Public: Collective Identity | Occupied Spaces

Baudouin Mouanda, Michael Wolf, Jon Rafman, Bill Sullivan, Barry Frydlender, Cheryl Dunn, Philippe Chancel


This two-venue exhibition, Public: Collective Identity | Occupied Spaces, brings together images from around the world to explore the ways we perform and articulate our identity in public, and the tensions that arise from the occupation of public space. In an age of social media, global urbanization, protest and revolution, photography plays a crucial role in mediating our understanding of socio-political issues and conflicts. From street photography to appropriated web imagery, conflict photojournalism to conceptual projects, the works in this show challenge and redefine our perception of the public sphere.

The artists showing at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art expand the boundaries of street practice and the shifting parameters of public space to make visible unseen aspects of urban existence.

Michael Wolf (b. Germany, based in Paris and Hong-Kong) explores the dense social fabric of the urban landscape and the juxtaposition of public and private space. In Tokyo Compression (2009), his closely framed portraits of Japanese commuters on the notoriously overcrowded Tokyo subway system capture the tensions of city life.

Bill Sullivan (b. United States, based in New York) looks at a related aspect of life in the city, with his series Stop Down (2004). Photographs of elevator passengers in New York City are taken as the doors open and close. Emerging from his engagement with street photography, Sullivan’s situational practice is determined by the action of the elevator rather than by his search for a decisive moment.

Jon Rafman (b. Canada, based in Montréal) examines new forms of virtually represented public spaces, specifically from Google Street View, by mining this publicly available archive for images that speak to modern social life. In The Nine Eyes of Google Street View (2009 –), the artist selects images from the eponymous website that raise issues of surveillance.

Barry Frydlender (b. Israel, based in Tel-Aviv) creates panoramic street scenes that are visual records of contemporary urban experience. Drawing on the Western pictorial tradition, his works investigate the social structures of contemporary life through their artful engagement with everyday existence.

Baudouin Mouanda (b. Democratic Republic of Congo, based in Brazzaville), a member of the photography collective, Generation Elili, looks at urban Congolese society. His series La Sapologie (2008) documents the practices of the “Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elégantes” (Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People). Delestage (2010) and Sur le trottoir du Savoir (2011), explores how the Congolese have reconfigured public space in response to poverty and a lack of reliable infrastructure.

Cheryl Dunn (b. United States, based in New York) documents youth culture by photographing events that bring together thousands of people. In Festivals are Good (1997-2008), she examines the subculture of music festivals, focusing on the audience rather than the public spectacle they attend.

Philippe Chancel (b. France, based in Paris), works at the intersection of art, journalism and documentary. His series Arirang (2006) documents the annual mass games in Pyongyang celebrating the North Korean Workers Party and the birth of Kim Il-sung.

Organized with the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and University of Toronto Art Centre. 

Curated by Matthew Brower, David Liss and Bonnie Rubenstein