Documenting our moments and memories have been happening for centuries. Long before TikTok and Instagram people would create film reels and we chatted about our snaps just like today… the process may have taken longer and sharing them looked a bit different. But we cherish these moments big or small nonetheless. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) opens its latest I AM HERE: Home Movies and Everyday Masterpieces and offers a fresh way to look at the who, what, where, when and even how we have all documented our moments throughout the years. From cave dwellers to everyday people to the famous, this exhibition is an intimate look at our desire to capture, share and hold on to those memories that were important to us.
The exhibition features lost-and-found home movies, photos, objects, along side large and small scale works of art from the AGO collections as well as a few fascinating pieces on loan from other art institutions. It’s brimming with old and new personal records from different eras and places creating a sense of connectivity that couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We were looking for something based on an unusual collection that would allow us to look at our own collection differently and well as exhibition practices,” said Jim Shedden, Manager, Publishing AGO, also involved with the wildly successful Guillermo del Toro exhibition at the AGO.
Throughout the exhibition are works by Rick Prelinger (archivist, filmmaker and guest collaborator). His unique collection of everyday home movies is at the heart of the exhibition and serves as inspiration woven into the various themes throughout the fifth floor space. The curators explained how the themes offer a chance to find those true connections in all aspects of our lives. How does a 17th century painting of food end up showing next to our foodie obsessed images and shares that seem to flood our Instagram feeds?
“In many ways everything can lead to other things,” said Alexa Greist, Associate Curator and R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Prints & Drawings AGO “There are places where food and family and home combine because it’s hard to separate those things. You’ll see these connections as you walk through the exhibition. A lot of the works in this exhibition may look familiar to you but I hope that you will see them in different ways based on what they are paired with.”
What visitors to the exhibition will also find is the bold use of colour throughout the show to help to differentiate the sections. Shedden explains, “each section is named after a pop song and that’s just a whimsical acknowledgment that there maybe wisdom there too.” Sections include We Are Family, My Favourite Things, Life is a Highway, Everyday People, Our House, Fight the Power and Dance to the Music to name just a few.
Some highlights…(and there are many more!)
Our House is about how we document where we live and sometimes it can be idyllic like a soothing Jack Chamber’s painting, but can also be an image of a penitentiary or hospitals. Home can also be symbolic vessels and evoke feelings of comfort and love but can also guilt or even fear. These are all homes. “The show for us feels very warm and heartfelt but we also embraced the difficult side of our living in each of the section,” said Shedden.
In the We Are Family gallery there are large scale works that pull you in. They are about your traditional family and your chosen family. Running through the centre of this particular section are cases filled with photo albums that have been collected not only from one family or country or decade. Half of the side of the table are from an AGO collection spanning North America and Europe from 1911 to 1980s. They show a vast range of experiences from different families and how we save, comment, and treasure them. We wonder how they get passed along and separated from their families. The other side features borrowed albums from the Archives of Modern Conflict which are all from China from about the 1940s to 1980s highlighting the tradition of photo keeping and making of memories in a culture a little further away but reflective of many people that live in Toronto. “To be able to show not just the commonalities but also the differences in the way we all capture our families is important because I think there is joy to be found in our differences as well,” said Greist.
Fight the Power includes protest footage from around the world in the past decade (from 2012 to 2021) including Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, the and Climate Change March. This is a room that’s dedicated to protest from the social media era. Curators explained how they wanted to defamiliarize the material that people would typically consume on their personal hand-held devices. They also wanted to create a space to consider the outside role that social media plays in civil society as well as the place that images of protest occupy in everyday life.
Next to this is a room is dedicated to the works of Arthur Jafa, an artist that many are familiar with. This space is a mash up of YouTube footage that gives a view of black life that has two purposes: to jolt viewers who may have become desensitized to videos of police violence and Black Death and the other is to highlight the resilience of Black communities in the face of oppression. The soundtrack playing in this room is a haunting yet beautiful choral piece by Kanye West.
Dance to the Music is a collection of 88 dance films pulled together by Prelinger along side a few cherished items from the AGO art collections. Here, visitors are invited to explore social dance — it is about what happens in your living room or at a party, not a ballet or formal performances. “Of course we could have populated it with TikTok but one of the points we were coming back as we were developing this exhibition is the long tradition and desire to document ourselves doing things that are not necessarily outstanding but are deeply meaningful,” said Greist. “We started to think about celebrations and desire to document the way we interact. We hope people will come to spend a little more time in this room.” And this we did even during the media preview. There’s a sense of joy and the feeling of emerging from our cocoons in the spring especially as pandemic restrictions have eased that warrant a few happy steps. By the way, stay tuned for the playlists coming to Spotify and the AGO site for pure listening pleasure.
My Favourite Things is dedicated to the things we love — the every day things. From things we fantasize about to grocery lists to our favourite cameras, rock albums to animals, and even shoes. “Fairly early on in the exhibition Jim and I, for some reason, were fixated on shoes and I think that’s partly because in our popular culture we think of the presence of shoes in our social media. Also, the design and the identity we often them align with,” said Greist. “Almost like the presence we see in an empty shoe of the person who wore it. It’s a reminder that every day items can hold powerful memories.”
In the centre of the My Favourite Things gallery space visitors will find a plain brown cardboard box. Along the sides are four large clear cases displaying all that were stored inside this box. These were things collected and compiled by Andy Warhol. He had compiled about 600 of these boxes. Greist explained, “Warhol was an obsessive collector and when he had to suddenly move from his factory he had to pack everything away. He didn’t want to let anything go.” Essentially each of these boxes became time capsules. This will no doubt be a favourite for visitors to this exhibition to take in as a great example of what was happening in a moment in time.
Portraits of Resilience is a beautiful finish to the exhibition. During the deepest part of the pandemic the AGO offered the opportunity for the public to engage creatively with how they were dealing or overcoming the time spent in isolation. Over 3000 entries were received around the globe with everyday people sharing their experiences through art capturing their everyday. There were all ages involved include a 100 year woman in a nursing home. This collective body of work features 100 of the works are shown on the walls as chosen by the curators. Then, there’s also a five and half hour video that shows all the images submitted. There is a QR code that can link to the online exhibition so you can view the entire collection if you’ve found you run out of time.
Carved within the wall of the Portraits of Resilience gallery is Panorama — a curated immersive three-screen installation by Rick Prelinger. It features things that people have sought, documented, produced and preserved. “It cuts out of my interest as a filmmaker and it’s about the images that flood out of daily life and out of your phone every second,” said Prelinger. “When you take some of them and put them on a big wall the audience begins to observe them rather differently. We build narratives through works of art. This is my attempt, in a way, to understand what home movies are all about. It’s this amazing medium that is on one hand very pure evidence that doesn’t get recorded elsewhere. It’s also deeply enigmatic. It’s also an attempt to show how different things co-exist without losing their individuality.” The music that is heard in Panorama are familiar songs that have been recorded by various Canadian musicians. They had the musicians directly record them into their iPhones and they were told not to rehearse ahead of time and submit what they had. “Pandemic aesthetics all the way!” said Prelinger.
I AM HOME is now open at the Art Gallery of Ontario. For more information visit www.ago.net.