With Toronto being the fastest growing metropolitan city in Canada, it’s easy to overlook its shoreline and the stories it tells about our relationship with the environment. For this reason, the second edition of the Toronto Biennial of Art (TBA) explores the sense of kinship between humans and nature through contemporary works from Canadian and international artists.
From now to June 5, several areas and venues around the city will feature free performances, exhibitions and learning opportunities – all relating to the polyphonic histories sedimented in and around Toronto.
What Water Knows, The Land Remembers encompasses 72 days of free contemporary art that will inspire important conversations on a global scale while engaging the community. And because the event only happens every two years, it’s not to be missed.
“If you look at how the city has buried or attempted to straighten certain waterways, bend water and land to the will of man for whatever their dominant interests or ideological beliefs are, it tells a different story about this place,” shares Katie Lawson, one of the three curators for the TBA. She has been collaborating with Tairone Bastien and Candice Hopkins since the Biennial’s first edition in 2019, which introduced the complex history behind Toronto’s shoreline.
“If we’re open to going beyond just human stories, we’ll discover the histories that might be held in the land or in the water, changing the way that we see different kinds of plant species and where they grow in the city,” says Lawson. “The environment tells a story that’s not human centred.”
Folks of all ages can enjoy over 100 works that were meticulously produced by more than 35 artists – 23 of the pieces were specially commissioned for the event. The 2022 Biennial will include around 40 online and in-person programs, taking place at nine different exhibition sites.
When creating the itinerary for your immersive, city-wide art experience, be sure to include these four contemporary works created by talented Canadian female artists.
HOLDINGS (2020-ongoing) by Nadia Belerique
Nadia Belerique’s architectural installation showcases large, milky-white plastic barrels that were once used by the artist’s family in Toronto. The barrels would be filled with food, gifts and other goods before being sent across seas to their relatives living in the archipelago of the Azores in Portugal.
In HOLDINGS, each barrel becomes a vessel for compositions of liquids, photographs and object assemblages outfitted with lens-like stained-glass coverings.
The installation can be found at 72 Perth, one of the most intriguing arts and culture venues in the city.
“72 Perth is a building that’s been scheduled for demolition as there’s a new development planned,” reveals Lawson. “It was formerly a Pentecostal church but we were able to take it over as a temporary art space in the interim. It’s a really special space.”
Kahkiyaw kikway (All of everything) (2019-2022) by Amy Malbeuf
At Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto, guests can admire an installation of sculptures and wearable artworks by Métis artist Amy Malbeuf. Over numerous years, Malbeuf taught herself how to create home-tanned hide, which is a laborious tradition that’s incredibly significant in Indigenous communities.
The garments are intended to fit a spectrum of body types and genders. After being featured at the TBA, the home-tanned hide clothing will be sent to Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto.
“At Indigenous Fashion Week, folks can see these garments actually donned by Indigenous bodies,” she says. “It’s an instance of partnership between two organizations within the city and a really unique way to celebrate her work over an extended timeline.”
Footnotes for an Arsenal (2022) by Dana Prieto
In 1992, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) purchased the Arsenal Lands, a 15.7-hectare property located on the City of Mississauga’s waterfront and the site of the Small Arms Inspection Building (SAIB).
Upon purchase, the TRCA performed environmental testing and discovered the presence of low-level radioactive waste, petroleum compounds and heavy metals underneath the large munitions plant.
“Dana Prieto, a Toronto-based artist, was interested in the land’s history and thinking about the past, present and future of those grounds,” shares Lawson. “Her artwork is made of terracotta and fired soil. The idea is to draw visitors’ attention down to what lies below their feet, as it’s not something we often consider. In a sense, we think of our bodies as containers but they are actually quite porous. So what does it mean to live in a world where there are contaminants that we can’t see or feel, yet they are circulating and exchanging between bodies and environments?”
Prieto’s art is displayed at the SAIB in Mississauga.
Great Bear Money Rock (2021-2022) by Ts̱ēmā Igharas and Erin Siddall
In 2019, Ts̱ēmā Igharas and Erin Siddall went to Délįnę in Sahtu Dene Territories to seek passage to Port Radium, an abandoned uranium mine on the other side of Great Bear Lake. This lake is the eighth largest freshwater reserve in the world.
During their travels, they collected materials, photographs and audiovisual elements that reflect how the land and the life of local Indigenous communities overlap.
“The two artists collected a number of rocks from Great Bear Lake and had to have special glass bubbles blown to contain them, sealing in any trace levels of radiation held in the rocks,” Lawson says. “There’s a 16 mm film that was taken during their time at the lake and interestingly enough, using an analogue style of film captured some of the traces of what remains in Great Bear Lake. It’s really beautiful.”
This installation can be found at 5 Lower Jarvis.
Immerse yourself in 72 days of art by downloading the FREE TBA Pass. Access our 9+ exhibition sites and enjoy special perks: torontobiennial.tickit.ca/events/13531.