Summer 2023 | May 26 – September 24

As Toronto wrestles with important questions about the Expressway and its future, The Bentway invites the city to explore the overlooked nature of the Gardiner. Visitors will discover a thriving urban ecosystem beneath the highway, where human-made infrastructure intertwines with resilient flora and fauna, growing in spite of, and because of, the concrete.

Standing four storeys tall and stretching 6.5 kilometres across Toronto’s downtown core, the Gardiner Expressway is an imposing piece of infrastructure. At first glance, you might notice the concrete, steel, and the traffic above, but what if you look closer… and listen deeper?

With its vast, seemingly infinite columns that snake their way across the central waterfront, some have said the Gardiner resembles a canyon.* In this urban canyon pigeons roost; foxes dash by stealthily; resilient opportunistic plants insist on growing; water, wind, and salt compete with concrete as principal materials. Even trash plays an unexpected role: not only as a form of litter we see all too often, but as the essential foundation for the human-built infill the highway stands on. 

Encounter an otherworldly creature that coils around the Expressway, illustrating the tangled relationship between waste and wildlife; see the highway anew through photographs developed in collaboration with the soil and water; listen to the wind and appreciate its power in shaping our cities; participate in a speculative history of the Gardiner featuring plants and animals from across deep time; congregate with local birds and insects and see the city’s urban development from their perspective; experience lichen up close and learn how it models new ways of being in relationship with our infrastructure, and one another.

This summer, join us for a constellation of free installations, performances, conversations, and events that explore the ways urban nature and the built environment can co-exist, entangle, even collaborate, proposing new possibilities for adaptive, resilient public spaces under the highway, and across the city. 

*Ogimaa Mikana

dive deeper

Brian Sholis, guest editor, introduces our new Beyond Concrete story series, and frames this series of essays and interviews that will roll out all summer long.

Zunaid Khan, nature photographer and president of the Toronto Field Naturalists, gets up close and personal to capture the flora and fauna of the dynamic natural world living under the Gardiner Expressway.

In this conversation with Kelly Alvarez Doran, he speaks about how he came to focus on sustainability in architecture, the design work he did in Africa, the challenges to sustainability in North America posed by construction-industry habits, and how we can begin lowering the embodied carbon in our cities.

Brooklyn-based artist Genesis Báez gives us a closer look at Groundcover, her contribution to Beyond Concrete, and the process of its creation. The installation features archival images of the Gardiner Expressway that Baéz re-photographed and buried in the soil beneath the highway.

Full Program

  • Large sheets of yellow fabric attached to a tall metal frame blowing in the wind.

    What can the wind teach us about our city’s infrastructure and our own needs for comfort? Atmospheres manifests this powerful force into a series of soaring soft sculptures, sound, and video that both generates and visualizes environmental data collected under the Gardiner.

  • Balete Bulate Bituka

    An otherworldly creature germinates at The Bentway, its parasitic tentacles emerging from the history of waste materials used as landfill to create the solid ground where the Gardiner now sits. Woven with bamboo, living plants, and locally-sourced discarded plastics, Leeroy New’s first North American commission presents nature reasserting itself amidst concrete infrastructure.

  • Bentempus Gardinus: A Long-Exposure Ecological Portrait
    May 26 to Sep 24, 2023 – Viewable 24 hours a day

    Geometric animal sculptures emerge from the Gardiner, representing species who’ve inhabited this place across time – from prehistoric woolly mammoths to sly modern foxes. Alex Sheriff’s speculative new work uncovers each of their stories and reconsiders our own role within natural history.

  • 4 video screens are displayed inside a black ship container.

    Remarkable, powerful, and resilient, “lichen” are ancient and diverse life forms, both an individual and a community. Anishinaabe filmmaker Lisa Jackson re-imagines her acclaimed short film as a multi-media installation and invites us to learn from lichen about being in relation to our environment and one another.

  • A collection of wooden seats made of wooden frames and birdhouses with steel and rock bases.
    Multispecies Lounge

    At The Bentway Studio facing Canoe Landing Park, a new set of public furniture invites interspecies-encounters with urban wildlife. Through UV-painted details, the piece offers glimpses of how birds and insects see beyond the human eye and offers a more-than-human lens through which to experience the urban ecosystem.

  • Film image of abstract blue forms displayed on large wooden frame on a grassy patch underneath the Gardiner highway.

    Photographer Genesis Báez co-creates with the soil and stormwater below the Gardiner, burying film underground beneath the highway to absorb the surrounding landscape. Developing and displaying the images at large-scale reveals the reciprocal nature of the Expressway and its ecology. Co-presented with the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

  • The Benchway

    Bentway Public Space Fellow Ella Hough’s Benchway public furniture project starts a conversation about the waste produced by the private construction industry, its impact on our city, and the potential for a circular economy approach instead.

  • The Aliens of Manila
    Nuit Blanche, September 23 with performances at 10pm, 11pm, 12am, 1am

    A companion to his installation at The Bentway, Leeroy New’s The Aliens of Manila is a set of sculptural costumes made from locally-sourced discarded plastics. At first glance eye-catching and whimsical, the Aliens call attention to experiences of overseas Filipino workers as an essential, yet invisible workforce across the globe.