Olympics

Check out Team Canada's arty digs in Rio

When athletes arrive at Canada Olympic House in Rio, there'll be something special waiting for them: four original art installations created by Torontonians.

When athletes arrive at Canada Olympic House, there'll be something special waiting for them

Class photo! Students from the Etobicoke School of the Arts pile in for a photo with the staff of Moss & Lam and a special guest from Team Canada, cyclist Hugo Barrette. (Courtesy of Moss & Lam)

Everything about the art assignment was bananas. The deadline? It was two months away — when their usual projects can take years to complete. The pay? Nothing — totally pro bono. And as for the materials, there were some rules about those, too: you can use anything, so long as it's sold by the corporate sponsor.

Despite all that, when Toronto art studio Moss & Lam was offered the job, they pounced. Says the firm's founder, Deborah Moss: "We were like, 'My god, how can we not do this?'

"It's the Olympics."

This year, when athletes and their families arrive at Canada Olympic House, they'll find something special waiting inside. Not free wifi and gift bags — although, sure, that's all in there too. Moss & Lam have created the original art installations that live in the space, the go-to crash pad for Team Canada during the Games.

For the first time, the venue has been designed by homegrown talent: Toronto natives Yabu Pushelberg, who tapped long-time collaborators Moss & Lam for the works. Built with sporting equipment and hardware — and whatever else you might buy at a Canadian Tire — they've made four custom pieces.   

Around 200 hand-painted paddles spiral up, then across, the ceiling of the Welcome Hall in a massive installation.

A mock-up of the Welcome Hall at Canada Olympic House in Rio. (Canadian Olympic Committee)

Strips upon strips of tarp ribbons will form a Canadian flag as long as the Celebration Lounge. Elsewhere, canoes and branches form sculptures/chandeliers.

Welcome to the Celebration Lounge at Canada Olympic House. The giant flag, created from strips of tarp, is an original piece created by Moss + Lam with help from the Etobicoke School of the Arts. (Canadian Olympic Committee)

Says Moss, "It had to scream Canada pretty quickly" — but she hopes it means more to visitors than nationalistic décor. Canada Olympic House might be situated in an old aquatics centre in Rio, but it's got to feel like home for athletes and their families. "They have travelled very far; they've often spent all their money. They're there to support their kids, and this was an opportunity to say, 'Hey, we're behind you.'"

That "we" includes more than Moss and her staff. The firm has ties to the nearby Etobicoke School of the Arts, a fine-arts high school. Moss's two daughters are students, the company employs a few of its grads as full-time artists, and they have a scholarship at the school in memory of co-founder (and Moss's late husband) Edward Lam.

Volunteers from the Etobicoke School of the Arts work on the installations for Canada Olympic House. (Courtesy of Moss & Lam)

"Often when you're at school, art seems like this mysterious ivory tower thing," says Moss, "so I wanted to show them that artists can be out in the community doing things."

She reached out to the school to see if students would be interested in the project, and for one day this March, 25 high-school artists turned up at the Moss & Lam workshop, painting and building the pieces that are now en route to Rio.

A student paints a paddle that will be part of an installation at Canada Olympic House in Rio. (Courtesy of Moss & Lam)
Chandelier in progress. Moss + Lam commissioned South Street Boatbuilders for canoes that they've illuminated for Canada Olympic House. (Courtesy of Moss & Lam)

Teacher Matthew Varey is the head of visual arts at ESA, and as the son of a former Olympic track-and-field athlete, he was especially keen on sharing the opportunity with students. "I think the kids were really just thrilled to be part of something larger than them and to play a role, however small, in something that was going to have an immediate and understandable result," he says.

Part of that result will be the reaction from Team Canada and their families — and that's what makes the project worthwhile for Moss. Founded in 1987, her company is perhaps best known for the art installations they've custom created for luxury brands like hotels (Four Seasons) and boutiques (Tiffany's). Public art is also in their wheelhouse: Flux, a 2014 installation at the Kitchener-Waterloo Public Library, represents free-flowing information – a mobile of fluttering sheets, flying on the wind.

One down, 199 to go... Students paint paddles for a Canada Olympic House installation. (Courtesy of Moss & Lam)

To Moss, the Olympic assignment presented an opportunity that was special in the same way as that one. "There's something incredibly rewarding about seeing our work in spaces where people respond to it in a very fresh way," she explains. "You know, when people go to a five-star hotel they expect a five-star experience in a way, so that people are almost kind of jaded to things […] whereas I find public art is a very pure experience."

"The Olympics make it unique," she says. "The audience is the thing."

Students from ESA spent a day at the Moss & Lam studio this past March, fabricating art work for Team Canada. (Courtesy of Moss & Lam)

The Rio 2016 Olympic Games begin August 5 on CBC. Follow them on CBC Sports.

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