Toronto Berlin 1982 – 2012 Essay


Toronto Berlin 1982 – 2012


Last spring, Zweigstelle Berlin Gallery sent out a call for international curators. At that time I was a guest curator for MoCCA (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art) and the National Gallery at MoCCA. The exhibition This is Paradise[i] focused on an overview of Toronto’s historic 1980s Queen Street West art scene. This is Paradise andParadise Now[ii] had immersed me in research and thinking about how culture emerges from the ecology of streets – night-life, clubs, bars, impromptu galleries – the making of a “scene”.

This thinking and a series of events leading back to a 1982 Chromazone[iii] initiative in Berlin titled O Kromazone:  die anderen von Kanada[iv] has led to this exhibition. The Director of Zweigstelle Berlin, Andreas Stucken, was a central curator of the original 1982 exhibition, bringing contemporary Toronto artists to Berlin, and our Berlin contemporaries to Toronto.  In the spirit of the first project we have tried to bring along the work of as many artists as possible. While Toronto Berlin 1982-2012 is connected through time, there is no intention to recreate O Kromazone, although some of the artists from the 1982 exhibition are included because their work continues to be on the edge and they have survived. We have attempted to assemble different voices with the intention of creating a multi-facetted exhibition of drawing and animation, while blurring issues and strategies.  We want to entice the viewer to visualize permeabilities and interdependencies within this microcosm of drawing – to experience transitions in poetry and politic moving through these works at this moment.

Co-curator Henrjeta Mece brings her perspective as an emerging artist and curator. Our collaboration spans across three generations of Toronto artists from Governor General Award recipient Ron Martin to emerging artists like Suzanne Morrissette and Mat Brown. In the tradition of artist-initiated projects like O KromazoneToronto Berlin 1982-2012 presents this moment as envisioned through the drawing work of 38 artists from Toronto, Montreal, Thunder Bay Ontario and Norris Point Newfoundland.


Drawing – Animal-Mystic Dreams

The idea of an exhibition about Drawing was in part inspired by German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s 2010 filmCave of Forgotten Dreams[v]a documentary about the Chauvet Caves of Southern France. In his film he elegantly posits that although we cannot know exactly the meaning of the 32,000 year old cave drawings found there, we are still moved by them. The caves hold the first flickering of a distinctly Human consciousness. And what a flickering it was. The graceful renderings of lions and horses are masterful by any standard, and look not very differently, if at all than drawing throughout the ages.

The Caves allow us to see through our Paleolithic ancestor’s eyes. Their drawings leave remarkable traces of their understanding of the world in pictures and handprints. They must have wanted to communicate their visions and memories. The oldest known two-dimensional representation of a bison-headed woman was discovered etched around a stalactite, heralding the dawn of consciousness with its ensuing dilemma of living with an animal embodiment. Even in 2012 mythical creatures continue to persist in art and culture religion and politics, playing out contemporary versions of stories about heroes and foes, sex and death and the meaning of the universe and our place in it.

The act of drawing continues to be a kind of first principle, existing in its own temporal continuum apart from culture in the usual sense.  The means of drawing are elemental and oblivious to time or technologies. Drawing remains one of the last democratic art forms for the reason it is universally accessible and made by simple means whether performed with charcoal graphite or mud with a stick or a mouse. The act of drawing appears to lie somewhere in the fabric of what it is to be human and has been with us longer than memory.

The following is an example of how the practice of drawing seems to stand outside of time. Herzog’s film relates to us that drawings in the Chauvet Caves were started by one group of individuals then added to by others an astonishing four thousand years later. This staggering passage of time between events defies transmission of a specific tribal style, and to the question whether there is an underlying universal understanding of the marks and images made by one anonymous human being to another.

The Chauvet Caves shock us with their exquisite renderings of animals, because through these Paleolithic visions we are seeing the shadows of our innermost dreams and distant memories. We are shaken because in our appreciation of the significance of the cave artists’ drawings, we realize that whatever reason or emotion moved them to leave their marks so long ago survives in us.

The work in this exhibition arcs across what is termed contemporary drawing.  It can only present a microcosm of the politic of this moment and perhaps hint at which way we are moving – recording our collective fears and desires – reaching back in time to our species first animal-mystic dreams.

Rae Johnson 2012








About the Paradise Collective

The Paradise Collective sees itself as a mechanism to forward artist-initiated projects at home and abroad. We see this exhibition as the beginning of future exchanges with our fellow artists in the Global Village as envisioned by Marshall McLuhan, made possible by the Internet Age, which is uniting the people of the planet – making possible a truly democratic future overturning 20th Century ideas of borders – Ideological and Geographic.

For more information about the collective and past projects go to: