Forest Hill is changing.

One house at a time, the abundance of solid, modest 1940s era houses are being demolished, replaced by bigger, grander, and louder mansions. They tower over the increasingly rare, smaller houses.

Many streets, like the north side of Vesta Drive, west of Spadina, have been entirely transformed — no original house remains.

It is hard to lament the loss of mansions, as in this complicated and overwhelmingly unjust world, there are simply, more important things to spill ink over. As I explored in my first ever post on this blog, however, we cannot anticipate how the city will take itself up in the future, Today’s mansion neighbourhood is tomorrow’s subdivided, affordable apartment zone, as Toronto has experienced with the mansions along Jarvis Street. With this in mind, heritage, even in an exclusive part of this city, is important to consider given the extensions of time and transformations of space.

Regardless of the loss of old, beautiful, heritage and humble homes, and the influx of towering and garish mansions, the effect in the neighbourhood is mesmerizing.

A walk today through the streets of Forest Hill was accompanied by the clang of steel, a constant buzz of power tools, an incessant banging of hundreds of hammers. We are witnessing the metamorphosis of a neighbourhood. It is shedding a new skin, and is doing so rapidly.

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As many of my readers may know by now, I spent a glorious week of August as a participant artist in the White Rabbit Residency.

Along the shores of the other-worldly Bay of Fundy (where you can experience the highest tides in the world), I joined 16 artists - including my brother, cartoonist and graphic designer, Jonathan – in a week of supportive, nurturing, and inspired creation, responding to the beautiful landscape of Red Clay. The residency focuses on the process of creation, culminating in the White Rabbit Celebration, where visitors come to celebrate the end of the residency in a festival of art and music. Along with illustrating the festival’s map, I spent the week working on my project, Framing Red Clay.

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I initially proposed spending the week wandering around the grounds and creating frames out of found materials, to direct wanderers toward views of specific landscapes. I would comment on the landscape based on the frames’ shape, position and materiality, frames made out of materials ranging from the most natural to the most human-made. I was excited to frame dynamic scenes that would change based on the time of day viewed — especially those views of the swift transformations of the intertidal zone.

But when I got to Red Clay, it was the August super-moon — and high above the Bay, the full moon sat and slowly moved across the sky. The fullness of the moon illuminated the entire landscape, and, I couldn’t look away.

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I promptly adapted my project to a project of chasing, and framing the moon. Building on the vertical ladder tradition initiated by Andrew Maize the previous year, I constructed a ten foot ladder and erected it straight out of the ground, on a spot that affords the best views of the bay — where I initially viewed the moon in its fullness.

Learning from brilliant Red Clay veterans how to sustainably harvest spruce, and latch with rope, I built a small frame with a handle, and hung it on the top of the ladder. Passersby were tacitly invited to climb the ladder. Once at the top, they intuitively grabbed the frame, and began viewing the world from enjoyably high vantage. When the half moon rose on August 17, we gathered around the ladder to enjoy the experience of framing the moon as it hovered across the bay. Ironically, from this high vantage, I ended up framing Red Clay, as I initially intended to.

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As my artist statement in the White Rabbit program put it:

I came to Red Clay with the intention of framing the landscape, but I couldn’t stop looking at the moon, so I tried to frame the Moon. I ended up framing Red Clay. 

It was a pleasure to participate in White Rabbit 2014, and I congratulate my fellow artists-in-residence. Framing Red Clay was a wonderful manifestation of my art practice, emphasizing process but with a physical and interactive end product.

See you at White Rabbit 2015!


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Far from the Bloor Viaduct and the concentration of touristy Greek restaurants, Art of the Danforth is a semi-annual art festival along the “other” Danforth, east of Greenwood to Woodbine.

Last May, I was delighted to participate in the festival in collaboration with Sean Martindale.

Half whimsical art project, half participatory urban planning exercise, Dan/Dani IV invited passersby to participate in various activities that crowned them King/Queen of the Danforth for the day, including the big question, “What would you do if you were King or Queen of the Danforth for a day?”

My contribution to the project was a flag making workshop. I worked with participants to create their own flags to reflect their lives and connection to their neighbourhood.

The result was amazing! Beyond some Pizza flags and Ice Cream Cone flags from the youngest Kings and Queens, the result was hyper local flags that included symbols of very small slices of the neighbourhood — a welcome move away from flags that erase the overwhelming diversity of a country under a simplified symbol.

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Imagine a Toronto where every neighbourhood had its own flag, every street, every street corner? We would feel mighty connected to those flags, I imagine — and to those places by extension. Perhaps designating official neighbourhood flags would be the first step toward a decentralized Toronto government, where neighbourhoods could call their own shots, relying on a central city government for services like water and transit. Cabbagetown and the Toronto Island already have theirs!

My favourite flag of the workshop was this one below — the flag, resembling the St Andrew’s cross, was actually a depiction of the paths and gardens of the Robertson parkette at Danforth and Coxwell!

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Making flags with the good people of Danforth East was such a pleasure. Please enjoy the photos, and see you at the next flag making workshop!

LightNews

Luminato is a multi-day, medium spanning, and geographically expansive festival of creativity held every Spring in Toronto.

To compliment the festival’s programming, Luminato releases LightNewsa daily newsletter, that is less news/reviews than an art project in and of itself. As “a performance in print”, LightNews invites artists, cartoonists, poets and writers to critically respond to the festival’s haps.

I was delighted to participate in LightNews at 2014’s Luminato Festival. As part of the Young people we really like are sayingfeature, I responded to two dance performances — Stones in Her Mouth, a dark and hypnotic decent into the depths of creation and protection, and So Blue, an act of sheer endurance as much as it was elegantly choreographed movement.

It was a pleasure to flex my writing muscles beyond the realm of architecture and urban affairs, and contribute to a fantastic part of Luminato’s excellent programming. Please enjoy my response to Stones in Her Mouth, and So Blue, below!

Young People We Really Like

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White Rabbit is a week long artist residency on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. Every year, 16 artists are invited to explore Red Clay, and engage in process-based art making in response to the landscape.

The residency culminates in a music and art festival, where visitors are invited to explore the land and enjoy the manifestations of the residency, including installations, workshops, performances and audio-tours. 

Every few years, the organizers of White Rabbit invite an artist to create a map to help festival goers find their way around the land to projects that are often deep in the Red Clay woods. Past map-makers have included Jayme Melrose, Sarah Burwash, and Chris Foster — artists and individuals who have been highly influential to my way of living and art practice. I was honoured to join the ranks of these esteemed creators, having been invited to be the resident Red Clay cartographer this past White Rabbit. It was a pleasure to see people navigate the festival with a map I had created!

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Festival goers figuring out where they are this year at White Rabbit

 

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Toronto’s craft beer scene is exploding. In response, local entrepreneur Michael Stulberg came up with the Craft Beer Passport. For $20, the passport gives you access to $2 craft brews from bars around the city. Just like that you get cheap, delicious beer, support local bars and breweries, and are encouraged to explore Toronto!

The Craft Beer Passport crew used my services as an Urban Geographer to determine how to divide the city into neighbourhoods — Torontonians’ local pride can get mighty fierce, and calling something the wrong neighbourhood would not be good. On top of that, I illustrated a poster for a Pub Crawl that happened in June as part of Ontario Craft Beer Week. Proceeds went to Not Far From the Tree, an organization that redistributes urban fruit harvests.

The map had to be a usable wayfinding device — but  I managed to sneak some local character in there. Enjoy! 

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Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, keeps promising that a revived Ontario Place will not include any condos.

That probably provokes  many-a-sigh of relief to those Torontonians who are tired of the constant construction delays, obnoxious ad campaigns, homogenous design, and iffy quality of overpriced downtown condos.

Ontario Place, a theme park opened in 1971, has been largely unused since 2012, when its amusement park closed. Only a concert venue, an event space and its marina remain in operation. The site, including its iconic geodesic dome, takes up a large portion of Toronto’s waterfront.

I think it’s a lost opportunity to not include any residences in a re-invented Ontario Place. The vastness of the site leaves room for high density, mid-rise development, while maintaining large portions of open, publicly accessible park land.

A newly developed Ontario Place that is purely parkland risks becoming dangerous space at times when it is not populated. As we’ve learned with Jane Jacobs’ eyes-on-the-street philosophy, when there is no one around taking ownership of a space, it becomes harder to defend its positive uses.

Also, not including any residential units in Ontario Place is a lost opportunity to build much needed affordable housing, that is central and well connected.

As a commenter on BlogTO puts it:

Now I am not a condoist. Nor a condophobe. But has nobody learned anything from Jane Jacob’s?

Let me see if I have this right…. we’re going to build a prettier park in what was essentially a not pretty park and magically it will have life and people and interaction?

It’s not like it is High Park or Beaches, etc which are surrounded by residential – this thing is surrounded by the CNE and a busy road. Some residential nearby to the east but to the north it is walled off by CNE and train tracks and any residential access to the west is pretty far away.

So there was no money for Ontario place and since there will be no real development there will be no new money from anywhere other than govt for this. So what we will end up with is a $100m pretty park with crap access by public transit (not too many families gonna lug the cooler all the way from CNE streetcar across Lakeshore) and no residential embedded within. Basically we’ll end up with a $100m unused park.

Would it not make more sense to allow some moderate mixed use development which would accomplish a few goals: integrate residential, generate development income, generate real mixed-use, potentially have critical mass to justify some public transit?

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Exciting news, readers!

This weekend, I am returning to Upper Economy, Nova Scotia, to participate in White Rabbit, an artist residency by the Bay of Fundy. The residency is hosted on a piece of land called Red Clay, a hilly terrain characterized by organic gardens, meadows, ponds and forests.

The week-long residency culminates in a festival, where visitors from near and far will come to enjoy the projects, celebrating with live music,  delicious food and fire spectacles.

The Bay of Fundy has the largest tides in the world, and I am excited to experience this epic, and subtly shifting landscape as we approach August’s full moon. I will be exploring, creating and learning with 15 other artists, including my brother Jonathan — a major support, influence and inspiration in my life.

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Inspiration for the project, on Toronto Island this past winter.

My project, Framing Red Clay, proposes to place seven to ten frames of varying sizes around the land, with an illustrated companion map so visitors can find their way. The frames will be made of found material, incorporating the most natural and the most artificial objects littered throughout the landscape. It was inspiring by my wanderings around Toronto Island this past winter, where blank ferry schedule signs unintentionally left vistas framed for consideration.

Ideally, I hope to evoke laughter with this project. I also look forward to getting deep into ideas of the Nature-Culture binary that has characterized my Urban Geography practice. I am excited to collaborate with others, and am open to the inevitable changes to the project the intersection of the land, my state of mind, the weather and the dynamics of the group will bring to its manifestation.

Here’s to a week of contemplation, good food, friends new and old, and landscape-based art making. And see you next Saturday, at the White Rabbit Open Air Art Festival!

TO emerges

Spending many days beside the Gibraltar Point lighthouse has got me thinking about the deep roots of Toronto’s colonial history.

The lighthouse was built in 1808, and is the oldest stone building in Toronto. The lighthouse might seem out of place several hundred meters from the sandy shore of the Gibraltar Point beach. Originally built at the water’s edge, the Island’s constantly shifting sands and accumulations from deposits from the Scarborough Bluffs have stranded the lighthouse inland.

I often look at the lighthouse and the bulking skyline articulated by the CN tower just beyond it and realize that the solid stone lighthouse and the towers across the bay are directly linked to each other. The lighthouse was the British’s first attempt at establishing a permanent settlement in this part of the world. It’s guidance of boats around the Island and into the protected bay enabled the growth that eventually lead to the modern mountain of glass and steel that exists today. The lighthouse and the CN tower are in a constant conversation of imperialism, assertion and power on the landscape.

That was a little wordy, and aren’t things better in comic form? Please enjoy my comic TORONTO EMERGES, produced for distribution at Doors Open Toronto 2014!

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ASEED is an activist organization based in Amsterdam that targets the structural causes of environmental destruction and social injustice.

Much of their work in the Netherlands focuses on food security, and the averse effects of the industrialization of the food system. Their work involves education, workshops and events like the yearly March Against Monsanto march in Wageningen.

Earlier this year, I designed and illustrated a map of the world, exploring the negative effects of GMOs and resistance to them all over the planet. It was a fantastic project, diverse and challenging. The goal was to communicate a dense amount of information in an accessible and engaging visualization. A map is often the best way to achieve this!

Click on the map below for a full resolution version, and support the resistance to GMOs!

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I began thinking of Amsterdam as a watery place when I was living there last year.

The following is a simpler manifestation of the thoughts that form the basis of this piece – thoughts that had my head spinning as I biked along the city’s waterways. 


 

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No one told me that Amsterdam was built on the bottom of the ocean floor. I had to piece it together myself – and I only realized after a few months of wandering around.

With canals, constant rain and a maritime tradition, I knew that Amsterdam was a watery place. But I didn’t quite expect a city at the bottom of the sea.

My first clues were in the dialect. Dutch is a water based language. The next tip-off was, despite being several kilometres inland, the presence of salty air.

It finally became obvious when I started paying attention to city construction crews. They would unravel interwoven brick roads to reveal the sand just beneath the surface of the city. When an entire road is repaved in Amsterdam, a beach appears between the two sides of the street.

Taking advantage of these exposed patches, I would put my hand on the ocean floor and feel the sand. I found sea shells there, under the streets.

In Amsterdam, there is sand everywhere. Piles of sand sit along the canals. A fine layer of sand covers the streets and sidewalks.

Along the bigger canals, I would watch long flat boats, carting piles of sand along the country’s internal waterways.

I hear a lot about Dutch land reclamation projects making land where there was once water.

When it rains in Amsterdam, it feels like the process is being reversed. Hovering above the sea floor, water reclaims the land and air above it.

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This piece will be appearing in the forthcoming issue of Hey Now, a small batch magazine published in Wychwood Heights, Toronto, Ontario 

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I am excited to be participating in the Gladstone Hotel’s Grow Op, a four day event that explores landscape and place.

My photos and recollections will be part of Vernal Poola participatory art project about place and precipitation, by Karen Abel and Jessica Marion Barr. Vernal Pool explores snow gathering as art practice. Karen and Jessica have invited artists from across the country to send snow gathered in a jar, accompanied by photos and a few words about the moment of collection.

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At Grow-Op, “the resulting reservoir of snowmelt will be convened into an immersive, elemental water installation… referencing the ephemeral wetland ecosystems that form in springtime from melting snow and rainwater. Following the exhibition, the pool will be restored to the earth through a collective watering of gardens and urban greenspaces.”

I am happy to be representing the Toronto Island in this wonderfully expansive project. The photos of my moment of gathering capture the essence of my winter here: an endlessly beautiful, quiet and isolated time, watching the snow and ice formations change on the beach and forest, right at the sea’s edge.

The themes of Grow-Op are also aligned with the foundations of my geographic practice. Exploring the softer edges of geography, I am interested in how the places we are embedded in manifest within our culture, our values, our selves.

Please enjoy my submission, and see you at Grow-Op this Friday April 25!

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 2pm

I am currently a resident at the Artscape Gibraltar Point art centre on the Island. After a lovely spring day, Winter came back in full force, dumping 15 cm of powder over an otherwise thawing beach. The snow samples came from the beach itself, off the dogwood, and from the “sandy forest”, a collection of huge ironwoods right at the water’s edge. The snow was wet to the touch, and heavy. It’s been a spectacular winter at Gibraltar Point.

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