Toronto Art Biennial: The Shoreline Dilemma

The Shoreline Dilemma also called the “coastline paradox” implies the breakdown of scientific conventions in the face of nature’s complexities. In Toronto, this dilemma has been amplified by the radical reshaping of the city’s waterfront, which calls into question the rights of land and water in light of accelerated development. 

Initially, a site of trade and ceremony, and eventually mass settlement and industrialization, the waterfront is host today to relics of heavy industry, dense condominium developments, active and decommissioned military bases, lost rivers, and human-made splits. Recently, it has been subjected to “renaturalization” efforts – attempts to restore the lake’s habitat-that nevertheless seek to refashion nature to suit human convenience.

As a result, the Biennial aims to convey diverse conceptions of freedom, dignity, and sovereignty for living creatures, land, and water, as reflected by the rich perspectives and histories in the exhibition’s artwork. While embracing the unquantifiable, fugitive, and unknowable, and like the shoreline, resist the systems that seek to discipline and control it.

Kapwani Kiwanga 
Soft Measures: Zanclean
Strata: Towards a Rock Opera

Two rippling fabric curtains suggest the meeting of tectonic plates. According to Kiwanga’s research, the African plate is slowing moving toward and above the Eurasian one, which is subjecting at a rate of approximately two centimetres per year. A rock cradled in fabric hung on the water further problem these thematic currents.

Jumana Manna
Heavy Sky
Water Arms
White Ledge

Manna’s work draws formal inspiration from khabyas, traditional seed storage vessels that were a key feature of rural Levantine architecture, paired with metal structures used in industrial storage systems. Manna’s vessels extend her insightful explorations into the transformation of systems of sustenance and knowledge from practices of survival to centralized economies of capital growth.

Abbas Akhavan
Study for a Garden

Study for a Garden consists of a stack of sharpened sticks cast in bronze. They might be posts for a garden fence, a faggot (a bundle of wood to fuel a fire), or a collection of crude spears for battle. Praised for its strength and ductility, bronze has long been used to make weapons and monuments. Akhavan has described bronze as both “an obedient and disobedient material,” suggesting that working with bronze follows a logic and life all its own. Titled a “study,” the work subverts the material’s relation to monumentality and permanence, focusing instead on its mutable qualities and alchemical associations. 

Caroline Monnet
The Flow Between Hard Places

The undulating edges of the monumental sculpture The Flow Between Hard Places represent the sound waves created when uttering the word pasapkedjinawong in Anishinaabemowin (“the river that passes between the rocks”), as spoken by Anishnaabe Elder Rose Wawatie-Beaudoin. A river is constantly in motion – a symbol for the power of nature and the passage of time. Monnet points to a critical historic moment one hundred years ago when Chief Pakinawatik from Kitigan Zibi (Maniwaki) travelled 600 kilometres through waterways to Toronto with sixty other Algonquins to request from the Office of the Governor General that parts of their traditional territory be returned.

Jumblies Theatre & Arts with Ange Loft
Talking Treaties 

Talking Treaties is an outdoor pageant, workshop, and now installation that shared knowledge about the Toronto region’s treaty history. Focusing on Treaty 13, this project includes a film of Indigenous knowledge-keepers, a graphic novel, rhythmic text and song, soft sculptures, and a textile map. In this iteration, participants are invited to generate their own principles of treaty-making. An activity book and ongoing program of activities and events enable audience members to exchange ideas and information with our various human and non-human relations.

Adrian Blackwell
Isonomia in Toronto? (creek)

Isonomia in Toronto? (creek) hosts weekly performances and readings throughout the Biennial. Visitors are welcome to sit within the infinite curves, folds, and knots of Blackwell’s 300-foot-long cushion. An image of the shoreline of Etobicoke Creek – also known as wadoopikaang in Ashinanaabemowin (the place where the alders grow”) – stretches along its length, connecting land – and human-based pedagogies. The portion of Etobicoke Creek that runs from Lake Ontario to what is now Bloor street is the only topographically defined inland edge fo the so-called Toronto Purchase. The Creek was previously a site of Mississauga settlement, its shores gathered people together. Today, the river’s edge remains the boundary between Mississauga and Toronto.

New Mineral Collective
Pleasure Prospects

New Mineral Collective is the largest and least productive mining company in the world. The company provides counter-prospecting operations and geotrauma healing therapies at 259 Lake Shore Blvd E and Small Arms. The video installation follows the process of acquiring prospecting licenses for alternative values and takes a critical look at “perforated landscapes” – land altered by extractive industries. A new series of sculptures investigates the shifting boundaries between deep time and the conditions of contemporary resource extraction. The sculptures represent the Earth’s scars and a folding of space and time in which absence becomes present.

Naufus Ramirez-Figueroa

Silleros were chairs used in colonial Guatemala and neighbouring regions to carry explorers, settlers, and even artists quite literally on the backs of Indigenous people. Calling attention to a stark division of class and labour, Ramirez-Figueroa’s cast aluminum interpretations imply another possible choreography – one that empties the chair of its colonial power.

The artworks within Small Arms examined the narratives of geologists, prospectors, settlers, and agriculturalists, many of whom participate in destructive practices. Contrasting processes of extraction and repair, these works point to the intelligence of the natural world, which eludes, subverts, and bears witness to human ambition and its terrifying impacts.