Toronto Design Offsite Festival: Come Up To My Room 2015

Last year we were deeply embedded in Toronto’s Interior Design Week, as part of Studio North at The Interior Design Show.  This year, we’re visiting the parallel and definitely more alternative Toronto Design Offsite (TODO) Festival that runs from January 19 to 25. The annual event is a platform to showcase prototypes and installations that celebrate the diversity of Canada’s energetic design scene and as such it provides vital exposure to some of the country’s most promising designers while introducing the public to the practice of design.

Lee Anne

Toronto native Lee-Anne Bigwood, loves noticing, observing and participating in the arts scene in her city. So it’s not surprising that she offered to visit part of this year’s TODO Festival and report back on items and exhibits that might be of interest to us and to you! Her post covers a Festival favourite — Come Up To My Room (CUTMR) — which returns for its 12th consecutive year at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel.

Lee Anne 1

Let’s just talk about the venue itself for a minute because the Gladstone Hotel on Queen Street West is a thing of beauty. Designed by George Miller, the architectural style is characterized by the rough cut stone and brick and by the dramatic arches over the windows and porch entrances. Using the original 19th century Victorian architecture, exposed brick walls and high ceilings, local Canadian artists have come together to transform the Gladstone’s 37 hotel rooms into experimental, alternative works of art. Since each bookable hotel room in the historic, 125 year old building represents a different artist’s vision, and it is also an event and cultural space, hosting awards, literary projects, social change events, live comedy, and music; no two visits will be the same.

If you go, take the time to admire the charming architectural details.

Gladstone, 2nd floor door hinge

One of the first things you notice after you move past the beautiful welcome desk in the front lobby, where they guide you to start your way up the grand stairway towards the entrance to the festival, is that you’re circling around an ornate, meticulously restored Victorian elevator. It’s one of the last hand-operated elevators in Toronto. If you get a chance to ride it, it feels like you’re taking a trip back in time. The incredibly friendly operator tells me that it still requires electricity, but that it is mostly manually operated.
Also in that magnificent stairway up to the exhibit is the gloriously lush living wall and industrial style lighting fixtures, enhanced and elevated during the Festival by a towering collage that extends up to the top floor.
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Titled ‘Ascent‘ by artist Phil Irish, the collage is comprised of many large, richly decorated pieces of thick kraft paper, depicting rugged painted images of mountains and pipelines, which are chopped and reconfigured. The sublime peaks are inspired by The Banff Centre, a globally respected arts, cultural and educational institution, and the references to peak oil were inspired by Alberta’s oil sands, which the artist explains evokes the struggle of both societal and personal transformation.
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CUTMR2015 turns the Gladstone Hotel into an incredible art-filled space covering all of its four floors. Although the hotel is already a destination for lovers of art and culture, during the Festival it becomes even more infused with art and welcomes even more people into its already very inclusive space. So much so, that several signs throughout the hotel remind visitors that some of the rooms, though they are certainly artfully decorated, are not part of the CUTMR program.

not art vs. art

Throughout the exhibit various signs are installed, as well as some text art for the keen observer. This expansive installation called ‘Innerventions’ by Denise St. Marie and Timothy Walker, reminds us that signs don’t always have to be authoritative; sometimes they can invite viewers to take a lighter look at their regular activities. These signs are concentrated in the hotel, but as a resident or visitor in Toronto, you may be lucky enough to see some of their work peppered throughout the city.
On the second floor, one of the first large exhibits you’ll come across is ‘Common Thread’, a project created by Sander Freedman, Riyad Bacchus and Andrey Chernykh, celebrating culture, nature and design. It’s inspired by a carpet designers’ story of historical carpet design and craftsmanship in Nepal, India and Iran, and its desire to make a historically polluting and petro-chemical-heavy process more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
For me, what was so striking about the exhibit was the reminder of how many spools of rich string might make up a single carpet. Seeing the unravelled material up close, it was exciting to imagine what a factory for such a process might look like. The installation expands over a whole hallway, with some strands of the string starting on the ground, and travelling up over doorways and into the arches. I enjoyed how they incorporated this installation right into the already existing sitting area on this floor; it was a reminder of how the hotel really celebrates the interaction between artistic impression and regular day-to-day business.
This is a huge part of why I love this Fesival so much. Imagine waking up, and leaving your hotel room to see these:
The sort of common items you would normally find in your hotel hallway, such as water pipes, safety equipment and electricity cabinets, which you would normally gloss over and ignore on route to brunch, are instead framed and highlighted. These are part of a group exhibition on the 4th floor, curated by Carla Poirier and called ‘in a space.’ It’s an exploration of physical composition through the lens of Graphic Design. The artists evaluate the fundamentals of design, and invite the viewer inside an abstract realm of ephemera and merge the line between art and design.
It seems as though their contrasting use of black and white decoration and imagery play on their placement within the hotel and the sorts of shadows and lines that normally exist. There’s a frisky nod to how such common objects as brooms and drying racks can, in this context, be interpreted as ‘art’… or not.  I tried to capture the real cleaning supplies being used alongside their elevated parallels.
An exhibit, located on the main floor in the Melody Bar, reminds me of the Galerie CO designer we showcased in this post, where we explored the idea that we are creating entirely too much permanent waste from plastic. Called ‘Oh Thank Heaven’ the installation was created by Miles Ingrassia and Iris Karuna. While normally the colourful plastic pop bottles are stacked with their black crates, in this exhibit, they’re separated and installed in such a way that they resemble a church altar and stained glass windows. The artists explain that the installation explores urban detachment and the compulsion to discover or designate unconventional spaces as sacred.

Come Up To My Room also hosts many audio and video installations, along with many multi-layer tapestry pieces, which can’t be fully appreciated without seeing their movement amongst art lovers breezing by, but I had to include this next one because the imagery is so striking. The string from the faces travels up to drape and curtain the ceilings, while the wall with the multiple faces has a constantly changing projection, along with experimental and abstract audio recordings. By Annie Tung, it is called, simply, ‘X.’

X is an installation that cultivates the idea of hidden messages and unknown desires. We sometimes cannot control our words or action and become frustrated. There are no words to explain this frustration but only a desire to break out from the shell.”

Finally, “From now until the end, and now again“, by Fareena Chanda stimulated in me an appreciation of the natural world, as it was presented juxtaposed against a mimicry of that world. The artist explains that the installation

explores the human relationship to our mortality. A walk through a fantastical garden to a final resting place evokes contemplation on our preparedness to face the end. The immersive mixed media installation invites the viewer to commit their mind and body to the physical space around them and imagine themselves undergoing sublimation. The piece aims to height our perception of our temporality in this world by ultimately asking each individual ‘where are you headed?'”

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These photos and selections are just a small portion of an expansive and affecting exhibition, which runs until January 25th, with their closing party happening Saturday Night.

Tell us what you think of the installations in the comments below, or on our Facebook page, or on Instagram or Twitter @galerieco.

You can follow Lee-Anne’s adventures through Toronto Design Week, via her Instagram account, @littlebitesbig.