In this era of instant information, photographic imagery is stimulating unprecedented change in the way we communicate. As the boundaries between art and mainstream media continue to expand and blur, CONTACT 2010: Pervasive Influence gives us an opportunity to critically examine this phenomenon. The festival acknowledges the all-encompassing role photography plays in our lives, and challenges audiences to explore how it informs and transforms our experience of the world.
The writings of Marshall McLuhan, the renowned Canadian media theorist, provide a timely focus for CONTACT’s theme. As with so many of McLuhan’s groundbreaking ideas, his critical insights in relation to photography appear all the more relevant in the age of the Internet and Globalization. The transformation of the way images are created and consumed and the impact of their ubiquity intensifies the enormous influence images have on society.
We are pleased to present three primary exhibitions this year, each of them referencing texts by McLuhan as their framework and their title. The Mechanical Bride at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) looks at the social and cultural affect of images and their emotional and political implications. In a show that is seductive and critically provocative, photo-based works reveal vital connections between mass media, advertising, painting and photography. At the University of Toronto Art Centre, The Brothel Without Walls is an evocative reflection upon McLuhan’s description of photographs as “dreams that money can buy”. From a behindthe-scenes perspective, the exhibition highlights the construction of celebrity and fantasy. Thirty years after his death, McLuhan’s legacy is felt more directly in Through the Vanishing Point at UofT’s McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology. Archival materials are transformed to re-create the experience of McLuhan’s presence in the space, reanimating his spirit and the intensity of the seminars he led there.
A tremendous expansion of CONTACT’s public installations includes site-specific projects at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Brookfield Place, MOCCA, Pearson Airport, The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, and on billboards and subway platforms. McLuhan’s insights concerning the persuasive powers of mass media resonate throughout these works. Appropriating the codes of advertising, the language of consumerism and the force of propaganda, the installations subvert the mediated message in the urban landscape.
The emphasis of CONTACT this year has been guided by a reading of McLuhan and our 32 featured exhibitions at venues throughout Toronto provide a multi-faceted exploration of the festival theme. A wide range of practices reveal the affect of the medium of photography, and the change that it provokes. Whether presenting realist-based or conceptual approaches to image making, all of the artists, including many in our open exhibitions, reflect on the relationship between photography as an art form and its function in mainstream media.
Perhaps after engaging with a number of the exhibitions in CONTACT, the answers to some of the questions central to the festival theme will be exposed: Has the authority of the photograph been enhanced over time? Are the illusions images create now preferable to reality? CONTACT 2010: Pervasive Influence explores the personal and social consequences of photography, in a world devoted to the image.