Thursday, June 20, 2013

Luminato 2013 - Free Exhibits

Luminato is an annual festival of arts and culture with performances and talks in the fields of theatre, music, dance, visual arts, magic acts, puppet shows and literature, held in venues throughout downtown Toronto.  Many of the events are ticketed, ranging from $20 for an evening conversation series featuring topics such as Verdi vs Wagner and gala readings from Canadian authors, $25-35 for a puppet show by Ronnie Burkett, $25-65 for a Chinese opera directed by Atom Egoyan, up to $175 for the top priced ticket to hear artists including Rufus Wainwright, Glen Hansard from the musical and movie "Once", Esperanza Spalding, and Herbie Hancock paying tribute to Joni Mitchell in honour of her 70th birthday. 

However there are quite a few free events to enjoy daily as well.  The hub for the activities is at David Pecaut Square in the entertainment district.  Free concerts are held nightly as well as in the afternoon during the weekends with  artists and acts such as Serena Ryder, Maxi Priest, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Rosanne Cash.  The eclectic performances cover all genres of music including pop, hip hop, country, blues, jazz, and multiple cultures including a Kyiv-based quartet, Sahara Desert Blues guitarist, Caribbean group, a Beijing group that mixes reggae beats with traditional Chinese music, and a range of African rhythms, mixed with bluesy jazz, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Latin sounds.

Free daily "Lunchtime Illumination" talks feature interesting conversations, sometimes between artists from various fields, including one between a scratch DJ, author/musician and a screen writer, and another where magicians compared their art to the culinary magic created by a molecular gastronomist.

On Monday, we listened to folk singer/songwriters Sylvia Tyson and Murray McLauchlan tell stories about their careers and experiences in the Yorkville music scene in the 1960s.  They both indicated that they struggled in Canada and were not recognized or appreciated in their home country until they first moved to New York City to make a name for themselves.  They interacted with other folk stars like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn.  They described Yorkville in the 60s as a "counter-culture scene" where there were no silos between different musical styles–everyone was young and carefree, and hung out together, exchanging ideas and songs.

Tyson's signature song, written by and performed with her by then husband Ian, was "Four Strong Winds".  This was one of the first songs to describe Canadian climates and locations such as Alberta.  She wrote the smash #3 Billboard hit "You Were Always On My Mind" in five minutes, a feat her accountant has been trying to get her to replicate ever since.  Sylvia tells the story about being at the infamous Newport Folk Festival where legendary folk hero Bob Dylan was thought to have "sold out" the folk scene by "going electric".  She remembers it as being really loud and commented that it might not have sounded so bad if his band had only practiced more. 

McLauchlan's big song was called Farmer's Song, but he also wrote songs about Toronto including one called "Down by the Henry Moore" where he references Kensington Market, The Silver Dollar, The Palm Grove, and City Hall where he skates by the titular "Archer" Henry Moore sculpture.  Murray obviously had a crush (and probably still does) on Joni Mitchell as he mentioned her several times in the talk and praised her fine "assets" at length.  McLaughlan told an amusing story about having Patti Labelle as his opening act one evening in a small bar, which was packed with gay black men dressed in shiny silver mylar space suits, there to see Labelle sing her hits like Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi.  Murray was nervous to go on next with his folk-song act, since that was clearly not their scene, but Labelle reassured him that they would love him... and they did, since luckily they thought he and his bass player were cute!

Also on display in David Pecaut Square was an exhibit called Art in Motion.  Students from an art school worked with a local artist to paint a "moving mural" on a Kia Rondo car.  Kia is one of the major sponsors of Luminato so this is both art and product placement.

Stockpile in Brookfield Place is a performance art piece that recreates a live sized version of the common carnival game where you manipulate a claw using a joystick and try snag a prize.  Nine performance artists from across the country take turns sitting in the machine and acting as the human claw.  For a $2 fee which goes to charity, you use a joystick to position and lower the claw to hover over your object of desire.  After the artist grasps the object, you maneuver him towards a slot to drop the prize into.  If you are successful, you claim the prize.  If he drops it before the destination, you get a souvenir "LOSER" certificate.  The over 1500 items of toys and common household items were solicited as donations from the local community.


For me, the highlight of the free Luminato events is the exhibit at the ROM Spirit House.  Thirty-one "Victorian-inspired" porcelain dolls of around 18 inches tall, dressed in haut-culture outfits created by Amsterdam designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, are positioned on a specially designed catwalk.  Each doll's eyes, makeup and hair were carefully recreated to replicate the live model who originally wore the outfit, and the clothing and accessories were shrunk precisely to scale.  I found it interesting and refreshing that these dolls were not "Barbie-esque" or even shaped like the typical rail-thin model figures. 

Most of the fashions were avant-garde and outrageous, as wont to be seen on European catwalks, and not likely to be worn by normal people out on the streets.  There was the dress that seemed to be stuffed with balloons, the aquatic scuba suit with black seaweed, the Frida Khalo-esque flowery dress, the pant suit with such big ruffles that it looked like the doll had a fake beard,  and the Harlequin clown suit.  A couple of the dolls were attached to metal rods that held up the pleats of the outfit and had spotlights attached.  It was not clear whether this was just to show off the doll, or whether the poor live model actually had to walk down the aisles in this manner.

There were several beautiful but simpler designs the average person could have pulled off.  I particularly liked the one outfit that looked like a casual/chic blouse and pants assemble from the front, but sported an elegant ivory cape that gave off a totally different, elegant vibe from the back.  There were so many details on each doll to pay attention to, including the hairstyles, the footwear, jewelry, veils, and other accessories that accompanied each outfit,that it required several passes from various angles to see it all. 

This was a very unique opportunity to get so up close and personal to gorgeous high-end designs, and the closest that I will probably ever get to experiencing a Paris fashion show.  This exhibit will be on display until June 30, so there's still time to go see it!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Doors Open 2013

The end of May marked another year of Door's Open in Toronto,  As usual, there were so many interesting options to choose from.  We went full throttle on both days of the weekend and visited the following locations:

The Dineen Building on 140 Yonge St at Temperance was built in 1897 and became the office, workshop and showroom of the W.&F. Dineen Company, which sold hats and furs.  Now a heritage site, the building has been restored to its former glory, featuring original brickwork, wrought-iron Juliette balconies and fencing, pillars topped with ornate crown molding imprinted with a golden "D" for Dineen, and the company directories showing the last occupants of the building. The highlights of the tour were the beautiful J&J Taylor safe standing in the front lobby and the embedded wall vaults in the upper floors, which were used to store expensive furs.  One of the vaults is still locked and will require a professional locksmith and representation from the proper historical societies before it can be opened.  There are stories of a 1910 bank robbery where the robbers may have hidden out in the Dineen building and possibly stashed some loot in the vaults.  So far, nothing has been found but who knows what might be in this last vault!

Today, the upper floors of the Dineen building are used as temporary and permanent office space available for rent.  The ground floor houses the gorgeously decorated Dineen Coffee shop with tall ceilings, the same pillars as found in the lobby, deep red leather banquette seating, marble counter tops, patterned flooring, and an antique iron stove still imbedded in the brick wall.  Also opening by summer will be the Chase Fish and Oyster restaurant which will include a large upstairs patio overlooking the city.

The impressive collection of Inuit art on permanent display in the TD Gallery at 79 Wellington Ave. has been accumulated starting in the 1960s, at the behest of Allen Lambert, then president and chairman of the TD Bank.  The tour guide pointed out one of the sculptures that reminded him of Che Guevara wearing his iconic beret.  A poignant piece called "The Migration" by Joe Talirunili conveys the true story of his family of 40 adults and children, once trapped in their sleds on an ice floe that drifted away and started to melt.  They used whatever materials they had on the sleds to build a boat and escaped.  His works will soon be on display at the AGO.  One of the most recent acquisitions from 1987 depicts a starving Ethiopian and contrasts his plight to that of the Inuit.  My personal favourite piece is a seal's head made from whale bone.

A new condo tower called Massey Towers will be built on Yonge Street across from the Eaton Centre.  It was formerly the site of a CIBC branch built in the early 1900s in a classic Beaux-Arts style.  Luckily the original building has been deemed a heritage site and will therefore will be restored and used as the entrance and lobby of the condo.  The majestic portico with its thick columns and triangular peaked roof will remain as the facade with a tall tower rising behind it.  Once it is complete, the lobby for the condo will be magnificent with tall ceilings, ornate wood finishing and decorative ironwork, mosaic flooring, marble staircase, funky chandeliers, and original bronze friezes restored.

Once inside, rather than the historic tour of the original building that we were hoping for, we were bombarded by salesmen, floor plans and a model suite for the new condo.  The prices ranged from low $300K to just under $900K and from 377 square feet to 1085.  Parking spots were only available to the small percentage of larger units over 800 square feet and cost $69,000!  The salesman tried to impress us with the "automatic parking" feature where you drive your car into an elevator and it would automatically take you to your parking spot.  This sounded very cool initially but could become a big bottleneck and a bigger pain if the elevator ever broke down.  We noticed that while the building is touted as a "luxury" condo, the amenities did not reflect this.  The flooring was laminate instead of hardwood, the bathroom offered porcelain tile instead of marble and the kitchen  was "European-styled"  (marketing-speak for tiny appliances and sink).

Guildwood Park sits on 88 acres of land on the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs and can be considered the "home of abandoned architectural treasures".  Now a public park, it was originally purchased in 1932 by Spencer and Rosa Clark, who created the "Guild of All Arts", providing free studio space and accommodations for artists to stay at while pursuing their crafts.  One of Spencer's major passions was the preservation of heritage sites.  He was instrumental in saving the Old City Hall from destruction.  For those buildings that he was not able to save, such as many of the big banks in the Financial District that were torn down to make way for current office towers, he started collecting architectural components such as stone carvings and reliefs, columns, capitals, and other facade elements.  Pieces from banks, insurance companies, the Granite building, Toronto Star building, Imperial Oil Building and more, sit scattered across the lands of the park alongside sculptures that the Clarks collected throughout the years.


Overlooking the sculpture garden is the Guild Inn, a 33-room Arts and Crafts manor house that was once the home of the Clarks as well as a hotel and museum.  Unfortunately it has fallen into such disrepair that it will probably need to be torn down.  During the WWII, this mansion was used by the Womens' Royal Naval Service as a training base for female code-breakers.  Following the war, it was used as a veteran's hospital before being returned to the Clarks.

Spencer commissioned the construction of an amphitheatre, using Corinthian columns that he saved from the Bank of Canada building.  The outdoor theatre is still used today, with the Guild Festival Theatre group performing The Misanthrope later this summer.  Also on the site is at the Osterhout log cabin, built in 1795, during the time that John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, was having the lands surveyed.

 In 1850s, Joe Williams bought a 20.7 acre farm in what is now known as the Beach area.  He created a large park as a tourist attraction on the waterfront, naming it Kew Gardens after the park in London.  His son, who he also named Kew, went on to build Kew Cottage as a honeymoon home for his new wife.  The cute little cottage has a round turret tower in front, a wrap-around veranda and is built in the Queen Anne Revival style.  The tour guide said it was shaped like a ship, but I couldn't really see that.

Historic photos were on display inside the house, showing the Williams family in their home and photos of the surrounding area.  The tour guide then took us for a walk, looking at some of the other cottages in the neighbourhood as well as describing the history of the Beach area (including the big debate about whether it should be named the Beach or Beaches).

Textile Museum - Shine & To Marimekko With Love

The highlight of the current exhibits showing at the Textile Museum is the art piece called "The Last Supper".  Part of an exhibit called Shine, which focuses on shiny materials in clothing and art, this work is bright, colourful, whimsical and yet ironic, intelligent and full of social commentary and critique about consumerism, waste, and mass-marketing.

Depicting numerous examples of North American "junk food", the title "The Last Supper" morphs beyond its traditional religious connotation to take on a literal one–that this food is detrimental to the health and could literally be your last supper if you keep eating it.  Strips of recycled materials from shiny pop and beer cans were weaved together to form these images, making the work self-referential, since the material used to make the work to reflects the subject matter. 

Other shiny fabrics included gold metal threads found in Japanese kimonos and Indian silks, reflective mirrors and glass buttons in Pakistan wedding attire and a court robe from China which featured what looks like Nazi swastikas, but are actually ancient Buddhist symbols of good fortune.

The work called "Music of Chance" used a single roll of aluminum foil to make molds of hundreds of common-place silver-coloured objects including kitchen utensils, musical instruments, jewelry boxes, picture frames, etc.  The result is a single thirty-foot "chain bracelet" created using one continuous sheet of aluminum foil.

The second exhibit featured works from the Finnish company Marimekko and its designer Armi Rati, who brought bright, bold printed patterns to North America that was popular in the psychedelic 60s.  You picture girls in short dresses and long go-go boots when you see these patterns.

The Textile Museum of Canada
55 Centre Ave (near City Hall)