In/Future lets you explore an abandoned amusement park, and here are some tips for doing it right
Peek inside the sprawling art and music festival that's transformed Ontario Place
It's the only way to visit an abandoned theme park without breaking the law.
In/Future, a sprawling new art and music festival, launched this past weekend at Toronto's Ontario Place — the once-famous entertainment destination that's been shuttered since February 2012.
Opened in 1971 as a sort of educational wonderland, it once boasted fairground rides, nature pavilions and the Cinesphere — Canada's first IMAX theatre, housed in the towering golf ball at the centre of it all.
Over time, however, the park's appeal went the way of the geodesic dome, and its Expo '67-inspired attractions gave way to bumper boats and waterslides before it ultimately closed its doors.
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Through September 25, however, it's yours to explore all over again.
Walk its beaches! Explore its quasi-futuristic buildings! Hike its fibreglass foothills and abandoned log-ride trails!
Because all over the grounds, you'll find more than 60 art installations — experiences you'll discover while roaming the park's wonders, both natural and pure kitsch.
There's music, too, thanks to a partnership with the city's long-running Small World Festival: acts as eclectic as Doomsquad and Minotaurs can be found onstage throughout the day, playing in a square surrounded by art-filled pavilions.
Think of it as a "destination" version of festivals like Nuit Blanche — one without the pedestrian traffic jams and hordes of all-night partiers. (That said, the entire complex is licensed, so there's potential for that last point to change.)
Still, that was our impression when CBC Arts visited on In/Future's first Saturday, arriving on a rainy afternoon and staying long into the late-summer night.
And we still haven't discovered all there is to see.
Here's a sneak peek inside, and a few tips for how to get the most of your In/Future experience…
Arrive before sunset
Depending on when you turn up, the In/Future experience is a matter of, well, day and night.
Sculptures take on a completely different character depending on the time — and under the cover of darkness, you might not see just how much of the complex is free to wander.
We'd suggest taking a walk along the leafy perimeter of the place once you arrive, heading for the abandoned Wilderness Adventure Ride. Max Dean, who won the Governor General's Award for Visual and Media Arts in 2014, has taken the animatronic moose and miners — robots that were inexplicably left to rot when the ride was closed — and used them for a two-part project. You'll find half of it inside the ride's man-made "mountain" — a display that imagines a version of Ontario Place that's part Westworld, part Toy Story.
The android lumberjacks have been left to fend for themselves, and the results are an eerie — albeit blunt — introduction to a festival happening at an abandoned amusement park.
If you follow the grassy trail that leads out of the cavern (a trail that's way less obvious come nightfall), you can take an unusual path through the park, one that should introduce you to at least one more of Dean's animatronic pals.
If you time things right, head west toward the water and you might catch a beautiful sunset from one of the best vantage points in the city.
Charge your phone
We'd argue that a lot of the installations are better experienced in real life than photographed, but still, let's be real: you'll want to put all of this stuff on Instagram. For what it's worth, the official hashtag is #infutureTO.
Take a long walk on the beach
Again: the views. But there's more to this tip than that.
One of the hidden gems at In/Future is waiting for you along the shore. Go past Cole Swanson and Jennie Suddick's Kuckuckshur — an old control tower rigged with birdseed and pinecones to lure the local fauna — and beyond the Wind Flowers — John Dickson sculptures topped with cymbals, pieces that are meant to make music depending on the weather — and head straight to the beach.
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It might not seem like much when you see the photos, but LeuWebb Projects's Flotsam/Jetsam is a little escape from an already-surreal experience.
Plaster shapes are mixed in with the rocks — domes and pods and pavilions — all modelled after Ontario Place's quasi-futuristic architecture.
They're meant to be "dream fragments from an earlier, more optimistic future," and seeing them on the shore might bring on some childhood nostalgia. Instead of collecting seashells, maybe you'll find yourself picking up mini Cinespheres and playing with them on the shore while the waves crash in, wishing you packed a spade and pail and whatever else you need for building sand castles.
See the Cinesphere
You'll be able to spot Ontario Place's iconic, pre-Epcot centrepiece from just about everywhere in the complex, but make sure you seek out the programming that's happening inside.
In addition to screenings of the same retro IMAX films that originally played at the park, there's an array of extra stuff — from experimental video to special performances — scheduled through the run of the festival.
A Tribe Called Red's Bear Witness is just one of the featured artists; he's presenting a brand-new work on the IMAX screen, working in collaboration with Pleasure Dome and Trinity Square Video. During our visit, Montreal's digital arts festival MUTEK (one of In/Future's partners) took over the theatre, presenting a performance by Martin Messier. Playing with sound and shadow — projections that took advantage of the Cinesphere's full, 62-foot dome — it was a sense-shattering experience.
The silos and pavilions aren't the only places to discover art indoors — and that's a particularly helpful tip if you're visiting on a rainy day. If you spot a fibreglass cavern, there might just be a way inside. Philippe Blanchard's RGB, razzle-dazzle stalagmites — a.k.a. New Troglodytes II — is one such hidden treasure.
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Don't pack a lunch
Remember how we mentioned that the entire park is licensed? There are food trucks, too. Pick up dinner and drinks, then wander wherever — even if that means just a few feet closer to the Small World Stage.
Take the stairs
That is to say, whenever you see a staircase in the silos, use it. You'll want to check out out every room and corner of these unusual art galleries.
The buildings, actual silos which once housed educational exhibits, are now packed with art installations — and, in our opinion, they're some of the most memorable pieces in the festival.
One of the highlights: if you go downstairs in the ice silo — you can't miss it, it's the one with all the icebergs — you'll quickly find yourself in a shadowy hall of mirrors.
Go towards the light — once you've attempted a few blurry selfies, of course. You'll ultimately find yourself inside Revel by Ed Pien.
On one wall, a film of a woman's shadow plays with dollhouses suspended in the air. They're the same shapes hanging in the centre of the room, a mylar mobile in the heart of a transparent labyrinth that you yourself can walk.
As you do, your own shadow will play with the silhouette on the wall. It's mesmerizing — a little like a forgotten dream, or a memory.
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Every day at In/Future boasts a new schedule, and some of the installations also involve performances that might totally transform your take on a piece.
Plus, there's just something about running around an abandoned theme park at night, guided only by far-off glimpses of spotlights or beach bonfires in the distance, that's so much different than seeing all the same things in daylight.
Once you think you've seen it all, retrace your steps! Or, if you're fancy enough to splurge on extra tickets, return for a repeat adventure. Passes are $30 for a day or $90 for an all-festival pass.
In/Future Art Festival. To Sept. 25 at Ontario Place, Toronto. Mon. through Thurs, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Fri & Sat, noon to 11 p.m.; Sun noon to 10 p.m. www.infuture.ca
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