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Features / April 17, 2008

BGL: We’re on a Boat to Nowhere

Setting up BGL’s Project for the Don River, April 2008.

Though it is now crisscrossed by highways and laced with trash, the Don River in Toronto was once a place so clean that children actually flocked to swim there in the summer.

As with many of Canada’s urban rivers, the Don’s sad state symbolizes a general neglect for the environment that coexists with increasing demand for things like organic coffee (now available at 7-11) and pesticide-free lawns.

But soon, perhaps, we may have some new symbols to articulate our environmental contradictions.

Last fall, a new Toronto curatorial agency called No. 9 commissioned Quebecois artist collective BGL to create a public art project for the southern Don River. The completed project, to be launched this Saturday (April 19) consists of two elements: The first is a black, 25-foot scale model of a luxury cruise ship christened the Nowhere 2, which will be anchored on the river. The second is a massive, 15-foot life preserver that will be attached to a bridge. Both elements will be visible from nearby bike paths, highways and commuter railways.

As No. 9 programming director Catherine Dean explains, “We hope for the project that a lot of people see it and think about why it’s there. It’s not a didactic piece, it’s more subtle. You can think about a cruise ship, how people never get off it to experience a place, and then this life ring, which could imply an impending emergency.”

Along the same lines in the next few weeks, No. 9 will also be launching an exhibit of work from Icelandic Love Corporation at Pearson International Airport. That photo series, Dynasty, “imagines a world where climate change has made cold weather a memory, and wealthy housewives take a luxury vacation on one of the last remaining snowcaps.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom: No. 9’s brochures and website list actions citizens can take to reduce their environmental impact at home. It may not be as fun as a cruise to, say, disconnect a downspout, but it’s more soothing, in the end, than keeping a life ring permanently on hand.