Shift Key

Shift Key is a rotating platform of moving-image artworks. In light of recent closures and limitations, MOCA Toronto remains committed to connecting people through art and experimentation. Every two weeks, we share works by Canadian and international artists to watch online for free.

Shift Key is generously supported by Scotiabank.

Wu Tsang
The Shape of a Right Statement
August 1–14

Wu Tsang, The Shape of a Right Statement, 2008, HD Video with stereo sound, 5’00”.
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Isabelle Bortolozzi, Berlin.

Staring directly at the camera, Tsang re-performs one section of “In My Language,” a forceful YouTube manifesto by autism rights activist Amanda Baggs. Tsang’s powerful interpretation was staged at The Silver Platter, home to the club Wildness, following a year in which the artist had presented live performances of the Baggs text. Tsang mimetically reproduces the voice of Baggs’s Speech Generation Device, stating, “It is only when I type something in your language that you refer to me as having communication.”

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 6 and up

  • What do you think the title of the work, The Shape of a Right Statement, means?


  • In the film, Tsang re-performs the text from Amanda Baggs’ manifesto In My Language, “mimetically reproducing” the voice of Baggs’ Speech Generation Device.
    • Why do you think Tsang chose to perform the piece in this way?


  • How does this work make you think about communication, and how we choose to communicate with others? Does it give you a new perspective on persons who communicate in ways other than spoken language?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

Basma Alsharif
Trompe l’Oeil
July 18–31

Basma Alsharif, Trompe l’Oeil, 2016, HD video, 8’00”.

A Trompe l’Oeil is a trick of the eye.

Trompe l’Oeil is a highly edited series of actions—banal, domestic, repetitive—all set to a vinyl recording of stock sound effects made for films. The familiarity of many of the scenes lures us into an unsettling composition of monotonous experience that sometimes harmonizes and sometimes jars with the unrelated audio references. The video Trompe l’Oeil is normally presented within a broader installation that includes images and prints from colonial archives, set within a mise-en-scène of furniture and home decor. Alsharif’s work often plays with constructions of time and history to disrupt how we understand and read the past.

Trompe l’Oeil was exhibited in Basma Alsharif’s solo exhibition at MOCA in 2019 along with three other installations: The Story of Milk and Honey, 2011, Girls Only, 2014 and A Philistine, 2018. The project was supported by Mophradat Consortium Commissions.

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 10 and up

  • The title of the work, Trompe L’Oeil, translates to “a trick of the eye.”
    • What do you think this title is referring to? What is the trick of the eye?


  • Listen to the stock sound effects that play throughout the film.
    • Do any of them sound familiar?
    • How does the way the sounds are layered with the rapidly changing video clips influence your interpretation of the work?


  • The film has been cut and edited so that it plays as a repetitive series of fragmented domestic scenes.
    • How does the piece make you feel? 


  • After spending so much time in our homes lately, how does this work resonate with you? If you were to film a compilation of scenes to represent how you spend your days at home, what would you include?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know? 

Deniz Tortum & Kathryn Hamilton
July 11–24


Ark by Deniz Tortum, Kathryn Hamilton / music & sound Alican Camci / commissioned by Protocinema / supported by SAHA + 601artspace

For the newest installment of Shift Key, MOCA has partnered with Protocinema to share a recent work by Deniz Tortum and Kathryn Hamilton. 

ARK (2020) is a two-channel video on the development of virtual reality against the ongoing collapse of the environment. It explores the nascent 3D archive of objects and how virtual reality technology stands in for and distracts from loss and absence in the physical world.

Adolfo Bioy Casares’ 1940 novella Invention of Morel, features a device that can perfectly capture life—at a cost. Anything captured by the device is infinitely replayed as a hologram but destroyed in the real world. In another approach to simulation, Elon Musk has said: “The odds that we are in base reality is one in billions”. He refers to an idea popular amongst technologists and entrepreneurs: the simulation hypothesis, which argues that we live in an artificial simulation rather than in reality. Enthusiasm for this hypothesis may be explained by the nihilism of our current trajectory. This belief offers solace against paralysis: as we bring our world to ecological catastrophe, we terminate only one of infinite “simulations”.

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 9 and up

  • How does this work make you feel?


  • Why do you think the work is titled ARK?


  • The film’s images and narration draw connections between developments in virtual reality technology and the increasing collapse of the environment.
    • How might this give you a new perspective on the urgency of our current climate crisis?      


  • Can you think of some ways in which the development of virtual reality has affected our lives, specifically within accessibility and education? 


  • At 8:42 and again at 10:38 we see a clip of someone tapping on the palm of a hand as if it were a touch screen.
    • What do you think this image signifies?


  • Towards the end of the work, we learn that the virtual reality headset created by Ivan Sutherland in 1968 was nicknamed “The Sword of Damocles,” and the narrator proceeds to explain the legend behind that phrase.
    • Why do you think the headset was originally called that in 1968, and how does that nickname take on an entirely different meaning in our present world?

Robin Cameron
Near Future Recent Past
July 4–17

Robin Cameron, Near Future Recent Past, video, 9’10”, 2016.

Near Future Recent Past (2016) is a split-screen video that juxtaposes archival film on the left with new footage shot by Cameron or downloaded from stock image websites on the right. The clips appear in rapid succession, following the cadence of a spoken script interspersing Cameron’s words with excerpts from writers such as Richard Brautigan, Joe Brainard, and Rebecca Solnit. The footage ranges in content with almost encyclopedic ambition, but frequently returns to symbols for time and its measurement: hourglasses, newspapers, calendars, a sundial, a watch. A doubling occurs. Cameron offers “signs” of time using time itself as her medium, the fixity of the former undercut by the ephemerality of the latter as the seconds of the video tick by.

Voice: Maia Ruth Lee
Audio Edit: Greg Teves
Drums: Booker Stardrum
Additional Audio Editing: Shane O’Connell
Additional Cinematography: Wilson Cameron

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 8 and up

  • How does this work make you feel?


  • The passage of time is a prevalent theme throughout the piece.
    • What are some of the symbols, objects, and scenes shown in the film that represent time?
    • Has living through the COVID-19 situation made you consider time and its passage in a different way? How so?


  • Why do you think Cameron chose to show clips of archival footage on the left beside newer footage on the right? How does this split screen format add to your understanding of the work?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

Marsha P. Johnson, Photographed by Gun Roze

Marsha P. Johnson

Gun Roze, Marsha P. Johnson, Christopher Street, Manhattan, 1982. Courtesy of the artist.

In honour of Pride, this week’s Shift Key offering differs from previous weeks. Rather than a video, film or moving image work, we have chosen to put forward a single still image. 

This picture is of Marsha P. Johnson in 1982, captured by Toronto street photographer Gun Roze, on one of his trips to Manhattan. A visitor to New York City at the time, Gun was unaware of Johnson’s political and social impact. Strolling along Christopher Street, he recalls being attracted to her whimsy and magnetic energy, leading him to ask Johnson’s permission to take this photograph. It was only later, when his negative scans were being retouched, that he learned through his technician he had photographed the Marsha P. Johnson. And the “P” in her name? It stands for “Pay it no Mind.”

Marsha “Pay it no Mind” Johnson (1945-1992), who once went by the name, “Black Marsha,” was a black, queer, gender-nonconforming activist, hustler and drag queen. Alongside Stormé DeLarverie (1920-2014) and Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002), Johnson is a prominent figure of the Stonewall Riots (June 28, 1969), a pivotal act of resistance against the police for the liberation of 2SLGBTQIA+ people. In 1970, Johnson and Rivera founded STAR, the Street Transvestite (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries, an organization that supported and advocated for transgender youth experiencing homelessness. The rights of sex workers and prisoners were causes Johnson fought tirelessly for at the same time. In the 1980s, she directed her outspokenness, sensitivity and zeal towards AIDS activism, joining forums and organized protests by the AIDS advocacy group, ACT UP. In one of her final interviews on June 26, 1992, Johnson revealed that she had been living with HIV since 1990. 

On July 6, 1992, Johnson’s body was discovered in the Hudson River near the Christopher Street Piers. Her cause of death was first treated as a suicide and then later declared undeterminable. Transgender activists Mariah Lopez and Victoria Cruz, as well as those close to Johnson, have challenged these closing statements and continue to seek justice for her life. In 2012, the case was reopened by the New York Police Department due to Lopez’s lobbying and fervour. 

Marsha P. Johnson’s life too has opened up. Gun’s photograph is one of several newly available sources—articles, artworks, audio and video recordings, documentaries and essays— that have enabled her many layers and self-images to unfold to a wider audience. These materials have awakened new generations to the recognition owed to Johnson, to transgender individuals and trans people of colour, whose defiance, steadfastness and truths have collectively produced an extraordinary movement. Something to be honoured, protected and expanded upon.

For further information on Marsha P. Johnson, queer culture and resources for supporting our 2SLGBTQIA+ community, we encourage you to explore our diverse, incomplete list here:

What does 2SLGBTQIA+ stand for?
Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual peoples, as well as those who identify as non-binary, pan-sexual, other gender and sexual minorities, as well as questioning.

Marsha P. Johnson

Popular Culture Sources

  • Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, featuring Yance Ford, Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, Candis Cayne and Jen Richards. A film created by Sam Feder and Amy Scholder.
  • Paris is Burning, featuring Venus Xtravaganza, Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija and Octavia St. Laurent. A documentary by Jennie Livingston.
  • Pose, featuring Dominique Jackson, MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore and Billy Porter. A television series created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals.

Queer Culture and Archives

Research & Support

Nicholas Galanin
Tsu Héidei Shugaxtutaan 1 and 2
June 20–July 3

Nicholas Galanin , “Tsu Héidei Shugaxtutaan 1”, 2006.

Tsu Héidei Shugaxtutaan translates to We will again open this container of wisdom that has been left in our care. The work is named for the song being danced in by the non-Tlingit dancer. Galanin suggests opening containers of wisdom to create connection between generations as contribution to living culture. This work embodies celebration of culture and the necessity of contribution over consumption. In this early work Galanin explores song, dance, language, as intersecting streams to carry cultural continuum. The work asserts Tlingit song and dance as contemporary and relevant, blending them seamlessly with contemporary song and dance as a beacon for what is possible when culture is allowed to grow and expand to navigate new circumstances. Rather than a juxtaposition of time or place, the video expands both by weaving together image, sound and motion.

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 3 and up

  • In this work, Galanin blends together Tlingit and non-Tlingit music and dance. 
    • How does watching these two films side-by-side influence your reading of the two types of music and dance depicted? 


  • Both films are presented in black and white. How does this add to your interpretation of the work?  


  • How do you think these films would be shown in a gallery? How might different presentation formats affect your viewing experience?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

Mercer Union LogoDeanna Bowen
O̶n̶ ̶T̶r̶i̶a̶l̶ The Long Doorway
May 30–June 26

Deanna Bowen

Deanna Bowen, still from “O̶n̶ ̶T̶r̶i̶a̶l̶ The Long Doorway”, 2019. Single-channel video with sound, 1:00:23. Courtesy the Artist.

For the newest instalment of Shift Key, MOCA has invited our neighbour, Mercer Union, a non-profit, artist-run centre to contribute a project for our online platform. This week’s content extends our ongoing commitment to collaboration, experimentation and to our community. In recent weeks we have partnered with organizations such as Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, Images Festival and the National Film Board of Canada. 

In Fall 2017, Mercer Union presented a commissioned solo exhibition by Toronto-based artist Deanna Bowen. The work takes as its starting point a lost 1956 CBC teledrama ON TRIAL The Long Doorway by Canadian screenwriter Stanley Mann. It tells the story of a Black legal aid lawyer tasked with representing a white University of Toronto student who is charged with assaulting a rising Black basketball player. No recordings exist of the teledrama, so Bowen used the recovered script and set design notes to restage the work as an experimental exhibition and performance at Mercer Union.

Working with five Black actors, Bowen’s 2017 restaging has been condensed into two works of art: a four-channel installation piece and this single channel video of the restaged teleplay. This single channel version was presented alongside Bowen’s solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver in 2019. For her exhibition there, Bowen created a new body of work investigating the implications of Vancouver’s history of racial discrimination

A commissioned essay by Liz Park, Curator of Exhibitions at UB Art Galleries and Dramaturge Notes by Dr. Seika Boye accompanied Deanna Bowen’s exhibition at Mercer Union.

On Trial The Long Doorway was commissioned and produced through a partnership between Mercer Union, a centre for contemporary art, Toronto, and the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver.

Courtesy of the Artist. 

Contact Festival Logo

Seraphine, Seraphine
Krista Belle Stewart
May 23–June 5

Krista Belle Stewart

Krista Belle Stewart, “Seraphine, Seraphine”, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

This week on Shift Key we share a work by Krista Belle Stewart, one of the two artists MOCA was to exhibit in May in partnership with the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.

Seraphine, Seraphine includes documentary footage of Krista Belle Stewart’s mother Seraphine Stewart from a 1967 profile made by the CBC—based on her education as Canada’s first Indigenous Public Health Nurse—and excerpts from her 2013 testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Vancouver. The inclusion of both archival documents diverts from their intended use in service of outmoded ethnographic practice, cultural regulation and national narratives by mirroring timelines that express the impact of memory on lived experience. 

This iteration was shown as part of the 28th Images Festival in 2015 at Mercer Union and won the OCAD University Off-Screen award.

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 7 and up

  • In this film, two separate pieces of footage play side by side. They both offer insight into Seraphine Stewart’s life experiences but are framed very differently. 
    • How does the tone of each set of clips differ?


  • Why do you think Stewart chose to layer the two batches of footage together, sometimes playing simultaneously and sometimes alternating?  


  • How do you imagine your understanding of Seraphine’s experiences might change if the clips from 2013 weren’t included?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

If I had the words to tell you we wouldn’t be here now
Victoria Sin
May 16–30

Victoria Sin

Victoria Sin, “If I had the words to tell you we wouldn’t be here now” performance at MOCA Toronto, 2019. Film still by Lulu Wei.

Victoria Sin performed If I had the words to tell you we wouldn’t be here now at MOCA Toronto for one-night-only in November 2019. The full-length document of the performance is available to watch here on the platform for the next two weeks. We thank Victoria for generously sharing their work. 

If I had the words to tell you we wouldn’t be here now uses storytelling, drag and theatrical devices to explore how language shapes thought. The performance stages a dialogue between a desiring queer body and a musician to illuminate how identity and experience are not only represented but also created and reinforced through language and naming. 

Here, Victoria performs alongside percussionist Nikki Joshi, who developed an original score for this piece. Victoria wears a specially commissioned oceanic costume by designer Dimitra Petsa.

Documentation by Lulu Wei. The original iteration of this performance was commissioned by Chi Wen Gallery.

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 10 and up

  • How would you describe the atmosphere created by Joshi’s percussion piece?


  • Sin and Joshi use repetition and percussion to emphasize certain parts of the performance. For example, throughout Sin’s monologue, a percussion sound plays in place of a name or label pertaining to someone’s identity. 
    • Why do you think the artist chose to do this?  
    • How does the percussion emphasis add meaning for the audience?


  • The monologue that narrates the performance has been pre-recorded, and Sin lip syncs along to certain parts of the voiceover.  
    • Why do you think the artist has chosen to lip sync the monologue, rather than speaking the words live?


  • Why do you think Sin chose to perform this piece in drag makeup and costume? How might your understanding of the piece change if they had not been in costume?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

Hiding Our Faces Like a Dancing Wind
Yazan Khalili
May 9–23

Yazan Khalili

Yazan Khalili, “Hiding Our Faces Like a Dancing Wind”, 2016. Video 7’30”, silent.

Yazan Khalili’s video has the format of a computer monitor screen with several windows open. In the center is the recognizable image of an iPhone held up in a hand. The device’s camera is in use, so we, the viewers, can see the subject on the other side of the lens: a woman holding her hands in various positions over her face, which is framed by the yellow square associated with the iPhone’s facial recognition software. This software is also shown being used on photographs of masks, which, in the form of JPEG files, are individually opened one by one. In this way, Khalili utilizes recently developed and now ubiquitous camera technology to evoke the colonial history of photographic “evidence” that served to identify or classify individuals through their facial characteristics.

With thanks to Yazan for sharing his work at this time and to our partnership with Mophradat Foundation.

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 7 and up

  • There are many different types of facial recognition software. In this film, we see it in the form of the yellow square on the iPhone camera.
    • What do you think facial recognition software does?
    • How does it work?


  • By hiding parts of her face with her hands, what is the woman trying to do? Does she succeed?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

Scouring the pressContact Festival Logo
Fatma Bucak
May 2–May 15

Fatma Bucak

Fatma Bucak, “Scouring the press”, 2016. HD digital video, colour, sound, 9 minutes 20 seconds.

This week on Shift Key we share a work by Fatma Bucak, one of the two artists MOCA was to exhibit in May in partnership with the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.

Scouring the press is a video performance, where we see the artist and two other women washing 84 days-worth of stories in Turkish newspapers. While the act is oddly domestic and archaic, it takes place on a ridge of development land on the outskirts of Istanbul. The women begin washing from February 7, 2016—the day referred to as the “basement massacre,” when over 150 civilians were killed by Turkish security forces in Cizre, a Kurdish town close to the Syrian border. The Turkish press suppressed details of the massacre in an effort to essentially delete the event from public consciousness. In Bucak’s work the repetitive and physical nature of washing the newspapers does not only imply the machinery of labour behind censorship, but that those practicing censorship are literally getting their hands dirty.

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 6 and up


  • Why do you think the three women are washing newspapers?  What does this action symbolize?


  • The performance is set against a wide stretch of landscape on the outskirts of Istanbul.
    • How does this setting add meaning to the piece? 
    • How do you think your understanding of the piece might change if it was performed in a different setting, such as a gallery or museum space?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?


“It is important to create a kind of relationship where you are not intimidated by what is going on; but you are welcomed to look at what’s going on exactly, behind what you are seeing.”

Bucak discussed how she uses aesthetics and beauty to frame her politically-charged work in a talk she gave at the David Winton Bell Gallery in 2016.

Watch here: Fatma Bucak in Conversation at the David Winton Bell Gallery

images festival logoBegone Dull Care: Nine Fables and Abstractions
Evelyn Lambart
April 27–May 11

stop motion evelyn lambart

Still from Evelyn Lambart, “The Hoarder”, Canada, 1969, 7 min.

In 1942, Evelyn Lambart was the first woman animator to join the National Film Board of Canada. From 1944 to 1965, she worked with Norman McLaren on a number of his most distinguished films, such as La Merle (1958), A Chairy Tale (1957), and what is considered to be their favourite collaboration, Begone Dull Care (1949).

In 1965, Lambart embarked on her solo career and set out to make films that would appeal to both children and adults. Bringing methodical precision to shifting the shapes in front of her, the stylistically distinct floating limbs of her characters are held together by Lambart’s sensitivity to expression, who said “It’s not about moving it from A to B—move it so that it is angry, or that it is lazy.”

Begone Dull Care: Nine Fables and Abstractions by Evelyn Lambart is a cross-section of the energetic abstractions Lambart worked on with McLaren and of her colourful cut-out animations depicting adaptations of Aesop’s fables, among other stories.

The total runtime of this screening is 57 minutes, each film begins at the indicated timestamps below. 

00:00 Lines Vertical (With Norman McLaren), 1960, 6 min.
6:10 Mr. Frog Went A-courting, 1974, 4 min.
10:53 The Town Mouse And The Country Mouse, 1980, 5 min.
16:27 Begone Dull Care (With Norman McLaren And The Oscar Peterson Trio), 1949, 7 min.
24:30 The Lion And The Mouse, 1974, 4 min.
28:47 Rythmetic (With Norman McLaren), 1956, 8 min.
37:40 The Hoarder, Canada, 1969, 7 min.
45:30 Fine Feathers, Canada, 1968, 5 min.
50:58 Lines Horizontal (With Norman McLaren), 1962, 5 min.

Curated by Steffanie Ling. This screening is a special presentation done in collaboration with Images Festival.

Films courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.


All-Ages Activity: Stop Motion Animation

Try your hand at stop motion animation with an activity inspired by Evelyn Lambart’s distinct cut paper animations:

Stop Motion Animation Inspired by the Work of Evelyn Lambart

Scroll 1
Sara Cwynar
April 25–May 8

Sarah Cwynar

Sara Cwynar, “Scroll 1”, 2020, digital video, 21:35min, looped.

Scroll 1 conveys an endless circling of objects, images, and value signifiers, and the way the same images (and bodies) get used again and again—whether it’s a pop star’s body, a reclining nude in a classical painting, or a model on an E-commerce site. This video, filmed over a long set built in the studio, features several extended backward and forward-moving scrolls over a stream of art reproductions and commercial objects, moving in a way similar to an Instagram or Facebook feed, sometimes with myself inserted into the shot. The film occasionally zooms in and focuses on a longer image – a woman posing on a floral backdrop, the pop star Christina Aguilera, or a shot of a worker in a pantyhose factory in Italy. The work tries to convey a sense of the equalizing quality of our current media world, the way it washes over us, occasionally punctuated by a longer more meaningful or more urgent message.

Thanks to Sara for sharing her work. Courtesy of the artist, Cooper Cole, Toronto and The Approach, London where these films and more by Sara can be viewed in her current exhibition, which is now online.
Sara Cwynar’s work Red Film, 2018 was included in the MOCA exhibition Age of You (fall 2019). Red Film can be viewed until April 30 on the website of The Approach, London.
Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 7 and up

  • Cwynar presents hundreds of objects and images on a seemingly endless assembled collage, filmed from above.
    • What are some of the objects and images that you see? What do they have in common? 
    • Are there any items or images that you think would make fitting additions to the assembled collage shown? What would they be and why?


  • Cwynar chooses to feature some colours prominently – specifically reds, pinks, and purples – yet in contrast she herself wears blue in the film.
    • Why do you think she chose to use these colours?
    • Do the colours make you feel a certain way?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

Petra Cortright
April 18–May 1

Petra Cortright

Petra Cortright, “forever_2_fast_2_subtle”, 2020. Courtesy of the artist, Galeria Duarte Sequeira, Braga, Portugal and Team (gallery, inc), New York.

Shift Key’s newest instalment is a moving digital painting by Petra Cortright, one of the leading figures of both Net and Post-Internet Art. The work is an extension of her current show at Team Gallery in New York.

Cortright’s brand of landscape is chaotic, beautiful, and volatile, marked by abstraction and populated by jagged .jpg shards and swift blossoms of painterly brushwork; working with a pace and agility the digital methods at her disposal afford, the entanglement of mark-making, color, and texture can assume an almost synesthetic effect.

Cortright operates within the vernacular of landscape painting but outside of its classical means and materials, questioning how the haptic and lyrical might be laced within consumer technology, spam-text poetry, and files chosen not in defense of the poor image but in celebration of it. Her painting software of choice is, of course, Photoshop, and her works mine the expressive and unintended potential of its transformations, effects, and malleability. Evolving from earlier non-figurative works that include flash animation gifs and screensavers, in their insistent lightness and nimble fluency Cortright’s paintings conjure Jim Hodges and Helen Frankenthaler, and convey the quality of ‘breath’ highly regarded in Chinese landscape painting.

In the past decade, as internet culture has steadily progressed towards predictive, targeted consumption, content has become a vehicle for formats and platforms rather than the other way around. By contrast, Cortright’s sensibility extends from the culture of personalization and customization which characterized fledgling internet culture, a DIY-oriented MO of using the most immediate and accessible means to create and share in ways that subvert rather conform to structure and legibility. The very act of making is a through-line that evolves from the artist’s early webcam videos to the most recent paintings that position the how and why of creative production as a subject in and of itself.

The artist Paul Chan once described Cortright’s work as, “[exuding] the disinterestedness that only comes from a form of creating with nothing particular on the line, and this is what affords it a kind of freedom that becomes, in a word, delightful.”

READ: Art Forum–Petra Cortright on self-isolation, Zoom mania, and her early webcam works

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 4 and up

  • How does this piece make you feel?


  • Cortright describes this work as a digital landscape painting. Using layers in Photoshop, she is able to achieve fluidity and movement, which gives the work a completely unique identity. 
    • How would you describe this landscape?
    • In what area of the world might you find it?


  • The title of the piece is forever_2_fast_2_subtle.
    • Do you think this title accurately describes the work?  
    • Can you think of three additional adjectives you would use to describe the piece? 


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

Standing Ovation on Suffern Lake Saskatchewan
Mark Lewis
April 11–24

Mark Lewis

Mark Lewis, “Standing Ovation on Suffern Lake Saskatchewan”, 2019. 4:08 min. Courtesy of the artist and Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto.

Mark Lewis’ film, Standing Ovation on Suffern Lake Saskatchewan, is a recent example of his minimal and precise approach to film. Not always in plain sight are profound references to historical events, the history of cinema and the tradition of painting. Along the lines of his previous works, Standing Ovation consists of a single shot, with no sound or camera motion. Set against a wintery grey landscape, a lonesome hockey player is seen moving a puck across a single ice patch as if practicing a set of plays or passing time. As the film advances, a small crowd emerges from the woods, greeting the player with an unusually sustained outpour of applause and emotion. At first, she appears unfazed by this bold reception, but eventually, she begins to play to her fans, forming an intimate and cryptic exchange between the two.

This film was shot in Saskatchewan, the birthplace of Canadian professional ice hockey player, Gordon Howe. On February 5, 1980, during his final season, Howe stepped out on the ice in Detroit, Michigan in front of 21,000 fans, the largest crowd ever to witness a hockey game at that time. They cheered and roared for 4 straight minutes. Asked to reflect on this overwhelming moment, Howe responded: “I was very emotional and the fans were getting to me… I had the same feelings for the fans as they had towards me.”

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 3 and up

  • The hockey player is suited up in typical hockey gear, except for one important element–she is not wearing a helmet and her long hair whips around her face as she skates from one end of the ice patch to the other.
    • Why do you think the artist chose to outfit the main figure in this way?


  • Do you think the people in the cheering crowd are really there, or are they a figment of the hockey player’s imagination?


  • What do you imagine the player is feeling in the first half of the film when she is alone, versus the second half when the crowd is cheering her on?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

Tilia Americana
Megan Rooney
April 4–April 17

Megan Rooney Tilia Americana

Megan Rooney, “Tilia Americana”, 2014.

For Tilia Americana (2014), artist Megan Rooney created a set of five sequential, multi-framed videos with an accompanying narrated text. The videos incorporate elements of drawing, sculpture and performance, portraying women obscured by water-coloured pillow cases in different suburban situations. The audio track accompanying the videos is a voiceover of the artist reading a fractured and dreamlike prose poem.

Guiding Questions

Recommended Age: Grade 10 and up

Note: Film contains some sexually explicit audio content. 

Watch Tilia Americana with a friend (in person or over video chat) and use the guiding questions below to start a discussion about the piece:

  • Tilia Americana is the scientific name for a Basswood tree, which is common in Southern Ontario. Why do you think Megan chose this title for the film?


  • The film has three layers of content – two video frames playing simultaneously, as well as a voiceover of the artist reading a poem-like narrative.
    • What do you see in the background?
    • How does it contrast from what you see in the foreground?
    • Where does your eye go?
    • How does the combination of all three elements add meaning for the viewer?
    • Do you find that the voiceover pairs better with the scenes of the masked women, or the scenes of suburbia in the background?


  • Why are the women wearing pillowcase masks and why did Rooney choose to paint exaggerated faces as opposed to more realistic ones?


  • Rooney’s work often contains references to suburban life.
    • What is a suburb?
    • How does geography affect the way we live?
    • What do you think of when you think of “suburbia?”
    • Do you have any strong feelings or connotations, either positive or negative?


  • At the start of the film, one masked woman is shown alone in bed. Throughout the film she is joined by a second masked woman in a car, then a hot tub, a patio, and finally on a picnic blanket on the grass. As they go progressively into more “public” spaces, they also get physically closer. They are shown not touching in the car, hot tub, or patio, but as they lie on the picnic blanket, their hands inch closer together. The final frames show them embracing one another. What do you think this could represent? Could this suggest yet another layer of narrative?


  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

Jon Rafman
March 28–April 10

Jon Rafman

Jon Rafman, “SHADOWBANNED” (film still), 2018.

The second Shift Key offering is SHADOWBANNED (2018) by Montreal-based artist Jon Rafman. SHADOWBANNED combines the aesthetics of internet conspiracy theories, video game footage and a CG recreation of the garden of Bomarzo, to tell the story of an anonymous narrator on an enigmatic journey. The film unfolds across multiple universes wherein dreams are recycled waste products and meaning has been all but lost. The narrator arms himself with artificial memories of artificial pasts in order to protect himself from the future. The work is a meditation on the perception of history and the implosion of meaning in our hyper-accelerated times.

MOCA is working with Jon on an exhibition scheduled for 2021 and thanks him for sharing this work with us at this time.

Guiding Questions

Leviathan Cycle, Episode 1: Ben
Shazad Dawood
March 21–27

Shezad DawoodThe first Shift Key offering is Shezad Dawood’s, Leviathan Cycle, Episode 1: Ben (2017). MOCA exhibited elements from Shezad Dawood’s Leviathan, an ambitious ten-part film cycle in fall 2019; the first episode can now be watched in full on MOCA’s website from Saturday, March 21–Friday, March 27. Dawood’s episodic “monster” encourages us to contemplate urgent issues, expands upon diverse research and bridges disciplines and borders to include local voices within a global forum.

“The world was ending as it had been doing for millennia.” The pilot episode, Ben, in Dawood’s epic film series combines found footage with new film and images, set against spoken word with a powerful soundtrack. We are plunged into a near future where a solar disaster has wiped out a large part of the human population. The protagonist, Ben, reminisces about his childhood spent roaming the back corridors of the Natural History Museum in London (containing, amongst other marvels, Darwin’s original specimen jars from the Beagle expedition), and his youthful fascination with the giant squid preserved in the Marine Research labs.

Learn more @leviathancycle‘s Instagram.

Image: Shezad Dawood, Leviathan Cycle, Episode 1: Ben, 2017. HD Video, 12’52”.

PUblic Programmes Scotiabank