A close-up of the yarn tree, recently dismantled, presumably by the City. Photo by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.
About two weeks ago, we had a post about a Norway maple, in the south end of Trinity Bellwoods Park, that had been laced with multicoloured yarn by an artist, or artists. The rogue artwork, while intricate and even beautiful, had been installed by driving nails into the bark of the tree, which prompted a concerned member of the Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park, a community organization, to tie an eloquent letter to the tree’s trunk, informing the tree vandal (or vandals) that holes in bark can cause trees to become ill.
Soon after Torontoist’s article was published, the Star ran their own version of the story, with an eye-catching headline: Ailing tree victim of art attack? The newspaper spoke with Toronto’s director of urban forestry, who said that attaching things to City trees is against the law, and carries a maximum fine of five-thousand dollars. The Star also learned that the City would be removing the nails and yarn.
This negative attention was distressing to Felix Kalmenson and Sasha Foster. They were the ones responsible for yarning the tree.
Kalmenson and Foster are boyfriend and girlfriend, both in their early twenties. He’s an architecture and geography student at U of T, and she’s an illustration student at OCAD(U). They don’t consider themselves to be street artists; the yarn tree was only their second outdoor piece. Their apartment is a sprawling downtown loft with its own freight elevator, shared among them and some friends. In the corner of the living room is a pair of old doors, with some nails driven into them. Strands of thread, wound around the nails, form the outlines of a pair of surprisingly detailed human faces.
“Our initial aim was definitely not to hurt the tree,” said Kalmenson. “You know, we saw this tree. And we kind of chose that tree of all trees specifically because it looked like it was already dying.”
“In early August, it barely had any leaves,” said Foster.
The pair did the job in one night, from midnight to around 6 a.m., with Kalmenson working his way down from the top of the tree, and Foster working her way up from the bottom.
This was in early August, almost two months before Torontoist’s article. The pair seemed baffled by the fact that their work had suddenly become a matter of some controversy. Their plan had been to simply leave the piece in place, and observe its decay.
“We wanted to see how the yarn would start degrading, how leaves would get caught in it when fall came,” said Kalmenson. “Because we’re both really interested in seeing how nature reclaims space.”
Kalmenson and Foster’s new yarn-based installation, recently completed and hanging somewhere in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Photo courtesy of Felix Kalmenson.
By the time Kalmenson and Foster had learned of the note from the Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park, so much time had passed that they didn’t think it would be worthwhile to respond.
Michaelle McLean, the volunteer with Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park who wrote the note, told us in a previous interview that the artists’ decision not to take the yarn down in a timely manner was one of the things that she most objected to about the piece. “That to me is not what sharing public space is about,” she told us. “It’s about having some consideration for your neighbours…And I’m not sure that some people who practice guerrilla art have consideration for their neighbours.”
Kalmenson and Foster hadn’t anticipated this type of reaction.
“That’s what you get when you put art in public space, is that you create this public dialogue about art,” said Kalmenson. “If we did these nail things at home, like we’ve been doing forever, no one would ever talk about it.”
“It is unfortunate that the City might have to pay somebody to take care of it, but at least the people who are going to take care of it will know how to properly take care of it,” said Foster.
The yarn and nails were removed, presumably by the City, at some point last week, leaving scars in the bark.
Kalmenson and Foster had reasons for doing what they did.
“You know, we were actually doing this for the community. We were trying to make something that everybody could appreciate,” said Foster.
The fact that the community reaction to the yarn tree was partly negative highlights something about shared urban spaces like Trinity Bellwoods Park—namely that our collective enjoyment of them is sometimes at cross-purposes.
Kalmenson and Foster, for their part, are now a little more conscious of competing claims on Toronto’s urban plant life. Their latest work is a yarn pyramid that hangs on a rope from the branch of a tree in Trinity Bellwoods Park, harmlessly.