RioCan REIT invited Toronto media for a Public Art and Placemaking tour of The Well, which included a number of art unveilings, installations, and unique design features embedded into the buildings. For each of the new art installations, the artists themselves were in attendance, and provided an overview of their vision, design process, and objective behind the piece.
This is the first of a two-part article by UrbanToronto that will cover all the public art pieces and placemaking design components that were viewed during the site tour.
The Well, which is Canada's largest redevelopment located on one site, is undergoing the final stages of completion, with portions of the publicly-accessible spaces open to meander through. Consisting of one of the largest covered outdoor spaces in North America, per RioCan's representatives, creative placemaking and public art was a key component during the initial masterplan visioning of the project, in order to be authentic, enhance connectivity to the neighbourhood, and set it apart from other developments in the city. Through a combination of public art, murals, and other installations, The Well's objective is to create an immersive experience with the help of local and Canadian artists.
The Unveiling of Dustin Yellin's first Canadian Art Piece, 'Emergence'
One of The Well's main design attractions is its central atrium, which connects pedestrians from Wellington Street West, Front Street West, and Spadina Avenue directly into the site's inner walkways. And as of October 3, 2023, the Wellington entrance to the main atrium is home to a new sculpture, which was unveiled during the site tour.
Prior to the unveiling, Brooklyn-based artist Dustin Yellin said that "One of the challenges [he's] found with creating public art is to make something that works from 40-50ft away but also four-to-five inches." The resulting piece is a 10ft+ tall stainless steel sculpture designed to "braid together three threads; the origin of the universe, the birth of life, and the creation of computing." The sculpture depicts a giant figure modelled from the World Tree, which is a mythological concept found across multiple cultures that connects the earth to the stars.
Yellin walked the audience through the sculpture, starting at the bottom and working his way to the top. The base of the sculpture depicts the 1919 solar eclipse, documented by Sir Arthur Eddington to ultimately prove Einstein's theory of general relativity by studying the bending of starlight during an eclipse. The sculpture base includes a map of the stars that would have been above Toronto that night in 1919. Light emerges from the base in three dimensions, from which point the sculpture becomes a twisted yet fascinating experience that overwhelms in its surrealist detail. There is, for example, the head of a cat with the rear of a dog looking at its reflection in a toilet while sitting on a Rubik's cube made out of a periodic table. And believe it or not, the preceding sentence came word-for-word out of the artists mouth.
Elsewhere, the sculpture includes nods to Toronto and Ontario, such as a blue jay, trillium flower, maple leaf, as well as incorporating major Canadian inventions such as a telephone. A personal touch Yellin added was carving his daughter's name into the sculpture — something to show her when she's grown, and there is apparently a small secret octopus hidden somewhere on the sculpture — a staple of Yellin's work.
Arcadia Earth Toronto & Benjamin Von Wong
Arcadia Earth at The Well is a ten-room, 17,000 ft² exhibit filled with large-scale installations and immersive technologies, marking the first Arcadia Earth exhibit in Canada. Beyond entertainment, Arcadia Earth Toronto's objective is to become a leading environmental platform for the community; immersing visitors into the art of global challenges, sustainability, and the environment, with a focus on overfishing and the importance of biodiversity.
After a brief overview of what to expect, the President of Arcadia Earth Toronto, Craig Perlmutter, was excited to announce that throughout the course of designing the exhibit, a full room had been reserved for a Canadian artist. Earlier this year, a call-to-submission process was conducted, during which artists presented designs for their own immersive room featuring an important environmental topic of their own choosing. A few months ago, Arcadia Earth Toronto selected Benjamin Von Wong, who combines creativity and activism to address global issues, and has undertaken work for the UN and Greenpeace.
Von Wong says he has "always felt that telling people what's wrong with the world is quite depressing [...] and doesn't really give you a sense of what to do about it or something you can touch." Having been selected, Von Wong has created a one-of-a-kind room at Arcadia Earth Toronto, the primary focus of which is an 18-ft tall exhibit consisting of 3,000Ibs of electronic waste such as circuit boards and keyboards. The design is 'portal' in format, and is an exhibit that people can walk on, sit on, and interact with.
Arcadia Earth Toronto is set to open its doors next month, with Benjamin Von Wong's exhibit one of ten immersive experiences.
Site-Reclaimed Wood Furniture Collection (by Brothers Dressler)
Moving inside to The Well's office tower lobby, we take a look at the furniture pieces that have been crafted out of wooden beams salvaged from the pre-construction site.
In collaboration with Hariri Pontarini Architects who designed the office tower, Brothers Dressler were asked to reclaim the beams removed from the development site to create a number of striking furniture pieces for The Well's office tower lobby and meeting rooms. The Toronto-based company which was founded by siblings Lars and Jason Dressler in 2003, creates handcrafted furniture and lighting using responsibly-sourced materials, primarily reclaimed wood.
For The Well, Brothers Dressler reclaimed over 18 tonnes of Douglas fir beams from the demolition site (see below), crafting a unique combination of furniture pieces - including a pair of undulating benches, a stepped seating structure that doubles as a background for presentations, and a 15'x4' solid table for one of the second-floor meeting rooms. The pieces were completed in their artist studio on Sterling Road, before being transported to The Well for placement and finalization.
The pieces are as functional as they are design element. The twin benches (above) bookend the north and east portions of The Well's office tower lobby; the unique curvature allowing multiple people to sit closely but with enhanced privacy. The benches were created by fastening the ribbed sections (each of which are comprised of several individual pieces of wood) to internal 'spines' that run inside the entire length of the piece of furniture.
And at the northern-most end of the lobby, the multi-tiered seating structure, which was created by bolting the solid reclaimed wood beams together, cumulatively weighs over 12 tonnes (and Lars and Jason can tell you exactly how much each individual beam weighs given their living and breathing of this project for a period of time). This structure lends itself to seating as well as a focal point from which presentations in the Lobby can be made, and are a very physical nod to the materials that preceded The Well's construction.
The second part of this two-part article on all the public art pieces and placemaking design components that were viewed during a recent site tour of The Well will appear soon, but in the meantime, you can learn more about the site from our Database file, linked below. If you'd like, you can join in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.
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