Creating Memory sets out to document and profile Toronto’s public art

John Warkentin’s book Creating Memory’s (Becker Associates, 2010) biggest success comes from its deficiencies. A historical and cultural geographer, Warkentin sets out to document and profile Toronto’s public art by posing the question of whether you can read a country’s geography and history in its sculptures. These monuments of brass and stone, that adapted to periods in art alongside global movements in architecture and painting, created by both local and international artists of varying fame, were built to last, marking milestones and remembering us as a people.


Postcard courtesy of Erica Brisson and the Local Colour Info Centre.

The problem is that Creating Memory fails to do one thing: create a memorable impression. It reads like a series of case studies rather than an absorbing work on the subject. Warkentin lightens the mood and softens those large blocks of text with some subtle humor in this otherwise dry academic work. This, coupled with the actual design and layout of the book gives it the tone of a textbook. The book’s design is a missed opportunity. If this is a study of sculptures in Toronto, one that encourages you to tour the city and view those works, it would have benefited from the layout of a guidebook or average work of non-fiction. Instead it’s essentially a soft-cover coffee table book – interesting to read on your couch, but not worth the effort of carrying it around in the exploration of its subject.

Where the book succeeds is in provoking the reader to want to visit to the sites for themselves, especially since it has few photo references and even though they’re referred to early on in the book, it isn’t until after 50 pages that one appears.

Overall, Creating Memories’ saving grace is its potential to be used as a resources for other endeavors. Chiefly, augmented reality applications or simple guided tours for your smartphone. Imagine taking a day to hit the streets of Toronto, in your pocket is your phone with an application you’ve been itching to try. You pull out your phone, load up the app and access it’s real-time, GPS linked map and suddenly over 600 points of interest appear all over the city. You zoom in to hone your location and find you’re around the corner from Sorel Etrog’s Sunlife (1984). In a simple application of the data you could pull up a wiki on that piece and in a more involved, augmented reality program, you would be able to hold your phone up to the sculpture and using the camera of the phone the app would present to you an enhanced and interactive visual.

Another instance where the book could prove invaluable is in the work of emerging Toronto artist Erica Brisson. An ongoing project of Brisson’s called Local Colour Info Centre is a tourism centre in reverse, where the public acts as the guide and instructs Brisson on what should be included and in essence remembered, could make use of or work in tandem with Creating Memory. At its core the Local Colour Info Centre is much like an augmented reality map, in that it presents a picture of these works of art and informs through exposure. Both of which are goals of Creating Memory.

Untimely, Creating Memory works as a starting point for these other interests and therein lies its greatest value. The work stands on its own, but where it could have been a conversation it instead feels like a didactic tome. When used in a dialog, Warkentin has archived something truly great: a work about Toronto that spurs creativity, prompting the reader to start where the book leaves off.

About Yuli Scheidt

Yuli was born at the exact moment in 1986 when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded and rained down on the ocean. As a child she believed this meant she was destined for greatness in the realm of space travel and radioastronomy. Nothing remotely as awesome as that has happened so far. Instead Yuli, at the age of 18, relocated from Calgary to Ottawa where she studied photography, life sciences and graphic design before moving to Toronto. [More by Yuli]