Digital Compassion: The Body Electric Retrospective
Our new virtual conference reality inspired us to do a retrospective of the first six years of The Body Electric (TBE), instead of mounting a new show amidst such uncertain times. This urge to look back could be understood as a kind of nostalgia, a bittersweet emotion that is often a tonic for anxiety and loneliness, except a longing to return home (nostos) sits oddly amidst a pandemic which has too many of us ‘socially distanced’ and isolating in our homes. More importantly, TBE has always aimed to be about laying bare ‘things as they were’ in medicine and health care, and about challenging and disrupting. More fitting then, perhaps, to think of nostalgia, after the literary critic Svetlana Boym, as a nostalgia for the future. Our longing during these times for a return to normal can be directed towards the future that we imagine for health care.
Each year of TBE we have asked artists to respond to a theme related to the theme for that year’s International Conference on Residency Education (ICRE). Through these themes artists, many of whom are health providers or patients also, can unsettle or expand our understanding of medicine, health, and the body. TBE themes have included:
- 2014 (Toronto) – Technology and medicine
- 2015 (Vancouver) – Wonder, discovery and transformation
- 2016 (Niagara Falls) – Care and caring
- 2017 (Quebec City) – Change and social action
- 2018 (Halifax) – The environment/ healthcare environments
- 2019 (Ottawa) – Diversity(ies)
An overarching theme that has emerged so powerfully for us as we look back at TBE is compassion. As much as the artists, health providers, and patients who have created the works shown in TBE over the last six years have been provocative and insightful, they have each brought deep compassion to their work and their subjects.
This compassion feels so essential at the moment. Because TBE has always been a digital show, the show’s digital forms of compassion also feel especially relevant to our current virtual social moment. This show will unfold across the next eight months of the ICRE virtual 2020 conference. Each month we will select three artists who have been part of TBE, interview them, and showcase their work. These will be exhibited virtually by the Royal Collage as part of ICRE, and will also be posted to our website over the coming months.
The first three featured artists are Lorène Bourgeois, Tia M. Cavanagh, and Jenny Chen.
Bourgeois’s drawings “Dorsal Root,” “Profoundeurs,” and “High Ground” are each an intimate
study of humans and animals, and humans as animals. According to Bourgeois, this careful act of
drawing and rendering is compassionate:
With my own art compassion matters….to find a point of entry, to the
person, the culture, the human being. I have to be very close to them just
to make art…as you draw, marking and erasing that is what allows me to
get close to my subject, to feel…
Tia M. Cavanagh brings exquisite compassion to the experience of her grandmother is
residential school, through her installation, “An exploration in identity: In honor of my Nokimos.”
To make the pieces, Cavanagh learned dressmaking to understand something of her
grandmother’s experiences in residential school, where she had learned to be a seamstress. This
embodied attempt at knowing and representing is a method that Cavanagh has used in much of
her art. She often uses fabric and texture as a way in to experience where language can fail – her
“own kind of journey in terms of [her] body.”
Jenny Chen’s pieces from two TBE shows, her paintings “Vessels” and “Pillow Talk,” are a
consideration of the connections between body and mind, and of the less tangible spiritual
realm. Chen explicitly things about the viewer. In addition to wanting to represent her own
experience, she hopes that her work “inspire[es] other people to express themselves.”
Compassion – being with the suffering of others – has an active quality. These artists
enact compassion, a compassion that can be felt across digital divides, allowing us to witness, to
be with, and to be together. Virtual space becomes what Simone Weil would call a metaxu, that
which both separates and connects. This connecting distance in TBE brings us art that not only
challenges us, but calls to our compassion. Artists are also “essential workers” of this pandemic.
Born in France, Lorène Bourgeois studied in Paris, Philadelphia (Fulbright scholar) and Halifax (NSCAD University MFA). She lives in Toronto and has exhibited widely in Canada as well in France, Korea, Russia and the United States. Her works are collected by the Canada Council Art Bank, Banff Centre, Department of Foreign Affairs, National Bank of Canada, Richmond Hill Public Library, MOCA Toronto, Ernst and Young, Senvest, Medicine Hat College, University of Toronto (Hart House and Donovan Collections.)
Visit artist website at www.lorenebourgeois.com
As an Anishinaabekwe, my work is connected to culture and activism. I question, re-appropriate, create narrative and assert justice while using various materials to convey message, the materials are intrinsic to the story. This work welcomes all Canadians to fill the void and honour all roles and responsibilities in Truth and Reconciliation.
Cavanagh is a multi-disciplinary artist with her BFA from OCAD University and currently enrolled in Trent University for her Masters in Canadian and Indigenous Studies. Currently doing artistic workshops in Indigenous communities for survivors of violence and workshops for LGBTQ-Two Spirit Youth.
Jenny Chen is a multimedia artist who currently works in watercolor, pen and clay. Her work uses symbols to create otherworldly environments while considering themes of existentialism and spirituality. Her exhibition history includes the Living Arts Centre (group), Toronto Media Arts Centre (group) and United Contemporary (solo). She is a grant recipient from the Ontario Arts Council.
Talysha Bujold-Abu (she/her) is an artist, illustrator, researcher, and arts educator. She holds a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) from the University of Windsor (2018) and is recipient of the Outstanding Graduate Student Research Award – Excellence in Scholarship, Research and Creative Activity (2018). Residencies include: New Zealand Pacific Studio (2016), ArtsPond artist in residence (2020) and the Pelee Quarry – Stone & Sky Artists Residency (2020).
Bujold-Abu has spoken and exhibited at the Intersections | Cross Sections Conference in Toronto, ON (2018), and participated in the Structures of Anticipation Research Symposium and Exhibition in Windsor, ON (2019). Recent panels include: Reclaiming Hidden Histories: Researching, Writing, and Re-Imagining Community Narratives in Windsor, ON (2019) and the International Women’s Day: Artists Panel Discussion in Windsor, ON (2020) and the Black Creators Series/Discussion with the Art Gallery or Windsor (2020).
Selected exhibitions include: Art is a Living Thing in Masterton NZ (2017), The Truth Has Legs in Leamington ON (2019), and The Body Electric – Diversity in Residency Education: Training in a World of Differences, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (RCPSC) Ottawa ON (2019).
Talysha Bujold-Abu is currently the Gallery Manager & Membership Coordinator with Arts Council Windsor & Region, a non-profit organization that programs and supports all disciplines of the creative arts.
Martin Godin’s practice draws upon his background growing up in a small mining community in Northern Ontario—where the physicality of manual labour and working class expectations of masculine identity and sexuality were formative to his self-awareness as an artist. Martin’s painting process reflects his ongoing research into the use of extracted and disposed slag rock as an artistic medium.
Martin Godin’s artwork has been exhibited across Canada, and will be featured in the upcoming exhibition Emergent at the Ottawa Art Gallery in January 2021. Martin is a recent MFA graduate from the University of Ottawa, where he received the Charles Gagnon Scholarship and worked as a Teaching Assistant concurrent with his studies. Martin completed a BFA with Distinction from OCAD University in 2015.
How do we carry movement, and hold it in our bodies? How do we wear our past displacements? How is transience embodied over time? Beyond the negative health implications, what can we learn from the hyper-mobile? This skirt was my personal contribution to a community arts-based research project I coordinated for my MA at York University. My thesis explores the embodiment of transience created by moving around in multiple foster and group home placements as a child. Research illustrates that up to 60% of young people living on streets in Canada have had involvement with the child welfare system prior to homelessness. This skirt is what I wore everyday on the streets.The sheer wear and tear of street life embodies transience, travel, and social exclusion in a powerful way.
Amelia Merhar is an artist, researcher and student who lives in Whitehorse and Toronto. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Waterloo.
Visit artist website at www.ameliamerhar.ca
Darian G. Stahl
My research-creation project focuses on how a fine art recontextualization of internal medical scans can positively impact a patient’s sense of identity and agency. I create this work in an intimate collaborative practice with my sister, who is an Asst. Professor of Medical Ethics and has multiple sclerosis. Together we advocate for a more empathetic and holistic healthcare education through the inclusion of the Humanities in medical schools.
Darian Goldin Stahl is a Printmaker and Bookmaker currently residing in Canada. She is a PhD student in Humanities at Concordia University in Montreal, and was recently awarded Canada’s prestigious Vanier Graduate Scholarship for her research potential. Darian received her MFA in Printmaking from the University of Alberta in 2015, and her BFA in Printmaking at Indiana University Bloomington in 2011.
In this work, the HIV capsid protein structure which protects the RNA of the virus and delivers it to the cells when it infects the host is 3D printed in red to convey the alarming situation of those living with the virus and those yet to be infected. It is then allegorically positioned on a king chair to raise awareness on how the fear of contamination is ever-present in our daily lives. Ultimately, the answer both to slowing down the spread of the virus and to help those struggling, lies within education both on the social level and within the healthcare environment.
Mona Hedayati is an Iranian interdisciplinary artist who immigrated to Canada in 2014 and has exhibited in Iran, Europe and Canada. In her recent body of work, she explores the systems of power and questions the notion of gaze and sociopolitical circumstances under which certain groups are subject to surveillance, HIV infection being one of them. Since the discovery, the basic rights of those living with the virus have been breached on an ongoing basis and despite global education programs, the discrimination has not been neutralized.
Lia Pas is a Saskatoon-based multidisciplinary artist who works in image, text, and sound exploring body and states of being. She focused on performance-based work until 2015 when she became disabled with a chronic illness and now her main practice is in fibre arts.
Iva Dulanovic is a Toronto based artist working across several different mediums but has recently focused and taken a passion in working with watercolors. She is a 2015 graduate from the Ontario College of Art and Design University where she was awarded the medal for outstanding creation of her work titled “Anicca” in the Material Art & Design program. She continues to be inspired by the Buddhist culture and the idea of impermanence within not only her life but also her artwork. She continues to practice her artwork while working professionally in the marketing and production industry. She is very grateful to have her passion for art as a channel for expression, especially during this pandemic.
Rose Adams (RCA) has been investigating memory and the brain in her art since 2004. She teaches at NSCAD University. Her 25-year retrospective, “BIRDS, BONES AND BRAINS” was held at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery in 2014. She is represented by Secord Gallery in Halifax.
Jack Butler – “The Red Steps: Love and a Fear of Heights”
Exhibited internationally, Jack Butler’s hybrid practice uses the means and methods of visual art to produce research in three domains: medical science, collaborations with Inuit artists, and a life-long studio practice at the intersection of art, science and cultural difference.
We thank all of the artists who have participated in TBE over the last six years, and who
through their own acts of community and compassion have made TBE. The incredibly talented
jury members who lent us their expertise also demonstrated sensitivity, dedication to the vision
of TBE, and compassion: thank you Andrea Charise, Carol Ann Courneya, Max Montalvo, Sara
Roque, and Stephen Tulk. Bryn Ludlow, Sara Armata, Erin MacIndoe Sproule, and Sara Wilde
have provided exemplary support, including assisting with curation, design, and editing. Thank
you to Associated Medical Services for several years of grants. We also thank the Royal College
of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada who have created the space for TBE and have supported
Allison Crawford, MD, PhD and Lisa Richardson, MD, MA
University of Toronto
Co-curators, The Body Electric