Fernandes’ Dada Afrika series. DENISE RYNER/PHOTO

To mark 100 years since the birth of Marshall McLuhan, the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery’s fall 2011 exhibition series, How Near is Far, honours the achievements of the great Canadian media theorist by featuring a  number of works that address the  growing permeation of information technology in society. One  particular exhibit, Location/ Dislocation, takes the concept even further, addressing themes like urbanization,  colonialism, and gentrification. Ultimately, the five featured  artists convey a sense of cultural displacement that results from such factors pushing our  information-driven world forward.

Curated by Denise Ryner in collaboration with Barbara Fischer, the director of Barnicke Gallery, Location/Dislocation occupies an atypical exhibition space on the 10th floor of the Jackman Humanities Institute on the St. George campus, yet perfectly captures the essence of bodies or objects dislocated from their expected surroundings. Particularly appropriate to the exhibition is McLuhan’s  famous claim that “the medium is the message”, as the location  actually plays a much more significant role than traditional “white cube” institutions that merely function as a backdrop. Ryner has interspersed the works of Will Kwan, Brendan Fernandes,  Oliver Husain, Jamelie  Hassan, and Karen Tam throughout the office, so that the resulting effect is reminiscent of a scavenger hunt in which the viewer is expected to poke their heads around corners and into seminar rooms. Everything that appears as though it was  randomly placed is in fact what you are intended to see, including the ceramic ornaments of Tam’s  Terra dos chinês in a brightly painted turquoise corner of the office and Fernandes’ Dada  Afrika series, in which tribal masks have been painted on the otherwise bare walls of the  seminar room.

The Medium: How does the theme of Location/Dislocation fit in with your own identity as both a curator and artist?

Denyse Ryner: I was easily able to identify with the JHI’s and the exhibition’s theme of Location/Dislocation as someone living in Toronto, a city that is home to so many different cultures and, like many urban centres, is also undergoing gentrification, where anyone can feel a sense of  displacement whether uncomfortable or pleasant.

As a curator, I drew on my experiences and sought out artists that did the same.

During the planning and installation of this exhibition, the artists were travelling to and from residencies and other  exhibitions or professional  appointments all around the world, so I was constantly in contact with these five artists who were dislocated and orbiting around the world while I was the one in the centre, pulling their work into one space and connecting their ideas to one another.

TM: What advice do you have for aspiring curators? How can students gain experience as they work towards a degree in the arts?

DR: I would say that students should get out to as many art exhibitions, panels, talks, and other events [as] they can so that they’re aware of the artists, curators, and institutions that are currently generating buzz in Toronto and internationally. As well, I would recommend volunteering or interning at an arts organization so that they can experience the way exhibitions are organized in a professional environment, as well as be in contact with artists, arts administrators, and curators. I simply joined the Hart House Art Committee when I began my studies at the University of  Toronto, and that really opened up the local art scene for me.

Denise Ryner is the current  registrar and archivist at Art Metropole, a Toronto-based artist-run centre that collects, publishes, and distributes artist books, editions, multiples, and related ephemera. She is also a curatorial assistant with the Hart House Permanent Collection and serves on the editorial board of Fuse Magazine. Denise majored in fine art history and graduated from U of T with an HBA.

Visit jmbgallery.ca for more information on the current  exhibition series.