26 June – 27 July 2022, Ontario and Quebec, Canada
Resident for two weeks at Artscape Gibraltat Poin Center of the Arts, Toronto islands, Toronto Ontario; one week at Val David Writers and Artist residency, Quebec; in-between trips to Toronto City, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Mont Tremblant and Montreal
I am sitting on a bench to one side of Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, located in the heart of Toronto city. That was my last short trip from Hanlan, one of the three ferry points on the Islands. In my thoughts I am waving Goodbye, looking at the trees, the boats, and the building structures opposite. A stretch of water, five minutes by boat, separates the fifteen islands from the city centre of Toronto. In my mind I am tracing the routes, essential for my two weeks stay there. Already nostalgic, I am visualising the generous art studio space I left behind, a few minutes walk from the sandy, hidden by brambles pathway to the pristine clear waters of lake Ontario. If I turn back from where I am sitting at that moment, I will face the bustling Toronto harbour front with the start of the iconic Yonge street to the East.
To the West is the Power Plant Gallery, part of the Harbourfront Cultural Centre. I prefer to sit and watch the islands opposite. At places, they are just a stone throw away from the mainland where Toronto City Airport is located. It is a sunny day, people are busy with their everyday activities. Some are taking pictures. I ask them to take one of me, with lake Ontario and the islands as a backdrop. A cliché, maybe and not so. I am spending my last few hours here before catching a bus to Ottawa, a five days stopover before going to Val David Writers and Artists residency.
I found Toronto islands-based Artscape Gibraltar Point Art residency online in 2019. I was accepted in the end of the same year, and I started thinking about my journey. I was imagining and loosely planning what I would do there in the early autumn of 2020, when my two weeks were allocated. The residency in 2020 never happened. The new dates for 2021 were very much questioned and in the end, scrapped again. Canadian borders requirements had been strict for the non-essential journeys till the pandemic slowed down a bit. How important was my going to the Toronto Islands? It proved to be very important – for my mental confidence and emotional recovery, and yes, for the spark in my eyes.
The established and well-known in the Ontario province art residency, Artscape Gibraltar Point (AGP), is a busy cultural hub accommodating creatives of all fields for various periods of time. Some of them are permanent residents – artists and writers who hold studios and accommodations there and live in the Toronto area or are even “islanders”. A mixture of individual arrangements, like working part-time for the residency and using the studios are also possible. Other artists come for their self-directed projects, many of them are returning visitors. Amongst them, there are groups of creatives coming for a certain time for their programmed themed projects.
I arrived in the end of June, 2022, on a warm sunny day, which, for the citizens of Toronto qualifies as pleasant, not so hot and humid. I found the ferry point and immediately spotted the artists among the people waiting. Canvases and all sorts of materials were sticking out of their wagons. Yes, wagons – a popular vehicle to transport things there, even if not an artist. Thus I met the group of young women, heading for the same art residency, for a week’s project dedicated to parenting. So far, nearly all of them with their children, one of them with their partner: “Hey everybody, this is Ivilina! She comes from the UK to AGP…!” I was introduced after we were dropped at Hanlan ferry point and while waiting for the vintage residency bus to collect us. During my stay in Canada I adopted: “I come from Europe.” More than ever the “where is home” felt to me marginalised. I felt no need to define myself or to explain. The freedom not to be pinned to a location. I could easily pass for someone from the Toronto neighbourhoods – Little Italy, Little Portugal, name them… My carry on luggage modestly was waiting among the wagons to be loaded on to the bus. I already felt somehow accepted. Warmly.
At AGP I found a community that reminded me of a beehive. Everyone seemed to follow their own routes and routines. Within a network of activities, keeping cool and relaxed, everybody seemed happy to offer you a hand. Every area inside this former school building and outside, in the gardens was put to use. Niches and shelves along the wide long corridors were turned into all-a creative-would-possibly-need, including improvised Library and Art Supplies areas. Together with the artworks, given, left behind or just displayed by the residents all over the place, these were my important sources for comprehending this environment. Moreover, the Art supplies, comprising of discarded paintings, abandoned photography, leftovers of all sorts of materials, resonated and fitted perfectly with my project ideas.
I see the art residency as the most suitable place to process your stories and project them on other narratives. I want to interweave my impressions with the experiences of the others, in connection with the surroundings. My dream is to apply a “modern nomadic” way of living and working, which benefits from reusing and upcycling of what you find in a place.
I am sitting on the bench still staring at the islands opposite. Who is making their breakfast in the vast communal kitchen right now? What are the conversations around the kitchen island about? When I went there two weeks ago, I was given a large box and a fridge shelve and the staff wrote my name on it. I had to delete it before leaving, ready and on disposal to the next visiting creative.
To be continued..