For 11 days this September, Ontario Place opened its doors for in/future, a “transformative art experience” that presented live music, site-specific installations, performances, and film and video screenings (including vintage IMAX films) across the West Island’s 14 acres. The project was conceived by Art Spin co-curators Rui Pimenta and Layne Hinton, who have earned a reputation for orchestrating monumental installations in unusual and disused spaces across Toronto (and touring through them with hundreds of people on bikes). Last year, the pair recognized a time-sensitive opportunity to activate Ontario Place after successfully presenting installations on the grounds by Max Streichen and Marco D’Andrea as part of an Art Spin tour. With Ontario Place in the midst of seeking proposals for a more permanent revitalization plan after shuttering in 2012, Pimenta and Hinton nimbly harnessed this moment of flux, offering to develop and execute a temporary multidisciplinary festival in the meantime.
It’s impossible for me to separate my experience of in/future as a spectator from my experience as a co-presenter on behalf of InterAccess, since the latter enabled a great feeling of awe toward peers and colleagues, friends and strangers, all of whom contributed to this “cultural barn raising,” as Hinton called it. Much of my marvel was gleaned from behind the scenes, observing, as ever, the tireless work that Toronto artists and organizers do to bring critical, creative experiences to audiences in the city. This was a festival that required nothing less than unwavering commitment, from Pimenta and Hinton’s curatorial vision that reached beyond spectacle, to the works by artists who thoughtfully interpreted site and nostalgia, to the dozens of festival volunteers who staffed wickets and guided visitors’ experiences through the vast park.
From my first meeting with Rui and Layne, to the numerous site visits on freezing winter days, it was apparent that something special was happening, and fast. In its overgrown, almost decrepit state, Ontario Place was a site ripe for critical engagement; a lens through which to explore our city’s methods of land use and urban planning, the fallibility of future visioning, Toronto’s fraught engagement with its waterfront. With a veil of nostalgia in the air, the opportunity to access and activate this site in particular brought a hint of excitement and curiosity.
That excitement and curiosity remained. On opening night I meandered around the park as day turned to night (without a doubt, the best time to visit in/future). Tiny plaster sculptures of architectural remnants scattered along the rocky beach of the South Shore (LeuWebb Projects, Flotsam/Jetsam) disappeared under the cover of night as spotlights awakened others. After sunset, Robert Hengeveld’s SSSPun, a tree affixed to a rotating mechanism installed atop a fibreglass mountain, glimmered like a chandelier overlooking the Small World Music Stage, its material and site a reminder of nature’s proximity to artifice, especially here.
Another compelling marker of dusk was Alex Beriault’s Paralleled. Performed on a floating structure in the Ontario Place West Channel with her brother, Andrew Beriault, the piece evoked a delicate balance at once aggressive and precarious. The Beriaults stood on either side of a platform with a massive wall between them, unable to see each other or walk around to the other side. Isolated yet connected on a small platform, they slowly and deliberately took turns to punch and shove the wall in front of them, the reverberating sound carrying across the shore, an elevating tension with each blow. In time, the entire sculpture with the performers aboard drifted farther into the channel, an inevitable and growing distance between the artists and the site.
Will the distance remain? What’s next for Ontario Place remains in the air, and reflecting on our methods for creating the future is not merely hypothetical. With any luck, the potential of in/future will not end with the festival’s close, and the spirit of the project will inform discussions and decisions regarding the site’s future use. in/future is the culmination of hundreds of artists’ ideas, creative energies, thousands of difficult hours, late hours, consecutive hours; an extraordinary group effort to achieve an ambitious, wide-reaching goal. The results were profound. The next steps are a test.
Originally published in Magenta Magazine.