Saturday, June 21, 2008

BIG and the underpass

just home from BIG, the Bloor Improvement Group's new street festival. i thought the name might be a titch overambitious, but in fact no, the festival IS really big, stretching from Christie Pits park all the way to Lansdowne, with shiatsu massage, art for kids, drumming circles, you name it...

i wanted to check out BIG because of a new art project just west of Lansdowne: the bleak south side of that underpass on Bloor is sporting a whole new look, thanks to Toronto artist Richard Mongiat. The Underpass Project is sponsored by the City of Toronto's Clean & Beautiful committee, but Mongiat's 400-foot minimalist mural is very different from the super-bright "cover-ups" i'm used to seeing in city murals.

Mongiat originally conceived the concept for the Dupont underpass, but he was convinced by local artist & activist Dyan Marie (of DIG IN) to connect with the BIG festival project. The change in location meant that Mongiat had to throw away his original idea. "These frames," he says, pointing to the raised rectangles within the wall, "set up the design elements. I needed a visual throughline, a thoroughfare." He found his inspiration in the barren trunks of winter trees. "Like this neighbourhood," he says, "dormant but coming to life. So I've included close-ups of buds and flowering."

There are four visual elements at play here: three from Mongiat--grey tree trunks, white wallpaper-style sworls, and close-ups of spring buds--and a fourth, surprisingly active element--the worn concrete of the underpass itself. "By keeping my work muted, black, white, grey, the wall really came through," says Mongiat with pride. "Now, the weather, the rain stains become part of the design. The wall comes alive." i think it's a fine metaphor for the place of artists in struggling parts of the city--not for art to paint over the history here, but to augment what's already in place, to contribute & open up further dialogue.

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