Though it is now crisscrossed by highways and laced with trash, the Don River in Toronto was once a place so clean that children actually flocked to swim there in the summer.
As with many of Canada’s urban rivers, the Don’s sad state symbolizes a general neglect for the environment that coexists with increasing demand for things like organic coffee (now available at 7-11) and pesticide-free lawns.
But soon, perhaps, we may have some new symbols to articulate our environmental contradictions.
Last fall, a new Toronto curatorial agency called No. 9 commissioned Quebecois artist collective BGL to create a public art project for the southern Don River. The completed project, to be launched this Saturday (April 19) consists of two elements: The first is a black, 25-foot scale model of a luxury cruise ship christened the Nowhere 2, which will be anchored on the river. The second is a massive, 15-foot life preserver that will be attached to a bridge. Both elements will be visible from nearby bike paths, highways and commuter railways.
As No. 9 programming director Catherine Dean explains, “We hope for the project that a lot of people see it and think about why it’s there. It’s not a didactic piece, it’s more subtle. You can think about a cruise ship, how people never get off it to experience a place, and then this life ring, which could imply an impending emergency.”
Along the same lines in the next few weeks, No. 9 will also be launching an exhibit of work from Icelandic Love Corporation at Pearson International Airport. That photo series, Dynasty, “imagines a world where climate change has made cold weather a memory, and wealthy housewives take a luxury vacation on one of the last remaining snowcaps.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom: No. 9’s brochures and website list actions citizens can take to reduce their environmental impact at home. It may not be as fun as a cruise to, say, disconnect a downspout, but it’s more soothing, in the end, than keeping a life ring permanently on hand.