Annie MacDonell at Toronto Reference Library

May 1, 2014 | Brent

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Artist Annie MacDonell will present a photo-installation at Toronto Reference Library throughout the month of May, in partnership with the 2014 ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival. Her exhibit "Pictures Become Objects, Objects Become Events" uses the library’s Picture Collection, a huge collection of over a million images taken from magazines, calendars, books, and other media. The images in the collection have been hand selected by library staff for almost 100 years.

During her month long residency at the library, MacDonnell will edit and recombine images from the collection to ask questions about how we organize visual knowledge.

How does the subject coverage in this collection differ from results obtained from Google Image search?

How much does the Picture Collection tell us about the building it occupies and the people who made it?  What does it tell us about the people who assembled the collection?

Is it significant that these selections were mainly done by women? 

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MacDonell’s installation will include a continuously changing display on the fifth floor Arts Department, and a collage mural reassembling scanned images from the collection on the third floor Business Science and Technology Department. She will be working in the Picture Collection on Monday through Friday from 10am to 3pm. At the end of the month she will present a performance with French artist Maïder Fortuné based on her experiences with the collection.  A book produced with the Library’s own Espresso Book Machine will follow.

One of the people who inspired the project was the art historian Aby Warburg who created a vast image library he called the Mnemosyne Atlas.  By selecting and recombining images, Warburg attempted to trace how certain ideas spread themselves across time and cultures.  In one way his work anticipates work by comparative religion scholars like Joseph Campbell. In another it’s like an incredible early version of Pinterest.


Warburg has been getting a lot of attention by art scholars. Here are some recent books:

           Art History as Cultural History        Aby Warburg and the Image in Motion      Memory, Metaphor

Both the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star have selected MacDonnell's exhibit as one of the CONTACT Festival's must sees. Over a thousand photographers are appearing at more than 175 venues throughout the Toronto Area. Here are just a few books on this year's featured artists:

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Annie MacDonell: Pictures Become Objects, Objects Become Events

May 1-31 201

Toronto Reference Library

789 Yonge Street