SUBSTITUTE CITY on view at the Power Plant (231 Queen's Quay West) until May 27. $4, stu/srs $2, free Wed 5-8 pm. 416-973-4949. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
so many people -- more than 1,000
-- literally crammed into the Power Plant for Friday's opening of Substitute City that the gallery is repainting its walls.
The cynical yet loving ode to Toronto was conceived when curator Philip Monk moved from Parkdale to the east end and started rediscovering his home. Monk's new daily route to urban oasis Harbourfront Centre takes him past the film studios on Eastern Avenue. Hence the show's title, which refers to Toronto's role as a movie-industry stand-in for American cities.
But the Toronto on view in Substitute City is far from a romanticized Hollywood vision. Instead, the 17 artists in Monk's lineup depict a city with a soulless urban core and suburbs blighted by monster homes.
Not that the art lacks beauty. Michael Awad's panoramic transparencies shot using a special aviation camera that can be set to photograph only moving objects are astonishing.
Peter MacCallum finds poetry in his photos of the Gardiner East Demolition Project. John McLachlin's lush Cibachromes depict popular park cruising sites. Robin Collyer strips the texts from his photos of signage. Adrian Blackwell's pinhole photos document studio spaces that have since made way for a fibre-optics cable factory. Karma Clarke-Davis's helicopter footage of the financial district glistens with jewel tones. All are tinged with melancholy.
Then there are the artists who focus on urban blight. Kika Thorne (solo and with Blackwell) films major political actions, while Leslie Peters shoots films of highway road surfaces. Geoffrey James (in one case collaborating with Atom Egoyan) photographs monster-home construction. Rose Kallal hits a spooky note with her nocturnal photography. Vid Ingelevics's panoramic views of the St. Clair and Vaughan area are all shot from a notoriously unlovely apartment block, and Istvan Kantor's 20-minute Broadcast 2000 likens building demolition to violent sex.
It's impossible to view Danny & Reid's Motion Machine's Five Seasons (complete with twangy soundtrack) without remembering that one half of this duo, Reid Diamond, died less than a month ago, while Mike Hoolboom's filmic musing on relationship breakups invokes a different kind of loss. Comic artist Seth has built a career out of his solipsistic take on depression in a very recognizable T.O.
The overwhelming vibe is of deep-rooted love for Toronto, despite the city's flaws. Some of the best pieces on view are among the film and video selections, whose total running time is over two hours -- so don't plan on a quick visit to this essential if sentimental show.