A Dance with the Sphinx

7 October 2015 – Not that Sphinx, I’m not in Egypt.

I’m in Allan Gardens, Toronto’s downtown park that includes a 1910 glass conservatory, which in turn houses hundreds & hundreds of plant species …

inside the Allan Gardens conseratory

all leaping out at you everywhere you look, all year ’round.

Currently — but briefly — the complex also houses a sphinx.

Nuit Blanche project, Sphinx

Why?” you may reasonably ask.

Because last weekend was Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s yearly overnight celebration of ephemeral art that pops up by sundown and is gone again soon after sunrise. Except, that is, for projects granted an extended period of life — 14 of them this year, including Sphinx, by Luis Jacob.

Disclosure: until recently, I had no idea how to approach contemporary art. Zero. Then I was offered one guiding premise, which I am now exploring: the art of this art is not the physical stuff before us, it is what that stuff evokes in us. The resulting dance of emotions, thoughts, memories — immediate, delayed and by ricochet — all that, is the art.

Old Me would have walked up to the host Children’s Conservatory …

Children's Conservatory, facing north to Carlton

read the poster at the door …

Nuit Blanche signage

looked in, seen a ring of document-filled display cases around an equally static sculpture …

detail of cases surrounding the Sphinx

and walked on. Good-bye!

New Me walks in. Ready to dance.

I can pop my own head on this conveniently headless neck, pour my own reactions through these framing finger-tips.

the Sphinx sculpture

And I can substitute my mobile feet for these frozen ones, drift past the cases of Toronto reports & books 1957-2014, moving more slowly when they interest me, more quickly when they don’t.

detail, Sphinx & display cases

No deep thought, no attempt to analyze & understand. It’s my own little dance, moving to the beat that happens to reach me.

I pick up on changing typography & cover design (not for nothing, all my years in the magazine business); on shifts in vocabulary (“Indian” become “Aboriginal” by the 90s) and on emerging hot topics (the environment, the waterfront, the homeless, the creative city, the global city). I snag on old slogans & the memories they trigger — Tiny Perfect Mayor, Bring Back the Don, Reclaim the Streets.

Ordinary display cases. Neat rows of documents inside the cases. All motionless — but my mind is dancing, tracking my own Toronto through the decades.

I leave with a fond backward glance at the Children’s Conservatory.

entrance to Children's Conservatory

I love the building for its own sake, but, as Luis Jacob points out, it is also a fitting host for this project. It is itself an example of change & transformation. Built in 1932 to house botanical research at University of Toronto, threatened with demolition after 2002, then rescued, restored and moved to Allan Gardens, it now seamlessly extends the original 1910 structure and houses its children’s programs.




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  1. Thank you so much for this post .The quote about modern art is enlightening. I too struggle with this genre while my husband loves it. Hopefully this will allow me to view exhibitions in a new way. 🙂

    • Ruth I’m going to talk about the book that encouraged me at the end of my next post, which will go up today. I’m so happy to think I can help anyone else with this struggle! We all have to help each other I think, I am a complete amateur in all this.


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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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