Bigger than Artscape
I have recently concluded a three month stay as artist-in-residence at Artscape Gibraltar Point Toronto. A very intuitive and dream-like series of events led me there and the entire stay turned out to be a rather fantastic experience.
After finding out about the residency it took only a couple of hours to secure my room and studio for the next month and I received few but mysterious instructions to get to my new home. The residency is located on Toronto Island. A narrow strip of land with beaches, marina's and a theme park floating on Lake Ontario just South of Toronto. I arrived in March 2015 when the city was still being exposed to record breaking colds with beaches frozen over and suspended ferry schedules. The only way to get to my destination on the island was to take the shortest ferry ride in the world to the Porter airport located on the west side of the island. From there a bus was driving every two hours from the publicly accessible part of the airport over the actual runways between airplanes taking off and landing to the main part of the island. The bus was filled with the famously 'privileged' island residents who were too tired of winter to be impressed with airplanes flying over their heads.
"Do you know how to chill?" was one of the first questions I was asked by a staff member giving me a tour of the building. I said I knew how to do that and she answered "that is good". It was her way of dealing with people who came barging in from Toronto with a big bag of assumptions and expectations, not adapted to the way things work on the island. I understood her attitude only much later when I was all settled in and saw other artists coming in for shorter periods of time. They were usually all wild eyed and stressed out from city life on the other side of the water, and for a few days would remain oblivious to the quietness and the harmony dominating the island surroundings and constrasting sharply with their city minds rambling on. They would bump up to people in the kitchen and the hallway as if they were not quite there yet. After this transition period they would awaken to the quietness of the island and that was usually a good time to strike up a conversation.
The building of Artscape Gibraltar Point is a converted school with dormitories and classrooms divided up as artist studios and rooms. There is a communal kitchen, two big rooms in front of the beach that are reserved for events and weddings in the summer, and a T-shaped hallway that connects all the studios and rooms in the building. It still very much feels like a school building and the floors are squeaky and uneven. There are a lot of doors and they don't all make sense.
Towards the end of my stay there was a thematic residency with fifteen artists sharing studios and preparing a group show. They invited an indigenous elder to talk about the island and bless their actions. He explained that Toronto used to be a gathering place for many different tribes who came together for big festivals. The mainland was used for all kinds of worldly matters but the islands were used for their spiritual rituals and initiations.
During my residency I did my own rituals resulting in many new works on paper and a sculptural piece called 'The Oracle'. These pieces have been created by the blending of myself with the energy on the island. There is something about this place — Gibraltar Point, that makes it bigger than any of its components. It is bigger than the island, bigger than Artscape, bigger than the individual artists passing through and the work they produce. There is a mysterious energy connecting and organizing all of it and making it into a place that functions naturally and quietly. Good place for painting.