Photo by Leah Sandals/Torontoist.
The Dufferin Jog—that railway underpass at Dufferin and Queen—has long been considered a public art icon in Toronto. It’s just that the public art it’s displayed has been graffiti and paste-ups rather than municipally chosen sculpture.
Now, with a reno of the jog underway and a projected completion date of summer 2010, the City is trying to figure out what kind of official public art should inhabit the space. Last Wednesday night, a tiny exhibition of the four finalist public art proposals for the reno—from prominent Canadian artists Ken Lum, Vera Frenkel, Luis Jacob, and Isabelle Hayeur, respectively—took place at Parkdale’s Gallery 1313. The winning proposal will be chosen by the city’s public art jury on May 22, but all four proposals in the running showcased some interesting ideas.
Luis Jacob proposes lining both sides of the Dufferin Jog with mosaic-tile versions of this artwork, from the series “They Sleep With One Eye Open.” Image courtesy of Birch Libralato Gallery.
Toronto artist Luis Jacob proposed large mosaics based on a series of tie-dye works that he recently showed at Birch Libralato. This reproduction of Jacob’s gallery work for a public space would certainly put his stamp on the area. He argues that the images have a mystical quality that puts them in line with classic public art like gargoyles.
Vera Frenkel proposes lining both sides of the jog with image panels that juxtapose archival images with water and sky.
Fellow Torontonian Vera Frenkel proposed a series of images that juxtapose water and archival architectural photographs—a theme that resonates with her most recent Toronto show, “Once Near Water at Akau,” which juxtaposed present-day building sites with meditations on the lake. This would be a proposal for local history buffs, as the archival images Frenkel proposes to use are by Arthur Goss, official City of Toronto photographer from 1911 to 1940. The proposal also includes an LED component based on the path of the Parkdale Grade Separation at its centenary.
Vancouver artist Ken Lum, best known for photo-text works on themes of migration, discrimination, and belonging, proposed a series of digital clocks. Titled “From Sunrise to Sunset,” the project, as Lum says, “comprises thirty real time LED clocks on mirrors, fifteen per each side of the underpass. Toronto time occupies the center eighth position. Today’s Sunrise and Today’s Sunset (that is, for Toronto) flanks the fifteen mirror clocks on each side.”
Isabelle Hayeur proposes lining one side of the Jog with images of Parkdale neighbourhood details and the other side with images of Parkdale real estate landscapes.
Finally, Quebec artist Isabelle Hayeur, best known for her photographs and Photoshopped montages of new suburban housing, proposed a series of photos based on the architecture of Parkdale. One side of the underpass would feature photographs of found objects and small architectural details on existing Parkdale houses (like that pictured above, at top), while the other side of the underpass would feature views of condo and townhouse construction sites in the area (like that pictured above, at bottom).
Though the proposals are strong, there’s quibbles to be had about the process. It’s clear this exhibition of proposals would have made more sense had it been scheduled for more than three hours on a Wednesday night. A weeklong show likely would have yielded more actual interest and feedback from the community. Also, sadly, none of the proposal boards are available for online viewing.
One other key issue is whether graf artists will regard new, official public art as an invasion of space. City of Toronto public art officer Clara Hargittay thinks not. “Statistically,” she says, “it’s true that if a work of art exists it is seldom tagged. This is also one good reason to put public art in, because artists respect other artists’ work.”
There’s plenty to consider about how these artists—all of whom are known more for gallery practices than for permanent public art installations—might put their mark on Toronto’s public spaces, contested or otherwise, in the future.