Oh Dear

public art that unhinges North York’s sense of modesty (2013)


       The spine of North York (the Willowdale area) is a strip of Yonge Street between Sheppard Avenue to the south and Finch Avenue to the north. It provides distinct aesthetic markers of the past 6 decades. The level of redevelopment and density moves at ever greater speed in this zone. A post-war suburban district transformed into North York's city centre, today the area surrounding Mel Lastman Square and the North York Civic Centre, serves as a central post-amalgamation Toronto hub for many new Canadians from Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Asian countries, among others. With its rapidly expanding and changing population, it offers a mix of built conditions: greater high rises and greater density; the preservation of the wide single dwelling lots that surround its main transportation artery/boulevard; one-of-a-kind architecturally designed homes east of Yonge, post-war housing west of Yonge, both sides mostly all replaced in favour of monster homes; and public art and other planning attempts to both create and dissolve a centralized civic centre created before the 1998 amalgamation of Toronto. This mix today offers a microcosm of frugality and excess, and of new and old urbanism, that progress outside the purviews of critical taste. Oh Dear! offers a self-reflective critique of this area, roughly twenty-five years after its' major civic buildings have been built.

       The exhibition explores the collective forming of a suburban North York culture by pairing 7 artists with 7 locations along this spine. Oh Dear's installations are located in and around the North York Centre: Toronto Centre for the Arts (1987, Zeidler Roberts Architects), Gibson House Museum (1850's Georgian Revival home of renown surveyor David Gibson), North York Civic Centre (1981, Adamson Associates) and Mel Lastman Square (1990, Kirkland Partnership/Novita), North York Central Library and promenade within the North York Centre (1987, Moriyama and Teshima), Ontario Historical Society's Historic John McKenzie House (1913, styled Queen Anne Revival/Arts and Crafts). Other notable buildings in this zone include; Toronto District School Board, (1970, Mathers & Haldenby), the Joseph Sheppard Federal Building (1977, Shore Tilbe Irwin and Partners), The Nestle Building (1994, Strong & Voisey Architects) and The Claude Watson School for the Arts (2007, Kohn Shnier Architects).

- excerpt from curatorial statement by Paola Poletto

This was a summer long group of installations situated in the North York (Toronto) centre. It brought together cultural buildings with artists who live/lived in the area: Matthew Blackett, Ian Chodikoff, Otino Corsano, Stephen Cruise, Bailey Govier, Joseph Muscat and myself. Writers were Teresa Casas, Paul Hong and Mark Warrick. Brochure and site signs by Beehive Design. Supported by Ontario Arts Council, North York Arts and participating sites. The blog details the installations and project. We held weekly artist talks as part of the Cultura Festival and I planned a Jane's Walk to preview the area. All images below by Stephen Cruise.

Mural by Bailey Govier 
at Gibson Square/Gibson Museum

Sculpture by Joseph Muscat at Mel Eastman Square

Sculpture by Stephen Cruise at Gibson Museum
Postcard drop-off station by Stephen Cruise
at North York Centre Library
Map by Matthew Blackett at North York Centre
Videos by Otino Corsano at North York Performing Art Centre
Photographs by Ian Chodikoff at North York Civic Centre
Installation by Paola Poletto at Ontario Historical Society/McKenzie Historical House

Local lore has it that the nitrogen-rich soil of Willowdale makes for vibrant yellow roses, yet in a hundred times… the rose petals have faded to a delicate brown-tinged pale hue. The artist has subverted the mass-produced iconic shapes of the food containers, covering them with faded organic membranes by hand. There is a deliberate scrambling of opposites: inside and out, surface and form, preservative receptacle and organic matter.

Excerpted from Teresa Casas' response to A Hundred Times: The Excesses of Daily Living