Cathy Busby is Canadian artist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has a PhD in Communication (Concordia University, Montreal, 1999) and was a Fulbright Scholar at New York University (1995-96). She has an MA in Media Studies (Concordia University, 1992) and a BFA (1984) from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She has been exhibiting her work internationally over the past 20 years.
My work addresses the politics of local sites as they relate to critical issues, including human rights. I am 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 (see my website, for example:We Are Sorry, Melbourne 2009; Winnipeg 2010; Vancouver 2013; Harriet Nahanee, Vancouver, 2010; Steve’s Vinyl, Halifax, 2011; Budget Cuts, Saskatoon, 2012).
Since the mid-1980s, I’ve made art that has visceral impact, rational description and a basis in the political world. My installations and printed matter are indebted to conceptual, minimal and feminist art as well as discourse analysis. I find or compile collections, re-organizing and activating them to propose new meanings. For example, I collected public apologies for my Sorry series, first exhibited in 2002, and later focused on the landmark 2008 apologies to Aboriginal people in Canada and Australia. In 2010, a documentary, We Are Sorry (26 min), was made about my work including conversations with Aboriginal activists stimulated by my public artwork.
I’ve continued to scale up my projects and use commercial fabrication processes (sign vinyl, offset printing) in order to converse on the scale of mass media (Totalled, 2004, Branded, 2008, Inspiring, 2010). Working in Beijing (Red Gate Residency each Fall, 2007–2010) enabled me to explore these processes further while expanding the content of my work (Beijing Cube, 2009; In Conversation with They Chose China, 2010). In 2012 I produced, Budget Cuts a large public artwork, to create a news event about cuts to programs supporting Canada’s Aboriginal population.
Also 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 its Director, AA Bronson. In the process of my five-month residency, I re-valued the physical objects and reclaimed little-known histories of the sitters, 63 in total, including three women and two black sitters. Titled About Face, my installation strategy was one of removal and replacement: I removed the portraits where they were most prominently displayed and replaced each with a flat painted rectangular shape the size of the portrait. A hybrid catalogue/artist book that included 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.
Steve’s Vinyl was an installation incorporating my late brother’s record collection that became central for the local commemoration of World AIDS Day 2011. It was performance-giveaway of the nearly-200 albums, a dance party and community event, hosted by Halifax’s artist-run, Khyber Centre for the Arts. The project’s relevance and community is now expanding through the distribution of 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 Press’ Pile Driver Editions and Visual AIDS, New York, 2013). Launches became another place of engagement. At the New York launch, jointly hosted by Printed Matter Inc and Visual AIDS, the audience at Artists Space danced to “Power of Love” at the end of my talk. I’m excited about the prospect of collective voice / collective action becoming scripted into upcoming work.
Increasingly, my work becomes a backdrop within which something can happen that galvanizes community action. This is a direction I’m headed. My artist books and printed matter are an integral part of my practice. As works in themselves, they describe and expand a project while extending its reach through distribution.