Grow Op 2017: A Q&A with the curator and exhibitors

Catalogue No. 32 is a collection of tools and instruments used in the making and maintaining of urban landscapes. IMAGE/ Aisling O’Carroll and Sara Jacobs

Grow Op 2017: A Q&A with the curator and exhibitors


Grow Op 2017 opens this week at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. GROUND talked with the curator and some of the exhibitors.


LeuWebb Projects returns to curate Grow Op 2017, the fifth year of this exhibition of landscape, urbanism and contemporary art. GROUND sat down with Christine Leu (CL) to talk about this year’s offerings and what she hopes for the event.

CL: It’s a challenge to describe Grow Op without touching on the phenomenological and experiential aspects of the show. Our experience of the landscape around us is personal; we have tried to create an exhibition with diverse projects that help us understand our place between the urban and the wild. We’re situating the works within the intersections of landscape and culture and seeing where they serendipitously collide. Our ambition is to enable projects that are critical and provocative. It’s interesting to see some common themes that have emerged this year: weather, food, language. We don’t write our detailed curatorial statement until after we feel the exhibition has coalesced into a discernible network of ideas and the artists have clarified their own individual expressions.


Susan Blight (SB) and Hayden King (HK)


Blight and King have been working together for several years on Indigenous rights and language activism towards revitalizing the cultures of First Nations. Particularly since Idle No More, they have focused primarily on language revitalization and land rights. One of their recent campaigns to improve language loss, #OgimaaMikana, saw Anishinaabeg on billboards and street signs throughout Toronto and the GTA. Their exhibit for Grow Op resets postcards as a method to subvert a mythology of care-free travel and reclaim their narrative, re-inserting First Nations into the land.

HK: Canadians are on Indigenous land; and with that comes obligations and responsibilities of their colonial expansion. The postcards we have produced for this one-time exhibit aim to subvert the benign image of the travel postcard. This work is as much a separate collaboration between Susan and I as it is an entry to this exhibition.

SB: We have looked at the idea of the ‘gallery’ and how to work within that space. This current work for Grow Op can be seen as a separate iteration of the Ogimaa effort, still rooted in intervention and social practice, that questions the use of gallery space for expression.

HK: We want to have a conversation around land, land use and coexisting on stolen land: what does that really mean? We hope to push people to challenge what they think they know.


SB: We hope to blur the lines between activism and visual art. The history of visual art with regards to the consumption of the Indigenous image is problematic, so we hope to challenge and problematize the relationship between art and the viewer. It’s important that this work for Grow Op is a limited run of 1000 postcards, so its finite.

HK: There are two audiences for this work and our work in the past as well: Indigenous peoples and specifically the Anishinaabeg, and Canadians on the other. For the former, we hope to instil pride in our language, Anishinaabemowin. And for Canadians, we want to remind them they are on Indigenous land and with that comes obligations and responsibilities. Generally, we are trying to re-insert Indigenous language and experience into the landscape. The postcards reflect these goals, but we also wanted to use the medium to subvert the benign image of the travel postcard (the same sort of presumed banality of the average street sign we’ve worked with in the past.) This work is a separate collaboration between Susan and I, and exclusive to the Grow Op show. Still, we hope it lives on as people actually use the postcards.

SB: As artists, we hope for multiple interpretations of the work: there are political goals which inform the conceptual framework for this work; the relationship to an Indigenous future, to securing a future for Anishinaabeg people to exist as fully embodied on this land.

Besho Omaa Daawag Igo Anishinaabeg limited edition postcards. Wood plinth, variable dimensions. IMAGE/ Courtesy of the artists


D & S Projects


Katie Strang (KS) and Christine Dewancker (CD) collaborated on a 2015 Nuit Blanche installation marking the former route of (now-buried) Garrison Creek in Toronto, with its topography of bowl-like parks and lost water resource. They maintained their interest in water, prompted by public outcry against Nestle Canada’s purchase of wells near Elora, Ontario. They present an exhibit that explores this creeping infringement of corporate interests on a public resource.

KS: Even though the Nestle’s purchase of the Middlebrook well was a widely publicized event, and water bottling has gotten a lot of press since then, the process for official public comment on the issue was hard to find unless you knew where to look. The Ontario government posts notices of environmentally significant proposals, like Nestle’s permit to take water, to the Environmental Registry website. It’s a very utilitarian site, and the periods of time that it accepts comments from citizens are poorly promoted. For our Grow Op piece, we have aggregated these found public comments to ensure they are read. The moratorium on water purchasing ends in 2019 and we are keen to see what happens after that.

CD: We like the multi-disciplinary vibe of Grow Op, the mix of ideas and differing perspectives. Our work imagines a future water bottling company that ignorantly relies on the local sourcing of water as a positive factor, as they tout: ‘Buy Local Water’!

KS: Grow Op felt like a great place to expose this situation.


CD: I wonder what it would be like if city councils and committees retained more artists, having them integrated into decision-making, such as water and waste management issues. I think having artists at the table would be great.

KS: I am encouraged by, and want to foster, ever greater community activism, we need to bring attention to these issues.

Katie Strang and Christine Dewancker present an exhibit that explores the creeping infringement of corporate interests on a public resource. IMAGE/ D & S Projects


Aisling O’Carroll (AO) and Sara Jacobs (SJ)


Aisling O’Carroll and Sara Jacobs completed their Master in Landscape Architecture together and saw the Grow Op exhibit as a way to reconnect on shared interests by engaging in a public discussion on the making and reading of urban landscapes. Their project considers the range of materials and elements in our common, everyday surroundings; and the extent of construction and maintenance that goes into their ongoing production. Here they present Catalogue No. 32, a collection of tools and instruments used in the making and maintaining of urban landscapes.

AO: Landscape architecture is a process of making and we wanted to unpack that. Many elements in the spaces we inhabit become so familiar to us that we overlook them as part of our urban landscape—we decided to investigate each through the tools used to shape and construct them. Part of our interest was to question the relationship between these tools and the forms or aesthetics they produce.

SJ: We are interested in how ubiquitous landscape aesthetics reflect social and regional preferences, but are also the result of technological development in the design of tools. For example, the popularity of manicured lawns in North America and the development of the lawn mower. The tools and their products carry with them cultural values. We looked at a range of tools—from hand-held to industrial scales—and each are reflective of various methods and scales of urban landscapes.

AO: The diverse audience of Grow Op is appealing to us; everyone registers landscape in a different way. It is a complex medium strongly shaped by cultural values; our exhibit is as much about the perception as the physical design.


SJ: The tension between social/cultural and material readings of landscape, how each is produced through the other, is interesting to us. We are interested in the various interpretations of this relationship by a public audience; and how a discussion of the process of making may influence our approach as designers.