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05.27.22 – Associate Professor Jane Wolff co-curates interactive “landscape observatory” at the Toronto Biennial of Art

Described by Toronto Star columnist Shawn Micallef as “kind of like a library but for urban civics…and a fun one, too,” the Toronto Landscape Observatory has been drawing urban adventurers to Perth Avenue in the city’s west end since the launch of this year’s Toronto Biennial of Art, its home since early spring. 

Part installation and part resource kit for exploring both its immediate surroundings and the city at large, the interactive initiative co-curated by Susan Schwartzenberg and Associate Professor Jane Wolff of the Daniels Faculty was designed “to help Biennial visitors recognize, acknowledge and understand their relationships to this place — and to other people who care about it.” 

In addition to a physical display gallery housed in a building slated for demolition, the initiative encompasses a collection of tools, walks, workshops and conversations focused on “the processes, phenomena and connections that often go unnoticed” when it comes to city planning.

Programmed events investigating the Biennial’s own environs at 72 Perth Avenue have been held every week since May 2, including, on May 29, a Listening Walk led by musicologists Sherry Lee and Emily MacCallum.

The program’s final event — from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on June 5, the last day of the Biennial — will be a Walk to Greet Plants. Led by horticultural writer Lorraine Johnson, it’ll explore the flora of the West Toronto Railpath, with the goal of building “immediate, emotional connections that help people see themselves as part of the natural world.”

“In examining the land and its relationships as they are today,” say the co-curators, “the Observatory looks toward a future made uncertain by local and global change, from development pressures to the climate emergency. It invites visitors to contribute their own observations to an open vocabulary for imagining possibilities that are kinder, more just and more resilient than the status quo.” 

The endeavour — which includes the contributions of a wide range of specialists, from landscape architects and environmental artists to Indigenous knowledge keepers and music experts — was funded by an SSHRC Connection grant and a grant from the University of Toronto’s Office of the Vice-President, International. 

“I would characterize this whole enterprise as an invitation to wonder,” Prof. Wolff told Micallef for his piece in the Star. The writer concurred. “If you need a reason to explore your city,” he concluded, “use the Biennial and the journey in between locations to look at it more closely.” 

For more information on the Toronto Landscape Observatory and remaining events, visit torontobiennial.org

Banner image: Visitors to the Toronto Biennial of Art take part in a Toronto Landscape Observatory walk in the city's west end. The multifaceted observatory initiative was co-curated by Susan Schwartzenberg and Associate Professor Jane Wolff of the Daniels Faculty.