Artists unwrap the holiday family photo with the Gladstone Hotel’s ‘This Is Us’ Exhibition

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What happens when artists take the tradition of the family holiday photo to whole other levels of humour, absurdity and complexity? Just in time for the holiday season the Gladstone Hotel presents ‘This Is Us,‘ an exhibition that looks at how two artist couples have represented themselves to family and friends over the course of more than a dozen consecutive years of staging and presenting family holiday portraits. The exhibition takes place from December 1 – 30, 2016 with an opening reception on Wednesday, December 7 from 7 – 9 p.m.

Before the ubiquity of smart phones, getting a “good” photo of your family was a challenge. Most turned to professionals, portrait galleries or department stores. Despite the time and money involved, coming up with a good idea, getting everyone to agree with it and getting everyone to look good at the same time was not always possible. Thus the awkward family photo was born; either unintentionally cheesy or so generic that it looked like those stock photos that come with mass produced picture frames.

Born from the necessity of keeping relatives informed and stoked by creative impulses that refused to adhere to the limits of genre standards, artist couples Camilla Singh and Walter Willems, and Robyn Colangelo and Mark Sprott have been making holiday photos and sending them out by mail and e-mail for over nineteen years and twelve years respectively. While the initial impulse to produce a family portrait may have started simply as straightforward representation, occasionally enhanced by family in-jokes or funny costumes, have morphed into something more intriguing and complex. The photos became theatrical, elaborately staged, durational projects, rife with layered references, absurdity, irony and humour that play with notions of representation, aspiration, cultural stereotypes, identity politics, and the family unit.  For both couples their audience has grown, outside of friends and family. The “what will they do next” pressure is on. Years down the line the photos have taken on a life of their own. They create narratives that say: “this is us”, but challenge the viewer to wonder “who they are”.

Robyn Colangelo a creative director who runs a small design business for corporate and non-profit clients. Mark Sprott is a stay-at-home Dad, with a Bachelor in Sculpture & Installation and a diploma from the Advertising and Design Program at OCAD. He has worked in a number of corporate galleries and owned his own gallery for a number of years while showing art locally his entire career.

Camilla Singh is a multidisciplinary artist and curator living in Toronto. Her practice includes installation, sculpture, drawing, photo and audio-based work, as well as performance, movement and collaboration. Walter Willems is an artist and curator living and working both in Canada and the Netherlands. His work often indulges humour and social commentary and spans the media of photography, audio/video, installation and sculpture.

Camilla Singh + Walter Willems, 2007, 24" x 26", Photography

Camilla Singh + Walter Willems, 2007, 24″ x 26″, Photography

The Gladstone Hotel is an art hotel located in Toronto’s West Queen West neighbourhood that offers unforgettable, welcoming and immersive contemporary art filled experiences.