Art Spin is a bicycle-led contemporary art tour in Toronto. The organization curates art experiences throughout the city, making it open and accessible to the public sphere in unconventional spaces. Rui Pimenta from Art Spin recounted the unique approach taken by the organizers and which recent projects have been most memorable.
Being different from a regular curation of an art exhibit at an art gallery or museum, [Space Is] asked Rui to discuss the creative process for creating unique experiences. “We see what we do as an exercise in pushing the boundaries of what constitutes public art. Unlike experiencing art in the context of a museum or gallery, we’re inspired by the idea of bringing art into more unconventional public spaces. The inspiration for how we curate takes its lead from the spaces themselves, with individual projects responding in site specific ways, be it by taking into account the history of that location or aesthetic qualities like architecture or the natural surroundings. What we determine to be the unique characteristics of a particular space is what inspires our curatorial vision, influencing our selection of the specific artist and/or project ideas that we think might be a good fit. Our curatorial process unfolds in a fairly intuitive manner that is first and foremost determined by the site and by working with our artists in a manner that is highly collaborative”.
When planning one of these events, what types of spaces are you usually attracted to? How do you find these spaces?
“We’re attracted to a wide range of spaces. Sometimes they can be quite dramatic in terms of scale or even have rich histories. We usually choose spaces that are in transition and are no longer being used in the way they were originally designed for. As a consequence, this provides an opportunity to re-imagine these spaces and impose a new creative vision onto them. We’re also attracted to spaces that are off the beaten path or not on people’s radars when they think about art - a space that doesn’t have a history of being used to exhibit art is always more exciting to us to because of the possibilities it presents. In terms of finding these spaces, Layne Hinton –my Co-curator– and I see ourselves as urban explorers, we’re excited by the city we live in and the many in-between or overlooked locations that are perfect for our purposes. Over the years we’ve developed a keen eye to look out for spaces that often times people see but don’t think about in the way we do. Programming for Art Spin has informed how we think about public space and what even constitutes public space. It’s part of a larger process that has developed and grown over time and with each project we gain more experience and understanding on how spaces can be used in unusual and engaging ways. We’re both avid cyclists, which a great way to explore and discover a city in a more intimate way. A lot of the scouting we do for locations happens by bike.”
“Toronto has been going through a very fast pace of development over the last ten years or so, and there are a lot of spaces that we’ve worked with that no longer exist. On the flip side, the frenzied pace of development also means that some spaces become available in their lead up to being developed. Our organization has functioned in a way that has run parallel to the wave of a booming real estate market and property development in our city such that our programming of alternative spaces in many ways has served as an unintentional spotlight on the pros and cons of how our city has grown and changed over that time.”
“One space that that we really enjoyed working with was the Tower Automotive Building on Sterling Road. In 2013 we reached out to the property owners and were given access, after a lot of negotiating, to use it for a multi-day group exhibition. It hadn’t been used since 2006 and we were the first to do something that opened the space to the public. It was such a monumental yet decrepit space, with no running water or washrooms and little electricity. All of those limitations really made the space that much more intriguing and interesting to work with. The rawness and sense of mystery that it exuded had a significant impact on the visiting public, something that really contributed to the feeling of exploration and excitement and stimulated what we’ve discovered to be an undeniable desire for urban exploration in our audiences.”
“The other space that comes to mind that was exciting to work with was Ontario Place for the presentation of in/future - another site that was in between purposes and without a clear sense of identity since having been decommissioned as an amusement park in 2012. When we came to it, it was something of a blank slate, which in turn allowed us work with it in a way that allowed for incredible creative freedom. We found ourselves presented with this magical opportunity to transform this space and to use it in a way that allowed us and the artists we worked with to really let our imaginations run free. This was a space with a very rich history and strong sense of nostalgia for many. Our challenge was to do something that acknowledged this past while also demonstrating real possibilities for how this site could and perhaps should be used in the future.”
[Space Is] was curious to know what inspired Rui to start Art Spin - be it other movements, artists, theories, or experiences. Incorporating bicycle tours with art and curating events using the bicycle as a characteristic medium for going through the experience. “When I founded Art Spin in 2009, I was simply bringing together two interests that were near and dear to me, cycling and art. The whole thing started innocently enough, as often happens with these types of things, with no sense that this project might extend into the future. The cycling aspect of our events was more a matter of practicality and efficiently moving a large group of people from one point to another, but it soon turned into something that our audience valued as a group experience. We quickly realized that people liked the group ride as much as the work that we presented on the tours themselves. The ride turned into a sort of group performance that allowed our audience to feel like active participants.”
“There wasn’t already an existing model that Art Spin was directly inspired by, although I had been on gallery crawls, where you walk from gallery to gallery with a tour guide, that I had really enjoyed. The one undeniable inspiration for Art Spin was Nuit Blanche. Started in Toronto in 2006, Nuit Blanche was the first project to really activate public spaces with art programming on a large scale in our city, effectively creating a sense of adventure for audiences to go out and explore their city in a radically new way. Not surprisingly it was and continues to be received by record numbers of people showing just how great our appetite is for experiencing art in public spaces actually is.
Describe your ideal or favourite event space. Have you found it? What are some features of different spaces that you have enjoyed?
“Every space we’ve used presents its own opportunities and challenges, but part of what I like most about what we do with Art Spin is that we’re always on the lookout for new spaces. The idea of going back to a space that we’ve already worked with feels somewhat anticlimactic. Ontario Place is probably the space that we’ve enjoyed working with most, but this also had a lot to do with the fact that we were able to work with that space for a longer period of time, something that allowed for more ambitious types of programming, unlike Art Spin bike tours that are highly ephemeral experiences sometimes activating a space for fifteen minutes or so.
“We like looking for locations that are somewhat untouched and haven’t been used in ways that have anything to do with art. Spaces that have a rich history are important to us, as they give us more to think about from a curatorial point of view.
We’re always on the lookout for new and interesting spaces and this year is no exception. In October we’ll be presenting an exhibition, titled Holding Patterns, in a storage locker complex with diverse art projects animating up to 30 individual storage lockers scattered throughout the building. It’s a unique space that we’ve never had a chance to work with before which is exciting and something that is sure to inspire all the artists we’ll be working with.”