“We hope that, through our contribution, today’s generation will be inspired to carry the momentum of this discussion forward…” ~ Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky

That from one of Canada’s most-renowned photographers and the reason why I brought my kids to Anthropocene, the stunning and powerful collection of photography and video exploring the impact of human activity on Earth.

The feature exhibition – on display un January 6, 2019 at the Art Gallery of Ontario – is a collaboration between Burtynsky and Canadian filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier. Through large-scale prints, massive murals, film and augmented reality (AR) installations, the artists capture how we are leaving a permanent and devastating signature on the world around globe and here in Canada.

They day we visited the exhibition, it was packed with gallery-goers of all ages. I was surprised to see so many kids. I am not sure if the youngsters really understood the gravity and scale of what the artists captured, but I, like so many of the accompanying parents and teachers, were trying hard to help them see beyond the pictures.

A big thanks to the artists and the AGO for helping with this. Here’s how they made it more engaging with kids in TOw:

Just the right amount of tech: I have a real love-hate relationship with technology in museums and galleries. While it’s a sure way to get kids more interested, it often turns into tap-and-swipe fest with kids abandoning before absorbing any content.

The AGO does a really good job at managing this balance with AR. This is an add-on because the larger-than-life photos are enough to stop you and your littles in their tracks.

There are in-gallery tablets provided, which make the stories behind the photos come to life. (You can also use your own device by downloading the AVARA app before your visit. Get on the free AGO wifi when you get there.) The tablets have cases (eg. kid-proof) and found on shelves next to a few of the largest photographs and installations.

Trip tip: Be sure to charge up your device. There is a charging station in the exhibition if needed.

The exhibit space is spacious and artful: The layout is art in itself and really easy to navigate with kids. It never feels cramped or like a maze.

There are two large rooms – one with large-scale and mural-sized photographs and the other with more video and AR sculptural installations. The latter shows sights such as confiscated ivory tusks and Sudan, the last male northern white rhino. (Photos above.)

Another adjoining room was my kid’s favourite – a smaller room (above) with visuals of Cathedral Grove, a rare forest of Douglas firs on Vancouver Island that is being logged at an alarming rate. The space, like a forest, felt really contemplative – then you’re jolted by explosions of branches and bark flying from ‘danger trees’ that are deemed hazardous to works and visitors. This is actually one good example of human activity, as the practice quickens the natural process of returning rotting trees to the forest floor.

Trip tip: Big Lonely Doug, Canada’s second largest Douglas fir tree is ‘on display’ via AR in the Galleria Italia on Level 2.

How to make an impact post-visit:  I appreciated the extra content at the end – like a website where you can learn more about reducing our carbon impact, a video that illustrates the projected rise in temperature of Canada over the next 100 years due to global warming, and an interactive map showing where in the world each photo and video was taken.

There is also a survey requesting your thoughts after visiting the exhibition. My son chose ‘informed’ (I guess he learned something – mom win!) Meanwhile, me (and the majority of respondents) chose ‘worried.’

Hands-on: Other than the AR, there is nothing to touch. However, the AGO’s Family Sundays, inspired by Anthropocenekick off October 28thand continue in November where families can get crafty and ‘make something from nothing.’

Trip tip: One weekends and holiday Mondays you can find the AGO Art Cart, a roving artmaking station in the galleries. The artwork is inspired by Anthropocene.


Getting there: All explained here.

Low-down: Admission. Kids five-and-under are free. Free general admission for everyone from 6 – 8:30 pm on Wednesdays. AGO is closed on Mondays.

In the hood: Grange Park and its awesome playground is behind the AGO.