The bizarre and beautiful art installations taking over Toronto’s beaches this winter

The bizarre and beautiful art installations taking over Toronto’s beaches this winter

Throughout the first half of February, the lifeguard posts along Kew Beach are nothing more than towering relics of a long-forgotten summer. On February 15, however, they transform into modern marvels of public art thanks to the Winter Stations Design Competition, which brings the otherwise deserted area back to life with seven bizarre and beautiful art installations—the top designs out of 378 submissions from 49 countries—inspired by Toronto’s unpredictable winter weather: bright and sunny one day, brutally cold and slushy another. We spoke to the winning teams about the stories behind their installations.

(Image: Gabby Frank)
(Image: Gabby Frank)

Floating Ropes
Mudo (Elodie Doukhan, quoted; and Nicolas Mussche)
Montreal

“Our installation is an experiment meant to react to the particular lakeshore climate in wintertime. It’s an 11-by-11-foot cube, consisting of a ‘forest’ of ropes suspended in a very simple timber frame. We used 3,350 Manila ropes, which are a symbolic reference to the lake: it’s the type of rope that was traditionally used on sailboats. Sometimes the installation is a frozen, rigid cube of coagulating rope and melting ice; sometimes it’s tactile and fluid matrices swinging in the wind. Adventurous observers can even climb into the lifeguard chair.”

(Image: Gabby Frank)
(Image: Gabby Frank)

In The Belly of a Bear
Caitlind Brown, quoted; Wayne Garrett and Lane Shordee
Calgary

“We developed this design while part of our group was on residency in Dawson City, where the winter is fierce! It’s a 15-foot-diameter black sphere, created from scorched wood with the Japanese technique shou sugi ban, a type of wood-burning that makes a surface more fireproof and water-resistant. Viewers can climb inside the form, where they’ll emerge onto a fur-lined platform where they can sit and look out over the lake through a round acrylic window. The fur and faux-fur lining were gathered from second-hand sources; fur is inherently political, but, because cultures within Canada have long used it as a quintessential material, we are interested having a conversation. In any public space, there is uncertainty: will the work offend someone? Will it be graffitied? Will it be used for nefarious purposes, contribute to the skinned knees of children, the smooching of teenagers or the spreading of winter colds?”

(Image: Gabby Frank)
(Image: Gabby Frank)

Sauna
FFLO (James Fox, quoted; and Claire Fernley)
Kent, England

“When we heard about the theme, we immediately thought of a personal freeze-thaw process: freezing on an icy beach, thawing out in a steamy sauna. We really want people to use the sauna, and we’ve tried to make it as comfortable and as functional as possible. The interior is wood because it’s the most comfortable material to sit on when steaming. There is also a wood-burning stove, fuelled with logs stored under the lifeguard station, and there’s a bucket to collect lake water for steam. The sauna is quite narrow, just 1.2 metres wide, but that’s so it will heat up quickly.”

(Image: Gabby Frank)
(Image: Gabby Frank)

Flow
Sandbox (Victor Huynh, quoted; and Calvin Fung)
Toronto

“The design began with the reinterpretation of a single ice crystal. We used CNC milling to create identical plywood sheets that we slot-fitted together to form simple 3D ‘crystals,’ which we loosely aggregated together for a type of synthetic snow. The installation is capable of crystallizing into a solid state, but it is also malleable like a liquid because of its loose bonds. The large arch that extends up to the top of the lifeguard station was designed to speak to the snow structures constructed by Canadians every winter, such as the quinzhee.”

(Image: Gabby Frank)
(Image: Gabby Frank)

Lithoform
Ryerson University (Remi Carreiro, quoted; Teresa Mytkowski, quoted; Aris Peci and Vincent Hui)
Toronto

Remi: “Our design is influenced by the effects of frost wedging, where the continual freezing and thawing of water forms gradually deeper fissures in stone. The installation mimics that geological process, with wedge-shaped chimneys that allow colourfully filtered light into the interior.”

Teresa: “It’s made of angled panels, for an uneven surface blanketed with white fabric along the interior. We installed acrylic lights in a variety of colours to filter light against the white panels.”

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The Steam Canoe
OCADU (Mark Tholen, quoted; Curtis Ho; Jungyun Lee; Monifa Onca Charles; Reila Park; Hamid Shahi; Lambert St-Cyr; Jaewon Kim and Jason Wong)
Toronto

“The canoe is an essential vessel that symbolizes the development of Canada along millions of lakes and streams. Many cultures turned their boats upside down and used them to create shelter and longhouses. Visitors can bring piles of snow into our canoe, and the evacuated solar hydronic system will melt it, provide warm water and eventually produce a fog within the structure. We won’t reach the temperature needed to create steam, but we’ll get enough heat to achieve the same effect of a horse or cow emitting a warm breath of air on a cold, snowy winter day. The lifeguard chair will take the main focus: it’s woven into a felt nest where visitors can sit and see the fog freeze on a glass window. Because of the large, seashell-like shape, the acoustics inside are similar to being inside a wooden musical instrument.”

(Image: Gabby Frank)
(Image: Gabby Frank)

Aurora Borealis
Laurentian University (Matthew Hunter, quoted; Chris Baziw; Ra’anaa Brown; Trevor D’Orazio; Andrew Harkness; Danielle Kastelein; Ted Wilson; Patrick Daniels and Terrance Galvin)
Sudbury

“Our design consists of a 15-foot-high aluminum frame that supports a three-tiered system of differently sized wheels. At each level, there are nylon fabric tubes that have been treated with a temperature-sensitive thermo-chromatic paint. If visitors touch the tubes, they will change colour in response to body heat. As the wheels spin, those fabric tubes, each equipped with a single LED light, dance in an array of colours.”