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Terence Dick
Gallery Galleria at the Galleria Mall
May 19, 2016

It’s no big revelation to point out that artists are, in part, the architects of their own destruction when it comes to habitat. Cycles of urban gentrification are well documented over the past century, and the only thing that's changed is the speed with which a neighbourhood can shift from marginal to marginalizing. It's particularly evident in a city like Toronto where the real estate market is on roiling boil. However, creative types benefit from visibility (it’s one of their defining characteristics), whereas the people and the culture they build their communities on lie dormant for decades. The Junction is/was a solid example of this and the area immediately to the east is now having its moment in the sun. The number of galleries that have popped up on Dupont is obvious evidence. Slightly less so is the conversion of the Galleria Mall into a venue for temporary artistic incursions. Earlier this year, The Long Winter music/art series held an off-site event there and just this past weekend the curatorial collective Aisle 4 installed nine artists amongst the kiosks, owner-run shops, and smattering of chain stores.

Oliver Husain, Galleria Cruise, 2016, video

The Galleria is the kind of public access zone where commerce hasn't entirely squeezed out community. For many years, it was mostly ignored except by neighbours who frequented the stores that held on and seniors who just hung out. By failing as a “destination” mall, it instead became something more organic, something local and unique. Flying under the radar is essential to the survival of the kind of ecosystem that isn’t driven by rapacious market forces. And cities are all the better for their existence. Unfortunately, this article, as well as the exhibition that elicited it, as well as the real estate demands that have turned the surrounding housing into prime territory for development, means that it’s all going to change (much in the same way that Liberty Village changed over the last decade). All this occurs to me as I watch Oliver Husain's stop-motion video journey through the mall on the LCD info panels and listen to the Earlscourt branch of the Royal Canadian Legion practice their bagpipes and wait for my daughter to finish her gymnastics practice. (Did I mention there are two fitness facilities here as well? And an axe-throwing club is moving in?)

Sarah Beck and Shlomi Greenspan’s diorama in a vending machine is all you need to see in order to get a sense of the transformations – both in the past and soon to come – the building is subject to, while Fraser McCallum and Jessica Vallentin make changes so subtle (his with text, hers with light bulbs) that it’s as if they knew to leave well enough alone. Roy Arden’s window display maintains the mall’s homespun aesthetic despite his odd insertion of a bit of glamour and Adrian Blackwell’s linked circular benches fit right in as well.

Roy Arden, Shop Around, 2016, Smokey Robinson’s boots, pigment print, vitrine context

The best thing about the culture at the Galleria – at least, for the time being – is that it is not dominated by chains. The stores, salons, and services are here and only here. Apart from the opening, when it felt like the art community were tourists objectifying the other that is everyday life for most, the best thing about this exhibition was that it didn’t dominate the space. Most art isn’t powerful enough to do that, but kudos to the curators and artists for collaborating with what’s given before it gets torn up for what’s to come.

Aisle 4:
Gallery Galleria was open from May 12 to 17.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.



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