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Leona Drive Project (North York)


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Apr 23, 2007
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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.

“Heeeere’s Johnny!†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.

“We’ve actually developed a name for ourselves doing stupid stuff like this,†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, “one extended art space.â€

Deena Pantalone, a principle at Hyatt Homes, said in a statement, “We 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.

“During the Second World War cosmetics companies marketed lipstick colours like Victory Red, Banner Red and Furlough Red,†she says. “Women 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. “Leona 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.

“We want to think about the 1940s and 1950s suburbs, which had an ideology. There’s this imagination of a better life that these houses will offer you. There isn’t that utopianism in the new suburbs.â€

Houses were smaller back then; outdoor space was more prized than it is today. It’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.
I KNOW that I am going to get flamed or banned or soemthing...

Bloody marvellous Janine Marchessault of York University and friends!

My colleagues in the Facultys (sic?) of Fine Art and Art @ YorkU are busy arguing that they need a reduction in undergraduate teaching load because of their "research load". Apparently it is not fair to only count established bench-marks of activity like peer-reviewed publications as scholarly activity.

The fine arts faculty in general, claim to need more time to pursue their research - and then they use it to do stuff like go about organising the daubing of the insides of boarded up derelict houses with red lipstick :eek: and making shantytowns in the backyard :( - millions of people on the planet do this because they have no other option while you go home to a warm, dry bed at night. The amazing thing is that this group was given tax-payers money in the form of a SSHRC grant to do this! :mad:
This, my friends, is not scholarly activity - it is self-indulgent activity and should be done in your own free time and not subsidized by the tax-payer, the university or the faculty who try to actually do something useful for humanity things. I am not sure whether to be thrilled that one of my colleagues in fine arts sought and got a grant, or furious as a tax-payer that it was for something as self-indulgent as this.

PLEASE quit messing about and either (1) do the job you were hired for i.e. teach, (2) go and do something useful - curing cancer or increasing crop yields in drought tolerant food crops etc. would be nice or (3) I have plenty of glassware in the lab you could wash. You can put red food coloring in the water and wear fuchsia pants while you do it if you like - just make sure that you rinse thoroughly and autoclave the glassware when you are done. :D Thank you!











Watching a driving instruction video clip in Cantonese in an old station wagon.








I blogged about this... I thought that the theme of urban dystopia on some of the houses reminded me of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit (which was likely the inspiration of this project).
Leona Drive-North York: Interesting...

Adma,Shon and Wylie: Interesting pics here of this art project with its homes-which are the same age as LI's Levittown homes-in different conditions.
The timing is good with Halloween just days away...LI MIKE
I went to this project last night, and it was very interesting and left me a bit wistful. For me, it helped that one of the bedrooms used as an installation was so very close to the bedroom in Ottawa in which I grew up. I was touched by the non-art aspects of the houses as well - the scarred up window frames bearing the holes of several generations of curtain rods - I imagined the first curtain being made by hand, then replaced with one purchased at KMart, and perhaps later by WalMart blinds.

Good use of archival documentation to bring context.

I also found it interesting that houses right next to the installation continue to be occupied - but for how long? That whole section of the city is slated to be developed at some point.
The Monopoly house was cute, but the rest...maybe I'd have appreciated it more if I was born and raised in the Annex and found on Leona Drive a little slice of suburbia for the first time.

I also found it interesting that houses right next to the installation continue to be occupied - but for how long? That whole section of the city is slated to be developed at some point.

Neighbouring houses aren't actually slated for redevelopment - unless you go about a block west. Of, course, it's entirely possible that they will be individually replaced by McMansions, anyway, and also possible (but somewhat less likely) that multiple lots will be bought, consolidated, and replaced by smaller/skinnier McMansions (such as 3 McMs replacing 2 bungalows, or 8 replacing 6, as is the case with the Leona Drive project houses).

It is amusing how councillors and planners take such issue with townhouse complexes in the area (let alone condos) on the grounds that they threaten the character of stable areas like Leona Drive, yet the same officials tend to gladly approve of 8 houses replacing 6, as if the neighbourhood's character remains unchanged "because intensified McMansions are still just houses" or something like that.
that green monopoly house is awesome. There seems to be a lot of monopoly themed things lately. just in time for christmas i guess.