An unlikely art project turns a North York bungalow into a board-game icon
Posted: October 19, 2009, 5:18 PM by Rob Roberts
This morning after breakfast, Scott Rogers, an artist, hauled off and slammed a pickaxe into the bedroom wall on the second floor of a brick bungalow in North York.
â€œHeeeereâ€™s Johnny!â€ shouted fellow artist Justin Patterson, and it was like the scene from the Jack Nicholson horror film The Shining, with one exception: the wall barely budged.
Messrs. Roger and Patterson, along with other members of a Calgary art collective called The Arbour Lake School, are breaking up No. 17 Leona Drive and using the wood and bricks to build a shantytown in its back yard.
â€œWeâ€™ve actually developed a name for ourselves doing stupid stuff like this,â€ says John Frosst, another collective member.
Welcome to Leona Drive, two blocks east of Yonge Street at Sheppard Avenue. In 1948 the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. built a neighbourhood of brick bungalows here for returning WWII soldiers and their families. Hyatt Homes, a developer, will demolish six homes here in November. In the meantime, this is The Leona Drive Project, â€œone extended art space.â€
Deena Pantalone, a principle at Hyatt Homes, said in a statement, â€œWe plan to build eight detached homes on the site, backing onto the ravine. With the houses sitting vacant and unused, we loved the idea of putting the land to good use and helping to support the local arts community at the same time.â€
Two artists, Janine Marchessault of York University and Michael Prokopow of the Ontario College of Art and Design, are curating the show, which runs Oct. 23-31.
The artist Christine Davis is colouring every surface in the bathroom at No. 9 Leona Drive using 75 tubes of red lipstick donated by MAC. She arrived to the job yesterday wearing corduroys in a fuscia that matched the lipstick, drinking a Vitamin Water of the same alarming hue.
â€œDuring the Second World War cosmetics companies marketed lipstick colours like Victory Red, Banner Red and Furlough Red,â€ she says. â€œWomen wore these to go work in the factories. Then in the 1950s women still wore lipstick and became perfect housewives.â€
David Hann, another artist, has parked an Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon, complete with a fake-wood paneling paint job, in a driveway, and plans to project 1970s TV sitcoms through its windows from the inside.
No. 19 (pictured above) is my favourite. An Te Liu, who runs the graduate landscape and architecture program at the University of Toronto, stripped off its back veranda and railings and painted it entirely -- roof, walls, window panes, sills, in emerald green, transforming it into a giant Monopoly house, whose dimensions it perfectly copies. â€œLeona Drive with One House, rent $250.â€
It is tempting to see all this as a satire and a sendup of the suburbs, but Prof. Marchessault insists this is an homage to a lovely part of town.
â€œWe want to think about the 1940s and 1950s suburbs, which had an ideology. Thereâ€™s this imagination of a better life that these houses will offer you. There isnâ€™t that utopianism in the new suburbs.â€
Houses were smaller back then; outdoor space was more prized than it is today. Itâ€™s hard to watch these jewels disappear, especially after I learned of Ruth Gillespie, who lived here at No. 9 for 40 years, before dying suddenly on the dance floor in 2003. The periwinkle and hydrangea she tended in her back garden are healthier than ever.
Next door a group of art students from Earl Haig high school began transforming a house, arranging its contents so that they appear to be bursting from the windows. Still, they seemed a little hesitant, as though wary at defiling an icon of their neighbourhood. And I can respect that.
Elsewhere on Leona Drive, there remain dozens more houses like those that are vanishing -- all sturdy, well-tended and fronted by stately trees. I wish them long life; I like them better as dwellings than as art.