Oh Dear!

In the recent issue of Spacing, John Lorinc writes, "The suburban city centres have high-rises, the roads have cyclists, and the buses no longer run empty. The postwar mold has been obliterated." This project looks at North York through this lens. Together with participating artists, sites and our supporters, we are offering a distinct aesthetic and sensibility: Oh Dear! is a multi-site exhibition in and of North York.
John McKenzie House celebrates 100 years in 2013; image by Paola Poletto
     A "Dear John" letter was tersely written to a spouse or partner to inform that the relationship was over. Such letters were common and likely originated during war times, when servicepersons were stationed away from home for several months or years. Oh Dear! examines, plays with, and explodes the veneer of modesty and morality typically associated with North York. The project explores a middle road between professionalism and passion, or more precisely, a proletariat-like sorting of work and life. As the title intends, Oh Dear! embraces both the directness of a "dear" letter and the endearment of the "dearest" of salutations reserved for those we love and keep close to home.
       North York's housing stock filled out following WWII. Many single dwelling homes in the 11 North York Wards of Toronto, now representing over 600 thousand people, were modeled after plans provided by the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation. Many were modest bungalows, followed by side splits and back splits, encircling the occasional two story brick and mortar field houses, where cows freely roamed and grains painstakingly grew. These large-scale '50s and '60s housing developments were undertaken to support the massive resettlement of servicepersons and the influx of immigrants. Many of the builders of such homes were new Canadians, such as my father, uncle, extended family and friends. Building and rebuilding has continued through the decades, slowly transforming the housing stock to include a greater range of densities including high-rise condos and some of the GTA's first "monster" homes, and to reflect new populations, trends, terms and desires.
North York Civic Centre
       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.
Toronto Centre for the Arts
       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).
       Thusly, Oh Dear! brings together iconic buildings with artists who have grown up, lived and/or live/work in the central North York area: Matthew Blackett (mapping spaces, artist/designer), Ian Chodikoff (Farrow Partnership, health and design planner/photographer), Otino Corsano (video artist), Stephen Cruise (public art/installation artist), Bailey Govier (painter), Joseph Muscat (installation artist) and Paola Poletto (installation artist), who offer a present day, personal viewpoint of North York 2013. Mark Warrack (heritage professional) offers a series of vignettes that recall the past - a sliver of the area's florid ideosyncratic histories. Paul Hong (short fiction writer) offers an alternative to what may  become … moreso eventful. And Teresa Cassas (specialist in contemporary art in heritage settings) offers a critical response to the installations.
       The project links to the Cultura Festival, an annual four week summer celebration of art and culture in North York. Now entering its fourth year, Cultura celebrates culture and diversity of Toronto every Friday evening at Mel Lastman Square by showcasing unique artistic talents, world music performers, dancers, buskers, international food vendors and outdoor feature film screening in a family friendly environment, free of charge. The festival runs from July 5 - 26, 2013; Oh Dear! runs from July 2 - August 26, 2013.
       The exhibition supports and is supported by the establishment of the newly formed arts service organization called North York Arts, currently operating out of the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Additional support for this project is provided by Councillor John Filion and the Ontario Arts Council. Guidance and encouragement is provided by the artists and writers, staff and friends at our installation sites, and you, our dear visitors.

Artist  /  Curator

1 comment:

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