Humans have always had an urge to document our experiences. The AGO’s eclectic I Am Here exhibit explores how we’ve done this over time, featuring artworks from the Renaissance to the present.

It’s a fun and fascinating exhibit with an impressive range of work with perspectives from Patti Smith, Tavi Gevinson, Annie Pootoogook, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as notable Toronto artists including Fiona Smyth, who was commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ontario to design pieces that encapsulate the theme of the exhibit, including the incredible digital illustration Cave Paintings to TikTok: A Timeline of Self-Documentation (2021). The image, as seen above, shows the various tools that people have used to document their lives (we love that Queen West’s Speaker’s Corner made it in).

Unknown. Album of Toronto, 1900s-1910s. Album: 72 gelatin silver prints on 16 unbound black pages with no cover, Album: 34 x 40 x 0.5 cm. Gift of Max Dean, 2016. © Art Gallery of Ontario 2016/267

I Am Here is a delightful sensory overload of drawings, paintings, photographs, family albums, home movies and even to-do lists that show the various ways that we capture our time on earth, from everyday mundane moments to milestone events.

Seeing the documentation on display, showing how it has evolved (regressed?) through the ages, gallery goers will be prompted to examine their own behaviour, asking themselves questions like: what do the images I share say about me? Who am I without my photos? Does my documentation manipulate memory? How will people view me long after I pass?

Nicole Eisenman, Another Green World, 2015. Oil on canvas, 325.12 × 269.24 cm. Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

Exhibit highlights include 595 items from Andy Warhol’s personal time capsule;  PANORAMA (2020) a 26-minute compilation of home movies, curated by archivist and writer Rick Prelinger, with a soundscape designed by Toronto-based composer David Wall featuring Canadian musicians; Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016) by Arthur Jafa, a 7 minute 25 second film of found footage documenting aspects of the Black experience; 49 photo albums from around the world, courtesy of the AGO Collection and the Archive of Modern Conflict, and so much more. 

Alex Bierk, Drift, 2020. Oil on linen over panel, 25.4 x 35.6 cm. General Hardware Contemporary. © Alex Bierk. Image courtesy of the artist.

Beyond the exhibit itself, there are many playful touch points around the AGO that help lead visitors to the 5th floor. We enjoyed opening the neon pink front doors and wandering through the permanent collection to find brightly coloured arrows guiding us up and up. Even the elevator button has been given special design treatment, and all these details add a layer of anticipation. 

I Am Here is a riveting trip through time and an enthralling kaleidoscope that reflects the human experience. 

The exhibition is on now. For gallery hours and more information, head to the AGO site