Major new buildings in Toronto come with major new artworks, and the grander the development, the more of a splash comes our way thanks to the City's One Percent for Public Art program. Rarely a quick process to create the works, it has taken a while longer to get every piece related to the public art here at Pier 27 into play, longer than it did to open the first phases here… but everything is complete now, and as of Wednesday, Alice Aycock's A Series of Whirlpool Field Manoeuvres for Pier 27 is now in place and appropriately landscaped. The work will be happy to entice you down from Queens Quay between two condo buildings on your way to the Water's Edge Promenade on Toronto Harbour.

Approaching the lake between the Waterlink buildings, image by Craig White

Waterlink are the first two phases at Cityzen and Fernbrook Homes' new community at Pier 27, just east of the foot of Yonge Street at Queens Quay, and just south of the Toronto Star lands which now being redeveloped as Pinnacle One Yonge. Waterlink's two phases each appear as two buildings themselves, the paired buildings connected by a three-storey bridge of suites above them. While each pair has a private courtyard with a swimming pool in between its component towers, in the middle of the site there is a public walkway that connects from Pier 27's internal roadways down to a section of Waterfront Toronto's Water's Edge Promenade. It's here beside the public walkway where you will find Aycock's new art, four pieces which sit on a lawn beside a fountain stream, and which increase in scale as you approach the lake.

Celebrants gather for the event next to the water at Waterlink, image by Craig White

It's at the lake end of the walkway on the Water's Edge Promenade where an event to celebrate Aycock's work was held on Wednesday. Hosted by Paulo Stellato, a partner at Cityzen, he spoke of the developer's happiness to have an artist of Aycock's calibre complete at this site her first works in Canada, and of the terrific working relationship they had with her. Among those also speaking was Jane Perdue of the City's public art program. Perdue oversees coordination of the works with the legal bylaw amendments put in place which ensure that each new major building contributes something of significance to Toronto's public realm.

Alice Aycock in front of Toronto Twister, the most cyclonic of the Whirlpool Manoeuvres, image by Craig White

Aycock was given the lion's share of the time at the mic to introduce her work. Aycock has been creating public installations since the 1970s, first as part of the Land Art Movement, and later as a large installation sculptor. Her works can be found across the United States—she is based out of New York—and in Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Much of her recent work explores swirling vortices, pieces which can be read as simply making tangible the wind and its effects on such elements as water, but which can also be seen to represent the ephemeral energies and currents that shape our lives. Aycock found a perfect place to further that exploration here, where city and lake meet and where wind can make waters and minds dance.

Looking south past all of the Whirlpool Field Manoeuvres, image by Craig White

The Whirlpool Field Manoeuvres consists of three works known as maelstroms, the shortest of which peaks at around the height of a human, while the works increase in size and complexity as you reach the lake. The maelstroms are chaotic, each with hundreds of tranches of conical metal swirls, each trying to form more fully while being buffeted by the next swirl. The fourth work, closest to the lake, is dubbed Toronto Twister, and it takes on a fully cyclonic form, reaching several metres into the air before its last rings dissipate into the sky.

Looking north towards Toronto Twister and the Maelstrom Whirlpool Field Manoeuvres, image by Craig White

Aycock told us of her fascination with the ephemeral over the years — weather, cloud formations, waves — and that she planned the work here over several years. "How do you capture something that you cannot have but for a moment? I could go from a cartoon of a tornado to a physicist's lab to find out different fluids create different splashes." "Why have artists over the centuries sometimes seemed to be more interested in drapery blowing in the wind than they were in the patrons they were painting? Because you could then understand the wind." Leonardo da Vinci's deluge series, where he experimented with the depiction of the movement of water, is also a major influence on Aycock's work. 

Looking north towards the more compact 'Maelstrom' Whirlpool Field Manoeuvres, image by Craig White 

Specifically for this site, Aycock was looking for her explorations to have the surrounding elements inform the works — imagining that the pieces have been blown into place, conversing with the dramatic cantilevers above, and providing a counterpoint to the rectilinearity of the architecture. Also a gardener, Aycock acknowledges that the form of roses and passion flowers may have influenced the works too.

Detail of one of the Maelstrom Whirlpool Field Manoeuvres, image by Craig White

Aycock was impressed by a teacher who called chaos "another form of order. When you fly, everything that isn't manmade is curvilinear." What she creates, in response, is a structure that is different from the orthogonal grid that we normally impose upon the world to deal with it. "I grew up admiring Jackson Pollock, because he went to just the edge of a mess. You can go over the edge and make a mess, but the chaotic compositional disorder that these pieces have is very intentional, and I know I go right to the edge of a mess: you have to know when to pull back."

Aycock also sees the pieces as reflecting the chaos of our times, when there are so many interacting systems—in ways that we know and that we don't—that we are in the paradigm of chaos now. "I feel I want to strum that. I want to point out not just nice things—I think these are beautiful—but I want to look at the chaos too, and speak to the time that we are in."

Looking up through Toronto Twister, image by Craig White

Finding just enough order in the chaos, the Whirlpool Field Manoeuvres are incredibly complex, and very photogenic. While there are eight shots in this article, you will find many more to consider in our Forum thread for Waterlink. You can also get in on the conversation there, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page. You can find out more about the two Pier 27 projects so far from our database files or associated threads, linked below.

We'll be back with more as Pier 27 expands with its next phase, the Tower at Pier 27, now under construction just to the north of Waterlink. Two more Pier 27 phases remain to be built in the future. 

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