Ask Torontoist: Looking For Explanations Everywhere

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Ask Torontoist: Looking For Explanations Everywhere

Ask Torontoist features questions posed by you, and answered by our elite team of specially trained investigative experts (also known as our staff). Send your questions to ask@torontoist.com.
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Reader Brenda Dougall Merriman asks:

What are those mysterious stone slabs scattered flush with the grass in St. James Park? In ‘handwritten’ script, they appear to be extracts from someone’s letters. Who sent these messages and why are we ignoring them?


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Torontoist answers:

Avert your eyes! Look away! Ignoring these messages is exactly what we’re supposed to do. At least, that is, according to Gilbert Boyer, the sculptor who created and donated them (along with Mr. and Mrs. Louis L. Odette) to the Toronto Sculpture Garden.
Everyone knows outdoor public art is intended for public viewing, but in this case, Boyer claims, he created this installation and then partially buried it so that the public wouldn’t notice it.
Confused? Once you’re aware of the theme Boyer was going for, it’ll make sense. Sort of.
Among other things, Boyer states here that the installation, titled I looked for Sarah everywhere, is “a simple story of absence and the dramatic weight of…absence looming in public spaces which would otherwise seem innocent and blank.”
Or, more simply (and prosaically): I looked for Sarah everywhere is about life in a bustling city and not noticing the people who are all around us. One in particular is a woman named Sarah. She is somewhere in Toronto. Each of the six granite slabs, unobtrusively embedded on the grounds of St. James Park, contains handwritten and illustrated clues as to her whereabouts.
First installed in the Toronto Sculpture Garden in 1992, I looked for Sarah everywhere was moved across King Street in 2001 and given a permanent home in the northwest portion of St. James Park. At the side of the pathway bisecting the park in a northwesterly direction (toward Adelaide Street), there is a stone inscription giving the name of the installation, the artist, and little else.

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It may be counter-intuitive given the artist’s stated intentions, but if you enjoy solving mysteries it’s worth taking a closer look at I looked for Sarah everywhere. Arranged in a circular formation and inconspicuously embedded in the earth approximately twenty paces from one another, the six tablets are engraved with script—sentence fragments and partial phrases— that appears to be bits of handwritten letters, or perhaps pages torn from a diary:

Then I took the streetcar, the 504
occurred to me that I might find
with her or maybe I’d see someone
eating an apple pie
half-brother Blythe
Prospect or around there
estaurant on Davenport−

There are also images engraved on the tablets, including a drawing outlining the provincial boundaries of Ontario and Manitoba, a basic map of downtown Toronto, the seating plan of a streetcar, the entrance of a Toronto public library (possibly the Riverdale branch), a rudimentary drawing of the pathways at Allan Gardens, and a diagram of a furnished apartment, which may or may not be Sarah’s, whose identity remains firmly enigmatic.
If in fact you do find Sarah, after the two of you have a chance to chat you may wish to visit the grounds of the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre. Here you’ll find a second example of Gilbert Boyer’s landscape art.
Photos by Ryan Walker/Torontoist

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