Photo by Hamutal Dotan/Torontoist.
Outside: driving wind, plummeting temperatures, mermaid-chasing sea monsters on stilts. Inside: googly eyes, pipe cleaners, and that heady mix of scissors, glue, and lip-biting concentration known to craft-making kindergarteners the world over.
Just another day at City Hall.
WinterCity is Toronto’s official beat-the-February-blahs party, and its opening weekend at Nathan Phillips Square proved irresistible. While hip-hop shows and ominous performance pieces took over the outdoor plaza, City Hall’s rotunda offered entertainment of a gentler sort. The Soft City is a plushy, playful model of our urban landscape, constructed out of felt and cotton batting rather than concrete and glass. The team responsible for this roving installation (Rose Bianchini, Sarah Couture McPhail, Jason van Horne, Yvonne Ng , and Catherine Stinson) was inspired by a book of the same name: Soft City by Jonathan Raban.
Both book and installation pay tribute to the joys of urban life and in particular to the idea that cities flourish when they are malleable and receptive to the creative efforts of their residents. These crafty, Toronto-loving friends have taken their interest in urban issues to the streets, inviting children across the city to add new components to The Soft City as it appears at various events around town. Starting with a core group of buildings made by the founders themselves, the installation has grown to accommodate additions made by children at St. Jamestown, the CNE, Doors Open, Come Up To My Room, Power Plant Art Camp, and now WinterCity. The full collection includes not just a plush City Hall and plush CN Tower, but plush brick houses, plush Red Rockets, plush skate parks, and plush citizens to enjoy all the fun (our favourite is City Planner Clayton van Velour). The exhibit changes a bit each time it appears—parks and greenery for summertime, Christmas trees and snowdrifts in winter—and is closing in on 400 pieces. At heart, says Rose Bianchini, the project is a way of teaching children that they are important to the life of a city and that even at play “they are contributing to something bigger.”
Like any good artists’ collective, The Soft City doesn’t keep its members on a tight leash. Kids are welcome to take home their creations if the thought of leaving them behind is too much to bear. Kelsey, 7, made a whole family of googly-eyed moppets, but told us shyly that she was planning to give them to her mother for Valentine’s Day. Rafaela, 3, had come down with her brother Marcelo, 5, and her parents, and contributed the dolls she made to the swirl of skaters in front of City Hall. One of these was a very Rafaela-like gal herself, with braids and a bright red dress, and even though she was happy to leave her namesake behind, Rafaela did have one request. At some point—she tugged on her mom’s sleeve for emphasis—plush Rafaela “wants to get out of the snow.”
The Soft City will be holding additional workshops at City Hall on February 7 and 8.