Turning Condo Ads Into Shelter
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Turning Condo Ads Into Shelter

One of Martindale’s tents, on a side street near Trinity Bellwoods Park.

If you can’t afford a condo on Queen West, have you considered a lovely makeshift tent in the heart of Trinity Bellwoods Park?

It wouldn’t come with a stainless steel refrigerator, and you’d never be able to fit a seventy-two-inch HDTV in there, but you’d be walking distance from the farmer’s market and just steps from shopping and transit. And it wouldn’t even necessarily set you back a single cent, if you were to build it out of the same materials Sean Martindale used to build his.
Martindale, a street artist, has, for more than a year, been removing those large outdoor banner advertisements that condo developers use to draw attention to their new buildings. Rather than throwing them out, he’s been hoarding them. Now, using broom handles as poles, he’s fashioned the ads into one-person pup tents, which he spent yesterday placing in strategic locations downtown, where the public would see them. He’s also accumulated a collection of sandwich board condo ads, the type that sit out on sidewalks all over the city. These, he’s rebranded with a logo and some ad copy of his own making. (“TENT: THE ULTIMATE IN OPEN CONCEPT LIFE-LIKE LIVING.”)
“I thought it was appropriate for condo ads. It’s shelter. And the material lent itself to being turned into a tent as well,” said Martindale of his handiwork, while showing off a tent he’d just finished erecting near Trinity Bellwoods Park. He had a five ‘o clock shadow and his fingers were covered in bandages―both symptoms, he said, of working long hours on this and another installation project.
“And there’s this huge gap between people who can afford condos and the homeless in the city.”

Martindale obscured the original advertising copy on these sandwich boards with tape, and substituted his own.

But as is typical for Martindale’s outdoor work, the main concern is with public space. “The advertising in general is really what I’m trying to draw attention to,” he said. “The aggressiveness and obnoxiousness of it.”
Martindale said he attempted only to take ads that in some way contravened the City’s sign bylaws.
The proliferation of condo ads across the city reflects a trend. The Queen West and Liberty Village areas, in particular, are increasingly dotted with high-rises. With exceptions for projects like the recently opened Artscape Triangle Lofts, where units are rented to artists at below-market rates, the creative community that once defined those neighbourhoods is largely priced out of the new buildings.

Another of Martindale’s tents, this one with more beard.

Martindale conceded that development isn’t always a bad thing. “Density is important, and condo developments are necessary in an urban environment,” he said. “It’s just that they can be done in better ways.”
“Their marketing really shapes our city.”
In fact, if Martindale’s project has a flaw (other than the moral quandary inherent in taking private property, even if it’s allegedly illegally placed), it’s that the fake brand identity is almost too convincing. For a developer to adopt a tent city theme would only be about 10 or maybe 20% more bizarre than the current standard for condo marketing. It could even even create buzz.
Martindale will be capping his project by opening a “presentation centre” for his tents at the 107 Shaw Gallery, at 107 Shaw Street, starting on November 19. The show will end on November 26.
Photos by Dean Bradley/Torontoist.