Toronto Biennial of Art / Press Preview, March 23, 2022
Theme: WHAT THE WATER KNOWS, THE LAND REMEMBERS
The pandemic put many of us on pause and the Toronto Biennial of Art (TBA) scheduled for 2021 was not spared. Fortunately, it has re-emerged in 2022 with artistic vigour. This year’s Biennial offers generous portions of captivating and thoughtful artworks to feed our appetites after enduring a two-year period of hibernation. A welcome event as we long for spring and post-pandemic recovery. Visitors can go to nine sites in Toronto as well as Mississauga. There are over 100 works from more than 65 participants, both Canadian and international, including 23 new commissioned artworks. The TBA celebrates the cultural diversity of Toronto with one third of the artists being indigenous. The organizers even came up with their own Land Recognition statement after consultations over a two-year period.
The curators and organizers (L-R): Curator Katie Lawson; Curator Exhibitions Tairone Bastien; Deputy Director & Director of Exhibitions Susannah Rosenstock; Senior Curator Candice Hopkins; Deputy Director & Director of Programs Ilana Shamoon; Executive Director Patrizia Libralato and Director, Development Leah MacNeil.
Besides the actual artworks, there are performances, workshops and other programming with information all accessible from their web site. On June 4th, Judy Chicago will end the TBA with a Smoke Sculpture from a barge floating in the lake near Sugar Beach. Many of the artists will be accessible through artist talks or exhibition tours, so viewers can learn more about their art. Curators Candice Hopkins, Katie Lawson and Tairone Bastien explored this second biennial as a continuation of the first in analyzing the relationship between land and water. Where the 2019 Biennial was about the waterfront, this biennial has sites that have water running below the ground or in creeks above it. Both water and land are seen as archives of history.
The entrance of 72 Perth Avenue
An old Pentecostal church at 72 Perth Avenue (Bloor and Lansdowne area) is ground-zero for this year’s Biennial, and that was where we met for our day long tour at 9:30 in the morning. The building will become a condo site but was donated by Castlepoint Properties for the exhibition. Here one can see several installations, sound and video works as well as the impressive piece by Iranian artist Ghazaleh Avarzamani Forced Afloat consisting of 7,000 square feet of rubber mulch from old tires. It looks like a big blue sandbox. Artist Jeffrey Gibson has a sculptural work, Speak to me in your own way so I can hear you, made from driftwood, canvas, beading and other materials. The piece is reminiscent of totems and the mystical rituals surrounding them. Andrea Carlson’s (Ojibwe) works, Cast a shadow (mixed media on paper) and Never Ending (with 28 wood columns), stand out with their monumentality.
Andrea Carlson, Never-Ending Monument, 2022, 28 wood columns. Each column 18 cm diameter, up to 304 cm tall. Courtesy of the artist. Co-commissioned by the TBA and FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art
Paul Pfeiffer (NY, USA) has a group of sculptural objects titled, Incarnator, that resemble Catholic icons.
Installation view of Paul Pfeiffer, Incarnator, 2018 – 2022, series of wood sculptures
Torontonian artist Nadia Belerique’s large installation Holdings is comprised of stacked white, plastic barrels containing found objects and stained glass. These barrels were used to transport goods back and forth to her family in Portugal. There is much more to see at 72 Perth and it even has a reference centre where one can look through books.
Installation view with Nadia Belerique, Holdings, detail, 2020 – ongoing, plastic barrels, stained glass, copper, lead, etched glass, acrylic sheeting, rainwater, paint, steel, various food objects, photographs, wood
Nearby is Arsenal Contemporary Art at 45 Ernest Avenue. One of the most striking works there is Kaokao #1 by the Mata Aho Collective (four Maori women artists), a huge sculptural work, created from 200 meters of reflective tape; a larger version of matting used in their culture.
Installation view with Kaokao #1 by the Mata Aho Collective, 2014, reflective safety trim, cotton, 12 x 2.2 m
Also on view is Kahkiyaw Kikway (All of everything) by artist Amy Malbeuf made with tanned moose and deer hides. And there’s lots more to see at Arsenal Contemporary.
Installation view with Amy Malbeuf, Kahkiyaw Kikway (All of everything), 2019 – 2022, home tanned moose and deer hide
Jeffrey Gibson‘s colourful and clever site-specific installation I am your relative is situated in the main floor lobby of MOCA. Its movable platforms engage the public to participate in creating an interactive work by using Gibson’s posters, textiles and stickers covering walls and even doors. This work was commissioned by MOCA and the TBA. It is supposed to create a one-of-a-kind visual archive.
Installation view of Jeffrey Gibson, I am your relative, 2022. Courtesy Jeffrey Gibson Studio, Kavi Gupta Gallery, Roberts Projects, Sikkema Jenkins & Co. and Stephen Friedman Gallery, co-commissioned by MOCA and the TBA
Then we went on to Mercer Union to see The 45th Parallel by artist Abu Hamdan that includes an installation of two large backdrops and a video work by Hamdan as well as a monologue by filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel. It is about the Haskell Free Library and Opera House which straddles the Canada and US border. A fascinating story.
Abu Hamdan, The 45th Parallel, 2022, video still
In High Park at Colborne Lodge there are some smaller works to take in by artists Eduardo Navarro, who presents an Untitled series of coloured postcards, and artist Marguerite Humeau who was commissioned to create a series of site-specific sculptural pieces, titled Energy Flows about the tragic story of Jemina Howard, who lived and died in this building.
Eduardo Navarro, Untitled series, coloured postcards
The video installation Dish Dances by Ange Loft can be seen even from the outside at Fort York National Historic Site. It addresses issues of land sustainability.
Installation view of Small Arms Inspection Building, Mississauga
In Mississauga at the Small Arms Inspection Building, a former munitions factory with 18,000 square feet, there are numerous installations, videos and artworks. The space is immense and sometimes the works are somewhat comprised by the light coming from the windows and skylights but everything is very assessable and worth checking out. I liked LAIR, a mobile music ensemble. Nave by Camille Turner is a powerful 3-channel video installation that looks at the slave trade in Canada.
LAIR, a clay music ensemble with sound artists from the art collective, Jatiwangi art Factory (JaF), based in Jatisura, West Java, Indonesia
Works at 5 Lower Jarvis Street include the sculpture series Plague Masks, created by artist Brian Jungen using Air Jordan sneakers. Artists Ts̱ēmā Igharas and Erin Siddall created a multimedia installation, Great Bear Money Rock, using a projector with a film loop, a bottle of water and glass bubbles placed on the floor. The work explores the “traumas of colonial extraction.”
Brian Jungen, Plague Mask, 2020, nike air jordans, 34.3 x 69 x 40 cm
At our last stop at the Textile Museum, we viewed some great works by Indigenous artists Jessie Oonark, Janet Kiqusiuq and Victoria Mamnguqsualuk. Titled, Double Vision Double Regard, the textile pieces include colourful fabrics and is more of a gallery setting.
Jessie Oonark, Untitled, 1977, embroidery and appliqué on felt
The TBA treats us to 10 weeks of great art and programming (all free) and some relief from the pandemic. Back in April 2010 at the former site of MOCA there was a public forum on whether Toronto needed to have its own Biennial (there are some 200 around the world). There was vigorous debate on who would organize it, who would pay for it, and what it might look like. TBA Executive Director and Founder, Patrizia Libralato and her team gave us the first edition of the Biennial in 2019 and now with the second TBA it looks like the bi-annual event will become something to look forward to and another good reason for us to celebrate the arts in Toronto.
Text and photo: Phil Anderson
*Exhibition information: March 26 – June 5, 2022, in nine exhibition sites, including, 72 Perth Avenue, Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto (45 Ernest Ave.), Mercer Union (1286 Bloor St. West) Museum of Contemporary Art (158 Sterling Ave), Colborne Lodge (11 Colborne Lodge Dr., High Park), Small Arms Inspection Building (1352 Lakeshore Rd. East, Mississauga), Fort York National Historic Site (250 Fort York Blvd), 5 Lower Jarvis Street, Textile Museum of Canada (55 Centre Ave), For more information about TBA please click here.