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2007 01 03
Angle of Incident #37: GSpots & Vinepeople
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By Gary Michael Dault

Dyan Marie is a successful mid-career artist who, in the course of the last half-dozen years or so, has become as dedicated to the improvement of the troubled neighbourhood in which she and her husband, Richard Rhodes (editor of Canadian Art magazine), have been living for twenty years—and where they have brought up their two sons, Stephen and Matthew—as she is to the art she exhibits in galleries. The neighbourhood, which doesn’t have a cute name like “Bloorcourt Village” (where I live), is the area lying further west, situated amidst Bloor and Dupont, and Dufferin to the CN/CP lines, an area characterized by DIG IN (Dupont Improvement Group; Improving the Neighbourhood, a group founded a few years ago by Marie) as demonstrating “a distinct lack of enhancing, positive physical features to the neighbourhood amidst a pronounced abundance of trouble spots” [this last phrase qualifying as considerable understatement, when you factor into it the drug and prostitution problems rife in the area—plus an occasional murder and/or shooting; google “1011 Lansdowne”, for example, for an eye-opening, dispiriting look at one of the loci of the area’s unrest].

At any rate, Dyan Marie has turned her attentions as an artist to the area and has recently made it the content of her work. A few years ago, in 2002, she contrived Walk Here, which she categorizes as an “urban intervention of a community art masterplan”—a pathway which, as she put it in an interview for an article (“Track Marks”) by Andrea Curtis in Toronto Life Magazine in May, 2004, “winds its way toward Emerson Avenue, down to the now almost treeless Lappin Avenue and across the CN tracks to Campbell Street Park”, a project she saw as “an art-embedded” walking system, a sort of plein-air gallery, Curtis writes, “with individual works created by local tradespeople and artists.”

Further projects by Dyan Marie—and they seem to be tumbling forth at a rate that is hard to keep up with (she also runs her own art gallery, Dyan Marie Projects, at 1444 Dupont Street Wet (unit 31)—involve a number of interrelated and overlapping undertakings and interventions, a couple of which go by the names GSpots and Vinepeople.

GSpots are an outcropping of what she calls Spot Culture, which, as she put it in an email to me, are initiatives that “incubate art projects in spots that need attentions…such as neighbourhood billboards and store windows of [the] Bloor and Lansdowne area where empty, failed and failing businesses are common”. Her Vinepeople are introduced into these declining areas and locations where they presumably lend a quickening energy and the sort of poignant hope you feel when you see a flower growing in a crack in the concrete.

The Vinepeople begin as photographs of Marie’s family, her husband and her sons, which are then presented as silhouettes to which have been added, by computer, silhouetted images of the trees and plants found naturally in the area, as well as four species of vine (including Poison Ivy)—thus the name Vinepeople. The vines appear to be growing exuberantly from these fecund, generative figures or, contrariwise, the vines seem themselves to have grown bodies and legs, and are now cheerfully ambulatory. As part of Spot Culture, the Vinepeople end up greening the neighbourhood by appearing as signage, but also, in more fully integrated moments, incarnated as stencilled patterns on the sidewalk and (my favourite of their modulations) wrapped around, say, telephone poles—the way real vines might if they were given the chance. The Vinepeople, Marie tells me, “make gardens in places where gardens don’t exist.”

GSpots and Vinepeople dovetail (everything in Dyan Marie’s schemes and projects weave together and overlap—“like the layers of an onion”, she tells me) with Marie’s Wild Culture domain which involves what she calls “urban painting/indigenous seeds”—painting and planting. One of the moist recent of these Wild Culture manifestations originated with the Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre—which runs a graffiti arts program. There, Marie was hooked up with two well-known graffiti artists, Worth & Globe (part of a graffiti group called the GH Crew), and, working as a team, they accomplished a Wild Culture transformation of a store at Bloor and Lansdowne (see photo below), now replete with a painted, stage-set-like “flower bed” and a Vinepeople billboard. This urban flowering will continue, Marie promises, growing into new sites “where needed in 2007”.

For more information about Dyan Marie’s multi-faceted, interlocking urban renewal projects, visit her website (now under construction) at dyanmarie.com.

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[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 01/03 at 04:43 PM

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