Crossing the Line: on Difficult Images
28 February 2013
What is too much for an image to bear and for viewers to bear in turn? Crossing the Line addresses issues of difficult knowledge, difficult histories, and difficult images in a free, public one-day symposium held at York University February 28, 2013. The symposium is in conjunction with the AGYU exhibition Deanna Bowen: Invisible Empires, which looks at the role that the Ku Klux Klan played during the Civil Rights struggles in the United States and its century-long history in Canada.

The format was a series of individual presentations and open discussion. Speakers included: Deanna Bowen, Steven Loft, Philip Monk, Kim Simon, and Shawn Michelle Smith.


Deanna Bowen: Deanna Bowen is a descendant of the Alabama and Kentucky born Black Prairie pioneers of Amber Valley and Campsie, Alberta. She is a Toronto based interdisciplinary artist whose work has been exhibited internationally in numerous film festivals and galleries. She has received several grants in support of her artistic practice. Current works have been shown at the Images Festival of Film, Video & New Media, the Art Gallery of Peterborough, and the Art Gallery of York University. Her commissioned eighteen minute performed oral history sum of the parts: what can be named has shown at the Kassel Documentary Film & Video Festival, the Oberhausen Film Festival, and the Nasher Museum of Contemporary Art at Duke University. “A project in mapping African diasporic movement and a genealogical investigation in equal measure, my autobiographical, process-driven interdisciplinary practice is concerned with the document and the act of witnessing. My practice revolves around the research and creation of conceptually rooted works that draw upon interrogations of personal and community based genealogical research, local and international ‘domestic’ histories, American slavery, Migration and Diaspora studies, Trauma theory and corollary discussions of memory and testimony, Southern Gothic Literature, and contemporary debates about political/personal art production. My works are informed by theories related to the aestheticization of the ‘unspeakable’ as they contribute to my efforts to reconstitute the self/collective by artistically ‘working through’ familial and community silences.”

Steven Loft is a Mohawk of the Six Nations with Jewish heritage. He is a curator, scholar, writer and media artist. In 2010, he was named Trudeau National Visiting Fellow at Ryerson University in Toronto, and Scholar in Residence at the new Ryerson Image Centre, where he is continuing his research into Indigenous art and aesthetics. Formerly, he was Curator-In-Residence, Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada. Previous to that, he was the Director/Curator of the Urban Shaman Gallery (Winnipeg), Aboriginal Curator at the Art Gallery of Hamilton and Artistic Director of the Native Indian/Inuit Photographers’ Association. He has curated group and solo exhibitions across Canada and internationally and has written extensively on Indigenous art and aesthetics for various magazines, catalogues and arts publications and lectured widely in Canada and internationally. Loft co-edited Transference, Technology, Tradition: Aboriginal Media and New Media Art, published by the Banff Centre Press in 2005 and is the editor of the upcoming volume Coded Territories: Indigenous Pathways in New Media. This book of essays by artists, curators, and scholars frames the landscape of contemporary Aboriginal new media art, the influence of Western criticism and standards, the development of a distinct Indigenous art history and the liberating advent of inexpensive technologies including video and online media.

Philip Monk is Director of the Art Gallery of York University in Toronto. Previously he was curator at The Power Plant (1994 – 2003) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (1985 – 1993). Between 1977 and 1984, he was a writer and free-lance curator. As well as many catalogues, articles, essays, and reviews, he has published the books: Struggles with the Image: Essays in Art Criticism (1988); Double-Cross: The Hollywood Films of Douglas Gordon (2003); Spirit Hunter: The Haunting of American Culture by Myths of Violence (2005); Stan Douglas: Discordant Absences (2006); Disassembling the Archive: Fiona Tan (2007); while I have lying here perfectly still: The Saskia Olde Wolbers Files (2009); and Glamour is Theft: A User’s Guide to General Idea (2012). In 2009, he was the inaugural recipient of the Ontario Association of Art Galleries Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2011 he received the Hnatyshyn Award for Curatorial Excellence.

Kim Simon has been active as a curator for over 15 years; she is currently curator at Gallery TPW in Toronto. Founded in 1980 as a non-profit venue for photographic practices, TPW is now committed to an expanded media-specific and discursive mandate, addressing the vital role that images play in contemporary culture and exploring the exchange between photography, new technologies and time-based media. For the last few years Simon’s particular curatorial research investigates an ethics of viewing in relation to the aesthetics of troubling images, within the context of pedagogical and journalistic turns in contemporary art.

Shawn Michelle Smith is Associate Professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work focuses on the cultural history of photography in the United States, with special attention to representations of gender and race. She has written several books about photography and visual culture, including American Archives:  Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture (Princeton 1999), Photography on the Color Line:  W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture (Duke 2004), and most recently, At the Edge of Sight:  Photography and the Unseen (forthcoming, Duke). She is also co-author with Dora Apel of Lynching Photographs (California 2007), and co-editor with Maurice Wallace of Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity (Duke 2012).  Smith has published essays in African American Review, Journal of Visual Culture, Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, ELN: English Language Notes, and the Yale Journal of Criticism, among others, and she currently serves on the editorial board of Photography & Culture. She is also a visual artist and her photo-based work has been exhibited in numerous venues across the United States. This year she is a Research Fellow at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Crossing the Line is produced with the assistance of the Ontario Arts Council Investment Fund and the generous support of Partners in Art.

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