On September 21st, the Toronto Biennial opened to the public in locations across Toronto. Ambitious in scope, the inaugural edition of the Biennial promises “72 Days of Free Art” along the waterfront.
The Biennial makes its debut under the theme and title The Shoreline Dilemma, a reference to the fact that, because they are ever shifting and changing, shorelines resist conventional mapping. Curated by Candace Hopkins and Tairone Bastien, the exhibition includes works that explore alternative ways of knowing and imagining. For Hopkins, this is what unifies the work of the more than 40 artists from across Canada and around the world who were called upon to “imagine a different world” for the Biennial’s exhibition.
The task of imagining draws inspiration from the physical city itself. “Shorelines are always changing, especially here in Toronto,” says Hopkins. “This was and remains a place of trade and ceremony, but it’s also a place of heavy industry, dense condominium developments, active and decommissioned military bases, lost rivers, and human-made spits.”
This changing Toronto shoreline, along with the historical and contemporary realities it is marked by, is central to the site-specific work of the artists and curators: the Biennial exhibition spans multiple venues across the city, from the Small Arms Inspection Building in Mississauga to the Port Lands in the east.
Ilana Shamoon, Deputy Director and Director of Programming, explains that the programming too makes use of the surroundings as starting points for exploration. Designed to be relevant to both international and local visitors, the programs are foundational to the Biennial’s vision and will therefore run all year round. They consist of five streams—Co-Relations, Currents, Storytelling, Tools for Learning, and the Toronto Biennial of Art Residency—all of which are linked to projects around the city.
The work of Inuit artists is exhibited across the Biennal’s various sites. Drawings by Qavavau Manumie (b. 1958) and Napachie Pootoogook (1938-2002) are exhibited alongside sculptures by Nick Sikkuark (1943-2013) at 259 Lake Shore Boulevard East, one of the Biennial’s main exhibition sites. Projects by Isuma Productions are on display at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto and the Small Arms Inspection Building in Mississauga.
On Saturday September 21st, the Embassy of Imagination, a collective composed of Inuit youth primarily from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, and headed by Toronto-based PA System (Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson), participated in a performance procession beginning at The Bentway and proceeding along the waterfront to 259 Lake Shore Boulevard East. The performance was part of their ongoing project Sinaaqpagiaqtuut/The Long-Cut, which includes an exhibition at the Lake Shore site as well as a parade in Kinngait held August 3rd, 2018.
The Toronto Biennial runs until December 1st, 2019, and a full list of participating artists, venues and special programming is available on their website.