On Thursday, the Gladstone Hotel kicked off Grow Op, a four-day-long expo of 26 art installations intended to challenge the way visitors think about public spaces. This marks the event’s inaugural year, though the hotel intends to make it an annual thing.
Grow Op is held in much the same spirit as the Gladstone’s long-running Come Up To My Room series. Art installations are located in the lobby, on the street, in the Art Bar, and on the second floor, where the rooms and hallways are temporarily occupied by artists and their creations. Grow Op plays on environmental and sustainability themes, so many of the pieces have plants and gardens incorporated into their designs. There are also a number of interactive spaces where the installations contain electronic sensors.
“The idea is to bring in a range of disciplines and put them together to create innovative ideas and conceptual responses to landscape, art, gardens, and what we think about cities,” explained Victoria Taylor, the event’s curator. “The interesting thing about the show is it’s not just one practice responding. There’s overlap, and with all these intersections between these different practices new ideas are emerging.”
Visitors encounter their first taste of Grow Op in the Gladstone’s lobby, when they look up and see “Field Guide,” by F_RMLab, a collective of 11 graduate students from the University of Waterloo School of Architecture. It looks like a layered mesh of white ribbons. There are sensors hanging from it, and when people walk underneath, the structure shifts and moves around. Walking up the stairway, visitors can look out a window at the hotel’s roof to see a small chicken coop with three brown hens clucking and strutting about. This is “Hotel Galliform,” by Chicken Cartel (Justin Miron and Karen May).
The second floor is where most of the installations are. In the hallway, Ryan Taylor’s “Babylon Light” hangs from the ceiling. It’s a series of eight flat, white lamps with miniature gardens planted on top of them, each one a tiny jungle of succulents, mosses, and vines. “Knitted Garden,” by Mehran Ataee and Dylan Uscher, lies around the corner, and it makes a sensible compliment to the hanging gardens. Leafy plants are held inside knit bags suspended from a twisted copper pipe.
“One of the things that really attracted us to the Grow Op exhibition is that it’s very interdisciplinary,” Uscher said. “Mehran is a landscape architect and I’m a fashion designer. It seemed like a really great opportunity for us to explore how both our backgrounds can create a really beautiful product and experience for people at the show.”
A team of OCAD students called grOCAD contributed to the event as well. In “Pedal Farm,” a bicycle is connected to a contraption that, when pedalled, pumps water up through a network of tubes and into a series of chopped-off wine bottles with plants in them. The water pours in, filters down through the bottle, and back into a tank on the floor.
The strangest of all the installations is in one of the rooms. “mindFULLnest,” an immersing experience put on by Real Eguchi, Barbara Flanagan-Eguchi, Ashley Johnson, and David Hlynsky, is truly cerebral. Walking into the room one notices it’s filled with plush toys alongside taxidermied foxes, raccoons, and birds. There’s a bassinet with a dead hawk in it and a dog-skin rug on the floor that looks like it may have been torn from the back of a golden retriever. A Bambi picture book is on the floor and the walls have paintings with striking images of half-human, half-animal monsters in sexual poses. The juxtaposition of morbid imagery and nursery accoutrements can put a person into a strange frame of mind.
“We all come from diverse backgrounds and we found out that we have one thing in common,” said Real Eguchi. “We think that people have a distorted view of what nature really is, so we want to try to present something where people could perhaps arrive at a more authentic understanding of what it is.”
In the Gladstone’s Art Bar, visitors with an interest in history can read up on Allan Gardens, the east-end conservatory. In “Hoarding Suggestions,” ERA Architects digs up suggestion forms from 1963, submitted by users of the gardens. The transcripts are on display along with plaques detailing the site’s storied past. Some of the more hilarious park suggestions are written on the wall. “I would like to see insect-eating plants. Will supply my own bugs,” says one. “Naked statues should be clothed, even if it’s only a bikini,” says another.