Anyone walking through Dentonia Park after dark recently would have seen a world of arts, lights and wonder. What they wouldn’t have seen is all the behind-the-scenes work that went into creating that world.
Titled “People and Trees,” the installation — sponsored by the Toronto Arts Council and Arts in the Parks — was created by artist Sarvenaz Rayati and took place Sept. 22–Sept. 29 in Dentonia Park near Victoria Park and Danforth Ave.
Rayati started the project and hired other artists to come work on it.
“It’s about trees, the life of trees, how they are alive, and how we’re connected to them,” she said.
The group of artists started working on the project on Aug. 27. Each was asked by Rayati to create a part for it, with some producing a sculpture with their own interpretation of the concept of people and trees. Those were then placed among the trees and lights. The sculptures were created in the park’s Dentonia Clubhouse. Each was made with bamboo sticks, scotch tape, and papier-mache. The path was made up of rock-shaped lights that connected them to each other and the trees.
The contributing artists include Carmina Miana, Sohae Jeong, Kenny Tran, Banafsheh Erfanian, Sophie Lau, Azadeh Pirazimian and Mijung Choi. They spent up to 12 hours at a time working in the Clubhouse.
Once Sept. 22 came, they started setting up the installation in time for the showing at 7 p.m.
The artists would group the most lights together at the base of the biggest and oldest tree, which was deemed the “main character” of the story. From there, the lights would connect with the other trees, becoming less dense and representing the main tree spreading its energy.
At the Sept. 27 showing, there were eight sculptures in the park. In the clubhouse, one more was being created. It would be added for the remaining showings.
Participant Erfanian is a visual artist, illustrator and painter. This was her first time taking part in an installation for a park. Erfanian was inspired by a myth: a plant that turned other plants around it yellow and killed them. The word “love” was derived from the plant’s Arabic name.
“It inspired me to take this as a relation between a plant and human. So it’s about love that’s killing but still beautiful at the same time,” Erfanian said. Her sculpture was placed on its side on the grass with a leaf representing the plant and lights unfurling from it.
Lau, who also worked on the project, created one of the sculptures.
“I was a little bit more literal with the connection with the trees,” she said. “For the design, in terms of the pattern on it, I was thinking about the transport of water.”
The ribbon designs on the sculpture represent flowing water, and the spots on the sculpture resemble the lights on the path and represent the same thing: the flow of energy. Her sculpture was also placed on its side because, Lau said, when she thinks of nature, she thinks of relaxation.
Meanwhile, Pirazimian helped create the pathway of lights.
“First, it was something that Sarvenaz asked me to design and sketch some energy that moves between the trees. Based on that, I was already working on a drawing project named ‘They Are Around,’ which is about the connection between nature and everything that is around us,” Pirazimian said. “So, I thought it was a good idea that I apply the project to Sarvenaz’s idea, so I started to do the energy and working between trees and the sculptures.”
Besides the artists, many others came to help out. Sarvenaz’s friend, Pamela Schull, helped with the set-up. When they come across the installation for the first time, “People have a sense of wonder I see and they’re very quiet,” she said.
Shawkat Ara and Zebun Nessa are part of the Bangladeshi organization called Shwasti. After Sarvenaz informed the Shwasti president about the installation, Ara and Nessa joined the project.
“I live nearby and I thought, what is the point of sitting at home when I can go and help them?” Ara said.
They helped install, monitor, and store small lights. Seeing the sculptures, they love how they look in the dark, and the messages behind them. Ara has seen people from nearby neighbourhoods look amazed when seeing the installation.
It was a group effort to make everything come together in time, but it was not without its challenges.
“This whole day has been very stressful,” Rayati said. The night before, on Sept. 26, there had been a break-in at the Dentonia Clubhouse. “They damaged a lot of the pieces. It was very shocking.” Most of the sculptures’ heads were smashed. The police were notified.
Despite the setback, the artists showed resilience and worked together all day to fix all the sculptures in time for the showing that night.
“Everyone was so generous to come last-minute and fix everything,” Rayati said. “I love the group effort. Everyone working together is the amazing part.”
In the future, she hopes they can bring the installation on a tour to other parks for more people to enjoy.