Toronto’s shoreline has changed dramatically over the last 12,000 years, ever since the Laurentide Ice Sheet retreated to form Lake Ontario’s basin. The earliest human habitants—the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and Anishinaabe, including the Mississaugas of the Credit—adapted to the changing topography. In the colonial era, surges in industrial production and economic growth radically altered the shoreline, which has alternately been extended, reshaped, and paved over.
Initially a site of trade and ceremony, and eventually mass settlement and industrialization, the waterfront is host today to relics of heavy industry, dense condominium developments, active and decommissioned military bases, lost rivers, and human-made spits. Recently, it has been subjected to “renaturalization” efforts—attempts to restore the lake’s habitat—that nevertheless seek to refashion nature to suit human convenience.
Shorelines resist conventional mapping. Ever-shifting and fractal, they have no well-defined perimeter and evade attempts at quantification. The shoreline dilemma (also called the “coastline paradox”) implies the breakdown of scientific conventions in the face of nature’s complexities. In Toronto, this dilemma has been amplified by the radical reshaping of the city’s waterfront, which calls into question the rights of land and water in light of accelerated development.
The implications of the changing shoreline—evidence of an increasingly anthropocentric world—prompted us to ask invited artists: What does it mean to be in relation?
Human and non-human relations can reaffirm connections and generate ecosystems, but they can also breed distrust, anxiety, and alienation. When rational systems fail, other knowledges and relations emerge. At stake is the responsibility to respect multiple subjectivities and diverse conceptions of freedom, dignity, and sovereignty for living creatures, land, and water, as reflected by the rich perspectives and histories in the Exhibition’s artworks.
Toronto’s inaugural Biennial embraces the unquantifiable, fugitive, and unknowable, and like the shoreline, resists the systems that seek to discipline and control.
Curated by Candice Hopkins & Tairone Bastien