WHERE WE TALK ABOUT PUBLIC ART AS AN INVASIVE SPECIES

We spent most of June in Toronto collecting edible plants to make community specific popsicle! What fun! We were invited by Why Not Theatre, The Theatre Centre, and Luminato to prepare a version of Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor that looked at three different neighbourhoods in the city. We spent two weeks walking around Mount Dennis, Rosedale, and Malvern looking for plants that represented each community and then fed them back to folks in ice form! We always make a zine to accompany the popsciles that reflects on our experience in the city, has drawings, provides recipes, and talks about the neighbourhoods. You can download a copy below. But here is an excerpt where we wondering about a work of public art in Mount Denis.

The morning starts like most: ginger tea, Notorious B.I.G., and learning about invasive species by learning about ourselves. Dressed in hand made aprons there is confusion and doubt (or is that disappointment and anger?) as we stand on the corner of Weston Road and Dennis Avenue. (Why did the city and a developer collectively spend $250,000 on this public art project?) The city is made strange by our presence and we are made accountable by the city and its people and the ways in which our movements transport seeds, bacteria, or spores (of ideology) from one place to another. What have we carried on our aprons, bike tires, or art practice from West Queen West to Mount Dennis? Disorientation? Heart-ache? Death? Biologists have a name for the strategic placement of a non-native species into an area for the purposes of reproduction and colonization: introduction effort. Not all invasive species thrive in a new location of course; and many must survive at lower population densities before overtaking an area. The greater the introduction effort (the repeated introduction attempts, the number of sites at which introduction attempts are made, the size of the population introduced) the greater the chances of success of establishing a new species into a foreign environment. The City of Toronto has publications that identify common invasive species in the city—we know because we printed them off the internet and carried them with us into the neighbourhoods. Dog-strangling vine, for instance, forms dense colonies that smother shorter plants—causing deformations and death. Norway maple displaces competing species and ground vegetation by producing an abundance of seedlings, blocking light to other plants, and by releasing a phytotoxic chemical that discourages other plants to grow. These are fascinating forms of violence. Many invasive species in Toronto were introduced for aesthetic and practical purposes—the beautification of an area, to produce culturally specific foods, or to make a place more habitable and a reminder of home. It should be no surprise then, that invasive species can positively and negatively impact an area economically, ecologically, and environmentally. Spaces can be changed, peoples lives can be turn upside down, and the biodiversity of an area threatened by an invasive species. In 2011 the City of Toronto declared Mount Dennis a Priority Area (now called a Neighbourhood Improvement Area). The same year Artscape devised a plan for developing arts infrastructure within the area; and soon after Metrolinx began work on the Eglington Cross Town LRT. These three things have created the conditions for an invasive species. But plants are not the issue here—even though Metrolinx did destroy some amazing trees along the rail line with the promise of replacing them 3:1 elsewhere in the community. What concerns us is the hucksterism of Richard Florida and his devout creative cities followers (artists, politicians, urban developers, festival administrators etc.) that will edge out some of the population in Mount Dennis for another type of “species”—artist and then debt-willing young people and the affluent. We have a request: for the love of what happens in the shadows (now there is an economic model we understand), pull the public art piece at the corner of Weston Road and Dennis Avenue from the ground. Get at the roots and make sure it does not spread elsewhere in the community.