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Artist-in-Residence Program Turns 10

We take a look back at artists in residence at the AGO ten years on. Proposals for the 2021 AGO X RBC Artist-in-Residence Program being accepted until March 10.  

Zun Lee. Boy standing in parking lot with red sweater wrapped on his head

Assembled by Zun Lee. [Boy standing in parking lot with red sweater wrapped on his head], 1960s-1990s. Colour instant print [Polaroid SX-70], 10.8 x 8.8 cm. Fade Resistance Collection. Purchase, with funds donated by Martha LA McCain, 2018. © Art Gallery of Ontario 2018/781


2021 marks the tenth year of artist residencies at the AGO. Established in 2011 with multidisciplinary artist Paul Butler as the first artist in residence, it was the first program of its scope at a major Canadian art museum. Cementing a partnership that began in 2015 with former artist in residence Lisa Myers, it continues to be generously supported by Signature Partner, RBC. From Jérôme Havre to Public Studio to Alicia Nauta, RBC has since gone on to fund several residencies at the AGO. Proposals for the 2021 AGO X RBC Artist-in-Residence program are being accepted until March 10, 2021. 

The years have passed and the purpose of this program has remained multifaceted. Artists are provided with the opportunity to allocate the time and space to dive deeper into their practice at the AGO’s Anne Lind Artist-in-Residence Studio. Visitors are offered a closer glimpse into the inner workings of the artistic process with programming, events and workshops. The program itself amplifies contributions to contemporary art at the local and international levels.

The full list of former artists in residence can be found here. For each of the four artists highlighted below, their residency bookmarked an important point in their careers, positioning them to move forward into a new chapter. They have continued to exhibit their artwork in Canada, having garnered increased publicity and name recognition. Here’s to another ten years!

Selected as artist in residence for fall 2019 to winter 2020, Ness Lee is a multimedia artist working in illustration, ceramics, painting and installation. Lee’s artwork playfully centres on notions of intimacy, vulnerability, identity formation and self-love. To culminate their artist residency in February 2020 and coinciding with the Gallery’s Family Day programming, Lee was commissioned by the AGO to create a participatory installation titled We Have Together. Engaging for both children and adults alike, this installation was housed in Walker Court. Lee shared more about the inspiration behind their work and their time as artist in residence in this video.

Lee also has a forthcoming mural project in collaboration with the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU), TBLGAY (Trans Bisexual Lesbian Gay Asexual at York), and the York Federation of Students (YFS). Learn more about Lee’s murals and public artwork in this recent AGOinsider story.

Zun Lee is an award-winning photographer, physician and educator, based in Toronto and the United States. Selected as the artist in residence for fall 2017 to winter 2018, his photo-based work explores everyday life, filtered through the Black experience. Later in 2018, the AGO acquired Fade Resistance, a collection of found Polaroids capturing snapshots of African-American life from the 1970s into the early 2000s (image above). Assembled by Lee, he describes these photos as “a testament to Black visual self-representation”, noting that they subvert dominant (often negative) narratives surrounding Black identities and culture. Select photographs from Fade Resistance will be on view in an upcoming AGO exhibition curated by Sophie Hackett, Curator of Photography. Read more about Lee’s work in his own words on the AGOinsider

EMILIA-AMALIA is an exploratory working group operating under an intersectional, intergenerational feminist framework. Comprised of multidisciplinary artists, curators, practitioners, writers, editors and educators known in the Canadian art scene, the group completed their residency at the AGO in the summer of 2017. At the time, their roster included Cecilia Berkovic, Yaniya Lee, Annie MacDonell, Gabrielle Moser, Zinnia Naqvi, Leila Timmins, and cheyanne turions. Shellie Zhang and Joy Xiang have since joined the group. Broadly speaking, EMILIA-AMALIA investigates the complex narratives surrounding feminist art and contemporary art practices across mediums and modalities.

As Berkovic describes in the video below, EMILIA-AMALIA’s residency presented them with the opportunity to focus on the specifics of their work through the lens of a prominent Canadian art institution. They went on to collaborate with the AGO on a video project exploring concepts of representation within the permanent collection galleries of modern art, in conversation with Kenneth Brummel, Associate Curator of Modern Art. Three emerging artists were also included as “sub residents” during their residency—Camille Rojas, Oreka James and Shellie Zhang (Zhang later having joined the group). Watch as Berkovic, Lee and MacDonnell describe their practice and how they chose to utilize the AGO’s archives.

 In January 2021, the group along with the Edward P. Taylor Library & Archives at the AGO, held the third edition of Artist File Fair. Taking a deliberately inclusive approach, this reoccurring event series specifically asks BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour), women, queer, trans and non-binary artists to contribute the AGO’s collection. 

Walter Scott was artist in residence in fall 2016. An interdisciplinary artist, his work intertwines writing, illustration, performance and sculpture. Scott is perhaps best known for his semi-autobiographical graphic novel series, Wendy, which chronicles the life and misadventures of an aspiring artist named Wendy. In June 2020, Scott was profiled by The New Yorker about the third and latest chapter in Wendy’s messy mishaps, Wendy, Master of Art (2020).

Printed on silk and installed throughout the Gallery, The Red Spills Inside Me is a collection of emotionally raw poems produced by Scott during his residency. These poems thematically revolve around the public and private life of an artist, navigating the ebbs and flows of life. His self-titled exhibition (also in 2016) was hosted by the AGO as part of his residency. Watch below as Scott explains how he approached his artistic process.

Are you an emerging artist interested in participating in the 2021 AGO X RBC Artist-in-Residence program? Proposals are still being accepted for three digital projects to be created over a two-month period. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, March 10, 2021 at 11:59 pm EST. To learn more about the program and the proposal requirements, read here.

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