“Groundcover”: Transforming Archival Gardiner Photos

August 8, 2023

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.

This summer, we’re publishing a series of essays, interviews, and other stories that explore the themes of Beyond Concrete, a season of programs that explore the urban ecosystem beneath the Gardiner Expressway, where human-made infrastructure intertwines with flora and fauna.

Below, the artist speaks about the work and reveals some of the source images she used.

Groundcover is a series of images that began with City of Toronto archival photographs of the Gardiner Expressway under construction in the 1950s. These were images in which the Gardiner looked like it was being built up and broken down simultaneously. I first tinted the archival photos blue on the computer, because blue reminded me of blueprints, the underground rivers of the city, and the sky above. I printed and re-photographed these blue-tinted archival images, then took the film I used and buried it in the bioswales on the Bentway site. Repetition and cycles were part of the process from its earliest stages.

After time passed, we dug up the negatives to discover that the original photos had been transformed—the moisture and environment had created new images on top of what had been lost. I engaged in a similar process about ten years ago for another project, in Puerto Rico, and I was glad to revisit and expand my thinking around this process.

Like groundcover plants that shape what’s in the soil below, this process was a meditation on the temporal and reciprocal nature of the Gardiner and its ecologies. The bioswale and its plants help manage stormwater and remove pollutants from the ground. Apart from that, how do they shape each other? Some of the final, transformed images recall the bottom of the ocean or skyscapes, maps of the city’s underground rivers, or even scientific slides. I’m excited by their potential to swing between macro and micro, past and present, the visible and the out-of-sight. I was even more excited about finding out what would happen if the landscape and the environment played an active role in the image-making process, rather than simply describing the surface of the landscape by photographing it. It’s an important way for the work to embody my belief that we are a part of nature, not separate from it. I hope that, as people learn about the work, they think beyond such binary distinctions (us and nature) and recognize the complexity  of our relationships to places.

This is my first time presenting art in a public environment and I’m eager to see how the natural environment under the Gardiner continues to shape the work. Will the prints begin to chip and peel? I appreciate the open-endedness of encountering art, the way its meanings lodge within you and change over time, never quite fixed.

– Genesis Báez

Watch an interview with Genesis: