BEYOND CONCRETE

Summer 2023 | May 26 – September 24

As Toronto wrestles with important questions about the Expressway and its future, The Bentway invited the city to explore the overlooked nature of the Gardiner. Visitors discovered 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. 

During this summer season, visitors encountered an otherworldly creature that coiled around the Expressway, illustrating the tangled relationship between waste and wildlife; saw the highway anew through photographs developed in collaboration with the soil and water; listened to the wind and appreciated its power in shaping our cities; participated in a speculative history of the Gardiner featuring plants and animals from across deep time; congregated with local birds and insects and saw the city’s urban development from their perspective; experienced lichen up close and learned how it models new ways of being in relationship with our infrastructure, and one another.

In summer of 2023, we offered a constellation of free installations, performances, conversations, and events that explored 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

Full Program

  • Balete Bulate Bituka
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    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.

  • The Benchway
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    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.

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

  • Dancers in plastic bottle costumes dancing under the Gardiner
    Beyond Concrete Opening Night Party (2023)

    Celebrate the launch of Beyond Concrete, and the start of summer, with a party on the Skate Trail. Featuring an energetic performance by the Aliens of Manila! Experience the art while you mix, mingle, and dance!

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

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

  • 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.

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

  • An individual speaking into a microphone in front of a crowd of participants sitting on chairs, underneath the Gardiner Expressway.
    Opening Weekend Talks, Tours, and Workshops
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    Join us at our Beyond Concrete Opening Weekend for a series of talks, tours, and workshops that explore the unique urban ecosystem that thrives under the Gardiner.

  • A group of people doing headstands. Their legs are bare and in the air while their heads are covered with a long upside down skirt.
    WOODS
    Saturday May 27 (performances at 1:30pm and 3:30pm) & Sunday May 28 (performances at 1:30pm and 3:30pm)

    A forest of upside-down human bodies grows out of the concrete, set against Toronto’s high-rise horizon. In WOODS, performers’ bodies struggle to maintain their verticality, calling attention to the struggle faced by nature itself: How long can the body resist? How long can our forests survive?

  • Two people standing inside a large enclosure made of colourful plastic tarp.
    Eco-Art Workshops
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    Taking inspiration from the Beyond Concrete installations, participants are invited to experiment with the same practices, materials, and ecologies showcased this season through a series of creative workshops.

  • The Bentway Animal Parade

    Join a community parade honouring the resilient urban animals who persist along highways and streets, with special guest Little Amal. Local residents are invited to create their own animal mask or welcome flag celebrating Little Amal’s visit to The Bentway on June 10. Presented with Luminato Festival Toronto, with creations by Red Pepper Spectacle Arts.

  • Young woman wearing purple yoga top and shorts sitting cross-legged on the floor. She is holding two tuning instruments with three glass bowls in front of her.
    Wellness Workshops
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    Join us in a monthly series to experience The Bentway environment as a space where we can gather to pause, ground, reset and drop into our senses together. Each session we will explore different techniques of getting to know ourselves, what we need, and how to nurture this through mindful different activities and movements.

  • Young woman wearing purple yoga top and shorts sitting cross-legged on the floor. She is holding two tuning instruments with three glass bowls in front of her.
    Tools For Care with Renelyn Quinicot: June

    Join us in a monthly series to experience The Bentway environment as a space where we can gather to pause, ground, reset and drop into our senses together. Each session we will explore different techniques of getting to know ourselves, what we need, and how to nurture this through mindful different activities and movements.

  • Two library carts with reading materials are outside on a patio. There is an A-frame sign next to them with the text "Eco Library Pop-up".
    Eco-Library Pop-up
    Thursdays-Saturdays until Sep 18,

    A pop-up library at The Bentway Studio (55 Fort York Blvd), facing Canoe Landing Park, offers reading materials and activities for the whole family – curated with the Toronto Public Library Fort York branch, Art Metropole, and other collaborators.

  • Group of workshop participants walking under the Gardiner and rolling cans attached to string.
    Walking Workshops
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    Participate in walks across the Gardiner corridor paired with hands-on learning experiences such as urban foraging, local flora and fauna identification, and exploring the sights and sounds of the Bentway.

  • Group of workshop participants standing under the Gardiner
    Gardiner Green Pockets and Urban Nature Walk with Toronto Field Naturalists

    Join the current president of Toronto Field Naturalists, Zunaid Khan and past president Ellen Schwartzel as we will explore the nature pockets in and around The Bentway.

  • Earth Dreams: A Summer Party for Grief & Love

    Artist studio Nocturnal Medicine, known for their recent “Rave For Eco Grief” in New York, present a contemporary festival that centres both joy and sorrow, dancing and meditation, as we confront our planetary health crisis. Equal parts DJ dance party and urban ritual.

  • Tools For Care with Renelyn Quinicot: July

    Join us in a monthly series to experience The Bentway environment as a space where we can gather to pause, ground, reset and drop into our senses together. Each session we will explore different techniques of getting to know ourselves, what we need, and how to nurture this through mindful different activities and movements.

  • Two library carts with reading materials are outside on a patio. There is an A-frame sign next to them with the text "Eco Library Pop-up".
    Events at the Eco-Library
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    Join us for a series of literary events at The Bentway Studio’s Eco Library Pop-Up. From an author talk about interconnectedness in the city to family-friendly story time, there’s something for all ages!

  • Tools For Care with Renelyn Quinicot: August

    Join us in a monthly series to experience The Bentway environment as a space where we can gather to pause, ground, reset and drop into our senses together. Each session we will explore different techniques of getting to know ourselves, what we need, and how to nurture this through mindful different activities and movements.

  • A performer wearing all black strutting on a stage surrounded by large crowds on all sides.
    The Bentway Block Party

    The Bentway Block Party is back! Join us for our annual signature event with a full program of performances, music, street food and drink, art workshops, summertime vibes, and community celebration. All free, all are welcome.

  • Goldenrod Foraging and Natural Dyeing Workshop with Julia Rose Sutherland

    Join Julia Rose Sutherland in collaboration with The Bentway for an immersive and eco-conscious workshop where we’ll take a unique stroll under the Gardiner Expressway, exploring the urban landscape and foraging for native species of goldenrod.

  • Tools For Care with Renelyn Quinicot: September

    Join us in a monthly series to experience The Bentway environment as a space where we can gather to pause, ground, reset and drop into our senses together. Each session we will explore different techniques of getting to know ourselves, what we need, and how to nurture this through mindful different activities and movements.

  • Dual image of a record player, and of workshop participants under the Gardiner
    Loop Sessions Toronto: Bentway Sound Art Jam

    Join us for a site-specific walk where you’ll learn to make field recordings and use vinyl records to create new soundscapes with Loop Sessions Toronto.

  • Two dancers wearing black suits and recycled waste costumes walking out of smoke. Blue and red light in the background.
    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.

dive deeper

As a complement to the Beyond Concrete public program, The Bentway published a series of essays, dialogues, audio recordings, and portfolios to dive deeper into the conversation. 

With Frontier’s Brian Sholis as guest editor, we heard from experts around the world who engage with urban ecosystems in their daily work and have unique perspectives to offer. 

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.

Beyond Concrete artist Leeroy New and Montreal-based artist Kelly Jazvac connect about the practice, poetry, and production of public art.

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.

Beyond Concrete guest editor Brian Sholis talks with Matthew Gandy, author of Natura Urbana, about the ecology of concrete, engineered versus spontaneous landscapes, and the politics of design language.