Can contemporary art save the planet? Probably not, but it can at least make people think about what needs to be done, whether by mounting a giant life preserver over a polluted stretch of Toronto's Don River or sending comic commentators onto Icelandic floes.
"Art has a role to play in environmentalism. It's not a solution, but it is a way of raising questions," says Catherine Dean, who has formed the non-profit curatorial agency No. 9 with fellow curator and artist Andrew Davies and dedicated it to commissioning art about the environment.
Dean and Davies launched No. 9 last year in Toronto, and for their current project, selected a site on the Don River and invited the Quebec artists collective BGL to create a work for it. The trio of artists - Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière - is based in Quebec City and known for site-specific and outdoor work that comments on materialism and ecology.
BGL floated a miniature cruise liner in the river and mounted a giant orange life preserver on the unused bridge above it. The life preserver is labelled Don River and the cruise ship, painted a flat black colour that makes it look more military than festive, is called Nulle Part 2/ Nowhere 2.
The piece, timed to coincide with Earth Day today, is a commentary on the urban site itself, where the unappreciated river is sandwiched between the Don Valley Parkway on one side and railway tracks on the other. Until the redevelopment of the eastern edge of the Corktown neighbourhood is complete, the site remains an urban no man's land, uninhabited save for a few homeless people who live under the bridge and cyclists and joggers using the bike path.
"We are hoping people will go down and see it and appreciate the piece, but also think about the river itself, what made it like that and how it may change," Dean said.
The work was sponsored by Toronto Zenith Contracting Ltd. and CarbonZero, a carbon-offset company, as well as several charitable foundations.
For its next project, No. 9 turns to the issue of global warming. Dean and Davies have invited the trio of Reykjavik artists who call themselves the Icelandic Love Corporation to mount a piece entitled Dynasty at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. This exhibit includes photographs and a video from a performance the artists enacted in Iceland for which the three women dressed themselves in furs and jewels to imagine a world where cold had become so rare that Arctic landscapes were now only playgrounds for the rich.
"Like BLG, they deal with something serious, but it's not totally heavy and depressing," Dean said.
To get to Nowhere 2, on display until June 29, climb down the steps at the southwest corner of the Queen Street East bridge (at Queen and River streets) and walk south on the bike path. No. 9 has Earth Day tours for children today from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the site.
The Icelandic Love Corporation's Dynasty is at Pearson International Airport, Terminal 1 from May 1 to Aug. 1 (for more information, www.no9.ca/about.html).