In October 1992, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) purchased the Arsenal Lands, a 15.7-hectare property located on the City of Mississauga’s waterfront and the site of the Small Arms Inspection Building (SAIB). Alongside this acquisition, the TRCA performed an environmental audit of the land to determine the extent of contamination associated with its prior use as a large munitions plant that manufactured rifles and small arms for the Canadian Army. The testing identified the presence of large concentrations of low-level radioactive waste, PCBs, heavy metals, petroleum compounds, volatile organic compounds, and combustible gasses. Since then, the TRCA has directed an extensive screening of the grounds, extracting and segregating toxic particles and debris while removing over 70,000 tonnes of radioactive soil that have been stored in a containment facility neighbouring SAIB. Beyond the haunting ubiquity of forever chemicals scattered across the Arsenal Lands, this site is entwined with cycles of migration, settlement, war, displacement, natural disasters, butterfly visitations, the prospects of a tenuous biocultural restoration, and a revival of community and cultural happenings.
Dana Prieto’s commission for the Toronto Biennial in 2022, Footnotes for an Arsenal (2022), proposes an exercise of attunement toward ways of thinking with the ground we stand upon, an invitation to enact an unflinching, caring, and responsible attention to that ground, and to the profound social, historical, and chemical enmeshments that link us to it. The work meditates on the past, present, and future histories of SAIB and the land where it is located. The installation resembles a mundane scene around a tiled patio or playground, comprising an arrangement of terracotta clay tiles that hold an assemblage of containers. Incorporating fired soil , this prosaic tableau offers mnemonic traces of a convoluted and ostensibly hazardous ground, charting the uncontainable nature of earthly bodies while tendering forms of life that are not defined by its damage.
Commissioned by the Toronto Biennial of Art and made possible with the generous support of the RBC Emerging Canadian Artist Program and the Women Leading Initiative.
Detailed Audio Description:
Dana Prieto (born in 1984, Argentina; lives in Toronto, Canada) is an artist and educator with a site-responsive art practice that manifests in installation, performance, writing and diverse collaborations. Her work examines our intimate and collective entanglements with colonial institutions and power structures, calling for careful attention to ways of relating, thinking, making and consuming in the Anthropocene. Dana holds a Master of Visual Studies from the University of Toronto, and her work has been presented in national and international galleries, public spaces and informal cultural venues.
Participated in the “Rabbit Hole: Pod Theory” Residency, 2020.