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Wish you could set fire to the last 3 years? A huge flaming art installation is coming to Toronto



3D digital rendering of The Burn, an art installation. Visible is a brassy dodecahedron adorned with perforated patterns. It appears to glow from within and floats above still dark water.
Rendering of The Burn, 2023. (Javid JAH)

What if you could just set fire to the past? Would you feel liberated — free to start fresh in 2023, flush with feelings of love and peace and other things you could file under positive vibes?

The City of Toronto launched an interactive art project last Thursday called The Burn, a seven-week initiative that aims to offer a moment of respite in the wake of COVID-19, and it comes to a climax on March 11 — the third anniversary of the pandemic.

On that date, a monumental art installation will go up at Nathan Phillips Square, and the centrepiece involves three towering steel sculptures that’ll be set aflame for 24 hours — fires that will keep on burning with a little help from the public, who’ll be invited to add bits of (supplied) wood to the blaze.

It’s a scenario that sounds significantly more thoughtful and controlled to hear Roger Mooking describe it. Mooking is the lead creative on the project, and he talks about The Burn as a chance to heal and grow as a collective. In short, it’s bigger than an all-day bonfire.


Mooking says he began thinking about the work in 2021, prompted by the “overwhelming melancholy” of lockdown. “I recognized that I was not the only one, that we were in this kind of collective consciousness globally, and we all needed to heal,” he tells CBC Arts. And with The Burn, he’s inviting Torontonians to actively begin that healing process.

The first phase of the project is already underway, and involves a series of interactive sculptures — significantly smaller vessels than the ones that’ll go up at Nathan Phillips Square. They’re being stationed at public sites around the GTA as part of a tour that launched Jan. 19 in three locations: Fort York National Historic Site, the Toronto Zoo and Twist — Mooking’s restaurant at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Here he is, testing it out in Terminal 1.

As of writing, people can find The Burn at three new sites through Feb. 1: Spadina Museum, Native Canadian Centre and the Market Gallery at St. Lawrence Market.

“We want to make sure that we’re hitting every corner of the GTA: north, east, south, west, central — all the nooks and crannies,” says Mooking. Twenty-one locations are currently scheduled for the tour, and a full map and schedule can be found through the city’s website.

Through March 11, visitors will find metallic dodecahedrons at different destinations — sculptures created by local artist Javid JAH. And under each sculpture is a bowl of wooden balls: spheres the size of marbles that have been carved out of cedar.

Photo of a brassy dodecahedron adorned with perforated ornate designs. It's mounted on a wooden stick. A wood bowl full of small wooden spheres rests below the polyhedron. In the background, two step-and-repeats printed with extensive instructions for how to engage with the artwork, are visible.
Find vessels like this one throughout the GTA. This shot was taken during The Burn’s install at Fort York National Historic Site. (CBC Arts)

Take a ball, and you’ll be asked to stop and think — to sit with your feelings, really. In the language of The Burn, you’ll be “setting an intention.” Is there something weighing on you: an emotion you wish you could change or simply set free? Once you’ve identified that feeling, you’re asked to drop your ball inside the sculpture. It’s a moment for “letting go,” so to speak.

“People are carrying so many things, especially coming through this COVID time,” says Mooking. “It’s a very simple thing … that can be very, very emotional.”

A multihyphenate known for his success as a chef, TV personality (Man Fire Food), and musician (Bass is Base), Mooking’s presented participatory art projects for the city before. Just last August, to coincide with Emancipation Month programming at Toronto history museums, he launched Read(In), an interactive installation that also appeared in multiple locations throughout the GTA.

To bring The Burn to life, project curator Umbereen Inayet connected him with collaborators JAH (who designed and produced the installation’s ornate sculptural elements) and artist Catherine Tammaro, a Wyandot Elder who served as an advisor, particularly concerning the project’s spiritual bent. Says Mooking: “There’s a deep history of Indigenous cultures using fire and water for cleansing and preservation and healing, so we needed that guidance to make sure that we were respecting that tradition.”

The wooden balls collected at each tour site will eventually fuel the fire on March 11, and Mooking says those attending the activation at Nathan Phillips Square will also have the opportunity to set an intention. At the big event, visitors will send their cedar spheres down a chute, directly into the flames. And when the fire’s extinguished, all the ash that’s left behind will be collected for use in city gardens. “We’re really trying to emulate the cycle of life: from the spark to the ash,” says Mooking. “We’re looking to carry the spiritual intentions from everybody in the city to fortify our Earth.”

The city says it will be announcing more public projects that respond to COVID’s impact on residents. Like The Burn, they’re part of a program called Stronger Together that launched in late November. More programming is expected to be revealed in February.

In the first few days of The Burn’s cross-city tour, Mooking says he was receiving reports from the participating venues. Folks are interacting with the sculptures already, he says. “It’s been cathartic, I hope. … I can’t wait to see how much healing we’re able to do when we really roll out the full scale of this at Nathan Phillips Square.”


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Rubbish fashion: street art costumes of Kinshasa – in pictures – The Guardian



Falonne Mambu posing in her electric wires costume in Limete district, Kinshasa. As a performing artist, she raises issues about social development in her own country. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is potentially the biggest electricity provider in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, decay and corruption have crippled the national Inga dam, which only works to the minimum of its capacity. Nowadays, only 19% of Congolese people have access to electricity.

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Montreal artist won’t change puppet that community groups say looks like blackface



MONTREAL — A theatre performance for children featuring a puppet that has been described as racist is continuing in the Montreal area.

Several Black community organizations have criticized the puppet as being reminiscent of blackface minstrel shows — racist performances during which white people portrayed exaggerated stereotypes of Black people for laughs.

But the show’s creator — Franck Sylvestre, who is Black — has no plans to change the puppet, which he said is a caricature of his own features. Sylvestre said in an interview he can’t accept the idea that he’s not allowed to create a caricature of someone who is Black because racists created caricatures of Black people in the past.

“That’s unheard of for an artist,” he said.


The play, called L’incroyable secret de barbe noire — French for The Incredible Secret of Blackbeard — first drew controversy in February.

A performance at a municipal theatre in the Montreal suburb of Beaconsfield, Que., was cancelled after complaints by Black community organizations. The neighbouring community of Pointe-Claire, meanwhile, removed the play from its official Black History Month programming but allowed the performance to go ahead.

Sylvestre, who wrote the one-man show in 2009 aimed at kids aged five to nine years old, said he had never received a complaint about his show before February.

A series of performances of the play, which combines theatre, storytelling, masks and puppetry, begins Sunday in Laval, Que., he said, before he takes it to France for 30 performances.

Sylvestre said the play tells the story of a young man who travels from Montreal to Martinique — the Caribbean island where Sylvestre’s parents are from — at the request of his dying grandfather, who is haunted by his discovery of a mysterious wooden chest with a connection to the pirate Blackbeard.

Max Stanley Bazin, president of the Black Coalition of Quebec, describes the puppet’s appearance as “very, very, very ugly” and said he worries that seeing a Black person presented in such a way could cause emotional damage to young audiences.

“It will have an impact on them, it will have an impact on the mind of the young people who see this puppet, and that’s what we should think about,” he said in an interview.

People are more likely to speak out about racism now than they were in 2009, Bazin said, adding that he thinks Sylvestre should listen to community members and replace the puppet with a less controversial creation.

“If there are people in society who have said this isn’t right, you have to react,” he said.

Philip Howard, a professor in the department of integrated studies in education at McGill University, said he’s not sure the puppet is an example of blackface — but he said that’s beside the point.

“There is still very much the matter of representation and the potential use of monstrous and grotesque representations of Black people as a source of entertainment and even humour,” said Howard, who has studied contemporary blackface.

Howard said the intentions of the artist are less important than the impact of the performance on an audience.

“Here we have, in this particular instance, a whole community of folks that are responding and saying, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t love this, we don’t think this is OK and we’re particularly disturbed about it during Black History Month,’” he said.

Dismissing the opinions of Black people who have a problem with the performance demonstrates anti-Black racism, he said.

Sylvestre said he thinks much of the criticism comes from people who haven’t seen the play.

“It’s the job of the community to see what purpose these caricatures serve; are they, like blackface, denigrating Black people, or, as in my case, are they being elevated?” he said. “This character, he’s a strong character for me personally, and when I made it, I was inspired by myself.”

He said the puppet, named Max, is “like a great sage,” whose interventions lead to the play’s happy ending.

“Max, he was the voice of reason, he was the one who advised us, who mocked me when I made a bad decision, who was above me,” he said.

Prof. Cheryl Thompson, who teaches performance at Toronto Metropolitan University, said she didn’t like the puppet when she viewed a trailer for the play.

“I was extremely shocked,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

While blackface minstrel shows are primarily associated with the United States, Thompson’s research has shown that blackface performances took place in Canada, with shows in Montreal as recently as the 1950s.

Even though blackface originated with white performers, Black actors in the 1800s would also don the exaggerated makeup and participate in the racist performances for white audiences.

“It actually didn’t matter if it was a white actor in blackface or a Black actor in blackface, it was the caricature that audiences thought was funny,” she said.

Thompson said there’s room for theatre performances to be provocative. But performers, she said, need to engage with audiences and be willing to discuss artistic choices — especially when artists are performing for audiences whose histories might be different than their own.

“Why wouldn’t this person at least try to hear the voices of people who maybe have a different experience to him?” she said.

She said she wouldn’t take a child to see the show, especially during Black History Month.

“I just don’t see the uplifting messaging,” Thompson said. “I don’t see the messaging of ‘you matter,’ I just don’t see that celebration of life. I just see something that is steeped in a history of racial caricature and mimicry.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2023.


Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Vancouver to remove unsanctioned spider art creeping-out transit riders



City staff are looking into how to remove a large metallic spider from under a high-traffic bridge on Commercial Drive in Vancouver.

The artwork, which startled some arachnophobic SkyTrain riders when it was installed earlier this month, was created by pop artist Junko Playtime.

In an email to Postmedia News on Friday, city staff say they were made aware of the unsanctioned spider artwork located in a corridor for SkyTrain and CN/BNSF Rail.

The installation wasn’t done in consultation with the city or the rail corridor partners, city staff said. They’re trying to figure out the best way to remove the artwork so there is no damage to the bridge structure or rail lines.


Staff said the artist will have the ability to claim the work through the city’s impoundment process.

According to Playtime’s Instagram page, the eight-foot-diameter spider was installed at night recently on the north bank below the bridge between North Grandview Highway and Broadway.

Playtime, from Montreal, has gained a reputation over the past two years for installing very large and far-out insect like futuristic sculptures from scrap metal and household items.

The artist called this latest spider creation “Phobia 2023. Time to face our fears.”

— With files from David Carrigg


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