Fear and curiosity at the Art Gallery of Mississauga

In art, and in many other facets of life, saying something in a way no one else has said it can result in praise and (the good kind of) notoriety. On the other hand, if critics and public reject the risky offering, it can also be a career-killer. When there is no blueprint to guide you through the response, the fear of the unknown can paralyze an artist and leave them frozen in their habits. Taking chances, though, is the theme of the Art Gallery of Mississauga’s latest exhibition, “Uncanny”, for which the gallery has integrated photography, video, audio, and even social media into its permanent collection.

As the introduction explains, the gallery has had a “moratorium on its permanent collection practice” since 1998. Now, however, they’re looking to reinvigorate the collection by highlighting photography and digital artworks. “Photography has become ubiquitous in our image-driven culture since its invention in the early 19th century,” the introduction states, and it’s clear that gallery embraces the medium’s status as a 21st-century art form. Many of the works in the small display of the gallery’s reimagined permanent collection integrate photography, including Don Ball’s ghostly trio of ambrotypes, titled “In Service”, “Head”, and “Stealing Death”. The ambrotype is a longstanding printing practice in photography where the long exposure of the film allows for extreme detail. The photographs also tend to have an old-fashioned look. Ball’s photos recall a completely different era; one of them eerily depicts a body draped in what looks like a translucent funeral veil.

This gothic-inspired imagery ties in nicely with the “uncanny” idea. Sigmund Freud referred to the concept of the uncanny to describe an emotion made up simultaneously of terror and fascination. The sensation is often linked to gothic literature and art through a sense of the supernatural, and even though the works in the AGM’s exhibition are relatively new, several evoke this classic contradiction of feelings.

The other pieces in the exhibition include Osheen Harruthoonyan’s gelatin prints, which come from a series called “Morphogenesis”. The striking prnts depict a wispy, amorphous figure like moving smoke. Johanna Householder’s video project incorporates video elements (including a performance recorded on Skype), the artist’s homage to Star Wars, and archive footage of Ronald Reagan reacting to the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. Though the exhibition is relatively small, it spans many different media and styles and suggests a promising future for the AGM’s permanent collection.

The other part of the AGM’s exhibition space is devoted to previewing the gallery’s “Roots and Branches” project, which introduces interactive artwork to various branches of the Mississauga Library. The project is helmed by Mississauga artist-in-residence Camille Turner. Each branch houses different pieces that aim to represent the particular community and encourage viewer engagement.

Karen Maze’s “Many Faces, One Portrait” project originated at the Erin Meadows branch. Her goal was to create a portrait of Mississauga, so she photographed over 250 library patrons over six days at the branch and combined the images into an expansive photo collection that brings to mind a patchwork quilt. The crisp black-and-white portraits depict people of all different ages and ethnic backgrounds, and make for a fascinating cross-section of Mississaugans.

Other artistic endeavours in “Roots and Branches” are less blatantly visual, including Immony Men and Maegan Broadhurst’s “From the Mouth of the River” project from the Port Credit branch. They collected responses from Port Credit residents about what their community means to them. From skating on the river to a peaceful fishing excursion at J.C. Saddington Park, each participant brought a unique perspective to a familiar Mississauga community.

The “Uncanny” exhibition and the “Roots and Branches” display both call for new ways not only of producing art, but also of engaging with it as a viewer. Here, new technology is presented as something to embrace, and even seemingly unartistic digital tools like Skype and Google Maps become components of artistic expression. So Instagram addicts rejoice—perhaps it’s only a matter of time before your iPhone snapshots find a place in the art world.

“Uncanny” is on display at the Art Gallery of Mississauga until April 20. “Roots and Branches” will be displayed at various Mississauga Library branches until the same date.

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