As Eldon Garnet's sculpture was unveiled at Toronto's Five St. Joseph condominium this morning, an irreducible narrative complexity was physically written into the streetscape. Artifacts of Memory materially espouses the difficulty of coming to terms with history, "time, and death," Garnet told the assembled audience. Sprouting a multiplicity of civic narratives, Garnet's sculpture resists the comfortable and easy sense of resolution—of certainty—often dispensed by less playful and less daring public art.
Composed of five lines of text that stretch out into interconnected yet disparate strands in three-dimensional space, the sculpture refuses to be distilled into a singular meaning. There is neither a clear order nor a clear narrative to the text written on the metal girders, manifesting an aesthetic that Garnet tells us "is not didactic and does not come to resolution." Instead, the artist called the sculpture "a critical and humorous take on the underlying existential worries of everyday life."
Reading out the sculpture's text, Garnet recites the lines: FROM ONE NARRATIVE TO THE NEXT / IF NOT TOMORROW TOMORROW / LUCKY ENOUGH TO FLY INTO THE FLAME / SLOWLY SURELY DISAPPEARING / FOLLOWED BY MOMENTS OF EQUILIBRIUM.
Tucked away just west of Yonge Street amidst the preserved heritage properties that front the 48-storey Hariri Pontarini-designed tower, the sculpture's location also lends it a particularly polyvalent presence in Toronto's streetscape. Neighboured by one of the largest facade retention projects in Canadian history, Artifacts of Memory implicitly complicates—and enriches—the politics of heritage preservation.
The sculpture reminds us that history does not flow forward as a singular and certain narrative, but as an amorphous cacophony of voices. Here, the text that we usually read left to right also goes up, down, and sideways. "It challenges our thinking about history and heritage," the artist tells us.
With the installation of the sculpture, the developers' large-scale and almost unprecedented heritage preservation on the site is met by a commitment to creating what Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam characterized as "an intellectually challenging space." Preserving architecture does not entail a straightforward restoration of the past, or an elegantly absolute correction of decades of neglect. For Garnet, this is merely one of the stories we tell. One narrative among many.
To celebrate the sculpture's unveiling, Garnet was joined by MOD Developments' Gary Switzer, Graywood's Gabe Dimartino, Art Strategies Inc.'s Irene Szylinger, and Ward 27's Kristyn Wong-Tam. The party gathered beneath the metal sculpture on the cold Thursday morning for a group picture as a row of photographers lined up to capture the group. Yet, as if to underscore the playful complexity of Garnet's work, the reality of urban life interfered as David 'Zanta' Zancai suddenly took the stage.
Through a barage of push-ups and garbled obscenities, the well-known Downtown 'performer' abruptly turned the occasion on its head. Standing up to join the assembled party, Zancai then took his place in front of the sculpture, gesturing wildly as others stood smiling at the cameras.
It wasn't exactly pretty, but then again, 'pretty' is hardy the right word to describe the sculpture either. And it's hardly the right word to describe the messy and unpredictable beauty of urban life.
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