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Mammalian Diving Reflex

Artist-in-Residence
December 8, 2014 - February 8, 2015

Mammalian Diving Reflex is a Toronto-based research-art atelier, lead by artistic and research director Darren O’Donnell. Social engagement is at the core of the group’s practice with their focus in recent years expanding to concentrate on collaborations with local youth. Mammalian's art facilitates encounters between groups and people who would not ordinarily interact, a practice they refer to as “social acupuncture.”

Since 2005 Mammalian Diving Reflex has partnered with a group of approximately fifteen Parkdale-based youth. Known as the Torontonians this group of young people have grown up collaborating with Mammalian Diving Reflex. O'Donnell and the rest of the team have used their years of experience collaborating with the Torontonians to develop the Mammalian Protocol for Collaborating with Children. This set of guidelines for collaborations between youth and institutions recognizes children as rights-holders. In 2012 the Mammalian Protocol received the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of the Child Award.

Mammalian Diving Reflex's work for the AGO is entitled The AGO Youth Receptiveness Assessment Initiative. This project will assess the gallery based on youth engagement principles designed by Mammalian. The Initiative’s aim is to examine “the openness of the AGO to unusual and innovative ways of including and engaging youth.” Mammalian intends this project to foster friendships between local youth and AGO staff, transcending the bureaucratic structure that often divides these two groups. Mammalian Diving Reflex will work in collaboration with the Torontonians, and the AGO Youth Council. This team will develop a series of research questions and design a series of research moments in advance of the residency, which they will use to conduct interviews with AGO staff and local community members. Mammalian Diving Reflex will then present their findings in a report presented to the AGO and the public.

Energy Dispersion for the Attraction of Good Spirits (2014) began Mammalian Diving Reflex's process of engaging the local community for their residency work. Undertaken in advance of their residency, Young Mammals Director, Annie Wong, coordinated this Tai Chi performance held throughout the AGO galleries. Planned to coincide with Toronto's Fourteenth Annual Chinatown Festival – July 19 and 20, 2014 – one goal of the project was for the collective to strengthen ties with AGO’s neighbourhood. Over thirty performers from four local Tai Chi groups performed. The four groups practiced simultaneously in various galleries, allowing visitors to encounter multiple Tai Chi performance styles. The project was intended to invite good spirits into the AGO in order to integrate the energies of the neighbourhood with the building’s energy.

On display in the McEwen Gallery from Wednesday, December 3, 2014 to February 8, 2015, Mammalian Diving Reflex presents a selection of recent video works including High School Health (2014), and Sleeping with Family (2014). Additionally, an evolving research wall illustrating The AGO Youth Receptiveness Assessment Initiative will detail findings as they emerge throughout the residency period. Free with admission. Other public programs presented by Mammalian Diving Reflex include: Dare Night, Security Guards Just Want to Give You a High Five, What a drag, and many more. 


The core team of Mammalian Diving Reflex consists of Director, Creative Productions, Eva Verity; Managing Director, Jenna Winter; Young Mammals Director, Annie Wong; Young Mammals and Artistic and Research Director, Darren O’Donnell. Previous works by Mammalian, such as Haircuts by Children, The Children’s Choice Awards, and All the Sex I’ve Ever Had, tour internationally. Mammalian Diving Reflex has also received numerous awards for its community and youth engagement projects. Most recently they received the inaugural Neighbourhood Arts Network TD Arts Diversity Award (2013) and the Toronto Community Foundation’s Vital Toronto Award.

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