, 2020. Installation view. Image: Toni Hafkenscheid. Source.
Online spaces have provided a platform for museums and galleries to continue sharing information and presenting exhibitions when it has been dangerous to gather inside. While expanding access in some senses, digital spaces have limited others, neatly packaging the world into disconnected 2D realities. Perhaps, thinking about land, exterior spaces, and direct community access are worthy open-air alternatives as COVID-19 persists and as we enter into a post-COVID era of curatorial practice.
Ebti Nabag, I'm Listening, 2020. Public installation at the Doris McCarthy Gallery, UTSC. Source.
For more information about Three-Thirty, and to watch the short documentary about the show click here!