Greg Ellwand

06.03.22 - MVS student Sherry Chunqing Liu curates art exhibit on U of T’s historic COVID-19 vaccination campaign

What initially started as a series of iPad sketches by a staff member at the University of Toronto’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic in downtown Toronto will now be presented as an art exhibit. Clinic Into the Future features nine paintings by clinic worker turned artist-in-residence Greg Ellwand. The exhibit, which will be installed in the now-closed clinic itself, is a collaboration between Ellwand and Daniels Faculty student Sherry Chunqing Liu, who curated it.

“I am extremely excited that people will now be able to view Ellwand’s paintings in person,” says Liu, who was born in the Chinese city of Xiamen and grew up in Richmond, British Columbia. “This exhibit is a special representation of the U of T community’s spirit and our commitment toward public health and to helping each other.”

Putting together an exhibit during a pandemic is a tall order for any curator. The project becomes even more daunting when it’s the first in-person event you’ve ever curated. For Liu, however, this challenge represented an opportunity of a lifetime, which the first-year Master of Visual Studies in Curatorial Studies student eagerly embraced.

Liu was first approached by her program director, Jean-Paul Kelly, at the start of the fall semester last year. Although she didn’t know then whether the exhibit would be virtual or in person, she was confident she could pull it off. Liu had previously worked on We Are Together 2020, an online arts initiative featuring testimonies and works of art from people around the world in the early days of the pandemic. Ellwand’s paintings, she felt, were a continuation of that work and those themes, albeit on a different scale.

“One of the biggest differences between online and in-person exhibits was that I needed to work with the physical space a lot,” she says.

Liu spent many afternoons at the former clinic in the U of T Exam Centre on McCaul Street, drafting floor plans and observing the traffic flow of the building. “The spatial planning involved a lot of my architectural skills that I obtained from my undergrad at the Daniels Faculty,” she says. “These technical design skills allowed me to clearly communicate with Greg and the rest of the exhibit team on how the installation could look in person.”

MVS Curatorial Studies student Sherry Chunqing Liu began working on the concept and layout of the Clinic Into the Future exhibit after her program director tapped her to curate artist Greg Ellwand's paintings at the start of the fall semester last year. (Photo of floor plan sketch provided by Liu)

Clinic Into the Future also happens to be the first solo exhibit that Liu has curated. She and Ellwand formed a close partnership during the curation process, delving into deep discussions about the stories and artistic decisions behind each of the pieces that ended up being selected.

They settled on two overarching narratives for the exhibit. “The first is about Greg’s creative process, from initially sketching what he was experiencing as a staff member to later incorporating more futuristic, vibrant and imaginative elements as an artist-in-residence,” she says. “The second is about the spatial dialogues among the artwork, the experiences of the members of the clinic, and the viewers of this exhibit.

“There is a sensation of a space-time parallel between the viewer and those who once worked at and visited the clinic.”

One example of how this was achieved was by positioning paintings that depict the clinic’s check-in activities in the check-in area itself. Liu hopes that, by doing so, visitors can imagine themselves being transposed into those scenes and also see through the eyes of Ellwand.

Ellwand’s paintings depict the people, objects, colours and movements that filled the vaccine clinic hosted in U of T’s Exam Centre in downtown Toronto. The clinic was one of the university’s three mass-immunization sites; the other two were on the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses. (Photos by Johnny Guatto)

Clinic Into the Future will be installed as a permanent fixture inside the Exam Centre building, alongside Ellwand’s artist statement and Liu’s curatorial statement plaques. The Exam Centre clinic was one of the University’s three COVID-19 vaccine centres. The other two were on the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses. Together, these and other U of T pop-up clinics constituted Canada’s largest immunization campaign, delivering nearly 420,000 doses in Toronto and Peel Region in 2021.

“It means a lot to me that the Exam Centre is where the exhibit will take place,” says Liu. “I hope it inspires contemplation of what happened in this space during the time of the clinic.

“Most of all, I hope visitors can walk away knowing that the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic has been a collective effort by our community, and that we’re not alone in this fight.”

Banner image: Clinic Into the Future marks the first in-person and solo show curated by Liu, pictured on the left discussing the paintings with exhibit artist Ellwand. (Photo by Johnny Guatto)