Image: Hamish Rhodes
Image: Hamish Rhodes
In collaboration with Jon Sasaki.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) devotes one per cent of the budget for an ongoing series of accessibility and safety upgrades at its subway stations to the creation and installation of juried public art. Each artwork should inspire commuters, reflect the station’s neighbourhood, and represent the TTC’s commitment to public service. These works must also meet stringent performance requirements for safety, durability, and resistance to vandalism.
Following an open call for artists and a shortlisting of entrants to develop concepts, the jury unanimously selected Forwards and Backwards as the artwork for Coxwell station. Through extensive research, the intern architect and artist team had determined that the area around this station is and has long been a neighbourhood in flux – a lively community of communities with multiple characterizing narratives. This, they realized, was an exciting attribute: the area itself was like an evolving sketch, an artwork yet to be unveiled.
Forwards and Backwards is a three-dimensional sculpted curtain, cast in polished reflective aluminum and installed at the station’s bustling concourse level. The curtain parts ever so slightly, revealing a wedge of the blue that has always been Coxwell station’s accent colour, and suggesting that the aluminum ‘drapery’ could be coaxed wide open.
In addition to evoking the sense of expectancy associated with a theatre production about to begin, the curtain promotes interaction. For commuters passing by, it is like a funhouse mirror, providing ever-shifting variations on how people are reflected – wide, narrow, truncated, slivered. This literal reflection of the community suggests that individuals, like the area itself, are in constant flux. Filling a 16-foot-wide alcove, the reflective curtain also doubles the apparent depth of the concourse’s west end, making this space feel more generous and open.
Polished reflective aluminum is a material widely used in the TTC’s rolling stock and infrastructure, and Forwards and Backwards acknowledges the contributions of the TTC employees who have performed ‘behind-the-curtain’ services in and around Coxwell station over the decades. Near the station is the TTC’s Danforth Carhouse, which opened in 1915 as a streetcar maintenance yard and now also provides office space for station collectors and drivers. Commuters on the TTC’s Bloor-Danforth Line may have wondered why trains often pause at Coxwell station. It is in fact a driver changeover point: subway operators begin and end shifts in a small room at track level.
Although the curtain appears as a continuous surface, it is fabricated as a unitized system to facilitate fabrication and installation. Digital modelling tools are employed to design the low-relief surface and optimize the seam locations between panels so they are concealed within the curtain’s recessed folds. The artwork is supported by the existing concrete wall using concealed fasteners. Made of cast aluminum, the artwork is inherently durable and can be repeatedly polished if graffiti or damage should occur.
In her comments, jury member Cindya Rozeboom, managing director of East End Arts, stated that Forwards and Backwards “skillfully summed up the character of the neighbourhood – hopeful, dramatic, playful and exciting – without anchoring it specifically to any one cultural group or historic era.” By inviting a multitude of interpretations, the artwork adds a bit of poetry to the prosaic reality of the daily commute.