Arts

A Northern Ontario fisherman is recruiting int'l street artists to create a giant travelling wall

If you build it, they will come...to the Soo. Totally Pasted is bringing the world to small-town Ontario this summer.

If you build it, they will come...to the Soo. Totally Pasted is bringing the world to small-town Ontario

Some Instagrams by early Totally Pasted contributors, left to right: LostHills (Liverpool, UK), Dan Forty-five (Las Vegas), Urban Ninja Squadron (Toronto). (Instagram/@losthills_ @xdan45x @urbanninjasquadron)

Imagine you're camping on Lake Superior, and one morning you wake up, rub your eyes and curse the case of Pilsner you chugged the night before because standing in front of you is a wall. A massive wall — plastered with graffiti and stretching down the beach.

That wall is for real. Or, rather, that wall will be for real, because this summer, a collaborative art project called Totally Pasted will bring international street art to at least four small communities around Northern Ontario, and if you have a few sheets of paper — and the inclination — you could even be a contributor.

The centrepiece of the project is, well, a wall. An eight-foot high sheet of plywood, really, that will completely covered with paste-up art. Allan Bjornaa, 41, is the man behind the idea, and through the Totally Pasted website, he's accepting artist submissions until June 14.

If I get more artists, then I'll build a bigger wall.- Allan Bjornaa, Totally Pasted organizer

Last week, Bjornaa announced the project online, and he already has 60 contributors confirmed from 11 different countries. They're street artists, for the most part — and they live in England, France, Brazil, Egypt, Australia, not rural Ontario cottage communities. In terms of outreach, he says he has a wishlist of major names that he dreams of seeing involved. (Banksy, Shepard Fairey: hit him up on Instagram if you're reading this.) But there's no limit to how many people can be involved, nor any barrier to entry. So long as your art can be printed on paper and pasted to a wall, it'll have a place. Says Bjornaa: "If I get more artists, then I'll build a bigger wall."

Between July 1 and mid-August, Bjornaa says he plans to bring the Totally Pasted wall — however enormous — around Northern Ontario. The full itinerary has yet to be confirmed, but its journey will start in Sault Ste. Marie and include Bjornaa's hometown of Batchawana Bay, about 50 km north of the Soo.

"Even if you were here, you wouldn't know you were here," Bjornaa says of the place with a chuckle. "It's just tiny." But in the summer, the village becomes Ontario "cottage country" — so there will definitely be an audience for the installation. In addition to organizing the project, Bjornaa will be pasting up some of his own art, but he works full-time as a fisherman in Batchawana Bay. "I like being a fisherman. My family's been doing it for generations," he says, and after living around Canada and Scotland, he returned to his hometown two years ago to take over the family business with his brother. "I just do art to stay sane. It's a release for me," he tells CBC Arts. As a kid, he dabbled in street art. "There comes a time and an age where you can't jump fences," he laughs. For the last decade, he's worked in collage.

But Totally Pasted is more than a hobby — it's something closer to community outreach. The project's MO: the arts are accessible, no matter who you are or where you live. For anyone out there who doesn't see any beauty in street art — never mind the value of arts and culture, period — he's planned the project so that it'll be an actual "force for good." After he's done touring the installation, he'll be cutting the wall into 2x2" squares. All those pieces of original art will be auctioned to benefit a local cause: Sault Ste. Marie shelter and food bank St. Vincent Place.

Where I grew up you were either a fisherman or you worked as a logger and those were your career options, and not everybody fits into that mould.- Allan Bjornaa, Totally Pasted organizer

As an art project, though, it's really about bringing the world to small-town Ontario. "Sault Ste. Marie – there are some talented kids there, but they're not really exposed to important street artists, exposed to good art," Bjornaa says. "I've seen this across Canada in smaller areas."

"Most of the local artists around here, they paint moose and sunsets. And that's what passes as artwork. I'm not belittling them — they're very talented people — but there's not a real focus on modern art, contemporary art, street art. A lot of kids would be really into it if they had the opportunity to see it."

Bjornaa says that from experience. He remembers how "empowering" it was just to see street murals on trips to Toronto growing up.

"I've been lucky enough that I've been able to travel all around the world and see amazing art, not just in streets but in museums, in galleries, and you know, it's not something I take for granted. There's not a lot of people who grew up in Batchawana Bay who have gone to the Louvre or have gone to the Museum of Modern Art. I wanted to get international artists involved simply for the fact that a lot of people in my hometown would never, ever, ever get to see these artists. And I think that's an important thing."

People from the area are encouraged to participate in the project, and Bjornaa's provided a wealth of art-making resources on the project's website — including primers on everything from how to print artwork on the cheap to the basics of making wheatpaste. The opportunity to collaborate — and connect — with artists around the world is really key to the whole idea. This wall isn't just a roaming DIY gallery: it's a way for small towns to participate in the issues, the conversations, that are happening internationally. (And yes, the fact he's building a wall has inspired many participants to submit work addressing Trump, Brexit and the nationalist wave in Europe and North America.)

"Where I grew up you were either a fisherman or you worked as a logger and those were your career options, and not everybody fits into that mould," says Bjornaa. "You don't look at art as, 'Hey, I could do that when I grew up.'"

"It would mean the world to me if I had one kid come up to me from my little village and say, 'That's really awesome. Could you teach me more about this?' Or, 'I really like this artist on the wall, could you put me in contact with them?' You know, any little glimmer of future hope. That'd be amazing."

Visit the Totally Pasted website for more info on the project. Deadline for art submissions is June 14.

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