Toronto isn’t a homogeneous city. People who live here have varying city identities: a resident of Parkdale, an east-ender, someone who lives in the core…you get it. Even it’s affectionate moniker as a “city of neighbourhoods” reflects on the unique qualities of each little regional pocket.
And at a time where Torontonians are branding themselves with hyper-local swag like subway stop buttons or neighbourhood beanies, the art of Toronto Bingo has sprung up with an uncanny ability unite us all. Toronto Bingo is the name of an instagram account that posts daily illustrations of quintessential moments in this city. The artworks picks up on the intangible feeling of what it’s like to call Toronto home.
The illustrations are composed of Toronto-specific feelings and memories which no tourist would ever be able to tap into. Drawings of the dead raccoon memorial, or the last remaining moose sculpture (circa year 2000) make it feel like we’re all in on one big inside joke, only accessible after years of living with the city’s quirks.
Last week, I got to sit down with Natalie and Rachel, the masterminds behind Toronto Bingo to talk about their artwork and journey.
They tell me that it all started off as a joke among friends on twitter, as they tweeted about these notorious city-specific moments such as catching an amateur modeling shoot in graffiti alley, or passing by the dreamy lights on Palmerston ave. The tweets turned into a two-person art collaboration as Natalie added drawings to tweets and Rachel managed the copy behind each quirky caption as well as the social media. The two had originally planned to only create a 5 x 5 bingo square of Toronto-isms, but were inspired to keep going when their illustrations began to blow up online. “Our hit came when Matt Galloway [the host of Metro Morning] gave us an on-air shout out after we tweeted one of our squares at him! – said Natalie” . Following that, there were Buzzfeed articles, CBC shout-outs, and a supportive Instagram fan-base from all over the city.
Rachel reflected on the value of being a two-woman operation (often mistaken for a single male artist) as she told me that both her and Natalie bounce ideas off each other for new bingo squares. “If it was just one person there would be no editorial review” – said Rachel. They have a running list of illustration ideas that they pick from and constantly update. Also included were sentiments about the perception of women in comedy and art, and the reaction of some fans who were shocked that the brains behind Toronto Bingo were female.
“ It’s definitely something we’ve had to think about, it’s like when people are surprised that we’re women… why? Why are you surprised? Girls are hilarious, some of the funniest people I know are girls. But then you don’t want to get into that dialogue because it perpetuates the whole thing. I think we’re hilarious” – added Rachel.
Though aside from this, both women were glowing about their supporters and followers. It seemed to be the real reason behind this passion project of theirs. The level of engagement for their artwork is rare, as they regularly get dozens of people commenting daily on their posts. Apparently they’ve even got a steady fan base of users that comment and like every new drawing (I might be one of those people, they write). Rachel and Natalie have decided to take this engagement and do something meaningful with it.
In May, the duo plans to take their artwork offline and get their fans to interact with the city IRL. They’re hosting a Toronto-wide scavenger hunt where teams of 4 – 6 will competitively take to the streets and upload photos of Toronto Bingo moments. In fact, Natalie even gave me a clue saying that one scavenger missions would be to upload images of 4 artistic traffic signal boxes, or to recreate some of their favorite bingo squares. All the funds go to the Regent Park School of Music in hopes of giving several children the opportunity to get music equipment and lessons.
Personally, the reason why I’m so in love with these simple drawings is the fact that they revive a sense of urbanism and civic ties among strangers, and more than that – they’re accessible to anyone. This city seems to have two very distinct understandings of art. One is the traditional gallery-style which features art that is locked away behind glass cages. The other is the growing rise of more public artwork: new street murals, Nuite Blanche, and online galleries like that of Toronto Bingo.
I’m sure that one of the reasons why Rachel and Natalie are receiving so much online support is the fact that they’ve been able to tap into a universalism of Toronto, a collective consciousness of the city that is experienced by so many of us. It’s a pleasant change from other artwork that needs to be decrypted by artists’ statements and years of art education. They site is easy to find, you can look at it in the morning through your subway ride, it is part of our social media. The message they send is simple: we’re all living in this less-than-perfect city, but we love it for all of it’s flaws. I feel that way. Don’t you?
Text and photo: Ella Gorevalov
*You can check out Toronto Bingo on instagram.com/torontobingo, or on their website www.toronto-bingo.com and grab a ticket for their upcoming city scavenger hunt on here: https://www.facebook.com/