The second mouth of the Don River: an open rehearsal

September 24 8:00AM - September 25, 2022 8:00PM

Event Information:
All bodies – water bodies, bodies of knowledge, people – were invited to Polson Pier [11 Polson St, Toronto, ON M5A 1A4] on Saturday, September 24, for any duration of time between 8am and 8pm as performers in an open rehearsal.

From the vantage point of Polson Pier, standing in what is projected as a significant park, one can view the twin mouths of the Don River. While rivers split all the time through the interactions of water, earth, and time, the Don’s second mouth is a work of design that was first simulated and then mechanically sculpted. At one time the Don was singular in its flow, now performatively twinned, the concrete Keating Channel is paired with a meandering sequence of marshes. An instrumental landscape, their design aims to hold back future one-in-one hundred year storms from inundating Toronto’s Portlands. A pragmatic initiative to renew industrial lands deemed obsolete, Toronto’s real estate expands with the creation of dry ground for a new neighbourhood. Its current form is the outcome of a 2007 architectural competition, and having weathered the “world-class-city” ferris-wheel-machinations of a former mayor, is now the site for a new debate about what constitutes the good city: towers for all, or a European transposition.

Against the backdrop of the Villiers Island earth work, the cause of the Don River’s bifurcation, performers engaged multiple ways of knowing the coming flood.

Responding to the history, concepts, and visual language of flood simulations – vital in formalizing the design of the second mouth – this project offers a sequence of score-based prompts that dwells upon the speed, and viscosity of the Don River as it floods. Since these concepts were first created in support of the Manhattan project (1942-1945) – leading to invention and use of the atomic bomb – this project’s performative scores are written in the procedural style of late 1940s computer punch cards. As machinic and organic metaphors flow in both directions – say, a human’s bandwidth, or machine’s memory – the scores presume a latent potential in the performers’ bodies to themselves ‘compute’ fluid dynamics.

As the Manhattan project concluded, artists developed polemical aesthetics as an existential call to reflect the grave capacity of industrialised societies. Performance artists of this time articulated new strategies for creating empathetic forms with their bodies. These image-based visualisations, in which an artist mentally held an image and inhabited it with their whole body, created alternative choreographic potentials in contrast to technique, or narrative. Located in this tradition, each score simply offers an opening into experience and doesn’t presume a correct form, or an idealised body of a performer. In this regard, each performer's interpretation of each score merely adds to the infinite depth of the open rehearsal.

While ecological historian William Cronon differentiated untouched place – first nature – from its industrially cultivated iteration, second nature. Having perhaps never experienced first nature, nostalgia instead preserves and reproduces the latter. Or, in an example Cronon provides from Chicago, sidewalks elevated 2-storeys above the muddy-earth become the new ground and then just as quickly simply the ground. Villiers Island – now more than fifteen-years after the original competition – is still in formation. On one hand, it presents a vision of design’s capacity to imagine alternative futures: to repel the flood. While on the other hand it extends the bloody-mindedness that creates conditions for a second kind of being under water. Unearthing the historical tools of flood simulations frames a discussion about the conundrum of ‘visionary’ and ‘visionless’ forms of modernity in the present-day.

Simon Rabyniuk is an architectural researcher and PhD candidate in the Department of the Built Environment at Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands. He received his Master of Architecture degree from the University of Toronto in 2019. The previous year, he received the Howarth-Wright Travel Fellowship supporting research on the integration of civilian drones into city skies that culminated in the Dronesphere Colloquium. Prior to these studies, he was a principal at the research, art, and design studio Department of Unusual Certainties. He currently teaches at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto.

Part of Implicit Choreographies & Relational Topographies

All images courtesy of Ananna Rafa and Pumice Raft.