Generating Magic

20 June 2016 – It’s a trim, 21st-c. logo, don’t you agree?


The decidedly un-trim wall around it is the perfect context. This logo proclaims the current, ephemeral use of an industrial dinosaur, the Richard L Hearn Generating Station — Canada’s first station to produce hydro power from steam, when it opened in 1961, the steam itself produced originally by coal and then by natural gas until the station closed in 1983.

The hulk has sat there in Toronto’s Port Lands ever since, disused (except by film companies, who adore it), a reminder of another era as all around it the once-industrial Port Lands are increasingly detoxified and transformed for entertainment, parkland and other purposes.

The hearn generating station, seen from north side of the Turning Basin

I take this photo Saturday, a steamy Saturday let me tell you, from the north side of the Turning Basin, as I bike around & pay a return visit to “The Hearn.”

Because, you see, the hulk is — at least temporarily — The Hearn, venue 10-26 June for Toronto’s 10th annual Luminato Festival. Until this year, the huge range of events had been staged wherever possible, all over the city. This year, it is all concentrated in The Hearn.

It’s hard to convey the surreal immensity of this ragged, enormous space. Festival factoids tell me it is three times the size of the Tate Modern, and larger than the Lincoln Centre, NYC.

They need not eat their hearts out. They are considerably more polished inside.

inside the Hearn, up through Turbine Hall

You see? The eight power generating units have been ripped out; we look up, up through the immensity of the five bays that once contained them.

up through Turbine Hall, photo by Chris Corbin

And see traces, here and there, of what used to be. Electric circuit boxes along a wall, for example …

power boxes, disused

A puzzled guard very politely asks me: Why am I taking this picture? What beauty do I see in these rusted old boxes? I say it is history speaking, telling us what majesty and power and purpose this place once had. His whole face glows with pleasure. He looks at the boxes, looks back at me, smiles again. “Yes! Thank you!”

For me, it is part of the magic — the glimpses of that first purpose, co-existing with the wildly imaginative, wildly successful, wildly joyful 2016 purpose of this Festival.

In the Festival catalogue, Luminato’s artistic director, Jorn Weisbrodt, calls it:

a new model for a cultural institution, one where everything is open, inclusive and porous. A place where visitors and audiences move freely … wandering from various exhibitions to a meal … then see a play, participate in a gigantic choir sing-along, hear a classical concert, a baroque concert, or a rock concert, and end up with an LGBTQ hip-hop club event — all in one massive space.

And indeed, one evening, I attended that choir sing-along (me and 1,500 others and Rufus Wainwright), and returned last Friday evening with friends Chris and Susan to watch Toronto’s Monkey Vault team put on a parkour demo around the building — and coach the braver members of their audience through some moves of their own.

Chris took this shot of the main floor space, as spectators began gathering for the various evening events.

in Tubine Hall, waiting for Monkey Vault; photo by Chris Corbin

Parkour, as a sport, has evolved from obstacle course training to, well, every inventive, athletic, fun way possible to play with urban spaces. And what fun these Monkey Vault guys had, paying an official, sanctioned visit to a whopping big space that they may just have — ahem — already visited a time or two on the QT! (Shush.)

Part of their fun included swarming up The Hearn’s “Grand Staircase” — decorated with neon tubing for Festival purposes.

Grand Staircase, The Hearn

This is my shot, taken on my return visit Saturday, with the neon tubing shimmering into my overwhelmed little camera, making the scene even more surreal than it really was — though only marginally so, because it is hard to out-do the total mad effect, as seen by the naked eye.

Climb that Grand Staircase, as I did, and you are on the Jackman Gallery — home to a pop-up resto called Le Pavillion (a very hot ticket indeed), a bar, and Trove. Trove is one of the art exhibits, “a view of Toronto in 50 of its art treasures,” photographed in various public & private collections and displayed all along one wall.

It includes, from the TIFF Film Reference Library, Tom Frost’s Mujahedeen arabic machine Oliver, one of many typewriters used in David Cronenberg’s 1991 film adaption of  Naked Lunch.

arabic typiewriter, in Trove

See? Arabic characters on the keys.

Far end of the Gallery, a close-up view of another exhibition: One Thousand Speculations, the 7.9-m. diameter mirror ball created by Michel de Broin for Luminato in 2013, hung again this year.

One Thousand Speculations mirror ball, shot by Chris Corbin

Chris took this photo on Friday; I look more closely at the ball (the world’s largest, they tell me) on Saturday. One thousand mirrors, spiralling their reflections endlessly throughout the vast space, weaving it together somehow, and enchanting us with the lazy, silent magic of dancing light.

Signage urges us to look about, tells us to look for a remaining coal bunker up high, some coal chutes, steam vents and oil lines still snaking their way around the steel grid. I can’t find all these things, but later learn that tour guides point them out.

Back downstairs I prowl the main space again, impressed by how well they use the space, how unafraid they are of its dimensions, how they make each pop-up section work. Another bar, for example, over by the enclosed theatre …

a bar in Turbine Hall, next to the theatre

And finally, enough, I leave. Back out into the heat & sunshine. One last look back …

entrance/exit to The Hearn


Oops. Sorry.

So I look forward instead.

Past the rows of (temporary) bike racks to the rubble & grasses & wildlowers in the wild spsce beyond. Where there is another work of art — one in the permanent collections of the AGO, no less.

It is interactive, in the best contemporary traditions, and comes with its own sound effects.

detail, Untilled

Bees. Buzzing bees.

Untilled, in field next to The Hearn

This is Untilled, by Pierre Huyghe, a concrete reclining female nude – yes, you got that part — her head encased in a bee hive, with bees adding to the honey each day. And pollinating the surrounding flora, the signage tells us, “extending the work beyond an anthropomorphic definition of art.”

Oh, I wish they hadn’t added that last precious bit of artspeak!

But I like the sculpture anyway, and I cycle back home contented.




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  1. Love it! I would not have been able to attend and yet it is always something I have wanted to experience! One year perhaps. Thanks for sharing.

    The last sculpture of the woman with the bee hive for a head, that’s how I felt most of my life!. Wonderful.

    • Yes, all that buzzing. But look at the lovely, nutritious honey produced, because of all that buzzing.

      • Ha! If only everything I said could be so sweet and golden!

  2. excellent!

  3. Mary C

     /  22 June 2016

    I must get there before Luminato closes! Looks fascinating! But I disagree with your opinion about the beehive headed woman. Not to my taste. Although it could make for some jokes about the buzzing in her ears, or how buzzed she’s feeling. Oh well. 🙂

    • My one uneasiness with the sculpture is the fact the beehive head is on a nude female form. I dislike the way women are routinely stripped naked. How about a naked guy? Or a business-suit guy?

  4. Wow Penny, what a reflective post, and full of wonderful I,ages and art. I just adore that sculptured beehive….wonderful stuff💕

    • I know, isn’t that beehive great? I’ve mused about the gender-politics symbolism of its placement, both on an (of course) nude female form and specifically over/instead of her head — but considered an alternative: a reclining male nude in the same pose, the beehive in his crotch. An area of constant real of fantasized activity, is it not? Always buzzing??? (More generally, The Hearn is a stunning space, and it was stunningly used)

  5. I see the beauty in the buildings and metal….I follow another woman who shoots all industrial work…I’ll attach her site once I look it up Penny…you might like it or already know her ☺️

  6. dear Penny i am attaching Rachel’s blog 😀 happy walking and photographing…enjoy your long weekend 😀


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