Liberty Village: we know when writing a piece on it that half the comments are going to simply be rants; the newly developed area is not exactly universally admired. In fact, those who go on about Liberty Village's failures would have you believe the area is actually universally reviled… but that's not quite true. While the residents of the area rightfully complain about the access to the area (traffic is often snarled at peak hours and there is too little pedestrian infrastructure, especially north-south links out of the area), most whom we have spoken with quite like living there; the area now has quite a selection of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, stores, etc.

One of Liberty Village's challenges is that once you are in it, it's not always obvious what the best way to move around it is. The confusion about which streets lead where has been and continues to be exacerbated by both the road network's incomplete state at this point, and the rotating road closures and detours that the seemingly endless construction has brought to the nascent neighbourhood. Only the eventual complete build-out of the area will bring the detours to an end along with a fuller network of streets… and let's face it, nothing short of a new subway station on the city's next subway line will put an end to the traffic snarl here.

All that said, once you're on the ground in Liberty Village, the place is getting more interesting. With each new building to open, the new residents bring more vitality and buying power, so a larger variety of shops are able to make a go of it.

The completion of buildings brings another major bonus—public art—thanks to Toronto's Percent for Public Art program. A month ago we brought you news of Olaf Breuning's wonderful Guardians out front to the King West Life condominium development, while today we can celebrate the reintroduction of wildlife to the area in the form of a giant bronze frog and magical narwhal tusk-cum-unicorn's horn, a fantastical pair called Monoceros, and created by Canadian artist duo Fastwurms, a.k.a. Kim Kozzi and Dai Skuse.

Monoceros by Fastwurms, sited out front of the Tower at King West, TorontoMonoceros, sited out front of the Tower at King West, image by Craig White

Kozzi and Skuse have been working together as multidisciplinary art collective Fastwurms since 1979, have exhibited internationally, taught at OCAD, and are currently Associate Professors of Studio Art in the School of Fine Arts and Music at the University of Guelph. While their exhibition resumé is extensive, their public art pieces are few, Dai Skuse noting in the presentation earlier today that they haven't typically enjoyed the process of public art creation as too much of it can be 'risk mitigation', sometimes leading to compromises with the work. Fastwurms are proud of work they are well known for at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre; Turtle Pond, Snowm'n, and a pair of Woodpeckers. In this case Skuse thanked art consultants Rina Greer and Catherine Williams for luring them out of a "public art retirement" to work with Leslie Yager of Plaza to create a work where the developer would happily embrace their vision. 

Rina Greer with Dai Skuze and Kim Kozzi of Fastwurms, posing behind MonocerosRina Greer with Dai Skuze and Kim Kozzi of Fastwurms, posing behind Monoceros, image by Craig White

Plaza's brief for the work, installed in the forecourt of Plaza's The Tower at King West, was that it become a landmark within Liberty Village, help create a sense of place, and act as an aid to wayfinding. Fastwurms' answer to that call, Monoceros, consists of two monumental pieces in the forms of a frog and a tusk. A plaque attached to the wall illuminates Fastwurms' inspiration behind Monoceros.

"Monoceros is based on the Tetraploid Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) and the took or 'tusk' of the Narwhal (Monodon monoceros).

In medieval Europe, rare and valuable Narwhal tusks were accepted as proof positive for the existence of the magical Unicorn.

The Unicorn and the Frog are both powerful icons from traditional and popular culture. They promise protection, good health, prosperity and wealth.

Invest in natural wealth and the health of Narwhals and Frogs, tryst with reciprocal coexistence, and the Monoceros gyre of good fortune and good luck is yours to share."

The spiral begins on the tusk/horn, image by Craig WhiteThe spiral begins on the tusk/horn, image by Craig White

Monoceros' tusk rises 37 feet high out of an 11 foot diameter 'moon disc'. The spiral groove in the Narwhal's tusk here emerges from out of a ring of crushed stone, with polliwogs, tadpoles, and eventually frogs swimming upstream through a river of ancient coins, all emblematic of health and wealth.  

The spiral climbs up the tusk/horn, image by Craig WhiteThe spiral climbs up the tusk/horn, image by Craig White

Polliwogs and ancient coins populate the spiral groove, image by Craig WhitePolliwogs and ancient coins populate the spiral groove, image by Craig White

A frog emerges amongst polliwogs and ancient coins which populate the spiral groA frog emerges amongst polliwogs and ancient coins which populate the spiral groove, image by Craig White

The Tower at King West rises behind Monoceros, image by Craig WhiteThe Tower at King West rises behind Monoceros, image by Craig White

The frog measures approximately 8 feet long by 3.5 feet high, and has over 400 individual and unique warts on its body. Both the frog and the tusk are cast in bronze through sandcast process and between them represent about 7000 artist hours and about 1600 bronze production hours.

Hundreds of unique, individually made warts cover the frog of Monoceros, TorontoHundreds of unique, individually made warts cover the frog of Monoceros, image by Craig White

The big dipper makes an appearance in the frog's back, Monoceros, TorontoThe big dipper makes an appearance in the frog's back, image by Craig White

Students who assisted in the creation of Monoceros express some satisfactionStudents who assisted in the creation of the work express some satisfaction with the outcome, image by Craig White

Now that Monoceros is front and centre at The Tower, "meet me at the frog" or "look for the tusk" should become part of Liberty Village argot. Should the community really embrace the work, a sign of real affection which may appear over time could be a spot rubbed shiny by residents looking for a little luck to rub off on them, similar to how touching Timothy Eaton's shoes were a ritual at the department store. We won't know for a while is where that spot may eventually might be!

We intend to go more in depth in the future into both how Monoceros and Guardians were constructed. In the meantime, if you would like to know more about either of the developments they sit in front of, click one the respective dataBase files, linked below. Want to talk about Monoceros? Choose one of the associated Forum thread links, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.