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Concrete meets current

Waves of lumber weave through cold concrete in a hidden chamber near The Bentway in Confluence, a massive art installation by artist duo Striped Canary.

Confluence 1

Courtesy of The Bentway. Photographer: Samuel Engelking 

Opening earlier this October, visitors got a glimpse into a rarely-seen storage chamber at Exhibition Place underneath the Gardiner Expressway next to The Bentway in Toronto. On view now through October 30, 2022 is Confluence, a large-scale sculptural installation depicting river-like waves using wooden picnic tables by Maine-based artist duo Striped Canary (Stephen B. Nguyen and Wade Kavanaugh). As visitors wander the artwork’s fluid streams, they are guided by a riveting soundwork composed by Toronto artist Anne Bourne.

Inspired by Toronto’s water systems, visitors seemingly flow through a convergence of natural and human-made forces in the rarely seen industrial space. From a distance, the sculpture is like a massive walkable landscape. Taking a closer look, you will notice that the installation is made up of countless wooden picnic tables, twisted and morphed into a dynamic shape. 

For this exhibition, Striped Canary used standard two by four lumber to form cascading “waves”, which dive into and out of the concrete architecture of the Gardiner. Post-exhibition, the wood will be disassembled and distributed to a collection of community organizations for repurposing. 

The artists wanted to draw attention to the city’s buried, lost rivers that visitors are standing on while at the installation site. Building a visual art connection between Exhibition Place and The Bentway, the hidden industrial space is now transformed into a thought-provoking environment mixing art, nature and architecture.

“One of the ways we connect with our audiences is with a shared way of seeing,” says Striped Canary. “Confluence adopts the vernacular of public space to create an immersive environment that is at once familiar and foreign. The work will use a form that is highly recognizable - the picnic table - to give shape to an invisible natural phenomena that of the waterways that have flowed beneath Toronto.”

Confluence 2

Courtesy of The Bentway. Photographer: Samuel Engelking 

Toronto’s waterways charted important walking trails and gathering places for Indigenous peoples. Since colonization, many of the city’s rivers and creeks have been buried underground or rerouted to carry sewage and stormwater, demonstrating how essential resources can be irreparably altered by urban development. Presented beneath the rushing current of vehicles on the Gardiner, Confluence calls for a new balance between the natural and the built forms; the present and the past; the hidden and the seen. The visitor is invited to wander and reflect on how humans have shaped nature, how our urban landscape has changed over time, and how the built and natural worlds can meaningfully co-exist in the future. 

As you stand between the sculptural waves, the booming soundscape titled nearshore by sound field composer/artist Anne Bourne envelops you. Creating the sound in response to Confluence and the themes of land and water, Bourne explains in her artist statement, “Imagining rivers capped by the rushing concrete highway in cross motion, I play with the perception of time and space, using gesture, and magnification of sound. Slowed pace and subsonic, in particle form. Listening through the concrete for resonance and a geological imprint of the underground tributaries. The nearshore, where land meets water, a vibrant more-than-human sound field, inspires a careless song.” 

Striped Canary is comprised of artists Wade Kavanaugh (born Portland, ME) and Stephen B. Nguyen (born Little Falls, MN), who have collaborated since 2005. ​Using paper as their primary medium, they have created dozens of site-specific installations - ranging from large sculptures to warehouse-sized immersive environments like Confluence. This is the duo’s first big project of this scale since the onset of the pandemic. Their artworks often draw from imagery of the local environment, both natural and built. ​Conceptually, the duo focuses on “shared seeing,” tapping into the collective imagination of their audience in the same way that they try to communicate to each other, by presenting an alternate view, a juxtaposition, or an abstract version, of a shared experience. ​ 

On view now through October 30, 2022, pre-registration is required to see Confluence. Admission is free or PWYC (pay what you can), and donations are welcomed.  For more details on the artwork and how to book tickets, visit https://www.thebentway.ca/stories/confluence/.

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