Bringing Down Giants: Duane Linklater’s Public Commission in the Don Valley River Park

by Anna Kovler

People in Toronto refer to the Don River Valley Park as a refuge from the congestion of the city, with its long and lush strip of trees and trails skirting along the river. Two hundred years ago this might have been true. Today, the chorus of the cicadas and crickets in the mid-summer park cannot compete with the loud hum of the highway. The subway rattles overhead, passing over the massive Prince Edward Viaduct, which was constructed in 1918 to connect Bloor Street on the west with Danforth Avenue on the east. Originally dubbed the “Road to Nowhere” – since the east side of Toronto was sparsely populated at the time – the century old nickname for the bridge rings true again, only for different reasons. Energy towers and power lines hover above the canopy of trees, and the Don River sits murky and stagnant, its greenish brown water barely suitable for a few ducks. This polluted nexus of industry, energy, and transportation is where Duane Linklater’s new public sculptures, a series of concrete gargoyles, dwell.

 

Sculpted as replicas of actual gargoyles found on significant buildings in Toronto, the fallen gatekeepers lie in a grouping beside a thicket of stinging nettles along the walking and biking trail. The sting of the nettle, a medicinal and edible plant native to North America, is a perfect metaphor for the sting of Linklater’s gesture. Gargoyles have long been symbols of Western power, becoming an important architectural feature on Gothic cathedrals in Medieval Europe. Their function was to scare people into going to church, and more practically, to act as rain spouts. Today gargoyles reign over civic buildings too, their eternally open mouths and bulging eyes demanding loyalty to the country. National loyalty doesn’t come naturally to Linklater, an Omaskêko Cree artist from Moose Cree First Nation. By bringing down the gargoyles from their perch, he renders them impotent, their exaggerated features becoming funny and awkward from up close, too silly to frighten anyone.

 

What are the Gargoyles protecting, now that they are down on the earth? Repurposed by Linklater, perhaps the mythical figures ought to scare joggers, cyclists, and dog walkers into becoming better stewards of the land, and to wonder what it was like here before the “Road to Nowhere” was built, before the water in the river was brown.

 

Duane Linklater’s public sculpture commission, Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality was curated by Kari Cwynar with support from Evergreen, a Canadian charity with the mission to transform public landscapes into thriving community spaces and restoring the health of local ecologies. This is a long-term installation that was unveiled on September 23, 2017.


Duane Linklater, Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality, 2017. Photo by Yuula Benivolski, courtesy of Evergreen.

 


Duane Linklater, Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality, 2017. Photo by Yuula Benivolski, courtesy of Evergreen.

 


Duane Linklater, Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality, 2017. Photo by Yuula Benivolski, courtesy of Evergreen.