Thursday, September 11, 2014

Curating Your Own Museum

Labour day is a very special day for many people. While the holiday's exact origins are unclear and unimportant (at least to me), I love labour day because it denotes at once both the last free day of summer and the threshold into the new school year (albeit this is my last one!).

This year, I used my very special labour day to go to the Power Plant Art Gallery at the Harbourfront. I have been meaning to go for some time now, and finally motivated myself at the suggestion of a friend. She saw Pedro Reyes' Sanatorium and gave it a shining review. Labour day happened to be the last day of the show, so I adorned my final all-white outfit of the summer and went downtown.

The Sanatorium, according to the Power Plant's website, is a curated exhibition that aims to cure the psychological ills of its visitors which occur when living in an urban environment. Multiple trained receptionists in white lab coats roam the exhibit offering guidance in its different 'treatment options' to the 'patients' (visitors). Before the patient is allowed to enter, they are given a short survey to fill out regarding their current emotional state. Then, they choose a treatment to undergo and the exhibit unfolds for them.

Along with my mother, I chose to take part in the Museum of Hypothetical Lifetimes. In this treatment, we were taken to a long wall with two shelves housing various small trinkets and items of different styles. There must have been more than 200 of them. My guide told me that the selection of items changes depending on where the Sanatorium currently exists in the world, and many of them have been collected from the previous exhibitions of the Sanatorium.

There was also a table housing what looked like a whitewashed laboratory rat maze, with all different kinds of 'rooms' which would house the objects of our personal museum. Each room in the museum is related to a specific part of the human life.

As my mother and I chose items to place into the rooms of our personal museums, we learned a lot about each other. We did not disclose our reasons for each selection to each other until after we had selected each item in all 22 rooms. After each room was filled, we shared the stories of our lives, as follows below:

Of course, I am not going to tell you the meaning behind all of the objects; what would be the fun in that? I will give you a few snippets, though. The most interesting part of the museum was to find an object that relates to one's mother and father. Since my mother was standing right beside me, it was slightly strange to have to find a small figure to represent her. I think I did well in the end:

I chose to represent her as a small dog. She laughed and was confused because we both know she is no animal lover. My reason for the little dog is that she can be yippy and annoying at times but she is mostly cute and very caring. She was also confused at first as to why I chose a caricature of the Queen of England for my father, but if you knew him you would understand.

A three-headed dog represents my legacy. I want to be remembered...and feared!

The snail represents my current love life. My mother chose glasses for her love life because they remind her of my father.

The mother's parents and the father's parents. Another overlap, it was interesting to compare my item for my grandfather to my mother's item for her father (who is obviously the same person).

Personally, I really love the concept of the interactive art installation. It really focuses the visitor on finding the meaning behind the piece, whether that meaning is shared with others or perhaps just a personal one. I strongly believe that main point of public art and creation of creative product in general is to draw out emotion and thought in the viewer of the piece. This experience definitely brought out emotion and thought in me.

Speaking of which, when the patient finishes their treatment, they are asked to fill out the second half of their form. This is the point at which they can compare their emotional state from before and after they have experienced the treatment. I felt happier and more focused.

As an aside, I didn't realize that the Power Plant Gallery is completely free of admission charge (at least for this year) and subsists on donations. The Sanatorium, along with two other exhibits, was a very interesting way to spend my afternoon and I will definitely return when the next exhibits are installed.

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