Blurred lines: travelling Cronenberg exhibit fuses art and film

Taking an inside look at the The Cronenberg Project, a tribute in art and film to the famed Canadian director, presented by TIFF and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.

A  cockroach/typewriter.  A woman’s leg wearing a Nike shoe coming out of an egg shaped pod in the middle of the night. A Mugwamp. For David Cronenberg fans, these are obvious references to characters from the legendary Canadian director’s films.

And Cronenberg fans can get their fill of his fertile imagination during The Cronenberg Project, presented by the Toronto International Film Festival at on display at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA).

Divided in two, the Cronenberg Project features Cronenberg: Transformation, a contemporary art exhibit at  the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) until Dec. 29 and Cronenberg: Evolution, a full-scale exhibit complete with objects from his movies, film programming and interactive installations. It opens on Nov. 1st and run until Jan. 19 before continuing to other cities around the world.

Cronenberg’s taste in art and his talents as a curator will also be on display when he brings together a selection of works from the National Gallery of Canada to MOCCA on Nov. 2 for  David Cronenberg: Through The Eye, which runs to Dec. 29.

During press conference at the start of TIFF, Piers Handling, the festival’s CEO and director, said that an exhibit on Cronenberg has been on the minds of TIFF organizers since the founding of the festival. In fact, it was 20 years ago when they first asked David Cronenberg if he would donate all his memorabilia and all his files to TIFF. “We asked David to ‘let us be your garbage can,’” said Handling.

Of the exhibit, Cronenberg quipped, “It’s really quite overwhelming. I don’t think I have grasped the enormity of what these maniacs have done. ”

Cronenberg Project: Transformation

The six installations that make up the Cronenberg: Transformation collections at MOCCA are:

Treatment by Candice Breitz – The artist used herself, her mother, her father and her therapist to redub scenes from Cronenberg’s 1979 horror film The Brood.  The videotaped voice-overs are positioned directly across from the scenes in the movie in a dark room.

Une Danse des Bouffons  (A Jester’s Dance) by Marcel Dzama. The film is described as playful and macabre reference to Cronenberg’s films – a fly character sits in an audience, a head explodes, limbs are severed, a creature in a black cloak with a hybrid body gives birth, a woman talks to her lover trapped in a television screen…

Swarm – James Coupe – Visitors have their image captured and displayed on four screens as part of a commentary on surveillance, social media, social exclusivity and the illusion of community.

Introduction to the Memory Personality by Jeremy Shaw – Inspired by Cronenberg’s interest in characters that have been infiltrated and altered, visitors are placed alone in an enclosed room while being confronted with hypnotic and mind-manipulating techniques.

Rough Cut – Hiker Meat by Jamie Shovlin – The exhibit is based on a fabricated horror film Hiker Meat which is made up of 1500 sequences from low-budget slasher films from the last 30 years.  The exhibit includes made up story-boards, trailer, opening and closing sequences and objects from the imaginary production location.

walkthrough by Laurel Woodcock – Woodcock explores the relationship between the written word and cinema by taking slug lines from the screenplays of David Cronenberg’s films and scattering them throughout the gallery space of MOCCA.

The collaboration

Noah Cowan, artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox, tells Playback the partnership between MOCCA and TIFF brings benefits to both organizations.

“MOCCA is a natural partner because they are always seeking new ways of talking about contemporary art with different audiences,” he explains. “They always see ways of embracing crossover audiences [and finding] new audiences. This is extremely important for the future of the artistic scene, because flexibility and the ability to engage in different areas of art-making will allow for sustainable careers and international and interesting work. ”

David Liss, artistic director and curator, MOCCA, tells Playback the Future Projections exhibits bring diverse artistic communities together.

“The artists are all sharing ideas and we want the audience to share in that too. Often we do see people that are ghettoized. There is surprisingly little dialogue between the artists and the art forms and the audiences. ”

So why Cronenberg?

“Contemporary art is not part of mainstream entertainment,” says Liss. “It is designed to provoke. Cronenberg is a contemporary film artist because he’s exploring what contemporary artists are exploring – who are we, what are we and where are we going. What does it mean to be human today? And that is what Cronenberg has done his entire career. ”

And for Noah Cowan and TIFF, Cronenberg’s work is something that can be embraced by a larger audience.

“He’s among the best examples of a contemporary artist who can have a wider impact,” he says. “There are other artists whose work is quite circumscribed and will have shared interpretations and then there are artists who will have a broader reaction to what they do.”

The Cronenberg Projection: Evolution

The Evolution portion of the Cronenberg Project will be at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in what Cowan calls a “very cool space.” It will include a museum-style exhibit complete with costumes, props and audio-visual elements including a bar from the movie Naked Lunch.

Extending beyond the walls of the exhibit is Body/Mind/Change, a virtual interactive experience coproduced by the CFC Media Lab, in which fans can experience the storyworld of David Cronenberg’s imagination. The web-based “storyworld” allows visitors to participate in a fictional experiment in which implanted technology of the future (in this case, a website) personalizes everyone’s media feed and suggests “ways for them to fulfill their deepest needs and desires.” That experience is live now at

A retrospective of the filmmaker’s entire 40-year career will include film screenings, panel discussions with scholars, programmers, costume designers and legendary music composer Howard Shore and film director Guillermo del Toro. Cronenberg will also be making occasional appearances.

Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes has organized Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror, a selection of 10  films inspired by Cronenberg.

An opening night party to open the Cronenberg: Evoluton exhibit at the TIFF Bell Lightbox will be held on Oct. 30th.  Money raised from ticket sales will go towards film programming and education and community initiatives.

TIFF will be publishing material related to The Cronenberg Project online and in print. The online material will be available to the public and to academic communities in David Cronenberg: Virtual Exhibition. An ebook preview of the exhibit will be on Apple iBookstore and two separate print publications based on the Evolution exhibit at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Transformation exhibit at MOCCA will be available in November.