Cathy Busby

BFA (NSCAD); MA, PhD (Concordia)

I’m an artist who was shaped by growing up on the outskirts of Toronto and by my Scottish/English/Protestant heritage. As a teenager with a big urge to get out of the suburbs, I left the nest to join an alternative school and community in the Yukon. I felt at home working for women’s equality and being involved with other social justice movements and found an outlet for this orientation in the visual arts at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (BFA 1984). I’ve been exhibiting my work ever since across Canada and in New York; Beijing, Melbourne and Berlin. I advanced my projects and enhanced my critical thinking by doing an MA in Media Studies and a PhD in Communication (Concordia University, Montreal, 1992; 1999). I was a Fulbright Scholar at New York University (1995-96) and the artist-in-residence at Emily Carr University 2012-13.

My work begins from considering where I am in the geo-political and the internal emotional sense. I ask, ‘What’s going on?’ I first made a poster series with this title in 1984-85 with posters addressing the presence of nuclear submarines in the Halifax Harbour and the lack of affordable housing for single mothers in Nova Scotia, distributing these through existing networks of organizations concerned with these issues.

Steve’s Vinyl was an installation incorporating my late brother’s record collection that became central for the local commemoration of Halifax’s World AIDS Day 2011. It was a performance-giveaway of the nearly-200 albums, a dance party and community event, hosted by Halifax’s artist-run, Khyber Centre for the Arts. Then I made the Steve’s Vinyl artist’s book that includes a synopsis of Steve’s life; images of the event; and stories about the albums by their new owners (Emily Carr University Press’ Pile Driver Editions and Visual AIDS, New York, 2013).

For my installations and artist books, I find or compile collections, re-organizing and activating them to propose new meanings, such as for the Sorry series, based on my extensive collection of public apologies. I made a small book by the same title in 2005 (second edition in 2008).

I’m optimistic about the ability of communities to function outside prescriptive agendas and for the role art can play in contributing to justice-based social change. To this end, I’ve scaled up my projects and used commercial fabrication processes like sign vinyl, sign fabric and offset printing (We Are Sorry, Melbourne 2009; Winnipeg 2010; Vancouver 2013; Steve’s Vinyl, performance, Halifax, 2011 and book 2013; Budget Cuts, Saskatoon, 2012; We Call, Vancouver, Hazelton, Toronto, 2017-18).

In 2012, I worked with the institutional portraits at the 175 year-old Union Theological Seminary in New York, through The Institute of Art, Religion and Social Justice by invitation of Director, aa bronson. In the process of a five-month residency, I re-valued the physical objects and reclaimed little-known histories of the sitters, 63 in total, mostly white men. Titled About Face: I removed the portraits in the refectory where they were most prominently displayed and replaced each with a painted rectangular the size of the portrait. An artist book including photos and details about each sitter accompanied the installation. Absences were addressed in the texts contributed by the institution’s community members talking, for instance, about the portraits being a target during 1960s civil rights uprising at the Seminary. The cuts and damage to many of the portraits spoke to their life within the conflicting values of the institution over time.

Increasingly, my work is a backdrop within which something can happen that galvanizes community action (We Call, 2017-18). For instance, Charlene Vickers and I recently made an installation and performed Intertribal Lifelines (as part of Ground Signals at the Surrey Art Gallery, 2017) and Hands Across the Sky (Thirst Days at VIVO, 2016) making big sound and inviting our audience to participate in practicing a unified voice as Water Protectors.


Winter 2019

VISA370 Special Studies I Sections

Intermediate tutorial. Not offered every year.