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5 Must-See Exhibitions That Migrated Online

These digital projects, screenings and festivals provide a much-needed culture fix for art and design lovers

By Evan Pavka

May is typically one of my favourite months. Not only is it Taurus season, but it also marks the launch of Toronto’s annual Contact Photography Festival, an ongoing, city-wide event that transforms public spaces and local galleries. And while Taurus season doesn’t last, there’s always range of exhibitions to come during the warmer months, this year included.

But as you might expect, things are a little different now, and a number of institutions and festivals have pivoted from IRL to URL. Well, so be it: it just makes them easier to visit. From witty horoscopes and virtual screenings to entirely online curatorial endeavours, here are five local acts that have gone digital.

A view of Elizabeth Zvonar’s Milky Way Smiling on the side of the Westin Harbour Castle Conference Centre.

Contact Photography Festival

Always too big to be contained by one gallery, this year’s Contact Festival likewise exists across several websites. Notable online showings include Performing Lives at Trinity Square Video, which explores the intersections between popular media and everyday life; Dyactic Cycles at Georgia Scherman Projects, a solo exhibition of Canadian artist Spring Hurlburt; and Abundance at Patel Gallery, which features Toronto-based Shellie Zhang’s playful reflection on rituals surrounding fruit. For those enjoying a socially distanced stroll, two public installations, Elizabeth Zvonar’s Milky Way Smiling and Dawit L. Petros’ Untitled (Overlapping and intertwined territories that fall from view III), have been mounted outside the Westin Harbour Castle Conference Centre and The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, respectively.

A still from Jon Rafman’s Shadowbanned.

MOCA Shift Key

Billed as a “rotating platform of moving-image artworks,” MOCA’s Shift Key series has put the works of local and international artists online for a period of two weeks. The show has an impressive pedigree, with past participants including Montreal’s Jon Rafman, Brooklyn-based Sara Cwynar, London’s Shezad Dawood and many others. This year, Yazan Khalili’s meditation on facial recognition software, Hiding Our Faces Like a Dancing Wind, is streaming until May 23. Each upload also includes corresponding educational prompts for parents who want to introduce their kids to art viewing. Still craving more? Visit MOCA at Home for guided tours of recent exhibitions by Shelagh Keeley, Megan Rooney and Carlos Bunga.

A still from Escalators of Pinheiros, one of the five short films featured in Extra at Daniel Faria Gallery.

Extra (five films 1998-2020)

For a much-needed reminder of what awaits us post pandemic, Daniel Faria’s eponymous West End gallery is presenting Extra (five films 1998-2020), an exhibition by the Canada-born, London-based artist and filmmaker Mark Lewis. Featuring five of Lewis’s works compiled into a single 16-minute film, the exhibition engages with the ordinary, everyday uses of public and semi-private spaces, including a crowded transit station, a sprawling estate and others. Also on view, Canadian artist-turned-writer-turned-artist Douglas Coupland’s Slogans for the 21st Century, which brings together a number his sardonic statements in bold, blocky type. Despite being produced over the last eight years, they feel distinctly relevant to our current, troubled moment. Extra will be online until June 30, while Slogans is on until July 31.

Eleventh House

A view of the future is in high demand right now, and Eleventh House, a new digital project hosted by the Koffler Centre of the Arts, aims to provide it – sort of. Featuring four virtual astrological charts, the exhibition is both an exercise in fortune telling and a critique of it. In Meech Boakye and Dainesha Nugent-Palache’s Signed Advice, the pair created a detailed catalogue of recommendations for each sign to banish, repeat, work on, remain vigilant and manifest. Borrowing the visual style of his Wendy comic series, Walter Scott’s Toxic Astrology features a dozen one-panel comics that satirize both astrology and woke culture, while Kindred Trines, featuring illustrations by Emmie Tsumura and words by annieanniewongwong, delves into the lunar zodiac. Perhaps most relatable of all, Meg Prosper’s Heartbreak Horoscopes provides “a poetic personification of the twelve astrological signs breaking up or having their hearts broken.”

The Toronto Outdoor Art Fair in its usual setting.

Toronto Online Art Fair

Since 1961, the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair has taken over Nathan Phillips Square with a near-endless array of emerging artists and creatives, but for its 59th edition, the perennial al-fresco exhibition is moving online. “While we will miss our annual gathering in-person at Nathan Phillips Square,” explains the fair’s executive director, Anahita Azrahimi, “we have swiftly created an opportunity for our juried roster of artists to showcase and sell their works through the TOAF’s website and our vast network.” From July 2 to 12, 2020, the organization will leverage its digital platforms to bring ten days of art, talks, tours and other virtual events to audiences across the city and beyond. Tune in and support the next generation of artists helping define Toronto’s creative community.