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Renowned alumnus named Visiting Artist

Artist Will Kwan (inset) created Displacement, a public sculpture (seen at bottom) made from demolition rubble in Shanghai.

Will Kwan, a renowned visual artist whose work has been exhibited internationally, is back on campus this winter after being named the Snider Visiting Artist.

Kwan (pictured inset, at right) is an alumnus of U of T Scarborough (2002). Since earning his BA in 2002, he has gone on to achieve international recognition for his work in installations, video and photography. A Canadian citizen born in Hong Kong, Kwan was most recently invited to be the artist in residence at the Duolun Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai, and is scheduled to premiere a new project for the 5th Biennale de Montréal in May 2007.

He was involved in the creation of a large-scale public sculpture in Shanghai, an earthwork (sculpture) made of rubble from demolished buildings. Prior to that, Kwan was an Artist in Residence at a contemporary art foundation in northern Italy and a Research Fellow at a cultural institute in the Netherlands, following his graduate studies in visual arts at New York’s Columbia University.

“Will has become an internationally important artist, and this is a fantastic opportunity for us to have him back on campus, for he’s an inspiration to students and faculty alike,” says Prof. Garry Leonard of the Department of Humanities, who spearheaded the initiative to bring Kwan back to campus as a Visiting Artist. 

During his semester here, Kwan is teaching a fourth-year interdisciplinary studio- seminar, consulting students, and creating a work of art for the campus. He will also participate in the conversation about a broadly-based program in visual culture at U of T Scarborough. His office-studio is located in AA-301.

“Will is an international artist, but also a trans-national one,” says Leonard. “He is interested in the myths of the global economy. A common denominator in his projects is to find a way to register the involvement of the local and the communal in the much more abstract assumptions about the presumed dominance of the ‘global’. For example, his in-progress project, Canaries, which will be presented in part in Montreal, is a series of video essays, photographs, and documents that examine Hong Kong and its relationship to trans-national forces.”

The project combines both archival and original material – film, photographs and texts – gathered and developed over the past two years, which tries to make sense of trans-national traffic that has drifted back and forth across the Pacific. The project sketches narratives around the 19th Century opium trade, the global financial industry, the Cantonese diaspora, and other geopolitical subjects.

Of a video installation produced for a public market in the Netherlands, Kwan writes this description of the goals of the piece:

“Every town in Europe with a significant population has a market. In Europe, the local markets of cities and towns scattered throughout the continent were among the earliest ‘engines’ in the development of the command economies that we experience today as the elusive ‘global economy’. Local markets today have practically no significance in the broader, de-territorialized systems of trade and exchange, but they still carry important ‘cargo’ that tells us things about the continued movement of objects and ideas.”

Humanities professor Lora Carney describes Kwan as someone who, as a U of T Scarborough student, “showed enormous and constant commitment to his art, to his academic study, and to the overall life of the campus. Even faculty and staff who had no connection to Visual and Performing Arts spoke about him with the deepest respect. I cannot emphasize enough what a fascinating and purposeful artist he is.”

Kwan says he is most interested in “how to make representations about this idea we have of the ‘global’ -- and how art can contribute visual material to the general knowledge base we are developing about the contemporary world.”

He says he is happy to be back on campus after traveling a great deal in the past few years. “The campus has really changed, and many of these buildings were not here when I was a student,” he says. “I’m going to work on a specific piece while I’m here, and whether it’s a video or set of photographs, I would be happy to have it become part of the university’s permanent collection of artworks.”

The Snider Fellowship Visiting Artist has been made possible through the Snider C. Fletcher Fund, established in the will of Amelia Pauline Worsley in memory of her late husband, to be awarded to a scholar whose work is of general cultural and intellectual significance that has implications beyond the particular academic department in which the artist is located.

For more information on Will Kwan, visit

by Mary Ann Gratton

© University of Toronto Scarborough