YURI DOJC - Photographer, artist, archivist, and witness, Yuri Dojc is positioned at the helm of an expansive practice that encompasses many kinds of looking. His multi-lens trajectory – pivoting from, formerly, an established commercial photography practice to that of, now, an artful observer of history’s most vulnerable vestiges – relates to his varied personal history. In 1968, as Russian tanks were rolling into his native Czechoslovakia, the young student summering in London became, abruptly, a “refugee.” And soon, that status shifted again, to immigrant, as Dojc made his way to Canada. In the decades since, the roving photographer has made Toronto his home, and the world both his subject and his host.
Dojc’s application of lurid colour and sometimes lucid, winking manipulations have become his signatures, as have the sensuality of his framing, and his studies in black-and-white, whose searing dynamism and analogist design sensibilities call up those of Man Ray. He has developed a significant portfolio of nudes, of liminal figuration and beguiling abstraction.
Concurrently, Dojc has steadied his lens on those whose time has nearly run out, before they slip the hook of history. In the mid-late 1990s, he began making portraits of Slovakia's last living Holocaust survivors. He documented abandoned synagogues, schools, Jewish cemeteries, producing “poignant reminder[s] of life interrupted,” as Time Magazine put it, but also a paean to the Jewish faith, “a monument to the people who don’t have monuments.” Last Folio opened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City in 2011, and has traveled to The Library of Congress in Washington, the Mark Rothko Art Centre in Latvia, the United National in New York, the AGO in Toronto, the National Library in Berlin, the Museum of Tolerance in Moscow, and the Tufts University Art Gallery in Boston, among many others.
AMERICAN DREAMS - Following his immigration from a Russian-controlled Czechoslovakia to Toronto in the late 1960s, Yuri Dojc unpacked his imaginings of the West into the photographic series American Dreams. Now owned by the National Gallery of Canada, the images originated in the mind of an Eastern European youth, one who sought to reconcile his dreams with reality. Through surreal tableaux fabricated in the artist’s studio using plastic toys and other found, kitsch objects, Dojc depicts an America that surges in the dreams of many immigrants—one that’s dangerously hard to realize. When asked by a journalist why he didn’t settle in the United States, Dojc replied, “Then I will have nothing to dream about.” While Dojc travels widely to exhibit internationally, he continues to return to his perch in Toronto where he can peer over the border at his subject.However it’s one he doesn’t claim as his own. His are fantasies that “tremble before monsters,” and have been transformed into images that contrast humorous, playful qualities with an underlying sense of unease. Their origin story is one of someone on the outside, conjuring an image of something one should be fearful to want.