Artists explore soul of Toronto suburbs

Artist John Frosst is enthusiastic about his current project because it allows artists to think about their work outside of the confines of a gallery.

By using five abandoned houses slated for demolition as their centre piece, artists of The Leona Drive Project are merging together to create an art exhibit in one of Toronto’s oldest suburbs,Willowdale.

“This gives artists an opportunity to engage with the suburban and housing contexts in a very literal and hands-on way, and that’s very rare,” Frosst said. “Art is almost always in galleries and this gives us a different playing field and it’s a really exciting dynamic for me.”

Curators of the project, Michael Prokopow and Janine Marchessault, sought to investigate suburban spaces by way of site-specific installations in order to honour Toronto’s diverse and complex history.

“Post Second World War suburbs in North America were utopian places,” Prokopow said.

“There was the idea of defeating fascism and totalitarianism and these neighbourhoods became sites of such hope and optimism, and yet they became dated by the 1980’s. A suburb has sort of a different type of reputation and we lost this type of allure.”

He added that cities change and are often transformed with their own time-bound importance.

“By having this art-specific installation with artists exploring memory and urban change, it’s about Toronto as a city and neighbourhoods as places of life,” he said.

The idea for the project spawned from a series of conversations between artists and faculty at York University and the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). It eventually led to approaching developers and asking them for permission to use the site as a temporary art installation.

Bojana Videkanic and Steven Logan have also created an installation on site using historical documents and photographs of people who were developers and residents of the area in the early 20th century.

They did extensive research on the original development of the area and also called a medium to the site. Film of the medium will be shown in the backyard cabana of the house during the exhibition.

“(The medium) channelled different energies in the Leona 9 house and was able to channel the woman who lived there and hear her experience of living on Leona Drive,” Videkanic said. “This is one of the ways we are dealing with the archive and memory of the site.”

According to Prokopow, this is a multi-stage exploration of the city of Toronto. By moving the idea to different locales, artists will be able to investigate history, social change, economics and aesthetics.

“There are lots of possibilities for this type of territorial art undertaking,” he said. “It can be repeated in the same spirit, but in a different way.”

The unique art exhibition will run for 10 days, Oct. 22-31. For further details, visit