Everything about Michael Irving?s home on Rhodes Avenue in Riverdale is modest in scale ? everything but the 2-ton, 11-foot bronze figure with the 30-foot armspan perched in his driveway.
Since it was transported from a welder's shop five weeks ago, this piece, which bears the sculpted hands of child abuse survivors and their artwork - angels, teddy bears, chains, etc - has become a curbside confessional.
One man says he's visited it 10 times. A neighbouring church incorporated it into a service. One woman wept the night away. And when potentially rowdy teenagers turned up, Irving gave them paper to trace their hands to put inside the monument, along with thousands of others. One wrote, "This is me, too."
My own hand fills a square. It was cast in plaster, then carved in wax during one of Irving's often-volatile workshops.
"Once I had 12 people sobbing," says Irving, an artist who's also a psychotherapist. Though he was reluctant to include children, he discovered they were more resilient.
"Adults revictimize themselves every time they feel judged, whereas kids haven't negatively programmed themselves as often," he says. One group of five came from Muskoka, where they'd been abused by a serial pedophile. "I put them up in my studio, and their sense of fun was astonishing."
The scope of the Survivor Monument Project reflects the depth of California-born Irving's own abuse. Though his father was an angry fist always ready to strike, his mother surpassed him in violence.
By the age of four, Irving was so addled from beatings he could utter only guttural sounds. Divorce increased his mother's fury.
"She would fly through the house throwing every dish, dumping food, yanking clothes from closets. Then she'd have the six of us kneeling with a revolver to our heads, begging her for forgiveness."
When authorities investigated, the siblings thwarted them. "We bought my mother's idea that we were horrible kids who were lucky to have her."
From age five to seven, Irving was hired out for pornographic films.
As an adolescent, he was prostituted by a group of S&M women who hung him upside down, tortured him with scalding and frigid water and subjected him to electric shock rituals, pretending to implant devices in his head that would explode if he talked.
Irving's bottled rage made him a walking time bomb. "I was an easy mark at school, and my career objective until Grade 8 was to be a political assassin." When he beat one of his bullies senseless, he was so shocked that he became a peacenik, and later was jailed for his civil rights activities.
Irving's instinct for finding beauty inside wood and stone turned him into an artist. After years of therapy, he earned his doctorate. The Survivor Monument brings together these two accomplishments, but at severe cost.
The structure casts a shadow over his property, symbolic of 12 years of struggle during which he remortgaged his house, maxed out his credit cards and suffered a heart attack. Today, his greatest stress is finding a permanent home for this emotion-drenched sculpture and its bronze partner, identical in form but with different artwork, still awaiting $250,000 to complete.
His heart is set on Queen's Park or City Hall, to help put the protection of children - humanity's greatest resource - on the political agenda.
"Art to me has to move you, to thrill you," says Irving, the recipient of Toronto's 2007 Stand Up for Kids Award. "When you involve an army of people whose souls have been touched, you get much more than one person can accomplish."
Sylvia Fraser, a Toronto writer, is the author of My Father?s House: A Memoir Of Incest And Of Healing and nine other books. email@example.com