Humber creatures float into town

[attach]6407[/attach]Local artists have taken sculpture to new heights in Toronto.

Interactive Arts, a collective of about 25 visual artists and technicians, created a work composed of two 18-foot illuminated fibreglass creatures suspended over the Humber Bay Arch Bridge’s pedestrian walkway.

The public art installation launched in early August to great fanfare. It’s the first time anyone has received approval to put an installation of this kind on the bridge.

Interactive Arts member Kim Breland said it was an honour to be given access to a jewel in Toronto’s crown.

“We were very much inspired by the architecture of the bridge, it’s just a really beautiful landmark,” she says. “We actually took a walk down there on New Year’s Day a couple of years ago, and we were thinking, ‘Isn’t this just such a beautiful location? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to do something here?’ ”

Built in the 1990s, the bridge is located at the mouth of the Humber River and marks an environmentally protected waterway.

With a vague idea in mind, the group began drafting ideas, and putting definition to their art concept.

[attach]6408[/attach]The sculpture took about seven months to build, requiring thousands of person hours, Breland says.

The city also gave Interactive Arts permission to use the former Joy Oil Gas Station building as their temporary workspace.

“It was absolutely enchanting for everybody to leave the office every day at five o’clock and then go down to the lakeshore and hang out with our friends in a tiny castle,” Breland says with a laugh.

But the project itself was labour intensive. On a build day, Breland says they could have a dozen people working on the fibreglass components of the sculptures, and designing the rigging and mounting parts. About 1,200 LED lights were built inside the creatures to illuminate them from within.

Though Breland refers to the sculptures as “the critters”, the group has not publicly indicated what the sculptures depict. Some people have told them they look like sea creatures, Breland says, while others see teeth or rocks. The purposeful ambiguity provides an element of discovery that captures people’s imaginations.

“Even in our daily lives, even in our own communities and our own neighbourhoods, there’s still the capacity to be surprised and to find the things that give you a sense of awe and wonder,” Breland says.

To add a further collaborative component, Interactive Arts is hosting an online contest to name the sculptures.

Interactive Arts is well established in Toronto and beyond. In 2010, its “Heart Machine,” one of several interactive installations, was featured at Burning Man, a large arts festival held each year in the Nevada Desert. They followed that up with another sculpture, “Flux and Fire” at Nuit Blanche, where they won the people’s choice award. In 2011, “Heart Machine” received a coveted spot at a downtown location for Nuit Blanche.

Councillors Sarah Doucette and Mark Grimes urged city staff to make the Humber Bridge exhibit happen.

“Most artists don’t get a chance to display this size of artwork, so to me, it was an obvious,” Doucette says of her support for the project.

The Parkdale-High Park rep, who attended the Aug. 9 unveiling of the sculptures, said she’d like to work with Interactive Arts to create more public art in her ward.

The sculptures will remain on display until Sept. 28.