Subtle Borsato

Artist finds magic in small moments

DIANE BORSATO at Mercer Union (1286 Bloor West), to October 24. 416-536-1519. Rating: NNNN

Diane Borsato’s unique form of relational art is based on unexpected social actions that gently subvert common ideas about art, perception and how information is exchanged.


She’s placed rare museum artifacts in her mouth, attempted to eat light, gently touched 1,000 Montrealers and instigated the first intercontinental snowball fight.

The Chinatown Foray retrospective at Mercer Union documents Borsato’s recent projects, all of them characterized by her singular curiosity and sense of play. Part of the magic of her work is its startling simplicity: actions so straightforward yet so unexpected that you’re left wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

In Italian Lessons, Borsato circumvents the tedium of conventional language lessons by studying basic first aid, salsa dancing and ping-pong in Italian, followed by a seminar on black holes given by two Italian astrophysicists. She demonstrates her unusual methods of knowledge acquisition with Terrestrial/Celestial, in which she exchanges morning lessons in mushrooming for nightly lessons in astronomy.

The fun is infectious in The Chinatown Foray, in which she leads members of the Toronto Mycological Society through the stalls of Chinatown grocery stores and Markham medicinal shops to identify different mushrooms. Large smiles crease the faces of two men holding what must be a large rare specimen, reminding us that you don’t have to leave the city to experience nature’s bounty.

Borsato’s subtle actions underline the fact that we’re addicted to novelty, and show us that there’s magic in the smallest shifts in perception.

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