How to explore the 2022 Toronto Biennial of Art

Start with these 7 exhibits when attending Toronto's 2nd art biennial. From March 26 to June 5, this free festival will be held at galleries and other venues across the city.

Ready to see the city in a different way? These 7 projects are a great place to start

Nave, a three-channel video installation by Camille Turner, is one of the original commissioned projects appearing at the Toronto Biennial of Art. Find it at the Small Arms Inspection Building in Mississauga. (Courtesy of the Toronto Biennial of Art)

The Toronto Biennial of Art (TBA) opens Saturday, March 26 and for 10 whole weeks, its slate of programming is entirely free to explore. In addition to art exhibitions, the program includes performances, workshops and walking tours, and all that action will be spread across nine different venues, a mix of art galleries and repurposed spaces that stretch from the city's downtown all the way to Mississauga. 

What's it all about?

This will be the second edition of the Biennial. The first, in 2019, was titled The Shoreline Dilemma, and in keeping with that theme, the program largely situated itself along the city's waterfront. 

For 2022, curators Candice Hopkins, Katie Lawson and Tairone Bastien are essentially continuing the story they began in the Biennial's inaugural year, dubbing this new program What Water Knows, The Land Remembers.

That poetic little phrase is an invitation to think about Toronto differently: not just as a city, per se, but as a patch of the natural world, the site of countless overlapping stories that pre-date the invention of the condo, or colonialism — or the presence of any human being, period. And more than 23 original projects were commissioned to respond to that theme.

From art galleries to public spaces, here's where everything is happening

Given the geographical flavour of the subject matter, the curators took some care in plotting this year's map of venues. They've moved the programming inland, away from Lake Ontario, following the path of Toronto's various waterways, many of which are long since buried. The sites include 5 Lower Jarvis, Colborne Lodge, the Textile Museum of Canada, Fort York National Historic Site and the Small Arms Inspection Building (Mississauga). 

A former Pentecostal church at 72 Perth Ave. will serve as one of the main exhibition hubs. That building, which has been marked for residential development, is a short distance from a few other partner locations: MOCA Toronto, Mercer Union and Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto.

Why is geography so important to the theme?

Originally from Whitehorse, curator Candice Hopkins is a citizen of Carcross/Tagish First Nation who typically lives and works out of New Mexico. While organizing the first TBA, she began getting acquainted with Toronto, and she was struck by the layout of the city. 

"Toronto is kind of an interesting place in relation to Lake Ontario," she says, speaking with CBC Arts. "In a lot of parts of the city, it's deliberately cut off from the water." And it's been developed like that since the 1800s, she notes. 

I think that it's an opportunity to perhaps see this place differently, to see the formation of this place differently. And that might also start to shift how we imagine the future of this place.- Candice Hopkins, curator, The Toronto Biennial of Art

Of course, that's a chapter of the city's colonial history. But what of the Indigenous history that began before that, or simply the natural history of this place? That's one reason why geography became such an important idea for the curators to explore, says Hopkins.

The earth and water have always been here, even if they've changed over time, as the shifting shoreline goes to show. The curators chose to focus their thinking on the environment because "it's one way to understand and orient ourselves in space," says Hopkins. "I think that it's an opportunity to perhaps see this place differently, to see the formation of this place differently. And that might also start to shift how we imagine the future of this place."

Looking for things to do in Toronto? Here are some of the highlights

With more than 100 projects on view through June 5, these are just a few quick examples of what to expect. 

Judy Chicago, A Tribute to Toronto

Judy Chicago in collaboration with Pyro Spectaculars by Souza. Diamonds in the Sky, 2021. (© Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Donald Woodman/ARS, New York)

Picture a literal explosion of colour filling the sky above Lake Ontario. Anyone near Sugar Beach on the night of June 4 should be able to see just that, when the renowned feminist artist Judy Chicago will be staging A Tribute to Toronto

Chicago has been creating her trademarked Smoke Sculptures for decades— a project that's also known as Atmospheres. (The smoke is apparently non-toxic, FYI.) This special commission for the Biennial will mark the first time she's detonated one of these magnificent plumes in Canada. 

Camille Turner, Nave

Camille Turner. Nave, 2021-2022. (Courtesy of the Toronto Biennial of Art)

If you've seen a futuristic time traveller leading a walking tour of downtown Toronto, it might have been Camille Turner. The local artist has assumed that role many times as part of her ongoing project The Afronautic Research Lab, an endeavour that highlights the difficult history that's hidden around us in plain sight, and she brings attention to monuments and markers that reveal Canada's ties to the slave trade. Turner's leading a two-day expedition around the University of Toronto's downtown campus as part of the Biennial, in fact; register to join that walk in May. But it's Newfoundland history that inspired her major project for TBA. While visiting the province, Turner researched how Canada profited from the building of slave ships.

Nave is a three-channel video and art installation that will appear at the Small Arms Inspection Building in Mississauga. Hopkins describes the work as a piece that contributes to how we understand place and history. "I think that this is an example of how the biennial can work together with artists to create really powerful works," she says.

Abel Rodríguez and Aycoobo at Arsenal Contemporary Toronto

Aycoobo (Wilson Rodríguez). Conexion, 2021. (Courtesy of the Toronto Biennial of Art)

Nonuya Indigenous artists from the Igara Paraná River region of Colombia, this father/son duo are known for dense and colourful drawings which illustrate ancestral knowledge of the Amazon's ecosystem. Several of those works are appearing at TBA, but special to the Biennial, they've also been commissioned to create their first ever video work — a film called Mogaje Guihu, El nombrador de plantas / Montaje Guihu, The plant namer. Shot in a documentary style, Hopkins says it's one of the most exciting additions to this year's program. "It's Abel and his family thinking about the plants, thinking about their home. In a way, I think that it's a kind of form of digital repatriation."

Brian Jungen at 5 Lower Jarvis

Brian Jungen. Detail of Plague Mask 3 (fever dream), 2020. (Rachel Topham Photography/Courtesy of Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver)

In the summer of 2019, Jungen was the focus of a blockbuster exhibition at the AGO, and for those who remember it, masks fashioned from sneakers were a highlight of the show. Fitting for a plague year biennial, Jungen will present a collection of Plague Masks at 5 Lower Jarvis — sculptures he's wrought from Nike Air Jordans.

Ghazaleh Avarzamani, Forced Afloat

Ghazaleh Avarzamani. Installation drawing for the Toronto Biennial of Art venue at 72 Perth parking lot. (Courtesy of the artist)

Found in the parking lot outside 72 Perth, this art installation doubles as a sort of public courtyard — a space that might even host a few of the Biennial's events. All that to say: feel free to play with the art. (Fittingly, it's made out of the same rubbery chips that you'll find on a kids' playground.) Toronto-based artist Avarzamani developed the piece while doing an artist residency at the city's Aga Khan Museum last year. 

Jeffrey Gibson, I Am Your Relative

Jeffrey Gibson. I AM YOUR RELATIVE, MOCA Toronto, 2022. (Toni Hafkenschied)

This one's another installation that doubles as a gathering space, so let that serve as a reminder: keep checking the Biennial's event listings to discover what's happening at MOCA Toronto for the next 10 weeks. Gibson is a Choctaw-Cherokee artist who lives in Hudson, N.Y., and in addition to this special co-commission by MOCA Toronto and the Biennial, he's brought several pieces to Toronto. (Find those works at 72 Perth and the Small Arms Inspection Building.) 

Nadia Belerique, Holdings

Nadia Belerique. HOLDINGS, 2020-ongoing. (Photo: Daniel Terna/Courtesy of the artist and Daniel Faria Gallery)

Yes, those are shipping barrels in the picture, the same sort that Belerique's Portuguese relatives might stuff with treats and ship to Toronto. Found at 72 Perth, the installation is one of Hopkins's favourite Biennial commissions. "They're very much mnemonic objects, you know," she says, referring to the plastic buckets. "They're invested with emotion and family and family connections. … She's made an absolutely gorgeous installation out of these barrels that are stacked as a way to reference this history."

Toronto Biennial of Art. March 26 to June 5. Multiple venues. Visitors must download the free TBA pass to access event sites.

Art 101: What's a Biennale?

4 years ago
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Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.

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