Running with Concepts

May 5 - 6, 2012


Michael Fernandes (artist, Nova Scotia College of Art & Design) Peggy Gale (independent curator, Toronto), Sheila Heti (writer, Toronto) and Mark Lanctôt (curator, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal). Moderated by Suzanne Carte (independent curator, New York/Toronto).

*Part-workshop, part-conference, part-crit session, part-masterclass, part pechakucha (but longer), part ignite (but longer still).

Photos from the workshop

How do ideas take form? How does one embark on the process of extracting, editing and distilling an idea into a presentable format? One half of this intensive two day event (May 5–6) will be led by four distinguished guests who will model the process by which they each move from the conceptual to the final stages of a project. They will present the successes and failures of both in-progress and finished work in a series of engaging presentations.

The conference took place on Saturday May 5 & Sunday May 6 (10am to 5pm) at the Blackwood Gallery, Kaneff Centre (UTM).

How to Register

Registration: $40* for both days
Includes snacks, lunch and transport to/from downtown Toronto
*FREE for current U of T students with valid photo ID

To register email:

An Introduction

Running with Concepts was conceived as an adult offshoot of the Blackwood Gallery's summer contemporary art kids camp, Running with Scissors. The camp adamantly states that it is "Not just cut & paste", similarly, this event will "Not just be about how to apply for jobs, grants or graduate school." But what determines the success of any of those endeavors is both the merit of the idea and its articulation. From philosophy to bureaucracy, proposals abound, they constitute the speculative formulations of the future, the sketches of tomorrow. The here and now is the result of past proposals, not only the ones that moved forward, but also the ones diluted by compromise, and even those refused or discarded. Failure looms large in the reality of the present, especially in comparison to the utopic purity of an abstraction loged safely in our mind.

Expositions of the creative process rarely prove to be interesting affairs for they tend to mire the artist in the straightjacketed role of playing a quasi-mystic. The figure of the researcher is a more apt model and the current prevalent antidote to the trappings of paramount expression and interiority which define the quasi-genius. While the research mode is not without its traps, it at least opens the floor to questions whereas the previous paradigm framed the wellspring of creativity as being beyond scrutiny due to its proximity to the divine.

Running with Concepts is a critical forum that has paced the run along a disparate terrain. The realm of concepts is not discipline-specific, it narrows only later when they result in form. This is not to disregard the validity of strategies that reverse the process, where material in-forms the concept. Regardless, For now, the camp fuels its running on inchoate signals from all disciplines. This is part of a more comprehensive art school, not the anachronistic reduction that understands this as comprising only visual art, but an amplified art school, including drama, music, literature, electronic media, performance, sound, kinetics—all of those and more, an arts school. It is especially in the conceptual realm that the discipline distinctions seem presumptuous and premature. In other words, Running with Concepts is an occasion to confuse the disciplines. But, furthermore, this will be a context which will also claim that thinking is a doing. And, since a studio is the preeminent site of a practice of trying (the nexus of an experiential learning avant la lettre) the reverse claim is just as valid: doing is a thinking. The terms are not interchangeable nor indissociable, just ambidextrous corollaries, just twinned sidesteppers, just running partners.

- Christof Migone, Director/Curator of the Blackwood Gallery

About Our Guests

Michael Fernandes

1. Son House to Winehouse
2. Sextet

The above new works are both performed
intended to bring a liveliness to sharing 
a conversational style approach to making work
commentary and exploration in action
thinking and feelings come together in a socially collaborative space
no separation between acting and being 
work and play
for starters to pretend is to be meaningful

Based in Halifax, Michael Fernandes was born in Trinidad. An instructor at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, Fernandes’ art includes mixed media, installation, performance, as well as audio and book works. His work has been exhibited extensively, notably at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Articule (Montreal), Blackwood Gallery (Mississauga), C.I.A.C (Montreal), Dunlop Art Gallery (Regina), Mercer Union (Toronto), The National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), The MAI Centre for the Arts (Montreal), The Power Plant (Toronto), SAW Gallery (Ottawa), P.S.1 (New York), Art Public Calaf (Barcelona), The Context of Art Biennale (Warsaw), Parkhaus (Berlin), Nuit Blanche (Toronto), Eye Level Gallery (Halifax), Mount St Vincent Art Gallery (Halifax), and Confederation Center for the Arts (P.E.I).



Peggy Gale

When I first described myself as an independent curator, responses tended to be skeptical or even amused; real curators work with collections in an institution. They are “keepers” and researchers, not inventors or presenters. However, I am a witness to many changes including the growth and proliferation of an important field of operation, now established internationally and no longer new. Ideas develop and mature in varied ways. Artist, institution, publisher and public all have their rightful demands, and an independent must be expert in many fields. My presentation will centre on defining and elaborating a role for the independent curator and critic in Canada today, with examples from a half-dozen important projects undertaken since the mid-1970s.

Peggy Gale studied art history at the University of Toronto and Università degli Studi (Florence), and has published extensively on time-based works by contemporary artists. She was editor of Video re/View: The (best) Source for Critical Writings on Canadian Artists’ Video (with Lisa Steele, 1996), and Artists Talk 1969-1977, from The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax (2004) among many other titles. An independent curator since the mid-1970s, she organized Tout le temps/Every Time (La Biennale de Montréal, 2000) and is co-curator for Archival Dialogues: Reading the Black Star Collection, inaugurating the Ryerson Image Centre (Toronto) in 2012. With Gregory Burke, she will co-curate the next Biennale de Montréal in May 2013, with the title Looking Forward – (l’avenir). In 2006, Peggy Gale was awarded the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.



Sheila Heti

Q+A: The Art of Asking Questions
A theatrical demonstration on the art and importance of asking questions, the role of curiosity in everyday life, and how that can intersect with one's artmaking.

Sheila Heti lives in Toronto. She works as Interviews Editor at The Believer. She is the author of five books: the short story collection, The Middle Stories (McSweeney’s Books); the novel, Ticknor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); How Should a Person Be? (Henry Holt); and an illustrated book for children, We Need a Horse (McSweeney’s McMullins). With Misha Glouberman, she wrote a book of “conversational philosophy” called The Chairs Are Where the People Go (Faber and Faber), which The New Yorker chose as one of its Best Books of 2011. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, n+1, McSweeney’s, Brick, Geist, Maisonneuve, Bookforum, The Guardian, and other places. In 2001, she created the Trampoline Hall lecture series, at which people deliver lectures on subjects outside their areas of expertise. The New Yorker praised the series for “celebrating eccentricity and do-it-yourself inventiveness.” Her ongoing survey of artists and writers, Aesthetic 999 is available to read or contribute to:



Mark Lanctôt

Working Away at Ways of Working
A presentation on two contrasting curatorial projects currently in development. Each exhibition project engages different, almost opposite methodological models of curating. If both projects are “reactive” (so to speak) in that they were initiated by what can often be best described as “tendencies” that constitute the zeitgeist, then they somehow require different ways of working, different approaches to curating. The first project I will discuss is my research on art practices that stem from an active engagement with the architectural, symbolic, political realities that represent the canonical white cube. The second is a collaborative curatorial project that loosely gravitates around a shared interest in dystopian science fiction, black comedy, altered states, troubled landscapes, and irony, amongst other things. 

Mark Lanctôt is a graduate of the Université de Montréal’s Art History department where he obtained his M.A. in 2002. He’s been a curator at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MACM) since October 2006. There he’s curated solo shows by Yannick Pouliot, Tacita Dean, Marcel Dzama, Runa Islam and Daniel Young & Christian Giroux as well as an exhibition of works from the Musée’s collection entitled …other spaces. He’s co-curated a large retrospective of Canadian abstract artist Claude Tousignant and is once again part of the curatorial team behind the Musée’s Québec Triennial. He’s also coordinated a presentation of Israeli artist Guy Ben Ner’s Treehouse Kit and Canadian photographer Arnaud Magg’s travelling exhibition Nomenclature.



Suzanne Carte is currently pursuing her Masters of Contemporary Art at the Sotheby’s Art Institute in New York. She is also the Assistant Curator (on leave) at the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) where her focus is on an integrative model using exhibition and programming in tandem as an education tool within the academic institution. Previously she held positions as Outreach Programmer for the Blackwood Gallery and the Art Gallery of Mississauga and as Professional Development and Public program Coordinator at the Ontario Association of Art Galleries. She is on the Board of Directors of C Magazine. Suzanne has curated exhibitions in public spaces, artist-run centres, commercial and public art galleries.

About Our Selected Presenters

The following presentations were selected from proposals submitted to the gallery in early March. They feature current graduate students, recent grads, emerging curators, performers and practicing artists presenting projects at various stages of development.


Steph Berntson

Harmonies for Quentin Crisp: “If at First You Don't Succeed, Failure May Be Your Style”
Harmonies for Quentin Crisp cracks open a particularly awkward performance gaffe from my personal history and uses it as a foundation for a 15-minute psychoacoustic-musique concrète event. Examining failure by musicalizing two sets of "fail texts" in counterpoint—snippets of linguistic theory and verbatim records of mechanical failure* in real robotics experiments—this project uses vocoders, Wittgenstein and a bassline of error to make failure productive and even dance-able.

*emphasis will be placed on spectacular examples of the mechanical failure modes: buckling, corrosion, fatigue, fracture, hydrogen embrittlement, impact, stress cracking, thermal shock, wear and yielding.

Steph Berntson makes noise. As a writer/creator, she has penned for FLASHQUIZ, the CBC, DaPoPo, SurfCamp, and Nightwood. Steph has howled as a street urchin for the Canadian Opera Company (9 productions), recorded the theme song for the 1988 Calgary Olympics, and warbled in Life with Mikey (Phoebe Films). She has twice built words for original commissioned plays to Berlin (DaPoPo /Canada Council). Steph has slammed poetry for the CBC, NCRA and the National Wordlympics (CFSW). She has designed soundscapes for The Washing Machine (Next Stage), The Proust Project (Canstage: Ideas and Creation), Alexander Bell (Drama Centre), and Arm's Length (Summerworks). Currently, as Stephbot Bebop, she is co-creating the site-specific The School PROJECT  (FLASHQUIZ/OAC) and the music-theatre events, PlayMachinePlay (PSi) We Beats (Drama Centre) and MusicBox (PSi/SurfCamp). Stephbot is two-thirds through a doctorate in Performance Studies and an enthusiastic member of Performance Studies International


Annie Onyi Cheung

I need you.
I often perform with others in my work. Some projects feature prepped performers, while other projects ask the audience to complete the intended action. Drawing examples from Make a wish! (2007), The Kiss (2008-2011), _scape with 6 and 7 (2009-2010), and Knowhere (2011), I will talk about how needing others motivates my ideas, and how their bodies perform in my practice.

Annie Onyi Cheung is an emerging performance, video and installation artist whose work has been concerned with relational politics, with increasing focus on site and materiality. Her projects have shown most recently at Scotiabank Nuit Blanche (2011 and 2010), Labspace Studio (2011), Subtle Technologies Festival (2011), The Artist Project Toronto (2011), and Doris McCarthy Gallery (2010). In 2007 she co-founded Collective, a collaborative performance group and has been a member of the 7a*11d collective since 2009. Upcoming projects include a curatorial project for Art of the Danforth, a 4-week site-specific art festival, as well as 2 summer workshop events with the Varley Art Gallery. Born in Hong Kong, she currently lives and works in Toronto. 


François Côté

In a space, there is a clock on a wall. In front of that clock, about 7 feet away, there is a frame which is suspended from the ceiling. While looking through the frame you see a motionless clock. Once you pass the threshold of the frame and move closer to the clock it begins to tick. If you so happen to strike a conversation with a fellow viewer, whilst in the space between the frame and the clock, it begins to tick faster.


Sky Fairchild-Waller + Jessica Thalmann

Sexwork(s): Permutations of Explicit Satire and Catharsis
In 2009, we began by creating a sound and image/text-based installation that engaged with the trials of pursuing graduate study in the arts. Prompted by dire socioeconomic conditions inhibiting access to knowledge-based economies, the work emphasized how the pursuit of education can necessitate the acquisition of capital in explicit and degrading ways. Our presentation will examine the dynamics of collaboration, following the inception, execution, evolution and permutation of an idea and its aesthetic and conceptual problems. Using mass mediums as a vehicle for satire and catharsis, the ongoing series entitled Prostitution, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Prostitution 2.0 explores the ways in which our environment, socioeconomic conditions, personal lives, and current obsessions affect conceptual development and change.

Sky Fairchild-Waller + Jessica Thalmann began collaborating in 2009 and have collectively exhibited at the Eleanor Winters Art Gallery, Toronto Fringe Festival, and Whippersnapper Gallery. A three-time recipient of the Koerner Foundation’s Award in Fine and Performing Arts, Sky is a performance and video artist who received a BFA in Dance and a BA in Cultural Studies from York University and now serves as the Artistic Director Intern for Performing Arts at Harbourfront Centre. Published in the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward Emerging Photographers of 2010, Jessica is an artist, curator, and writer who received a BFA in Visual Arts from York University and now serves as a Gallery Assistant at the Doris McCarthy Art Gallery at the University of Toronto, Scarborough


Francisco-Fernando Granados

in punctuation, the apostrophe marks the absence of a letter in a linguistic contraction. its etymology is French and Latin, of Greek origin, denoting ‘elision’ or a ‘turning away’. the task is to formulate an embodied work that imagines a figure by tracing its context, the negative space around its contours.

Francisco-Fernando Granados is a Guatemalan-born, Toronto-based artist and writer working in performance, drawing, cultural criticism, teaching, and curatorial practice. His work aims to create aesthetic (sensible) instances of contact between the intimate and the public. He has performed and exhibited in venues including Kulturhuset Stockholm, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the LIVE Biennial of Performance Art, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, VIVO Media Arts Centre (Vancouver), University of Western Ontario (London), and the Images Festival (Toronto). He recently finished a Masters of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto with the support of the J. A. Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship. Recent and upcoming projects include performances at the TRANSMUTED Festival Internacional de Performance in Mexico City and the RAPID PULSE International Performance Festival in Chicago, and a performative lecture at Bard College’s Hessel Museum in New York State.


Erica Mendritzki

On Posing
“Posing” and “modeling” are words that travel in various social circles: equally at home in fashion and philosophy, these are terms that help us describe the uneasy relationship between objects and ideas, between authenticity and fakery, and between knowledge and desire. This presentation will consider posing as a model response to the self-consciousness of art-making in the post-post-modern era.

Erica Mendritzki is a final year MFA candidate at the University of Guelph. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including an Ontario Graduate Scholarship (2011), a SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship (2010), the Dean’s Tri-Council Scholarship (2010) and the Heinz Jordan Painting Prize (2005). Her work has been exhibited in Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom. Recent exhibitions include Chalk and Butter, a group show at Diaz Contemporary in Toronto, and Erica Mendritzki et Ufuk Gueray: Pluriel à la première personne, at the Maison de la Culture NDG in Montreal.

Didier Morelli

Walking Through Walls
Attempts at walking through walls were initially part of a Practice-Based-Research project for my MA at the University of Toronto's Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. Since then, I have continued to engage with various walls throughout the city of Toronto to complete the first documented walk through a wall. The project involves no tricks or illusions. I bridge the action of performing walks through walls with the fixed and symbolic nature of conventional documentation (i.e. photography, video, handmade objects, and multiple forms of written documentation such as a diary, drawn observations, maps, schemata, and statistics). My focus has been on process, allowing the gesture and the documentation to evolve. Literature, philosophy, science, military studies, urban planning, popular culture, occupy Wall Street, and other social mobilizations in reclaiming public space have informed these actions. While my success or failure to actually walk through walls may be called into question, more importantly, my process and analysis have generated observations in redefining notions of space, materiality, spectatorship, documentation, sensory reception and communication, and the limits of the impossible/possible, probable/improbable as well as the sane/insane and normal/abnormal behavioral dichotomies.

Didier Morelli is a graduate of Concordia University’s BA in Liberal Arts (2010), and of Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf’s College Diploma (2007) in Humanities. His stage acting experience has included lead roles in Shakespearean theatre, popular musicals, and improvisational workshops. Years of competitive middle distance running and soccer have informed his understanding of the body as a site for exploration, through repetition endurance and resistance - testing the physical and psychological boundaries/limits of corporeal tissue. He is currently completing an MA in Performance Studies at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Study of Drama, Theatre and Performance. He has performed public crawls, walks, and readings à haute voix on Toronto and Montreal streets. Walking Through Walls (curator Alvis Choi) will be part of the upcoming 2012 Toronto’s Nuit Blanche. His visual arts practice includes performance, text-based drawings, videos, photography and installations. He is currently researching the work of Fluxus artist Dick Higgins and his concept of “intermedia” for a performance/paper to be presented at a conference (Fall 2012) celebrating the 100th anniversary of John Cage. 


Chris Shepherd

A series of large manufactured Braille panels hang in a gallery setting, each panel describes a photograph. Visually impaired docents interact and interpret the panels for those in the audience who are not Braille proficient. A catalogue containing the Braille descriptions and the actual photographs is manufactured but not displayed.

Chris Shepherd is a Toronto-based artist interested in changing the relationship we have with the utilitarian by manipulating the context in which we see it and by protracting our interaction with it. Working in performance and photography, he has exhibited at Gallery 44, Art Gallery of Mississauga, Gallery TPW, Scotia Bank Nuit Blanche, Baux-Xi Photo and in the New York Subway.


Penelope Smart & Lindsay Bird

smart&bird: the makings of a curating power duo
Bored and slightly jealous we started a blog a year ago. Divided in different cities, our blog acts like a dialogue. But we’re sick of all talk, no action. It’s time to take things into the real world. We’re ready, willing and able to be a curating power duo. We have a lot of ideas and projects in the works. But what is the best way to hone them? We’re lost in the art-woods. Help us find the headlamp.

smart&bird is two people: a curator and a writer. Smart is working on a Master of Fine Arts in Criticism and Curatorial Practice at OCAD University. Bird’s most recent poetry will appear in the upcoming issue of CV2. She also works in broadcasting. Their online collaboration is available at


Laura Taler

Flashdance Rewound
My work is grounded in the belief that certain kinds of knowledge can best be accessed through an embodied engagement. After working for years as a choreographer and filmmaker I entered the MFA program at the University of Ottawa to dismantle the narrative dominance that had crept into my practice. I never intended to start welding but one thing led to another and in the sweltering summer of 2010 I found myself wielding a fiery torch, dressed head to toe in suede. This talk follows this transition and looks at how my great hobby, Tango dancing, slowly morphed into the conceptual framework for my practice.

Laura Taler is a Romanian-born Canadian artist working across a range of media including dance, film, sound, sculpture and installation. Taler began her career as a contemporary dance choreographer before turning her attention to filmmaking and visual art. She has been a resident at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Centro Cultural Recoleta (Buenos Aires), and a fellow at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry (Berlin). Her work has been screened in festivals, special screenings and broadcast internationally. Awards include a Gold Hugo from the Chicago International Film Festival, the Best Experimental Documentary award from Hot Docs!, and Best of the Festival from New York’s Dance on Camera Festival. Publications include Tension/Spannung (Turia+Kant, 2010), Revisiting Ephemera (Blue Medium Press, 2011) and the forthcoming Embodied Fantasies (Peter Lang Publishing, 2012). Taler holds an MFA from the University of Ottawa. 


Pudy Tong

Part show-and-tell, part confession, and part rant, Onward? is a self-affirming tale about the conception of 9 Sure Steps for Expanding YOUr Potential for Abundance NOW! It discusses the overall artistic approach, the ir/rationalisations behind certain aesthetic choices, and the challenges involved in composing this exhaustive video collage centered around business double-speak, a lexicon that shares much of its vocabulary with economic journalism, self-help wisdom and psychic mysticism.

A news junkie from an early age, Pudy Tong's work is engendered by the poetics and politics of the journalistic engine. His work has been exhibited across Canada and abroad at venues including the Sydney College of the Arts (Sydney, Australia), the Centre for Art Tapes (Halifax), Trinity Square Video (Toronto), the Kelowna Art Gallery and The Ministry of Casual Living (Victoria). Tong holds an MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University and is currently based in Toronto.


XXXX Collective
(Emily Smit-Dicks, Polina Teif, Corrie Jackson & Shannon Garden-Smith)

XXXX Collective presents Threshold, an investigation of the physical and perceptual bounds informing bodily experience. The threshold is a point of demarcation, indicating the start of a new state or experience, and marking the point of the smallest detectable sensation. Threshold traverses the border between the permanent and malleable, the internal and external, the perceptible and imperceptible, and the spaces where things are not yet classified as one or the other.

XXXX is the collective art persona of Shannon Garden-Smith, Corrie Jackson, Emily Smit-Dicks and Polina Teif. We are four artists who make work marked by sympathy for serialization and the corporeal. Our interdisciplinary practice employs video, installation, painting, drawing and photo-based work. While demonstrating an understanding of the aesthetic, our work values the contemporaneity of ideas/concepts as they relate to our cultural context. For more information you can go to our website: XXXX Collective


In partnership with the Department of Visual Studies, University of Toronto Mississauga and generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.

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Saturday May 5 & Sunday May 6, 2012