Ball crowd illuminates riotous architecture

First published in The Varsity on Oct 2, 1989, page 13

Varsity Staff Writer

Kawamata Toronto Project 1989
Colonial Tavern Park
Yonge St., north of Queen St.

Okay Blue Jays. They had just won the pennant, and the swarming fans were taking to the streets. A good time, 1 thought, to meander over to Yonge & Queen to examine Toronto’s largest outdoor work of architecture-sculpture.

Pushing through the chanting beer-scented crowds, I puzzled over the many descriptions I had heard of Tadashi Kawamata’s controversial creation…

“…It looks like a hurricane hit the old Colonial Tavern…”

“…A tornado of timber splinters…”

“…A truly exhilirating enterprise.”

The most striking comment of all, perhaps, was “You mean that thing was intentional?”

Kawamata is a world-renowned architect, infamous for his unique blending of Western methods with Eastern motifs. His structures have garnished many major

metropolitan centres throughout the world, including Venice, Sao Paulo, Rome, Paris, Geneva and, most recently. New York.

His sculptures are created for a specific place and time, sayeth his press release. The work is supposed to be influenced “as it develops by the character of the city and its residents.”

But what do I know of architecture, other than it is among the few visual arts that also, presumably, serve a utilitarian purpose? People are supposed to live in buildings, as well as look at them. I would have to approach
this thing as a People, one of us faceless taxpayers who don’t really know very much about art, but do know what we like when we see it.

Despite the ample documentation available from the curators, I would have to see this thing for myself before I could digest a drop of what it was supposed to be.

Through the haze of visible breaths, honking horns and fluttering Blue Jay paraphernalia, the fabled structure came into view. All noises , and other distractions were subtracted from my perceptive field, being replaced by an eerie kind of organ music reminiscent of several Ridley Scott movies. The thing was before me.

It looks very much like a box of giant toothpicks, coated with glue, then dropped and allowed to settle in anyway that gravity saw fit. First impression: tax money was spent on this?

Upon further inspection, however, it became clear that its creator is a true structural master. The beams of timber, while apparently bolted together haphazardly, have been carefully positioned and linked so that it is really quite a solid, safe… thing. It’s a draughtsman’s nightmare!

There are benches here, strangely out of place since they are brand new, while the work resembles a broken down building. There are also a pair of homeless men huddled on one of the benches. I ask one of them what he thinks. He holds his nose and says, “It’s a waste of money. But you college boys seem to like it.”

Soon there are a few more curious individuals poking about, like termites in a pile of wood. They are all dressed like Ontario College of Art students, and are furiously taking notes and photographs. I ask one of them for an opinion. He replies that it is a good ‘thing’, mainly because everyone seems to have some strong reaction toward it.

Is that how one defines good art? It certainly makes my job easier.

Another man gives very honest appraisal: “It’s horse shit.” But the most thoughtful response is from another bystander who realizes the structure’s true representation of the city: “Toronto is a spectacle, not a place to live. That’s what this thing is.”

Surveying its enormity, a growing urge to amble up and across onto the crossbeams is unavoidable. The thing invites the brachiating ape in all of us: “Climb!”

And, indeed, some young Blue Jay fans heed this beacon and scamper onto Kawamata’s inviting timbers, only to run away before I could accost them for comments.

After the initial shock and indignance has worn off, the creation is seen in a new light. It is a complex work of wastefulness without purpose, yet its complexity demands a silent moment during which one admits to oneself, “I’m impressed.”

Moreover, one becomes thankful for the oasis of peacefulness the shambled walls provide, despite the desert of wild cacophony just beyond.

It was supposed to have taken on the character of Toronto. Instead it has accumulated controversy and a whole lot of graffiti: “Zippo” and “BunchOfFuckinGoofs” occupy areas normally reserved for the artist’s signature.

Another person turns to me and says, “THAT is the real character of Toronto.” I follow her pointing finger to the swarms of ecstatic (and possibly drunk) baseball fans, climbing over cars and hollering “BOOO JAAAYS!” And I know that it is time to go.

Toronto will be here for some time to come, but Kawamata’s strange child exists only till the end of October.

The Kawamata Toronto Project is on the east side of Yonge Street, just north of Queen Street. It was curated by the Mercer Union Centre, at 333 Adelaide W., 977-1412