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How to Explore the 2022 Toronto Art Biennale

Nave, a three-channel video installation by Camille Turner, is one of the original projects commissioned from the Toronto Art Biennale. Find him at the Small Arms Inspection Building in Mississauga. (Courtesy of the Toronto Art Biennale)

the Toronto Art Biennale (TBA) opens Saturday, March 26, and for 10 entire weeks, its programming slate is completely free to explore. As well as art exhibitions, the program includes performances, workshops and walking tours, and all of this action will be spread across nine different venues, a mix of art galleries and repurposed spaces that stretch from downtown to Mississauga.

What is it about?

This will be the second edition of the Biennale. The first, in 2019, was titled The Shoreline Dilemma, and in keeping with that theme, the program was largely set along the city’s waterfront.

For 2022, curators Candice Hopkins, Katie Lawson and Tairone Bastien essentially continue the story they began in the inaugural year of the Biennale, dubbing this new program What Water Knows, The Land Remembers.

This poetic little phrase is an invitation to think of Toronto differently: not just as a city in itself, but as a piece of the natural world, the site of countless overlapping histories before the invention of the condo or colonialism – or the presence of any human being, period. And more than 23 original projects have been commissioned to respond to this theme.

From art galleries to public spaces, this is where it all happens

Given the geographical flavor of the subject, curators have been careful to map out this year’s locations. They moved programming inland, away from Lake Ontario, following the path of Toronto’s various waterways, many of which have long been buried. The projects include 5 Jarvis Stockings, Colborne Lodgethe Textile Museum of Canada, Fort York National Historic Site and the Small Arms Inspection Building (Mississauga).

An old Pentecostal church in 72 Perth Avenue. will be one of the main exhibition poles. This building, which has been marked for residential development, is a short distance from a few other partner locations: MOCA Toronto, Union Mercier and Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto.

Why is geography so important to the theme?

Originally from Whitehorse, curator Candice Hopkins is a citizen of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation who usually lives and works in New Mexico. While organizing the first TBA, she began to become familiar with Toronto, and she was struck by the layout of the city.

“Toronto is kind of an interesting place relative to Lake Ontario,” she says, speaking to CBC Arts. “In many areas of the city, it is deliberately cut off from the water.” And it’s been developed like that since the 1800s, she notes.

I think it’s an opportunity to maybe see this place differently, to see the formation of this place differently. And it could also start to change the way we imagine the future of this place.– Candice Hopkins, Curator, The Toronto Art Biennale

Of course, it’s a chapter in the city’s colonial history. But what about the aboriginal history that began before that, or just the natural history of this place? This is one of the reasons why geography has become such an important idea for curators to explore, says Hopkins.

Land and water have always been there, although they have changed over time, as seen in the shifting shore. The curators chose to focus their thinking on the environment because “it’s a way of understanding and orienting oneself in space,” says Hopkins. “I think it’s an opportunity to maybe see this place differently, to see the formation of this place differently. And it might also start to change how we imagine the future of this place.”

Looking for things to do in Toronto? Here are some important points

With over 100 projects lined up through June 5th, these are just a few quick examples of what to expect.

Judy Chicago in collaboration with Pyro Spectaculars de Souza. Diamonds in the sky, 2021. (© Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Donald Woodman/ARS, New York)

Imagine a veritable explosion of color filling the sky above Lake Ontario. Anyone near Sugar Beach on the night of June 4 should be able to see just that, when acclaimed feminist artist Judy Chicago takes the stage A tribute to Toronto.

Chicago has been creating its smoke sculptures for decades, a project also known as atmospheres. (The smoke is apparently non-toxic, for your information.) This special order for the Biennale will mark the first time she has blown one of these magnificent plumes in Canada.

Camilla Turner. Nave, 2021-2022. (Courtesy of the Toronto Art Biennale)

If you’ve seen a futuristic time traveler leading a walking tour of downtown Toronto, it might be Camille Turner. The local artist has taken on this role on several occasions as part of her ongoing project The Afronautic Research Lab, a venture that shines a light on the difficult history that surrounds us for all to see, and she draws attention to monuments and markers that reveal Canada’s connection to slavery. Trade. Turner is leading a two-day expedition around the University of Toronto’s downtown campus as part of the Biennale, in fact; register to participate in this walk in May. But it was Newfoundland history that inspired his big plan for TBA. While visiting the province, Turner researched how Canada benefited from the construction of slave ships.

Nave is a three-channel video and art installation that will be presented at the Small Arms Inspection Building in Mississauga. Hopkins describes the work as a piece that contributes to how we understand place and history. “I think it’s an example of how the biennale can work with artists to create really powerful works,” she says.

Aycoobo (Wilson Rodriguez). Connection, 2021. (Courtesy of the Toronto Art Biennale)

Indigenous Nonuya artists from the Igara Paraná River region of Colombia, this father/son duo are known for their dense, colorful designs that illustrate ancestral knowledge of the Amazonian ecosystem. Several of these works appear at TBA, but specifically for the Biennale they were also commissioned to create their very first video work – a film titled Mogaje Guihu, El nombrador de plantas / Montaje Guihu, The plant namer. Shot in a documentary style, Hopkins says it’s one of the most exciting additions to this year’s program. “It’s Abel and his family thinking about plants, thinking about their home. In a way, I think it’s kind of a digital repatriation.”

Brian Jungen. Detail of Plague Mask 3 (fever dream), 2020. (Rachel Topham Photography/Courtesy of Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver)

In the summer of 2019, Jungen was the subject of a blockbuster exhibit at the AGO, and for those who remember, masks made from sneakers were a highlight of the show. Fitting for a biennial plague year, Jungen will showcase a collection of plague masks at 5 Lower Jarvis – sculptures he made from Nike Air Jordans.

Ghazaleh Avarzamani. Installation drawing for the Toronto Art Biennale at 72 Perth parking lot. (Courtesy of the artist)

Located in the car park outside 72 Perth, this art installation doubles as a kind of public courtyard – a space that could even host some of the Biennale events. All that to say: do not hesitate to play with art. (Appropriately, it’s made of the same rubber shavings you’d find at a children’s playground.) Toronto artist Avarzamani developed the piece during an artist residency at the city’s Aga Khan Museum l ‘last year.

Jeffrey Gibson. I AM YOUR RELATIVE, MOCA Toronto, 2022. (Toni Hafkenschied)

This is another installation that doubles as a gathering space, so let that serve as a reminder: keep checking the Biennale events listing to find out what’s happening at MOCA Toronto over the next 10 weeks. Gibson is a Choctaw-Cherokee artist who lives in Hudson, NY, and in addition to this special co-commission from MOCA Toronto and the Biennale, he has brought several pieces to Toronto. (Find these works at 72 Perth and the Small Arms Inspection Building.)

Nadia Belerique. HOLDINGS, 2020-ongoing. (Photo: Daniel Terna/Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Daniel Faria)

Yes, those are shipping barrels in the picture, the same kind that Portuguese parents from Belerique might stuff with treats and ship to Toronto. Found at 72 Perth, the installation is one of Hopkins’ favorite biennial commissions. “They’re very mnemonic objects, you know,” she said, referring to the plastic buckets. “They are invested with emotion and family and family ties. … She made an absolutely beautiful installation out of these barrels that are stacked to reference this story.”

Toronto Art Biennale. From March 26 to June 5. Multiple locations. Visitors must download the free TBA pass to access the event sites.

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