I try to keep the "I" out of most of what - uh - I write for UrbanToronto, but it's hard stop oneself from being a little more partisan when one becomes engaged by something and someone so completely… so get ready for a little gushing on my part, because I want to tell you about a fantastic new addition to our city, officially dedicated a few short days ago at Lanterra Developments' WaterParkCity condos at Fort York Boulevard and Fleet Street.
Public artwork rarely gets much attention when it's unveiled, and frankly that can be put down to some of it not being particularly deserving, but that’s not true of all of it of course, and UrbanToronto has tried to do its part by highlighting some of the more intriguing works over the last few years. Whether the average Joe realizes it or not, Toronto has become a major player in the world of public art, owing to the huge amount of construction here, so UrbanToronto has been able to bring you many intriguing pieces that now enliven many corners of this increasingly sophisticated and engaging city. Troika’s lightning bolt and shoal of fish at Corus? Fun and mesmerizing. United Visual Artists’ Canopy at Maple Leaf Square? Pretty delightful. Michael Awad and David Rokeby’s 3D Pixel Cube light sculpture at Telus House? Entrancing. Pierre Poussin’s Mitosis Courtyard under the Gardiner at Panorama? Transformative. Those are all from the last three years, and there are many more recent ones worth mentioning, and there are many more to come.
Now that I’ve started, I feel I should mention works by Tom Otterness and James Carpenter and Jaakko Pernu and Francisco Gazitua and Douglas Coupland and Barbara Astman and, well, I simply can’t list all the good ones lately… but a new one by Vito Acconci is so tactile and inviting, it just may have trumped them all for me. I know it’s not a contest, but several hundred black steel ribbons have just taken my heart as a prize.
Acconci is a remarkable New York based designer who started as a poet, moved into performance art, then temporary art installations, and who now runs an architecture studio. He also teaches at colleges and universities, and at 72 years of age, is still going strong. I first ran into his work in Graz, Austria, where in 2003 he designed an island – well, a floating cafe/amphitheatre/playground, called the Murinsel – as a component of the city’s splash-out as a European Capital of Culture that year.
Google Vito Acconci and you will find that his artistic output over the years has been extremely eclectic, occasionally controversial, and always engaging. Acconci Studio now adds Toronto to its list of installations with their work surrounding the base of Lanterra’s WaterParkCity, and it’s a significant one. It’s daring in several ways – artistically, structurally, materially – and there are many people to thank for it being here, not least of which are Barry Fenton and Mark Mandelbaum of Lanterra. I know there’s a perception out there of Lanterra being rather corporate, and less personality-driven than some of their competitors, (and they may wince when reading that), but truth is that with Mark Mandelbaum they have a true champion of art. They wanted something significant for WaterParkCity (which - another wince for Lanterra - is not the most architecturally engaging of their projects - - -although their current projects are a major step forward) and after Acconci initially passed on entering the juried competition for the site, they pursued him, and then got a fantastic design from him – but which was nearly unbuildable. Now ‘nearly unbuildable’ means that a number of bright minds were significantly challenged in bringing the design to life, and it also means expensive, in the way that those less committed to excellence would have dropped this project for something lesser in every way.
The work is made up of hundreds of steel bands, hand-hammered and welded by Mike Bilyk of Lafontaine IronWerks of Barrie, with structural engineering by Peter Sheffield of Toronto, and teased by Vito Acconci and his team into fences, trellises, seatbacks for free-form concrete benches, a windscreen that climbs a tower, and into giant twisting chairs, rising out of the sidewalk before looping through the air and down into another chair before plunging back into the ground. It's amazing stuff – and a triumph for all involved.
My photos can only tell you so much about the work. The best introduction is to go yourself, but the next step before that is Sarah Keenlyside’s terrific video, where you will get to meet the very charming Vito Acconci, get an idea of how the work was made, and get to enjoy more of the work’s sinuous delights. Here's the link if you want to forward the video to others: http://player.vimeo.com/video/40022477, and there are lots more of Sarah's videos for Inkblot of public art here: http://player.vimeo.com/video/channels/inkblot
I'm convinced that as this work becomes better known – that as the neighbourhood fills up with new homes and pedestrians, as gh3's wonderful June Callwood Park is built just to the east and Patkau Architect's dramatic Fort York Visitor Centre opens just to the north – that this piece of public art will become a beloved part of what promises more and more to be a surprisingly engaging neighbourhood.
A note: Lanterra have another important piece coming soon: Italian artist Sandro Martini will shortly be installing frescoes in the atrium cafe at the north end of Burano, and we plan to bring you details of that in May.
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