Architecture and urbanism feature in Toronto Biennial of Art
The exhibition has two headquarter: its main location is a former Volvo car dealership at 259 Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto. The location, which was flood damaged, was transformed into the biennial’s main gallery space by Toronto-based firm Partisans. (The same firm previously rehabilitated the Hearn Power Plant for Luminato in 2018.)
Inside the entrance to the space is a commissioned work by Adrian Blackwell, a designer who teaches at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture. Isonomia in Toronto? (harbour) replicates a section of the city’s shoreline, with successive layers cut to reflect changes in the contour as the lakefront has been infilled over time. The piece doubles as seating for performances and discussions, pointing to questions of territorial occupation.
The work’s companion piece, Isonomia in Toronto? (creek), also by Blackwell, is housed at the exhibition’s western headquarters—the Small Arms Inspection Building in Mississauga. It’s made up of a snaking canvas tube, filled with poplar shavings and printed with images of Etobicoke Creek, the only topographically defines inland edge of the so-called Toronto Purchase.
The Infinity Series and J’Ouvert Temple by Edmonton-based Curtis Talwst Santiago also have architectural aspects. The former is a series of tiny dioramas built in reclaimed jewellery boxes.
Moyra Davey’s photos in the Gold Dumps and Ant Hills series compare two kinds of excavation seen outside of Johannesburg, South Africa – one set man-made, and the other natural. The series, which is reminiscent of architects’ interest in animal-made structure, raises questions about the environmental damage of the global mining industry, in which Canadian companies are implicated.
Turning back to Toronto, Luis Jacob’s The View From Here (Library) is a collection of printed material dating back to 1872 that offers a panoply of visions of Toronto, from official government documents projecting the future of the city to counter-culture publications offering perspectives from diverse communities.
The Biennale also encompasses exhibitions at venues including Harbourfront Centre, Ontario Place, Union Station, and the Art Gallery of York University.
Getting to the Biennale’s main exhibition space is itself an exercise in urban exploration. Tucked by the side of the Gardiner, it’s both peripheral to the city and in the centre of things.
On the same block, Sidewalk Labs has its community engagement centre. And on the next block, in a parking lot, is an independent exhibition curated by local Prachi Khandekar. Titled Flight Mode and running until October 8, it occupies two shipping containers with installations that aim to pull viewers away from the digital world and invite them to a greater state of attentiveness. “The exhibition is about solitude—particularly how pervasive connectivity has come to crowd it out of our busy schedules,” says Khandekar.
It’s the first time that Toronto has hosted an Art Biennial, and organizers are already beginning to envisage the next edition. At the opening, Mayor John Tory announced that the 2021 Biennial will be accompanied by year of public art, and a city-wide expansion of Nuit Blanche.
The Toronto Biennial of Art runs until December 1, 2019.