This project turns a derelict building into a world of myth

How one aging art deco building became an art exhibit.

How one aging art deco building became an art exhibit

Artist Doras works on his painting of the myth of Aoife and the Children of Lir in Toronto's Corleck Building. (Joy Oresic)

From the outside, The Corleck Building doesn't look like much these days. The art deco building started life as the corporate offices for the Canada Malting silos — those enormous abandoned monoliths on Toronto's waterfront, next to Billy Bishop Airport at the foot of Eireann Quay. After the silos ceased operations in the 1980s, it was taken over by the City of Toronto, and by the Parks and Recreation department. Then it was used by the airport, and in fact, one small corner of the building still houses the airport security break room. But for the most part, the Corleck Building has just been left to rot. Until now.

Earlier this year, the Canada Ireland Foundation signed a lease that will make the building both the foundation's new headquarters and Toronto's newest cultural space. 

Caitlin Taguibao fairy circle in Toronto's Corleck Building, as part of the Miotas/Myth exhibit. (Joy Oresic)

According to William Peat, the foundation's executive director, the multi-million dollar rehabilitation of the building will start next month, and take just over a year to complete. At the end of it, the Corleck building will contain a 3,500 square foot programmable space, as well as a black box theatre. The two spaces will provide a home for "theatre, for spoken word, for the visual arts, performing arts, history and exhibitions," says Peat.

But in the meantime, Peat says, "We wanted to do something with the building while it was still in its raw form." 

What they did was turn it over to eight artists — four solo artists, two duos — to create an exhibit called Miotas/Myth. (Miotas is the Irish word for myth.) Each artist was given a room to interpret the theme.  

"We didn't ask the artists to go into Irish mythology, just to take that theme," says Peat. "Mythology is very important in Ireland; the connection of the mythological world and the real world is something that every Irish person would be well aware of. And so that was a connection enough for us."

Art duo The Dreamers interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve at the Corleck Building in Toronto as part of the Miotas/Myth exhibit. (Joy Oresic)

Caitlin Taguibao used her space to create a fairy circle.

"It's a pretty common folk tale in English and Celtic mythology," she says. "Fairy rings would appear in the forest ... They were the result of little fairies and elves dancing and partying all night, and people would always be warned to not step into the fairy ring. If you did, there was a chance that you'd have to dance to exhaustion or you wouldn't leave."

She says that one of the major challenges she faced in painting the space was dealing with the different shapes and textures of the room.

"The walls have windows, so they weren't entirely flat," she says. "And interestingly enough, there was like a little carcass of a bird caught in the window. So that was weird. It gave a weird tone to the room while I was painting."

Montreal-based Irish-Canadian artist Doras, also known as Marc O'Brien, was given the largest space in the building, taking the entire basement to put his own spin on the Irish folktale The Children of Lir. In the story, a queen, Aiofe, is angered that her husband pays more attention to his children from a previous marriage and turns them into swans. O'Brien wanted to give this ancient story a contemporary feel, rendering it in a style that borrows from pop art and graffiti. 

"A lot of the Irish tales really feature a very specific style of illustration with spirals and things like that," he says. "It just seemed like really interesting fodder to just make up a different aesthetic language. And so bringing in my influences seemed appropriate. And I think that you don't have to go full green Irish spirals all the time for Irish tales."

O'Brien did the bulk of his painting on the floor, which meant he had the equivalent of a three-story mural's worth of space to use before he even touched the walls.

"When I was initially pitched the space, I don't think they were expecting me to come back and be like, 'I'm going to be on the floor,'" he says. "I had a Skype viewing of it and I was like, 'The best real estate is that flat concrete floor.'"

Like Taguibao, O'Brien also found the variety of textures to be a challenge. Cinder block absorbs paint differently than poured concrete, which takes paint differently than metal, all of which were in the space he was painting. But he had a unique strategy in tackling the different materials: just don't think about it too hard.

"I just kind of let the wall do what it's going to do," he says. "To me it's like, an expression on a derelict piece of architecture. And it's going to be what it's going to be."

To find out more about MIOTAS/MYTH, including how to see the exhibition in person, visit the Canada Ireland Foundation's website.


Chris Dart

Associate Producer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont.

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