Academic, sociologist-anthropologist and artist: Off the Clock with Laura Bisaillon

Laura Bisaillon stands before a presentation of photographs

Laura Bisaillon
Social Scientist, Political Science and Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society (undergraduate) and Social Justice and CREFO (graduate), University of Toronto Scarborough and OISE

Laura has been with the University of Toronto (U of T) since 2013.

What do you do off the clock?

I do installation art and will exhibit in September at the Opera House. I exhibited at the Propeller Gallery in March. My piece was made out of photographs and textiles from the Horn of Africa. Installation art is ephemeral. You create it. You mount it. You display it. Pieces are compelling and subversive. And then you take it down and it doesn’t exist anymore. That’s the idea of installation practice – it expands and enlivens how we represent ideas and do art.

U of T actually helped resuscitate my practice; I was dormant for a few years. It grew from forming intergenerational friendships with a couple of women students who were taking art. They introduced me to the underground Toronto gallery scene and gave me the appetite to revive this other part of my practice.

I am also a devotee of yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga and meditation for about three years and it’s just fantastic – it’s the best drug around. And Pilates. I regularly go to programming at the community centre where I live in St. James Town. It’s a fantastic community I can’t say enough good things about it.

Your research focuses a critical eye on the politics of health, illness, the law, and migration – how does your work impact your art?

Entirely. The people, politics and places that are present in my research are present in my life. There’s no distinction; it’s the same landscape. Issues that I research that are related to the experiences of marginalized and stigmatized health conditions, are the experiences of the people who I have worked with and lived among for 15 years–they’re my family, literally and figuratively. They inform my research and my eyes for the world. It’s an insider position.

When researching, I am able to do several things at once–academically for my job, but then also purposely for my family and community. My art, like my work, is intersectional and interdisciplinary.

If you could collaborate WITH one other art practitioner, who would it be and why?

A multi-layered display of artwork

Frida Kahlo because of how her chronic illness, journey, integration of personal suffering and pain, and her sensibilities, position as a woman, formed her creatively.

Of course, she’s long dead.

In terms of contemporary, living, breathing, artists: Dawit Petros. He’s an Eritrean-Canadian photographer, installation artist, poet and writer. He looks at migration, mobility and immobility. It would be great to collaborate with him on the idea of immobility. I met him at the ROM two years ago. It was an Afro-Canadian show. His talk and images on show were a photographic journey capturing migrants he accompanied from Libya across the Mediterranean into Europe. It was a thoughtful, soulful representation of terrible plight and flight.

Okay, and Codco or Kids in the Hall — oh to have been one of them! I love the idea of creating collective performance that is wacky, edgy, satirical.

What exhibit do you think everyone should go see right now?

Because it’s so nice out, and we’re trapped in a winter climate for so much of the year, in the summer I love discovering the outside hidden jewels that you might only see if you’re walking —Toronto’s “open air” cultural sites. They’re surprising testaments of the city’s history. They’re free and there’s so much in these historical plaques that we just pass by. You never know what you’ll find and the city comes alive in that way.

We live by Allan Gardens. Milton Acorn and Oscar Wilde are alumni speakers in this square. There are historical plaques that celebrate women social reformers and the first known Indigenous doctor in Canada. I also recently discovered a memorial to Hungarian-born poet, George Faludy. It is immediately behind the U of T student family housing complex on Charles Street and is worth checking out.

As for a show in a formal gallery: I love the Bata Shoe museum, at all times. I would love to eventually do a project with them in some way. They had a great series on the idea of mobile feet, migration, and writing about migration stories through shoes people wear.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t be in a hurry. Life is now.