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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Some Good Art Shows for the Geographically Inclined

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A small portion of Gwen McGregor and Sandra Rechico's massive Montreal map at Mercer Union

There’s always good art showing in Toronto–even art for the map-obsessed. But this is a particularly good part of the fall for some. Here’s three reasons why:

1) Last Friday, Toronto artists Gwen McGregor and Sandra Rechico’s exhibition Maps in Doubt opened at the newly relocated Mercer Union. (Recap: This artist-run centre used to be near Queen and Dovercourt, and now is near Bloor and Lansdowne–discuss the ongoing issue of “Is Bloor & Lans the new Queen West?” amongst yerselves.)

What McGregor and Rechico do in this show is bring their different approaches to psychogeography to the fore. McGregor, for one, has been toting around a GPS for years, using the resulting data to create interesting maps of her everyday paths in New York, Toronto and elsewhere. Rechico (a former curator for wade) has a similar interest in space and mapping, but chooses to go more analog, having taken detailed, handwritten notes of her daily travels for the past seven years.

Brought together for the first time by curator, critic and York U prof Dan Adler, Rechico and McGregor worked out four different ways of mapping their respective pedestrian travels in four different cities: Toronto, Montreal, Kassel and Munster. Each of these four mapping strategies and cities is presented on a different wall of the rectangular gallery space.

For my money, I loved the more gloopy, human approaches the duo took to their Montreal and Kassel walks. For Montreal, they created a massive, sagging, ropy, glossy thing out of yellow and red silicone–yellow tracing the path of one artist, red of the other. For Kassel, they took a completely different approach: using a pencil to draw repeated lines that add up to their total distance travelled in the city. Because this distance was upwards of 70 kilometres, and is represented by that same length of pencil line on four pieces of paper, the result is a set of really wonderfully dense, hand-felt drawings that are beautiful in that 70s process drawing way even if you have no idea what they represent.

Their more photographic and digital approaches to mapping in Toronto and Munster are also interesting, just less immediately appealing to me.

Definitely worth a look, especially if you want to check out the new building–Mercer’s public programs director Elaine Gaito says it was originally designed by the guy who designed Casa Loma, and was also formerly a theatre.

2) Earlier last month, Toronto’s artistic grand dame Vera Frenkel launched a show, Once By Water, at Akau Gallery that will also be of interest to the Spacing-involved. For it, Frenkel–who’s lived on Queen West for some time, and has seen condo construction spring up on her doorstep–focuses on the presence of scaffolding and construction pits around the city.

On one wall, a vinyl banner mixes shots of the lake with shots of scaffolding, and text on ideas about change. On another, a video unfurls similar footage with narration that borrows from and expands on the banner. Part of Frenkel’s strategy involves dreaming up a character named Ruth who creates a “scaffolding archive” that Frenkel’s video narrator supposedly finds.

Overall, I really enjoyed the extended shots of scaffolding areas and construction zones that Frenkel’s video provides. These are sites very central to our city at the moment, and ones that attract attention from passerby. Yet they are rarely documented, even if they are occasionally integrated into recent literature like Michael Redhill’s Consolation.

I also enjoyed Frenkel’s riff on the point that our city, once explicitly “by water”, has been separated from some thanks to construction. This will not be a new argument to Spacing readers, but is one handled in a much more poetic sense here than in the usual journalistic outlets. The show runs to November 22.

3) To close the circle, over near the old, soon-to-be-demolished-for-condos Mercer Union space, there’s a show upcoming that looks ripe for discussion–possibly with the New York street art group Wooster Collective, if you’re lucky.

For the show A City Renewal Project, opening November 4 at 39 Lisgar, street artists Gabriel Reese/Specter and Dan Bergeron/Fauxreel collaborate on a large-scale wheatpaste installation of abandoned storefronts. According to the artists, “the project focuses on the state of decay within the city, renewing these dilapidated buildings as artistic monuments and documenting their history amidst the gentrified frenzy of urban change.”

Whether you agree with these artist’s take on gentrification or not, there will be a chance to discuss it with street art vets Marc & Sara Schiller of Wooster Collective when they give their talk at 381 Queen Street West, Suite 200, on Saturday November 8, 2008 from 7 to 10pm.

Happy gallery hopping!

Image of just a small bit of Gwen McGregor and Sandra Rechico’s big, gloopy Montreal map from Mercer Union