Writer, educator and urbanist Shawn Micallef offers a behind-the-scenes perspective on the making of ‘Guide to the Leslie Street Spit’ by acclaimed Spanish artist Lara Almarcegui. In this informal talk, he reviews the genesis of the project, beginning with his first meeting with the artist for the Urban Field Speakers Series in 2014.
Followed by Q&A and exhibition viewing.
Lara Almarcegui’s Exhibition ‘Guide to the Leslie Street Spit’
As acclaimed Spanish artist Lara Almarcegui’s first solo exhibition in Canada, this public art project serves as a guide to the Leslie Street Spit, an artificial peninsula formed by the dumping of waste deposits from Toronto’s construction industry into Lake Ontario. Accordingly, the project addresses a subject of vital interest—construction, development, and the use of the land and water.
In her artistic practice, Almarcegui examines processes of urban transformation brought on by political, social, and economic change. Specifically, she studies those characteristics of cities that are not typically the focus of attention: wastelands, construction materials, and underlying structures. Since the late 1990s, her projects have fallen into two main categories: installations comprising mounds of raw materials of the type that were used to construct the buildings in which they are housed, and guides to the wastelands of various urban centres throughout the world. For the latter category, which is the approach taken for this project, Almarcegui explores the history, geology, and ecology of neglected or overlooked sites, carefully noting their lack of urban planning while cataloguing and highlighting each site’s tendency toward entropy. Her original research culminates in a major installation consisting of a video in the style of a slide show and a publication in the form of a guidebook, the latter of which serves as an interpretive tool which visitors may take away.
For her original commission in the city of Toronto, Almarcegui uses these old-school formats to tell the story of the Leslie Street Spit, as yet little known or broadly understood, in an unexpected and engaging way. Initiated sixty years ago as a breakwater for harbour expansion, the spit was ultimately not required for this purpose due to an unanticipated decrease in lake shipping. Today, it has been claimed by all forms of life, both human and wild. The evolution of the spit—largely accidental and unplanned—provides an extraordinary example of the processes of urban and ecological succession. As such, the site offers an ideal subject for Almarcegui’s practice, seamlessly integrating the city of Toronto into the continuum of her work on wastelands in the cities of London, New York, Rome, São Paulo and Venice, among others.
Lara Almarcegui is a visual artist who was born in Zaragoza, Spain, and currently resides in Rotterdam. She received her BFA from the Universidad de Cuenca (Cuenca, Spain), with subsequent studies at the École supérieure des beaux-arts (Nantes, France) and de Ateliers (Amsterdam). Her work has been exhibited at the Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo (CA2M, Madrid), Fotomuseum Winterthur (Winterthur, Switzerland), Kunstverein Springhornhof (Berlin), Museo Tamayo (Mexico City) and Secession (Vienna), among others. A participant in Manifesta 9 and the 27th São Paulo Biennial, she represented Spain at the 55th Venice Biennale. She is represented by Mor Charpentier (Paris).
Commissioned, produced and presented by Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art in partnership with the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.
This project has been made possible with the support of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival and Urbanspace Gallery, as well as the Canada Council for the Arts.
Image: Lara Almarcegui, Selection from Guide to the Leslie Street Spit, 2023. Courtesy the artist and Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto