The Public Access Collective commissioned 23 artist projects for a site specific exhibition in
a series of six vacant bungalows slated for demolition by HYATT HOMES, a developer in
Willowdale, Ontario (in the Yonge and Shepherd area of Greater Toronto). The exhibition’s
artists worked working in a variety of media: architectural installation, sound, film projection,
photography, sculpture and performance for a period of ten days, from October 21-31 2009.
Collective member Janine Marchessault and Michael Prokopow (OCAD) worked collaboratively as
curators with the artists who were paired with students from the nearby Claude Watson School
for the Arts and Earl Haig Secondary School to develop an exhibition specifically designed to
engage with the architectural façade of the houses and the surrounding yards, and to foster a
community conversation about the past and the future of suburbs.
The overall problematic for the exhibition was the remarkable shift from the suburbs of old to the
suburbs of contemporary Canada, namely the neighborhoods and precincts of the multicultural,
but nonetheless parsed state. As such, the exhibition interrogated what has been lost in terms
of the older identities and utopias – domestic, regional and national – and the concomitant
transformations around issues of gender, race, class, youth culture and what was broadly
proclaimed as ‘the good life.’ Accordingly, the project investigated recent developments in
suburbia where new patterns of community and conscience operate. Interested in the new
ecologies of place, citizenship, transposed tradition, lifestyle and home, Public Access was
concerned with the role of technology and the built environment (from sewage systems to cars,
from i-pods and cellphones to microwaves and treadmills) in the quotidian – in everyday life
(both public and private) of the citizen. The exhibition also incorporated archival materials (the
100+ photographs taken of the area by one resident historian Ted Chirnside over a period of 40
years); audio interviews with long time and new residents in the neighborhood about the lives that
have been lived in their houses; stories of young people in the area; urban plans across a seventy
year spectrum etc. that was collected by the students and artists. To this extent, there was a strong
archival aspect to the project.
Throughout the exhibition there were artist talks (2 per day) as well as informal tours of the site.
The collective also held a roundtable that included Councilor John Filion, Sean Micallef (writer,
Spacing Magazine), Douglas Young (Urban Planning, York University), Robin Collyer (artist),
Janine Marchessault, and Michael Prokopow on the future of development and
artistic experimentation in Willowdale that was held at the North York City Centre.
There were approximately 3,500 visitors to our exhibition throughout the ten days.
The catalogue for the Leona Drive project will be included as part of the Spring 2011 PUBLIC issue, Suburbs: Contemporary Dwelling in Transition.