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By Vicky Tam

Parks and prostitutes may surround the Phoenix Concert Theatre, but last week’s 2005 Untitled Art Awards gave the theatre a new air of elegance and adventure.

The Toronto art community gathered last Thursday to honour the city’s artists, relieving the Phoenix of its rock-and-roll dive image for the night. The trademark black curtains were pulled back to reveal a stylishly dishevelled white backdrop.

The Tijuana Bibles, who specialize in playing surf rock while wearing Mexican wrestler masks, played on stage during intermission. And the Boychoir of Lesbos, a group of robe-clad women, sang a rousing choral rendition of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” over a disco beat. No, this was definitely not a typical night at the Phoenix.

The Untitled Art Awards were incepted in 2003 as a way to honour excellence in visual art. Originally called The Steam Whistle Art Awards, it was renamed in 2004 to better suit the spirit of the awards. Four Ryerson graduates were among this year’s nominees. Annie MacDonell, a photography graduate from the image arts program, was nominated for her work in Many Fires, in the “Best Solo or Group Exhibition or Project.”

MacDonell, Becky Comber, Samar Modonpour and Chad Gerth were among the contributors to the exhibition Wallpaper, nominated for “Best Curated Exhibition in any (Non-Public Gallery) Space.” Although these projects lost to The Living Room Project and Andy Patton respectively, the night was still a success for Ryerson artists.

“Recognition is a strange thing in the world of visual arts. I feel that Untitled is a good thing for the art community,” said Comber, who recently graduated from the image arts photography stream. “I feel that Sophie (Hackett, curator of Wallpaper) is receiving well-deserved recognition, and if we use art awards to do that, then so be it.”

The Wallpaper exhibit was displayed at the Gladstone Hotel as part of CONTACT 2005, Toronto’s Photography Art Festival. Hackett described Wallpaper as artwork that “reconsiders and re-contextualizes wallpaper, photography and hotel art.” Comber herself contributed photos from two of her series, 1st Windows and Association.

Her images experiment with paper cutouts on window panes, using the window’s view to play with context and form. “(My photos work with) dimension of space between the surface of glass and what lies behind, as well as deal with the relation of figure and form of cutout snapshots on the glass surface to hint at relationships and attitudes between individuals,” Comber said. “I feel that (Hackett) was interested in my work because of its nature to deal with surface and space within the same dimension,” she said.

Comber has hit a bit of a wall since she graduated and left Ryerson’s creative environment. She has found that the realities of making a living have stifled her urge to create art. She has made plans for a change in scenery. Comber will move to Jasper, Alta. to manage a rustic hotel in the Rockies and to work on new material for seven months this year. “I’m excited about the prospect of seclusion and total immersion in (the) creative world again,” she said.

“Then hopefully, I’ll exhibit the work.” However, she won’t be leaving Toronto’s thriving art scene for good. “I feel like I will always be returning to Toronto to exhibit work and to collaborate,” Comber said.

And if Toronto’s art community’s response is any indication, the city can expect to witness several new and exuberant things from her, much like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

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