ArtworxTO brings free public art across the city in an initiative that highlights community and diversity. It provides opportunities for artists and the public to engage with themes and ideas that matter to Torontonians.

ArtworxTO Hubs are spaces for artistic and community activity led by the next generation of curators, collectives, and artists. Each hub features a year-long exhibit with many projects, sponsors and special events. Through exhibitions, activations, workshops, and experiences, the Hubs aim to amplify local artistic identities, recognize their global vibrancy, and empower creative communities. Hubs are located at Union Station, Downsview Park, Scarborough Town Centre and Cloverdale Common and have partnered with local art service organizations: North York Arts, Scarborough Arts, Arts Etobicoke and Lakeshore Arts.  

Allstyle, 2021, Curtia Wright, Danilo Deluxo, Elicser Elliot, Jacquie Comrie, Kreecha, MEDIAH, Moises Frank(Luvs), Ness Lee, Yung Yemi (Adeyemi Adegbesan), mutal / painting, 70 Canuck Ave, North York, On

I visited two of Artworx public art installation hubs, the first being at Cloverdale Common, situated in Cloverdale Mall. Amid a bustling shopping centre I found a visually striking multimedia exhibition that has focused efforts to bring art out of the downtown core. I spoke with curator Claudia Arana about art accessibility and trauma healing. This exhibition HOME(LAND) explores themes around home, land, kinship, and memory from different perspectives. The exhibition plans on featuring all the natural elements over the course of the next year. In this first exhibition water is the element that links the four artists together.

Installation view of HOME(LAND) at Cloverdale Common

Arana explains the importance of representing artists who are not from North America, saying that some of them have well known careers overseas and don’t know how to get access or visibility in the Toronto art scene, “As an immigrant myself there hasn’t been a lot of opportunities for particularly this type of artist to showcase their work.” Arana noted that she has always found that the idea of home is very strong in their work.

The migration journey of the artists, in this exhibition for example, is how she is getting to know artists. Bloody Boats: Infinite Journeys 2.0 by artist Akshata Naik is an interactive installation comprised of 4,500 individually folded boats. People are invited to leave a message on the boats and write their own stories. She is exploring the complexities of feeling dislocated through her migration journey, using an augmented reality element, as well as her first sculptural work Voyage -1.

Installation view of Bloody Boats: Infinite Journeys 2.0 by Akshata Naik at Cloverdale Common

As a deaf artist Peter Owusu-Asnah wants to advocate for people with disabilities. In his art practice he wants viewers to question accessibility gaps in our systems and society. He wants those who have disabilities and know the gaps to lead these conversations. His The Blue Series is a personal and emotional exploration of the colour blue. He has more than 1500 variations of digital squares, and the artist has placed the pixels one by one.

The Blue Series by Peter Owusu-Ansah at Cloverdale Common

In this exhibition Arana has succeeded in connecting artists who are new to Canada with indigenous artists, as she has identified a shared experience and connection between these groups. The Onaman Collective in their multidisciplinary work Water and Land Protection Banners are advocating for the pipeline protest at the border. The banners display traditional picture icons that reference nourishment and protection such as the Thunderbird. These banners are free for others to download; the idea being to make these motifs shared by everyone as viral as possible to empower political action. A video of how the members of the collective made the banners is included in the installation.

Installation view of Water and Land Protection Banners – Onaman Collective at Cloverdale Common

Shabnam Afrand’s The Green Summit explores the symbolic fluid transition and liminal space between life and death through the intersection of cultural and historical symbols. Afrand remembers the 176 passengers who died in the Ukrainian flight tragedy in 2020. The installation is comprised of a runway that viewers are invited to walk on, that leads to a door and mirrors with screens on either side. On these screens is footage from the plane crash, as well as a performative element in which the artist is lowering herself into water to heal. The installation brings attention to the political decision that led to this tragic event, as well as the cultural symbolism that represents memory and longing.

The Green Summit, installation by Shabnam Afrand at Cloverdale Common

At the end of the exhibition is Elegy for Souls on Hold, made by Mirna Chacín. Using infrared photography, mapping projection, and augmented reality components, the artist has made a memorial for those who have passed during COVID-19. She has created an app that allows viewers to meet these individuals and celebrate their lives. The app opens to a slideshow of photos. Chacín has been in touch with each of the families of these people to make this project. This installation is multilayered: healing and mourning happens when you step into the installation, but the same impact is also happening behind the scenes, underneath all the conversations with the families that led to this. Chacín is inviting people to keep submitting photos of their loved ones as this is an ongoing collaborative project.

Elegy for the Souls on Hold by Mirna Chaín at Cloverdale Common

Next I visited the ARTWORX Pop Up Hub at Collision Gallery in Toronto’s financial district. It is focused on locating self care in urban centres. I spoke with curator Emma Steen about the lack of care given to certain marginalized communities and the disparities between who has access and who does not. Steen said, “I’m interested in distinguishing the discussion that care is a human right and a need that we have. How can we push care and self care beyond being additional, or not as important?  For women, non-binary folk, and anyone racialized or in the wider BIPOC queer community, self care is extra trivialized, but in order to take care of our communities we need to take care of ourselves.”

In a journey to find a word for “care” in artist Laura Grier’s native indigenous language, they created a new word, which translates in English to “hearts mind.” On display, is Grier’s process of finding this new word – and how to embody it. Grier uses a Japanese art practice to create 8ft tall scrolls that hang from the gallery ceiling. On each scroll is a different care act, such as footprints of them making dinner for their partner.

Collision Gallery Overview (L-R) Kǝdǝdzǝ́hehtsį by Laura Grier, Ɂįdzǝ́Ɂenį by Laura Grier and A Battlefield Medicinal Herb Living Green Under the Snow by Susan Blight

Artist Susan Blight has yarrow plants potted in the gallery space. Yarrow is medicinal herb with healing properties. Remarkably, the plant makes an air-trapping structure around itself which allows it to thrive in the winter, and it is proved historically that the plant has helped heal sick Indigenous people. This work examines the complexities of care and space.

Steen explained, “Bringing these plants in is bringing all these conversations we were having about authenticity, what is land as valued and not valued? Who values it? When things get to thrive or not thrive? The fact that we now have invasive species is another layer.” A snail species not native to Canada is killing the yarrow, what is left is an interesting binary of life and death.

Yarrow plants by Susan Blight

Collision Gallery also wanted to actualize care by creating a safe and calm, low stimulation environment with tea, blankets, reading material and couches for folks who are visiting the gallery. On occasion, such as on the day I visited, November 26th, the gallery also hosted a curated music event brought to the public by AM/PM, a performing arts company that has a mandate to celebrate female, indigenous, BIPOC, transgender and other minority artists. Ojibway singer/songwriter Evan Redsky as well as Oji/Cree musician Aysanabee each performed adding to the calm and soulful atmosphere.

ArtworxTO has had a huge role in reviving the arts during the pandemic, advocating for community and accessibility. I found each arts hub’s installations thoughtful and visceral, and they all gave the public opportunities to engage with humanity that was both empathetic and full of impact.

Georgia Gardner

Images are courtesy of ArtworxTO

*Exhibition information: both open till December 31, 2021, Cloverdale Common, 250 The East Mall, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Sat, 10am – 8pm, Sun 12 – 5 pm; Collision Gallery, 18 Wellington Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Fri, 10:30am – 7pm, Sat, 12 – 5pm.

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