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Meditate Bay Street

Toronto artist Joel Richardson and an entourage of suits visited the Financial District on Sunday for a three-minute-long reflection on the current economy.

No doubt there are a few Bay Street suits, each Sunday morning, who march through the Financial District and into their offices. But yesterday, just after 10 a.m., a particular group of trim, suit-wearing Torontonians attracted some attention as they took to the corner of King and Bay streets with a very different kind of work in mind.

Leading the pack of about 24 professional-looking protesters was Joel Richardson, aka SUITMAN, aka “Toronto’s best-dressed street artist.” This piece of performance art, titled Secret Suitman Project/Projekt, had a team of business-suited men and women (and one child) remove their shoes, take a seat, and close their eyes at one of the city’s busiest intersections for 197.1 seconds—about three and a half minutes—of meditation. The number of seconds was supposed to reference 1971, the year Richardson believes supercomputers and the Black-Scholes formula set the economy on its path to our current financial crisis.

The Financial District, with its construction and traffic, isn’t very conducive to meditation, and the 197.1 seconds seemed much longer than three minutes and change. Besides the occasional noon-hour yoga class, it’s not likely the execs of Bay Street have many comparable moments for reflection.

Richardson’s work revolves closely around economic issues and the power of the business suit, and frequently features stencils of suited men set against mathematical motifs. His murals and graffiti are well known in Toronto, and were featured in New York at an exhibition associated with Occupy Wall Street. But live performance is also part of his SUITMAN persona. He showed up during Toronto’s own Occupy Bay Street protest, and also made an appearance at a public meeting to discuss a mural of his that was painted over as part of Mayor Rob Ford’s anti-graffiti blitz.

On Sunday, the goal of Richardson’s demonstration was to comment on Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and Quebec’s student protests—movements that have taken to the streets in uproar over the mismanagement of the world’s economy. In collaboration with photographers Viliam Hrubovcak and Jolie Fejer, several photos of the meditating businessmen (who were instructed to spend their 197.1 seconds pondering “a world in which the mathematics of finance do not defy the rules of mathematics, or of ethics or of human rights”) will be unveiled at the Green Shag clothing store during the Toronto International Film Festival.

Richardson says that Sunday’s event was a pilot project. He hopes to recreate it in major cities around the world on a much larger scale, shutting down streets and blocks with cross-legged executives.


  • James D Paterson

    shutting down streets and blocks with cross-legged executives.”

    Because as we all know, shutting down streets and causing confusion and annoyance is the best way possible to get your message across and have people join your cause.

    Occupy Toronto went so well in that regard. It was amazing how many tens of… well, I’ll leave it at that.

    • Anonymous

      Not to mention doing it on the weekend… Try 8AM on a Monday, next time.

    • Anonymous

      Are you being sarcastic? Because “shutting down streets and causing confusion and annoyance” is actually an excellent way to get your message across. Evidence: We are still talking about Occupy. How many polite, law-abiding protests happen in this city and don’t even make the news?

      • James D Paterson

        I’m not being sarcastic at all. Yes, it gets your message across, but it’s a negative message.
        When I saw all those Occupy protesters, first thing I thought was… what, a bunch of morons, making it harder for me, also part of the 99%, to go about my daily business.

        Get your message across in ways that won’t disrupt the people you’re trying to appeal to. This meditate thing is case in point; they sat around, not blocking sidewalks or roads. When (not if) they start actually disrupting people is when the message starts getting negative connotations.

        And yes, we are still talking about Occupy, although mostly in the sense of how it was a small blip on the radar and how it failed and changed nothing whatsoever.

        • Anonymous

          Go back to your mom’s basement, lock the door and windows, draw the curtains and wait.

          One day, change will come.

          But you won’t be confused and annoyed by it, unless you turn on your tv.

          • James D Paterson

            Yes, one day change will come.

            One day, the sun will finally expand to the point of vaporizing Earth.

            And yet we’ll still be waiting for the “change to come.”

  • Anonymous

    Financial district on a Sunday? That place is a ghost town after 5pm on Fridays… did anybody actually notice them doing this?

    • Paul Kishimoto

      There’s a koan in there somewhere… “What is the sound of debt being collateralized?”

      • Paul Kishimoto

        “Once there was a corporation full of people, happily profiting from transactions which did not serve the public good, who suddenly woke up and realized that they had individual will. But they didn’t know if they were people who had dreamt they were a corporation, or a corporation dreaming it was a legal person. This is called the Transformation of Things.”

        …no? Anyone?

    • TOisGood

      You noticed it.

      • James D Paterson

        Yes, because of the picture that stares us all in the face that accompanies the article?

      • Anonymous

        Negative, I saw and article of it.

        • TOisGood

          That might be good enough for the artists. Who knows they might even prefer it that way. I’d imagine most people who randomly witness these kind of ‘happenings’ don’t get the full ‘message’ the artist wants you to read.

          • Anonymous

            Perhaps, but then it’s not really performance art, more article with photos on Torontoist art. Don’t think it’s the same impact.

          • TOisGood

            Yeah, maybe not performance art. Maybe more impact? The superbowl wouldn’t be as significant if it was only seen by those physically present at the event.

  • OgtheDim

    “No doubt there are a few Bay Street suits, each Sunday morning, who march through the Financial District and into their offices.”

    Somebody needs to look beyond her own stereotypes. If they did go in, it wouldn’t be in a suit.

    • Anonymous

      Depends on where you work/what you do, obvs.

    • Anonymous

      synecdoche (sɪnˈɛkdəkɪ)

      — n
      a figure of speech in which a part is substituted for a whole or a whole for a part, as in 50 head of cattle for 50 cows, or the army for a soldier.

      You’ll notice the exact phrase is “a few Bay Street suits” and not “a few Bay Street workers wearing suits”.

  • Carlos Gouveia

    At the risk of being seen as a hater… 3 minutes!? COME ON. The execs they’re protesting spend more time each morning practicing scary faces in the mirror. That’s barely long enough to take the photos. Was asking people to meditate for a full 1971 seconds (less than 33 minutes) too much to ask? It would have at least been a decent length for a meditation session. Oy!