Up the Wall & Down the Alley

15 October 2014 – And often both, at the same time.

But not with the first image that smacks my eye, as I go walkies after last Friday’s shift at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario).

wall mural opposite Grange Park

It’s right there on a street corner, wall of a residential building, opposite Grange Park just south of the AGO. I try to sneak up on it mentally, catch it revealing itself as some sort of map to some lost continent, but no. I can’t quite catch it. So I settle for its being a strong design — and isn’t that enough?

Soon more than that is on offer — and, I must acknowledge, neither on a wall nor up an alley. But still in the great, elastic world of public art.

Thimble sculpture, Spadina & Richmond West

Yes,  a Very Large thimble, and yes with an Equally Large tape measure curled around it, on one corner of the Spadina / Richmond West intersection. The whole thing is a tribute to the rag trade that once dominated this part of town, and the two elements of that tribute work perfectly together.

All the more delightful because only one of them is official. The thimble itself was authorized; the tape measure was the not-commissioned addition created by sidewalk artist Victor. I once met Victor working on a (commissioned) design on a Danforth Av. sidewalk and, while I never did learn his last name, I did learn to describe him as a sidewalk artist. “Not street,” said Victor, pointing downward. “Sidewalk. I do sidewalks.”

Now I’m about to contradict myself … no, let’s say, update myself.

For years I’ve known thimble + tape measure, two elements, and never noticed there is a third element, right there next to the thimble. Friday, for some happy reason, I suddenly see it.

Buttons! (of course)

the buttons next to the thimble, Spadina & Richmond W

Each with a shrub tucked into one opening — and, alas & too often, a crumpled old coffee cup in the other.

I turn west on Richmond and I’m almost immediately drawn into an alley opening to the north. This is why.

alley w. of Spadina, between Richmond & Queen

Isn’t she something? I find two signatures, UBER 5000 (whom I know for his signature canaries) and Shalak.

The imagery continues along the wall, next up this grandioso cat.

cat in the alley between Richmond & Queen, w. of Spadina

He deserves a closer look. So, now,  Cat, By Installments.

First head …

detail, cat mural

… then body.

detail, cat mural

The alley brings me on north to Queen Street, I head farther west to Bathurst and continue north. I have no plan, I’m just walking’ around.

And then I completely break up, as I pass a rental-car parking lot, opposite the delightfully named Eden Place.

It isn’t the street name that has me laughing, it’s the mural on the parking lot wall.

Think about it. Here we have stalls for not one, but two car-rental companies, plus space for other vehicles. A location devoted to motorized transport, in other words.

And what does the mural promote?

in pkg lot w side Bathurst opp. Eden Place

Yup. Walking.

I turn vaguely homeward, i.e. west-ish, and zig-zag my way into Kensington Market. I find myself in an alley.

alley off St Andrew in Ken Mkt

I just like the whole streetscape mix, from the purloined yellow pedestrian sign at the bottom of the door, to the garage art either side, to the peering face above the painted “No Parking” warning.

And that somehow leads me onto Glen Baillie Place, which I’d never heard of in my life, would have thought just another industrial alley, but there you go, it has a name, and not just Lane designation but upgraded to Place. (I have yet to crack the code for Toronto street/alley/lane names. Or lack thereof.)

Glen Baillie, I’m pretty sure, will take me out to Spadina, the direction I want to go, so that’s all fine and I’m mentally getting ahead of my feet, already thinking about being on Spadina.

When I see this, and snap back to the right-here-and-now.

"Made in China 2014" from Glen Baillie Place

What is this? That’s Spadina beyond, all right … but what is this? I ask the pair of legs you can see in the image, legs attached to a whole human being, who turns out to be a sort of watchman for the installation. He just crinkles up his face in laughter and suggests I look at it from the other side.

So I do. I emerge onto the Spadina sidewalk and peer up. Straight up.

Made in China 2014, Nuit Blanche installation

Then I read the plaque. This is another still-with-us installation from Nuit Blanche 2014, this one by Montreal/Mexico City artist Maria Ezcurra, called Made in China 2014.  It consists of hundreds of items of clothing, all made in China, donated by members of the local community (which is heavily, though not exclusively, of Chinese ethnicity).

The plaque goes on to describe the physical & symbolic import of the installation, its dynamics of old/new, society/individual, globalization/tradition … but I confess that’s not what fascinates me. I just like the colours & textures & scale & perhaps above all the perfect siting of this installation on this old rag-trade street, in what is now a largely Chinese ethnic community.

So I cross Spadina, to enjoy it properly in that context.

Made in China 2014

And I walk on home, happy to have had the good luck to catch it on this walk, because it was due to be dismantled just days later.





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1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Artinpublicplaces's Blog and commented:
    Sewing thimbles & buttons…harken back to Toronto’s rag-trade


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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