Why You Should Be Going to the Art Gallery of York University (agYU)

Posted by Sam on May 26, 2016

Goings-On around York | The Vari Reel

Pamphlet with words, "20 agYU"


For those of you who don’t know, the 20th Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival is currently taking place all throughout Toronto. Until the end of May (and in some cases beyond that date), photographic exhibitions can be found at all ends of the city, with content catering to a varied audience on just about any topic imaginable.


And wouldn’t you know it, in contributing to the festival, York is currently hosting a photo-based show of its own in the Art Gallery of York University (agYU), located in Accolade East Building. Named What We Lose in Metrics, created by the filmmaker Elle Flanders and the architect Tamira Sawatzly of PUBLIC STUDIO and curated by Emelie Chhangur and Philip Monk, the exhibition provides an in-depth look at, among other topics, our interaction with nature as people, emphasizing a sense 0f oneness in creating/maintaining a sustainable world.


I’m actually writing this just having returned from the gallery. I can’t say I frequent too many art exhibits (something I now intend to change), but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed What We Lose in Metrics. Entering the exhibit, you are greeted by an extended tunnel of complete, oddly disorienting darkness.


Video projection of a forrest on wall. Beside this is a wooden cabin.
PUBLIC STUDIO. Our Occupations a Breath of Wind, 2016


It’s after you pop out of the black hole that the artistry really begins. As pictured above, in the first room we find Our Occupations a Breath of Wind, a wrapping projection of a calm forest setting. It’s a very unsettling feeling . . . . At first it seems like a still image, but the longer you stand there, the more aware you become of the subtle movements taking place all around you.


When you manage to pull yourself from the serenity, you will notice next to this first piece The Darkness between Lives, an ominous-looking wooden cabin supposedly symbolic of granny’s house from Little Red Riding Hood. 


Projection of a black and white video of flowers
PUBLIC STUDIO. The Darkness between Lives, 2016


Inside this cabin a video montage of clips from such films as Apocolypse Now, Rambo, Deliverance, Bambi, Avatar, and Rashomon awaits you, the piece pointing to the forest as “a place of refuge or of ambush, or evil or enchantment — of hunter or hunted.” Sitting there by yourself in the darkness of the cabin, watching these devastating clips and listening to the tense swelling of the accompanying soundtrack, it is certainly entrancing. One of those “I don’t know what I’m feeling right now but there’s definitely something there” moments, like what I imagine a Coldplay concert to be like.


Venturing further, behind granny’s house is I Have Been Her Kind, a recording of the video game The Path being played by Nina Bakan, an undergraduate student in Literature and Critical Theory and Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. The game is a more interactive representation of the path you as a viewer of the exhibit have just taken to get to where you are, following the way to granny’s house, making sure to stay on the path so as to avoid the Wolf. The Wolf, in this case, symbolizes sexual violence.


Large room with plants on the ground and an LED screen in front of them
PUBLIC STUDIO. Everything Is One, 2016


Perhaps the most visually striking piece of the exhibition is Everything Is One. With about three-quarters of the room filled with various types of tree saplings and a giant, multicoloured LED screen illuminating it, the piece means to represent the Bioplan, “a blueprint for all connectivity of life in nature.” Reading the text as it scrolls down the incredibly bright screen, the colours subtly transitioning from bright oranges and pinks to dark and solemn blues and reds, leaves you very, very (though pleasantly) disoriented.


Plotting the walls around the exhibit are various screens depicting footage of different video-game commentaries (footage with someone speaking over it). Over such games as Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed III and The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, an all-female cast of gamers provide the voice-overs, tending to multiple topics all involving the environment in one way or another. The commentaries are often concluded by a poem of the artist’s choice.


Pink walk way with tv screens on walls.


Just going from what I observed and experienced as I traversed What We Lose in Metrics, it’s difficult to put into words what exactly I took away. The show made me think about things that I know exist but that I, like so many others, consciously or subconsciously tend to push from my mind’s eye: environmental degradation, gender (in)equality and sexual violence, just to name a few. The gallery smacks you in the face with these topics in a compressed yet beautiful manner, and you have no choice but to contemplate them.


Long story short, even though I’m not sure what exactly the feeling was, I certainly walked away feeling something. Although everyone should check it out, I felt the show was especially great for people like me who are relatively new to the art-gallery scene, and it has certainly motivated me to explore the rest of what the 20th Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival has to offer. What We Lose in Metrics runs at agYU through June 19; don’t miss it! It is completely free to the public, so get over there and experience them feels.


More images below:



Sam recently graduated with an Honours BA in Communications.

See other posts by Sam

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