Niall Donaghy, Superfortress

Flight Dreams

Saturday, 15 November 2008 to Sunday, 29 March 2009

Flight Dreams promises to lift you off your feet!

Featuring work by Alexander Graham Bell, Robert Burley, David Dahms, Niall Donaghy, Art Domantay, Murray Favro, Adrian Gollner, John Greer, Scott Griffin, Gary Hill, David Hlynsky, Gertrude Kearns, Katherine Knight, Wanda Koop, Claude Luneau, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, David Ruben Piqtoukun, Don Proch, Stephen Schofield, John Scott, Frank Shebageget, Jaclyn Shoub, Joel Tauber and Tim Zuck.

The exhibition is inspired by the story of Ken Barnes, an outstanding Canadian who loved to draw and dreamed of flying. In his early years, he sketched images of jet planes in the margins of his school books. As an adolescent, he studied drawing at Arthur Lismer's well-known Saturday morning art classes at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In Ken’s later years, I clearly remember him humbly showing me his detailed pencil drawings of various planes from his portfolio. Amongst the carefully rendered drawings was a thoughtfully worded typewritten letter on Art Gallery of Toronto letterhead. Signed by Lismer, the letter recommended Ken for a Junior Course Scholarship to cover the cost of his classes. Those same art classes proved inspirational for a great number of young people, many of whom went on to work as artists. Ken combined his interest in flight and his desire to draw to become an aeronautical designer for the Avro Arrow, a plane that was slated to become the most powerful in the world, and was built at A.V. Roe in Malton, Ontario.

Using Ken Barnes and his dream of flying as a jumping-off point, Flight Dreams explores the metaphor of flight and the far-reaching possibilities of imagination, innovation and creative thought. The exhibition is built around archival material and drawings that were saved from destruction when the Avro Arrow was cancelled in 1959. Flight Dreams also includes work by a roster of well-known, international artists reflecting on the notion of flight. Working in video, painting, drawing, assemblage and mixed-media installation, these artists explore the human desire to fly using the language of contemporary art.

In his mixed media work, Heartless (Icarus), Toronto artist John Scott touches on the human desire to reach great heights and presents us with the possible risks in extending ourselves to the limits. Photographer Robert Burley's images of O'Hare Airport give evidence to the physical spaces used for plane travel, while Wanda Koop's interpretive and almost aggressive paintings of airplanes depict the vehicles used to take us on those journeys. In Searching for the Impossible: The Flying Project, American artist Joel Tauber explores a desire to fly that's so strong, he finds a new way to propel himself skyward. John Greer creates unique, large-scale drawings of paper planes using elastics instead of paint or pencils, while Stephen Schofield's delicate mixed media works depict fantastical airports that hang weightlessly in space. Magic and science meet in David Hlynsky’s photograph, Temptation to Fly, in an innocent yet ominous image of small child contemplatively holding a finely crafted plane in her delicate hand, her attention drawn to a proffered bird.

Each person I speak to about this exhibition has an immediate personal response to the theme: they've told me about their fears of flying, about their dreams of one day skydiving, or about what it feels like to fly in their dreams. I've heard stories of great grandfathers who were pilots in WWI. I've also heard how vividly people remember every minute detail of the Swiss Air tragedy and the 9/11 disaster as told through stories and CNN footage. Whether or not we've ever been in a plane, the dream of flying touches us all.

Extending into the winter of 2009, Flight Dreams serves as our tribute to two important Canadian historical milestones: the 100th anniversary celebration of the first controlled, powered flight of inventory Alexander Graham Bell’s plane, the Silver Dart, off the ice in Baddeck Bay, Cape Breton Island on February 23, 1909, and the 50th anniversary of the cancellation of the Avro Arrow on February 20, 1959. Flight Dreams provides a forum for discussions, workshops, lectures, films and performances to highlight these dates with the focus on the human desire to fly and the power of imagination and innovation. Small models and Bell's pocket-sized sketchpads and a tetrahedron kite from the BellMuseum in Baddeck are also included in the exhibition. School children from Baddeck worked with AGNS staff and artist Melissa Marr this fall to create art works of their own based on the theme of flight. These art works are on display during the run of the Flight Dreams exhibition at AGNS.

Put simply, Flight Dreams is not only an exhibition of art works. Right from the start, it has been a collaborative curatorial project. This is an exhibition that demonstrates how community can build a curatorial story. Artists, designers, teachers, students, and others working across different sectors of our community have all been involved in planning this exhibition, a creative process that has been invaluable in determining the final outcome.

Taking flight conjures so many thoughts and images: from the visions of engineers and designers, to the stories of the elders. The educational threads of this exhibition will weave through the curriculum, encouraging young people to sing and dance, to create art, poetry, and prose and, most importantly, to imagine. Curriculum links through lessons on the AGNS website in physics, math, language arts, art, music, dance and the science of flight are available to educators.Throughout the duration of its run, writers, artists, dancers, scientists, and musicians will animate Flight Dreams with special performances, written resources, and workshops.Together, we will take a skywards-journey that will empower us all to dream.

Dale Sheppard
Curator of Education and Public Programs