Considering that the name “Canada” originated from the Huron word “Kanata,” meaning village, the act of placing a spotlight on this now vast nation is both palpable and untenable. A sharply defined image of a village is within reach, but a clear and accurate depiction of what has become, since Confederation in 1867, the world’s second largest country is impossible to capture in its entirety. The culturally diverse region inhabited by Indigenous peoples for at least 12,000 years is now composed of more than 50 First Nations and 200 ethnicities from across the globe. Shaped over time by settlers, armies, migrants, and refugees, Canada cannot realistically be described or perceived through the means of any singular event.
Cultivated through collaborations with cultural partners across the city, CONTACT 2017 converges on a central point in recognition of Canada’s sesquicentennial. While the Festival rebuffs the scope of a far-reaching survey, the Focus on Canada brings together a formidable progression of primary exhibitions in museum and galleries. From some of the earliest photographs taken in Canada, to recently commissioned photo-based works, these images map the evolution of the medium, and many are shown here for the first time. Our public installations—positioned on streets, billboards, and subway platforms; in civic and historical spaces; or suspended from the façades and interiors of buildings—transform urban environments with photographic imagery that insightfully convey an outstanding sense of place, throughout the city and across the country.
The multifarious projects that comprise this year’s core program are vividly described by the succeeding images and texts. However, it is important to note here the recurring subjects that appear throughout this focus, which speak to how this nation is perceived at the present moment. Naturally, visual records of the harsh reality and pastoral beauty of the Canadian landscape are a continuing theme. Immersive views capture the majesty of a prosperous nation defined by romantic ideas of nature. While some images are meditative reflections on picturesque scenes, others address issues of environmental degradation and echo calls for ecological preservation and renewal.
The photographic road trip is an enduring tradition that continues to evolve and can be experienced in numerous exhibitions this year. Engendering reverence, empathy, and envy, images captured by those that have embarked on widespread journeys uncover multifaceted explorations and unique perspectives on distant regions. In many instances, they reveal the resilience of rural and remote communities in the face of extreme adversity, and the persistence of cultural traditions. They tell stories about people—narratives that speak of national identities, with an acute awareness of place—and transport viewers to locations that for many remain far from reach.
Projects by several Indigenous artists are powerful reminders of Canada’s highly contentious colonial history and offer challenging perspectives on “official” narratives, through both evocative metaphors and documentary evidence. The legacy of colonialism, the painful history of the residential school system, and claims to ancestral territories inform a number of images positioned across Toronto.
The city serves as the subject and the setting for many artists as they frame the sociopolitical concerns of diverse communities, such as the state of its natural resources, the acceleration of its municipal developments, and the transformation of its civic spaces. These various works confront societal conventions, systems of prejudice, and complex constructions of identity, while also chronicling collective events and revealing both turbulent times and tender moments.
Perceptions of this country can also be informed by examining personal histories. Whether through stories that have been preserved, reinvented, or illuminated by narratives portraying shared or anonymous memories, each account invites a new perspective. Many exhibitions address the experience of migration, through both intimate and far-reaching lenses, and draw from photographic archives. They focus on issues pertinent to specific immigrant and diasporic communities, some of which have been here for generations, or examine the theme of mobility more broadly. All of these presentations resonate across time and space, and together create a complex depiction of Canada.
Artistic interventions unfold in locations across the city, merging tradition with innovation. As vestiges from the past inform monuments of the present, CONTACT 2017 embraces a spectrum of physically and conceptually engaged forms of viewing. Inviting interaction with images, and the people that surround them, this expansive range of programming places Canada’s 150th anniversary under the spotlight.