Notes on how to be a human

Emily Shanahan, Bridget Moser, Jon Sasaki, Amalie Atkins

Presented by Walter Phillips Gallery

Bridget Moser, "Kate, Diana, Kate" (2016). C-print, 30 cm x 42 cm. Courtesy the artist

Bridget Moser, "Kate, Diana, Kate" (2016). C-print, 30 cm x 42 cm. Courtesy the artist

Notes on how to be a human
Bridget Moser, Jon Sasaki, Amalie Atkins

A yearlong curatorial project that considers the conundrums, messiness and exquisite strangeness of being a human. 

December 1, 2015 – November 30, 2016
Front Desk, Professional Development Centre 

"Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that I propose to start, and to end, with the question of the human (as if there were any other way for us to start or end!)" 

- Judith Butler, Precarious Life

The question of defining humanness is a perennial one. Shakespeare’s call to parity, “do we not bleed?” and Maslow’s triangular prescriptions for self-actualization illuminate the wild, maybe infinite, variability in possible definitions. Plato’s hierarchy of matter with humans placed loftily atop and Judith Butler’s “tenuous we” that amorphously binds us together in loss through the shared experience of having a necessarily vulnerable body also prod the murky depths of such a question. The exact ways in which we are human have never ceased to beguile philosophers, artists, magicians, writers, scientists, poets and surely innumerable others.

Notes on how to be a human is a yearlong curatorial project that considers the conundrums, messiness and exquisite strangeness of being a human. The program is comprised of a series of silent video works on view in Banff Centre’s Professional Development Centre, each accompanied by a piece of writing commissioned in response to the respective works. From the absurdity of life’s everyday rituals and the inherent pathos of hope, to the sincerity of love and the necessary loneliness of life, these works each oscillate between the profoundly idiosyncratic nature of experience
and the threads of universality that foreground what it means to be human. 

Curated by Natasha Chaykowski, WPG Curatorial Research Practicum

Emily Shanahan

Emily Shanahan, still from “One Hundred Gestures from One Hundred Watch Advertisements (1901-2000)” (2013). Courtesy the artist.

Emily Shanahan, still from “One Hundred Gestures from One Hundred Watch Advertisements (1901-2000)” (2013). Courtesy the artist.

Emily Shanahan (Brooklyn, New York)

One Hundred Gestures from One Hundred Watch Advertisements (1901-2000), 2013
HD digital video, 16:9, colour, silent
5:30 minutes looped

September 1 – November 30, 2016

In One Hundred Gestures from One Hundred Watch Advertisements (1901-2000), hand gestures have been lifted from their original print sources, choreographed in sequence and re-performed. By isolating and de-contextualizing this content, the intention of the advertisements is re-directed, pointing to the mechanisms of labor, seduction and objectification behind their construction. The series of movements disrupts an established timeline; fragments of material and visual culture are arranged not in chronological order, but based on their performative correspondences.

Emily Shanahan is an artist who currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York

The Daily Cycle

Becca Taylor

7:00 a.m. Blistering tones greet me in the morning, fumbling for the off-switch, in a deep desperation to find a quiet stillness to adjust from my hazy-slumber, before the start of the day. The moments as I wake, are met with peaceful thoughts that drift into frantic realizations of the growing to-do list forever waiting. 8:00 a.m. I should get up. 8:25 a.m. I jump out of bed panicked, I am going to be late. 9 a.m. The repetitive acts of the day are already piled up into my calendar. 9:30 a.m. Meeting. 10:30 a.m. Emails. Research. 12:00 p.m. Writing. Nibbling on a carrot stick. 1 p.m. Meeting. 1:45 p.m. Writing. More Research. Deadlines fast approaching. Piling into an unmerciful, catastrophic stack. Recycling itself daily. Consistent interruptions of friendly chatters, asking of my weekend, not understanding the imminent deadlines and lists in front of me—but it’s a welcome respite. 2 p.m. Writing. Reading. 3 p.m. Reading. Writing. Wait, what am I writing? I need a moment to think. To process, to make this all make sense again, a break in time from the daily repeated tasks. Maybe I’ll go hide in the closet, just for a moment. A few minutes, or seconds even, of peaceful s t i l l n e s s, before I start again.

Becca Taylor is Indigenous Research and Administration Practicum at Walter Phillips Gallery.

The Daily Cycle is a text written in response to One Hundred Gestures from One Hundred Watch Advertisements (1901-2000).

Bridget Moser

Bridget Moser, "Kate, Diana, Kate" (2016). C-print, 30 cm x 42 cm. Courtesy the artist

Bridget Moser, "Kate, Diana, Kate" (2016). C-print, 30 cm x 42 cm. Courtesy the artist

Bridget Moser (Toronto, ON)

How Does It Feel, 2016

HD digital video, 16:9, colour, silent

9:34 minutes, looped

June 1 – August 31, 2016

Amid the sterile and ubiquitous neutral tones of a generic hotel room, we see artist Bridget Moser splayed on the floor, dressed entirely in cobalt blue. She cycles through a series of activities alone in the hotel room: the bluish glow of a lightbox illuminates her face as she contemplates the lively snowboarders it depicts; she slowly crawls out from under the covers, lying on the floor as though defeated; she gazes absently at Toronto’s CN tower, as (in stroke of poignant timing) it turns blue; and pulling out the hideaway bed is an unprecedented struggle. Throughout, her impassive eyes ask: tell me, how should I feel?

Bridget Moser is a Toronto-based video and performance artist.

Inside you'll hear a sigh 

Natasha Chaykowski

In the morning waking up, it usually feels strange to be alive—that murky inbetweeness where the timbre of dreams is fading fast and the reality of the day begins to creep into the fissures of consciousness. In the winter, we stage this existential feat in the morning darkness. Put pants onto legs, cold from being extracted from beneath the covers or reluctantly untangled from someone else’s. Press pot. To-do list. Out of toothpaste. Things slowly come into focus and their weight can be felt behind the lids of eyes closed. “You should take vitamin D,” they say. Is it a platitude? I drink it in oil form but nothing much seems to change. Legs perform their duty and walk. Meetings. Bad lunch. Emails to answer. Sometimes they’re nice though. There’s a filter on the window, meant to protect us from the harsh afternoon sunlight. But all it seems to do is make the room unnecessarily blue. Mirrored by the cool glow of our screens. Every so often a glimmer of something magic though. I guess it’s the colour of dreams, a spark in the long blue daze.

Natasha Chaykowski is Curatorial Research Practicum at Walter Phillips Gallery.

Inside you’ll hear a sigh is a text written in response to How Does it Feel.  

Jon Sasaki

Jon Sasaki, still from "Hang In There" (2012). Courtesy the artist

Jon Sasaki, still from "Hang In There" (2012). Courtesy the artist.

Jon Sasaki (Toronto, ON)

Hang In There, 2012
HD digital video, 16:9, colour, silent
2:48 minutes looped

March 1 – May 31, 2016

An iconic inspirational poster from the 1970s—that of the despairing blue-eyed kitten just barely keeping grip on a tree branch—is restaged in this video. Rotated horizontally, the cat struggles valiantly against ambiguous or unknown forces. Although this failure to “hang in there” is never shown on screen, a series of jump cuts implies that the original poster’s claims to feline tenacity were possibly overstated. In this failure, the inherent sadness of thwarted hope is exposed, and inspiration is cast as a mere Band-Aid for the mundane realities of life: the quiet depression of a grey cubicle, the 9 to 5, the groceries, the daily slog. We can’t hang in there forever.

Jon Sasaki is a Toronto-based interdisciplinary artist.

It’s the Little Things
Gabrielle Marceau

At 8:00 every morning, I stop at the same spot on my walk to the subway and look up at the sky. From that point on, my day echoes with a kind of clarity, maybe even joy. At 8:02 this morning I stopped at my spot and looked up to the sky when a black smudge appeared in my peripheral vision. A cat walked past me and disappeared down an alley. The following morning I look up to the sky, inhaling deeply and exhaling sharply when the cat passes by me and disappears down the alley. Every morning that week, the identical Siamese passes with identical gait and trajectory. Suddenly, my work days are muddled with an odd uncertainty and my sleep is full of black blurs in the corner of my eye. On Friday I take a different route but the tabby passes, was she looking at me through her peripheral? “Scram Kitty!” I dig up my childhood slingshot and chase her down the alley. “Here Kitty!” I lose sleep and lose track of days as the calico persists. I dream of green-eyed cats coming in through the window; hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands. In the morning I brush the fur off my pyjamas and lay out a hundred thousand dishes of milk. The cat passes, and this time I wave. I always wanted a pet.

Gabrielle Marceau is a writer and artist living in Toronto.

It's the Little Things is a text commissioned in response to Hang in There.

Amalie Atkins

Amalie Atkins, still from "Embrace" (2012). HD digital video, 16:9, colour, silent. 3:20 mins. Courtesy the artist

Amalie Atkins, still from 'Embrace" (2012). HD digital video, 16:9, colour, silent. 3:20 mins. Courtesy the artist

Amalie Atkins (Saskatoon, SK)

Embrace, 2012
HD digital video, 16:9, colour, silent
3:20 minutes looped

December 1, 2015 – February 29, 2016

Shot in autumn, just outside of Saskatoon, Embrace is a short film of Austrian-Canadian twin sisters who partake in a simple yet symbolic ritual of sisterly devotion. With the seemingly endless prairie horizon—grassy flats that meet a startlingly clear blue sky, fading at its suture to the land—as a backdrop, the film chronicles the sisters as they approach each other from opposite sides of the frame, eventually uniting in an embrace. At times uncertain or awkward, the twins inevitably yield to the comfort they mutually find in one another. There is a certain magic in this unhindered sincerity
of love.

Amalie Atkins is a multidisciplinary artist who lives and works in Saskatoon.

Ourself; Ourselves 

by Isabelle & Sophie Lynch

It began with a division. A cut into reality allows life to trickle everywhere. When the split scarred over, I opened my eyes. Where are the edges? Is there colour outside the lines? I press my head against yours. Your head is soft. Both permeable and opaque. We are surrounded by the colour of pomegranates and eyes after crying. Interlaced together in the womb, we already share a placenta, a mother and a form. We lose ourselves in each other. The roots of our senses of self are still shifting. They fold in and out of each other, but where the roots pierce the soil, we can see two growing stems. Identical to my presence in the world, to myself, and to you, I breathe in the space between us. I experience myself through you, but our oneness is a necessary duality. We speak in we, and hear in I. We move towards each other, and we move each other, but this movement refuses to appropriate difference as sameness. Enduring differences suggest that perhaps, we will never be able to reach the other side. You are the flesh of my flesh, the blood of my blood. We began together, and now, we create a world.

Isabelle and Sophie Lynch are graduate students in Art History at McGill University in Montreal. 

Ourself; Ourselves is a text commissioned in response to Embrace.