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Fable for Tomorrow: A Survey of Works by Wendy Coburn

Two ceramic sculptures of young children. Silhouettes of bugs are painted on them.

Fable for Tomorrow: A Survey of Works by Wendy Coburn*

Curated by Andrea Fatona and Caroline Seck Langill with video programming by b.h. Yael and Rebecca Garrett

Core exhibition of the CONTACT Photography Festival

*Please note: due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, there will be no opening reception for this exhibition.

Wendy Coburn had significant impact on the Canadian art community as an artist, educator and activist who has exhibited internationally. Fable for Tomorrow presents the first survey of Wendy Coburn’s artwork. The exhibition provides an opportunity to bring together four decades of sculpture, installation, photography and video that reveals her ability to sense the pulse of a deep present while asking us to pay attention to other futures. Coburn’s work explores representations of gender, sexualities, everyday objects, material culture, and human/animal relations.

The exhibition publication is available online here.

The Estate of Wendy Coburn is represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art, Toronto.

Wendy Coburn’s video works are represented by Vtape; please contact for exhibitions, rentals and purchase.

Help support this important and timely exhibition. Click here to make an online donation.

NEW Poster Sale: Come in and grab your rare, limited-edition copy of the colour poster for Wendy’s important video work, Slut Walk: Anatomy of a Protest. $20 at Onsite Gallery. Poster is 18” H x 24” W. All proceeds support the Estate of Wendy Coburn and Onsite Gallery, for the publication of a retrospective monograph on her art practice.

Wendy Coburn (October 5, 1963 – June 15, 2015) was a Toronto-based artist and art educator whose studio practice included photography, sculpture, installation and video. Her multi-disciplinary work engages a range of concerns such as human relations to land and ecologies, power relations and the construction of differences, popular culture, mental health, gender, whiteness, nationhood and the role of images in mediating cultural difference.

Her work has been exhibited and screened in galleries and festivals including Anatomy of a Protest (Justina M. Barnicke Gallery), Photophobia (Art Gallery of Hamilton), the Living Effect (Ottawa Art Gallery), MIX (New York Gay & Lesbian Experimental Film/Video Festival), Transmediale International Media Art Festival (Berlin, Germany), Beaver Tales and Uneasy Pieces (Oakville Galleries), Kassel Documentary Film & Video Festival (Kassel, Germany), and the Dublin Lesbian & Gay Film and Video Festival (Dublin, Ireland).

Coburn received her MFA from Concordia University and AOCA from Ontario College of Art. She worked for 18 years at OCAD University including as Assistant Dean and Associate Dean in the Faculty of Art, and as a faculty member with the Sculpture Installation and the Art & Social Change programs. As the founder of OCAD U’s Art and Social Change minor, Wendy developed the groundbreaking course: “Making Gender: LBGTQ Studio” which seeks to foster a greater awareness and understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer cultures and subcultures.

Andrea Fatona is an independent curator and an associate professor at OCAD University. She is concerned with issues of equity within the sphere of the arts and the pedagogical possibilities of art works produced by “other” Canadians in articulating broader perspectives of Canadian identities. Her broader interest is in the ways in which art, “culture” and “education” can be employed to illuminate complex issues that pertain to social justice, citizenship, belonging and nationhood. She is the recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Fatona has published scholarly articles, catalogue essays and book chapters in a range of publications.Some examples of her curatorial projects include: Queer Collaborations (1993), Across Borders (1995/6), Cadboro Bay: Index to an Incomplete History (1999), The Attack of the Sandwich Men (2001), Reading the Image: Poetics of the Black Diaspora (2006-2008), Fibred Optics (2009-10), Will Work for Food (2011), Land Marks (2013-14) and Settling in Place (2018).

Caroline Seck Langill is a writer and curator whose academic scholarship and curatorial work looks at the intersections between art and science, as well as the related fields of new media art history, criticism and preservation. Her interests in non-canonical art histories, gender studies and Indigenous epistemologies have led her to writing and exhibition-making that could be considered post-disciplinary. With Lizzie Muller, she has been looking at questions of liveliness in art and artifacts. This ongoing research resulted in the exhibition Lively Objects for ISEA: Disruption (2015) in which undisciplined objects were woven through traditional displays and historical tableau at the Museum of Vancouver.  Caroline Langill resides in Peterborough and works at OCAD University where she is Vice-President Academic and Provost.

b.h. Yael is a filmmaker and installation artist. She is Professor of Integrated Media at OCAD University and past Chair of Senate. Yael’s work has exhibited nationally and internationally and has shown in various settings, from festivals to galleries to community and activist groups, as well as various educational venues. Her work has been purchased by many universities and she is a recipient of numerous arts grants including the Chalmers Fellowship award.

Yael's films and installations have dealt with the many intersections of identity and family (Fresh Blood) and have focused on activist initiatives in Palestine/Israel (Palestine Trilogy and other works), as well as apocalypse, geopolitical and environmental urgencies (Trading the Future). Yael has also worked collaboratively with Johanna Householder (Approximations) and in collectives such as Spontaneous Combustion, Hardpressed Collective and BlahBlahBlah’s Re(viewing) Quebec. Yael has programmed arts lectures and media screenings including Art Creates Change, and she occasionally writes, currently completing a family memoir.

Rebecca Garrett is a Toronto-based artist whose use of media is situation-specific. Since graduating from the Ontario College of Art in 1981, Garrett has been exhibiting film and video installations; photo-based wall pieces; mixed media and performative interventions; site-specific installations; and single channel videos, in numerous venues in Canada and abroad.

Garrett’s works explore experimental formal concerns and are committed to the evolution of an alternative and innovative image language. These concerns are located and challenged by the indexical nature of the sign and the documentary traditions and responsibilities of varied social and political contexts. Many of her works can be seen as investigations of the effects of structures of containment or control—such as architecture, colonialism or global media—on perception, psychic and cultural survival, and knowledge production.

Garrett has worked collaboratively and/or collectively with many groups and individuals in Canada, the USA, Zimbabwe, Kenya and the UK. Her work expresses a long commitment to naming economic, colonial and social injustices, and building relations of exchange and reciprocity.

Free public events 

Holding Coburn: Exhibition Activation with Jess Dobkin 
On occasional Saturdays, 2 to 4 p.m., click here for schedule

Inspired by Wendy Coburn’s life and practice, Jess Dobkin will create a participatory performance exploring what art works are for, how we engage with and take care of them, and what goes into creating them. 

OCAD U BIPOC Faculty: Digital minutes 
Friday March 18, 1 p.m. — online

This online event will feature OCAD U BIPOC faculty members delivering pre-recorded, fast-paced presentations about their work and research, followed by a live Q & A. 

Panel Discussion on Wendy Coburn’s Commitments as an Artist: Ian Carr-Harris, Barbara Fischer and Liz Magor, moderated by Caroline Seck Langill 
Wednesday, March 23, 1 p.m. — online

Our guest panelists will discuss Wendy Coburn’s facility as a maker and her uncanny ability to imbue her works with the principles by which she lived. 

Video Curators’ Chat with Rebecca Garrett and b.h. Yael
Friday, April 1, 3 p.m.

Join Rebecca Garrett and b.h. Yael for a conversation discussing the intricacies of Wendy Coburn’s video works. 

Curators’ tour with Andrea Fatona and Caroline Seck Langill 
Wednesday, April 13, 6 p.m.

Join Andrea Fatona and Caroline Seck Langill for an exhibition tour in which they share their perspectives on Wendy Coburn’s multi- disciplinary practice and themes in the exhibition. 

Dyke Night
Friday May 6, 6 to 8 p.m., Onsite Gallery and 8 p.m. till late, Sweaty Betty’s (13 Ossington Ave.)

Discover Wendy Coburn’s exhibition through a dyke lens with a democratize-the-docent polyvocal tour open to the 2SLGBTQ+ community at Onsite Gallery followed by an afterparty at Sweaty Betty's with DJ's Sasha Van Bon Bon, Zab and other special guests.

Content Feelings with jes sachse and Rea Sweets
New media making workshop and slow social gathering 

Sunday, May 08, 1 p.m.
Inspired by Wendy Coburn's video practice and concern with authorship and its manipulations, join artists jes sachse and Rea Sweets for a time and space of slow content, silent protest, and social media. 

Closing Reception 
Thursday, May 12, 6 to 9 p.m.

Join us for the public closing of the exhibition, with a land acknowledgment and remarks from the co-curators. 

*All events are free and at Onsite Gallery, 199 Richmond St. West (unless otherwise noted). 

Fable for Tomorrow: A Survey of Works by Wendy Coburn

Fable for Tomorrow Updated Logos
Onsite Gallery is the flagship professional gallery of OCAD U and an experimental curatorial platform for art, design and new media. Visit our website for upcoming public events. The gallery is located at 199 Richmond St. W, Toronto, ON, M5V 0H4. Telephone: 416-977-6000, ext. 265. Opening hours are: Wednesdays to Fridays from noon to 7 p.m.; Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. Free admission.

Onsite Gallery acknowledges that the new gallery construction project is funded in part by the Government of Canada's Canada Cultural Spaces Fund at Canadian Heritage, the City of Toronto through a Section 37 agreement and Aspen Ridge Homes; with gallery furniture by Nienkämper. Onsite Gallery logo by Dean Martin Design.


Image (inset): Wendy Coburn, Fable for Tomorrow, 2008, bisque-fired clay, 7” x 7” x 5.5” each. Courtesy of the Estate of Wendy Coburn and Paul Petro Contemporary Art, Toronto.