The Toronto Sculpture Garden is one of my favorite public spaces, immediately across the street from the massive Saint James Cathedral. So when I caught a glimpse of a colour photo of this incredible mushroom building in the National Post a few weeks ago, I knew I had to drop by! I found the gates locked and the artist hard at work with an assistant prepping the site for its year-long installation.
I had sent off a quick e-mail to the artist Katie Bethune-Leamen, who kindly extended an open invitation for me to drop by to play flute and record in her Mushroom Studio. Her press material suggests that she will be working out of the studio once it’s set up, which I thought was very cool. But I’ve dropped by a couple of times now when I have found myself down in the area, just to kinda keep things spontaneous, and, sadly, there’s been no-one home. Yet this is perfect somehow, to find the place ‘poignantly empty’, as described in her artist’s statement!
Initially I had thought that something hallucinatory like a flute rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit would be appropriate. However, upon learning from the artist that the programmatic architectural style of her studio in fact represents a highly poisonous mushroom, well, I figure it’s anything goes. Despite my rather benign, lyrical musical selection here by a female artist of the 17th Century, don’t be fooled: this mushroom installation transcends its surface whimsy and is a highly charged, even incendiary work of art.
Truth be told, I imagine the acoustics inside the mushroom aren’t much to write home about, given the relatively confined space. But with any luck I will still have a chance to try it out: it’s not every day that a chance comes along to sit down cross-legged and meditate with ones flute inside a lethal mushroom of monstrous proportion!
I dropped by a few days ago before picking up the end of the Euro Cup’s Russia-Spain game at Betty’s on King Street, and decided I would capture at least the streetsounds along with the cascade of the wonderful fountain, and that I might as well overlay some flute-playing while I was at it. This time, after knocking politely on the studio door, I pressed my nose up against one of the two studio windows and assessed the internal installation. Peering in, I could see open yet untouched Faber-Castell pencils, and other cryptic clues of an artist’s studio in an odd state of limbo, like assessing the tell-tale clues of the living quarters of a sunken ship: everything in its place, but not a soul in sight.
I recorded this evocative piece adjacent to the restive wall-fountain, an aria by Francesca Caccini from her landmark opera, La Liberazione de Ruggiero, first performed on February 3rd, 1625. I wonder what Francesca’s impression would have been with regards to an artist making a living in modern times, let alone the whirr and rumble of passing streetcars, and Bethune-Leaman’s declamatory Studio Installation here in this historic area of Toronto.
The daughter of one of the founding fathers of Opera, Francesca was not not typical of female artists in her day, although it sounds like she had a pretty sweet deal, a wonderful career and she certainly left her mark!
Okay, so I lifted the title for this post*, but how could I resist?
* Mushroom Studio – Globe & Mail, Brad Wheeler, June 26th, 2008
Toxic toadstool or funky fungus? Artist Katie Bethune-Leamen explores the love-hate relationship we have with the woodsy growth by installing a six-metre-high replication/studio, complete with windows – a ‘shroom with a view, perhaps. Daily to April, 2009, dawn to dusk. Free. Toronto Sculpture Garden, 115 King St. W., http://www.torontosculpturegarden.com.