The Parkette Projects
Mitchell Akiyama, Raven Chacon, Ronnie Clarke, Vanessa Dion Fletcher, Marisa Gallemit and Amy Lam
Curated by Shani K Parsons
September 12 – November 20, 2021
Parkettes are defined as small pieces of leftover or unsaleable land that have been converted into public space. Often found in proximity to municipal margins and infrastructures, Toronto's parkettes provide oblique glimpses into the city's socio-political, economic and geographic histories. Featuring six newly commissioned performances and temporary installations, The Parkette Projects probe existing tensions and future potentials for poetic and political relations between self, body, site, and society across a shifting urban landscape.
A corridor where it will have always been
September 12 - November 20, 2021
Channeling Toronto's overlapping infrastructures of trade, communications, and power, Mitchell Akiyama’s installation spans a series of small parkettes connected by giant electrical towers and high-voltage power lines. Within this context, his electronic assemblages may appear at first glance to represent yet another technological incursion upon our public spaces and lives. However, closer attention reveals them to be generators of a different kind, producing their own polyphonic corridor over the airwaves. Powered by the sun, and broadcasting accordingly at 88.3 FM and 101.1 FM for the duration of the exhibition, Akiyama's artwork seems to ask: where could these storied corridors lead us next, in a bid for more multivocal futures?
Vanessa Dion Fletcher
September 12 - November 20, 2021
Bringing together her artistic practices in both textile and performance, Vanessa Dion Fletcher’s sculpture is as much an event and an enigma as it is an object and artwork. Adapting porcupine quill embroidery through photographic enlargement, Dion Fletcher focuses our attention on details in the stitching while also shifting our physical relationships to the quillwork. When an artwork that is usually experienced up-close is scaled for outdoor space and public engagement, what new kinds of interpersonal intimacies might become possible between us?
Unofficial Commemorative Bench
September 12 - November 20, 2021
Public green spaces in Toronto's Chinatown are limited, a condition that urban historians have shown is far from coincidental. One such space, Glasgow Parkette, is notable not just for its comparative rarity but also for its recent total makeover by the City, which may seem inexplicable given its intimate location and tiny size. Paid for through Section 37 funding from a contested construction project, the parkette's glossy surfaces belie a protracted conflict between the local community and a commercial developer. In investigating how this happened, Amy Lam became interested in the ways a community is allowed (or not allowed) to express its wishes or dissent. Testing official processes through an engagement with the city's Commemorative Bench program, Lam's Unofficial Commemorative Bench plaques in Glasgow Parkette make visible the divide between local desires and what has been officially deemed to be of "community benefit."
September, 17, 18 & 19, 12 - 5 pm
Tethering: Entanglement is a durational performance that will materialize within Dundas–St. Clarens Parkette. Researching the parkette’s dual namesakes, artist Marisa Gallemit was struck by thematic convergences emerging from the legacies of Henry Dundas, an influential Scottish politician who successfully derailed a late 18th century proposal to abolish the Atlantic slave trade; and of Saint Clarence, 7th century bishop of Vienne and patron saint of prisoners. Thus invoking the troubling and intertwined ties between power, enslavement and incarceration, Gallemit’s performance makes visible how such ties are bound up in the very fabric of even our most unassuming urban spaces.
October 1, 8:30 - 9 pm
Spanning a 12 km stretch across the city of Toronto, Echo Sequence comprises two simultaneous performances, livestreamed to and from Don Panos Parkette (in St. Clair West) and Robertson Parkette (on the Danforth). Each group of performers moves in relation to the other, maintaining visual and virtual contact through a large screen at each site. Embracing the inherent unpredictability, and often overlooked physicality, of our relationships with digital technology, artist Ronnie Clarke is interested in how tech interferes with our intentions, often to problematic, comedic, or poetic effect. Through mutual observation, experimentation, and play across a distance from two very different public spaces, might the performers meet and mirror a body politic more curious than concerned, more cooperative than chaotic?
Music for 13 Paths
October 16th, 1 - 3 pm
The performance begins at Gallery TPW (170 St.Helens Ave), with a pause in Paul Garfinkel Park (1071 Queen St W), and concludes at Trinity Square Video (401 Richmond St)
Presented in partnership with Trinity Square Video and imagineNATIVE
Thirteen chimes are hand-cut and tuned to ring at thirteen pitch intervals within the 12-note Western musical scale. Thus shifting the relationship between frequencies across the standard octave, Raven Chacon gestures to possibilities for sounding and listening that transcend conventions in subtle yet subversive ways. Recent studies have suggested that the octave, as an organizing principle long held to be intrinsic to nature and auditory perception among all humans, may in fact be nothing more than a cultural artifact. Extending such considerations and gestures into public space, Chacon’s score for thirteen performers will invite free interpretation by both performers and viewing publics alike. Coupled with the knowledge that Music for 13 Paths makes pointed symbolic reference to the Toronto Purchase (aka Treaty 13), how will we — as performers, as publics — negotiate the grounds we traverse, and carry the tunes that reverberate from our individual and collective movements?
Considering the ethical implications of presenting art in public spaces during the housing crisis in a pandemic, Gallery TPW and curator Shani K Parsons consulted with artistic practitioners involved in the Encampment Support Network. Our impetus was to learn how to meaningfully support the unhoused community beyond our solidarity statement. Learning what was needed from ESN Moss Park, we allocated $3,000 of our programming funds to support their work. We also connected with Indu Vashist, Executive Director of the artist-run-centre SAVAC and a supporter of ESN who, through our conversations, inspired the panel, A Note on Process.
In this article, Abedar Kamgari interviews a group of artists-cum-activists who organized a block party in the face of “demo-evictions” during the summer of 2022 in Vancouver, BC. In response to The Parkettes Project presented in 2021, Building community in the face of imminent demise continues our inquiry of art and public space with lessons from the not-too-distant past for the ongoing housing crisis.
Read the text here.
A Note on Process: Public Art
A panel discussion with Amy Lam, Rinaldo Walcott, and Jesse McKee, moderated by Heather Rigg and Annie Wong
Thursday, November 25, 12pm - 1:30pm EST 2021 / Online
To view a recoding of the even, click here.
Prior to the pandemic, Toronto Mayor John Tory proclaimed 2021 as the “Year of Public Art,” ushering in a ten year funding commitment to support public art. As the Year of Public Art commenced, this summer the City responded to the housing crisis by deploying police officers to violently evict encampments occupied by the unhoused community in various public parks. During this time Gallery TPW began producing The Parkette Projects, guest curated by Shani K Parsons, which received funding from the City's initiative to present commissioned work by six artists in parkettes across Toronto. Since then, the staff at TPW have been discussing the ethical entanglements of participating in a municipal-led art initiative that holds an adjacent agenda of catalyzing gentrification with displays of paramilitary force, while supporting the impactful and thoughtful artistic interventions realized through The Parkette Projects. This panel formed during the process of navigating this quandary with the questions: what strategies can artists and artist-run-centres employ to respond to the political realities that intersect with our work? How can art reclaim public space when it is weaponized as property of the state?
Panel speaker bios
Amy Lam bio below.
Jesse McKee is a leader in the Culture Industries, a Curator of Contemporary Art and Design, and he is the Head of Strategy at 221A. 221A works with artists and designers to research and develop social, cultural and ecological infrastructure. There, he leads the Organization’s advancement, communications, research, and programming. The organization develops and operates 14 000 m2 of cultural-use commercial and residential real-estate across a portfolio of properties that are sub-tenanted according to a cost-recovery operating model. 221A’s artistic program hosts long-term Fellowships for artists and designers, as well as producing public realm art and design projects, and develops education and learning programs, which work with communities to improve the public amenities and reduce barriers at the organization’s cultural infrastructures and beyond. From 2019-24, McKee is the lead investigator on 221A’s Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Digital Strategy, which is developing a digitally cooperative culture by “recommoning” land, data and objects.
Rinaldo Walcott is Professor and Director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. His research is centered in Black diaspora politics, gender and sexuality, and decolonial politics.
Mitchell Akiyama is a scholar, composer, and artist. His work includes writing, scores for film and dance; and objects and installations that trouble received ideas about history, perception, and sensory experience. He holds a PhD in communications from McGill University and an MFA from Concordia University and is Assistant Professor of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto.
Raven Chacon is a composer, performer and installation artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation. As a solo artist, collaborator, or with Postcommodity, Chacon has exhibited or performed at Whitney Biennial, documenta 14, REDCAT, Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal, San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, Chaco Canyon, Ende Tymes Festival, 18th Biennale of Sydney, and The Kennedy Center. He is the recipient of the United States Artists fellowship in Music, The Creative Capital award in Visual Arts, The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation artist fellowship, and the American Academy’s Berlin Prize for Music Composition. He lives in Albuquerque, NM
Ronnie Clarke is a Black, queer and Canadian emerging artist living and working in Toronto, Ontario. Her work blends elements of choreography, dance, movement, collaboration, video and installation. She is interested in how language manifests, becomes translated and is mediated in the digital age. With an interest in the poetics of digital gestures, spaces and interfaces, she often uses movement to investigate how technology plays a role in our interactions with others. She holds a BFA from The University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.
Clarke has performed and exhibited professionally at a number of galleries and performance venues such as Forest City Gallery (London), Artlab Gallery (London), Trinity Square Video (Toronto), and Xpace Cultural Centre (Toronto). Recent projects include a commissioned online performance with Artcite Inc. (Windsor, 2020) and an online residency at the 7th Annual Roundtable Residency (Toronto, 2019).
Vanessa Dion Fletcher is a Lenape and Potawatomi neurodiverse Artist. Her family is from Eelūnaapèewii Lahkèewiitt (displaced from Lenapehoking) and European settlers. She employs porcupine quills, Wampum belts, and menstrual blood to reveal the complexities of what defines a body physically and culturally. Reflecting on an indigenous and gendered body with a neurodiverse mind Dion Fletcher, creates art using composite media, primarily working in performance, textiles, and video.
She graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago 2016 with an MFA in performance and York University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She has exhibited across Canada and the US, at Art Mur Montreal, Eastern Edge Gallery Newfoundland, The Queer Arts Festival Vancouver, Satellite Art show Miami. Her work is in the Indigenous Art Centre, Joan Flasch Artist Book collection, Vtape, Seneca College, and the Archives of American Art.
Marisa Gallemit is a Filipina-Canadian visual artist. Informed by motherhood and third culture rituals, her work spans sculpture, assemblage, site-specific installation, storytelling, and arts advocacy. Since 2010 Marisa has been active in Ontario and Quebec with performative works, design installations for music + art festivals and art-making workshops; she has curated visual art programs for non-gallery community venues in Ottawa, and has produced a large-scale public art installation for the City of Mississauga. Through an ongoing exploration of found objects and their potential energy, Gallemit’s practice leans deeply into Buckminster Fuller’s query:
“Now how do we make this spaceship work?”
Amy Lam is an artist and writer. She has shown projects internationally, both solo and as part of the art collective Life of a Craphead. She is a member of Friends of Chinatown Toronto, a grassroots group fighting against displacement and for racial justice in Toronto’s West Chinatown.
Shani K Parsons is an independent curator, designer, and founding director of Critical Distance Centre for Curators. With a background in architecture and graphic design, she pursues an interdisciplinary, site-responsive, and process-driven practice within both independent and institutional contexts, and has produced an eclectic body of work ranging from intimate artist’s books to large-scale exhibitions.