OCAD University

Nicole Collins brings Giotto's O to the AGO

“An education in art is excellent and opens you up. But you can think you know where you’re going and end up somewhere else. Not knowing what’s going to happen and having to accept that is true about life in general. You do the best you can and I find that strangely reassuring. It’s more about tenacity and perseverance and unexpected things happen when you repeat yourself.” Nicole Collins

Nicole Collins drawing Giotto's O
Nicole Collins, Giotto's O, digital projection with sound, image by the AGO and Nicole Collins.

Artists can sometimes set extremely high standards for themselves, and as artist and OCAD U instructor Nicole Collins reveals in her new work, Giotto’s O, perfection is not always attainable — but something wonderful can happen when you try.

Giotto’s O, which is on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) until June 23, is the result of Collins’s attempts to draw a perfect circle and sound a perfect note. Collins draws a circle on the gallery wall using her arm as a compass and silverpoint, a medieval art material as her drawing tool. When she’s not in the gallery, viewers see a looped projection of her drawing and erasing a circle. The work is about constantly making and unmaking circles, and arriving at perfection only through repetition.

The other component of the work is sound — listen as you approach the work and you’ll hear Collins trying to sing the sounds of the bells she heard every day in Florence while she was teaching at the OCAD U Florence program and developing Giotto’s O. “The relationship between the sound is the idea of attempting, failing and at some level succeeding through the attempts,” says Collins.

Nicole Collins's circle drawing study for Giotto's O
Circle drawing by Nicole Collins. Image by Nicole Collins

Collins, who’s been exhibiting works as painter for more than two decades, went back to school in 2007 to do her Master’s of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto. She found a footnote in a Julia Kristeva article about how Giotto, while working on his frescoes in 1320, was approached by a courier to submit a sketch for a commission from the pope. Giotto, who hadn’t prepared anything, took a paintbrush, some red paint and executed a perfect circle for his submission. (He of course got the commission.)

“It’s brilliant because it was an exhibition of his mastery, and so brazen,” says Collins. “As a 21st century woman artist it made me laugh at first, then I wondered if I could create a perfect circle. I went back to my office, in King’s College Circle, and my immediate attempts were failures. I started making repeated circles and they made me think about our definition of perfection, and what labour means to art.”

When developing the work Collins was assisted by three of her OCAD U students: David Clark; Renee Dykeman and Megan Hunter. Giotto’s O is part of the Toronto Now series at the AGO, which celebrates the work of local artists and invites the public to engage with some of Toronto’s most exciting contemporary art projects, free of charge. Toronto Now is, fittingly, supported by The Contemporary Circle.

Where to see it

Art Gallery of Ontario, Young Gallery (inside FRANK restaurant)
317 Dundas Street West, Toronto

Note that the work can be viewed from either inside the gallery or from the outside. From the outside it’s accessible 24/7 to everyone.

108 drawings from this project can also be viewed at General Hardware Contemporary until June 23

© OCAD University