Fleeting traces on our wintry landscape

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Sonja Hinrichsen. Aerial photo of Snow Drawings at Rabbit Ears Pass, Colorado 2012

Artist Sonja Hinrichsen is not interested in creating lasting artworks, particularly not in nature. Instead, her ‘environmental interventions’ are temporary installations; swiftly documented and living on in photographs.

“I feel like this planet is so scarred already through human activity and I don’t feel like I want to add more traces as an artist.”

The ongoing community arts project ‘Snow Drawings’ is Hinrichsen’s way of helping us regain a greater awareness of the natural world around us. Her walk patterns largely take the form of swirls and concentric circles, casting designs onto pristine snow surfaces. In a single unbroken line, they follow the contours of the landscape — whirling, meandering, accentuating — and create a visual texture across otherwise blank stretches. These sprawling drawings are short-lived, threatened by snowdrifts and melting.

Here is what she has been able to do with a herd of 50 volunteers donning snowshoes and unleashed onto the open landscape:

Sonja Hinrichsen. Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake, Colorado 2013

Sonja Hinrichsen. Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake, Colorado 2013

Sonja Hinrichsen. Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake, Colorado 2013

Sonja Hinrichsen. Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake, Colorado 2013

Sonja Hinrichsen. Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake, Colorado, 2013

Sonja Hinrichsen. Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake, Colorado 2013

Sonja Hinrichsen. We Are The Water -- Snow Drawing project, Colorado 2014

Sonja Hinrichsen. We Are The Water — Snow Drawing project, Colorado 2014

Inspiration to create the snow drawings stemmed from an artist residency in the Colorado Rockies in the winter of 2009. In the winters that have followed, she has created designs on sweeping ‘canvases’ – wide-open fields and frozen lakes – in northern New Mexico, NY, and Colorado.

You may want to compare and contrast this with fractals and crop circles and to consider what the impermanence of this work brings to your enjoyment of it.

Sonja Hinrichsen. Snow Drawings, Snowmass Village, Colorado 2009

Sonja Hinrichsen. Snow Drawings, Snowmass Village, Colorado 2009

Sonja Hinrichsen. Snow Drawings, Snowmass Village, Colorado 2009

Sonja Hinrichsen. Snow Drawings, Snowmass Village, Colorado 2009

I discovered the artist in a recent article about her snow studies in the Huffington Post. Below are some of Hinrichsen’s explorations at the other end of the scale: pen & ink drawings resembling microorganisms; and, embroidered words on the leaves of a fruit-bearing fig tree.

Sonja Hinrichsen. Wall-size drawing.

Sonja Hinrichsen. Wall-size drawing in pen & ink.

Sonja Hinrichsen. Wall-size drawing.

Sonja Hinrichsen. Wall-size drawing in pen & ink.

Sonja Hinrichsen. Paradise Tree, Southern Spain 2008

Sonja Hinrichsen. Paradise Tree, Southern Spain 2008

Sonja Hinrichsen. Paradise Tree, Southern Spain 2008. Documented on video and in print

Sonja Hinrichsen. Paradise Tree, 2008. Documented on video and in print.

Federico Babina’s illustrated series

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Babina creates street scenes made up of 26 individual letter compositions.

Here’s a random injection of colour into your day from a guy who has unlimited material to draw from. Italian architect and graphic artist Federico Babina turns out dozens upon dozens of illustrations exploring the intersection of architecture and related design fields. His prolific collection of work straddles contemporary art, cinema, and music – even zoo animals. The roster in each series he produces reads like a kind of architectural Who’s Who: ‘starchitects’ like Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid feature prominently, as do modernists Oscar Niemeyer and Corb.

’A’ is shaped by the scooped profile of Alvar Aalto's Riola Parish Church roofline.

In the series entitled Archibet, Babina applies his interpretation of famous architects’ signature styles to lettering. He describes each letter as a “small surrealist building that becomes part of an imaginary city made up of different shapes and styles, all speaking the same language of architecture.” His illustrated alphabet is composed of these 26 individual works of art: ‘A’ is shaped by the scooped profile of Alvar Aalto’s Riola Parish Church roofline; ‘B’ is transformed by the deeply saturated spiritual spaces of Luis Barragán; and, Norman Foster’s technical prowess is captured in a monolithic, metallic ‘F’.

’B’ is transformed by the deeply saturated spiritual spaces of Luis Barragán.

The artist has honed a colourful illustration style that recalls vintage movie posters. To create his images he combines a collage of different techniques, from hand drawing to 3-D modelling and other visualization programs. For me, Babina’s whimsical studies summon up renowned American illustrator Charley Harper’s highly stylized wildlife illustrations, which capture the essence of his subjects with the fewest possible visual elements.

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In nature, Charley Harper saw “exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.”

Babina continues his architecture-themed series with Archimusic, imagining architectural compositions inspired by famous musicians’ hit songs and styles. Here too, his selection of artists runs the gamut from classical music composers, to rock legends, to contemporary singer-songwriters. Among the twenty-something illustrations is a hot red electric guitar-shaped building in the characteristic style of Jimmy Hendrix and one that echoes the repetitive structures of Philip Glass’ music.

Babina draws structures inspired by musicians’ hit songs, style, and album art.

Babina draws structures inspired by musicians’ hit songs, style, and album art.

Babina is the Barcelona-based illustrator who produced Archicine, posters featuring iconic architecture from classic movies. His retro graphic style offers a fresh interpretation of the places where some of our favourite characters lived, such as the ultra-modern, ultra-unfriendly Villa Arpel in Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, and the striking mid-century redwood abode in A Single Man.

Babina’s version of Villa Arpel, the ultra-modern geometric house in <em>Mon Oncle</em>

Everything gets even further distilled in the series Archipixel. Here, the artist pairs famous architects and their buildings and renders them as pixelated cartoons, like vintage video game characters. The idea of the project, according to Babina, is to “represent the complexity of the forms and personalities through the simplicity of the pixel.”

In Archipixel, Babina pairs famous architects and their buildings and renders them as pixelated cartoons. Here, Le Corbusier and the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp are distilled down to the most basic technology, like vintage video game characters. According to Babina, the idea of the project is to “represent the complexity of the forms and personalities through the simplicity of the pixel.”

Le Corbusier and the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp.

Switching gears entirely, Babina also imagines a new life for iconic buildings from the Catalan capital in his highly detailed Immaginario series. The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (Richard Meier), Torre Agbar (Jean Nouvel), and the once-controversial Forum Building (Herzog & de Meuron) are wholly (re)contextualized here…

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While architecture junkies can collect prints and posters of Babina’s work, the artist has plans to turn his illustrated architectural series into a book. Check out his extensive portfolio at http://federicobabina.com/

NOTE: If you need to brush up on your architecture ABCs, this lively animation by architect Andrea Stinga and graphic designer Federico Gonzalez may help. The video depicts the best-known buildings of 26 famous architects, one for each letter of the alphabet.

Icelander Víkingur Ólafsson Wows Toronto

Those of us who were able to sneak away last week for a lunchtime musical interlude were treated to a recital by Víkingur Ólafsson, Iceland’s award-winning rising star pianist. ‘The Idea of the North‘ was part of a season of free concerts and dance events at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson

Víkingur Ólafsson at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.  Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The piano virtuoso made his Toronto debut performing folk songs from his native Iceland. He also paid tribute to one of his great inspirations, legendary Toronto pianist Glenn Gould, in a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

As a small child, Ólafsson trained his ear by listening in on his parents’ music lessons at home. He learned to play piano before he learned to speak.

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Víkingur Ólafsson. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

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Víkingur Ólafsson in his native Iceland. Photo courtesy of the artist.

At just 30, the young pianist displays an immense talent. Outside the concert stage, Víkingur is the driving force behind numerous innovative musical projects – a television series, Útúrdúr (roughly translated as Out-of-tune); the Reykjavík Midsummer Music festival at the Harpa Concert Hall; and, his own record label, Dirrindí.

He is wrapping up a cross-Canada tour and his busy schedule has him hopping across the globe. Catch him if you can! In the meantime, have a listen to this sampling.

Artists from around the world share their talent and passion in six series –vocal, piano, jazz, dance, chamber and world music against an ever-changing city backdrop seen from the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. For more information on the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series, see here.

Vertigo – without ever leaving the ground

Photos by Tom Ryaboi.

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this is not Toronto

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Not many of us yearn to experience the literal ‘life on the edge’. Toronto-based photographer Tom Ryaboi does. He stealthily climbs to the uppermost reach of skyscrapers to capture some pretty incredible cityscapes. His (mostly clandestine) ‘rooftopping’ exploits have taken him across the globe. His images present an entirely new perspective on urban photography.

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Shots from Toronto, Chicago, and Hong Kong – cities that know a thing or two about towers – are on display at the Canary District Presentation Gallery in Toronto. Paired with Tom’s photography is another vertigo-inducing work named “Aletide”, as part of an exclusive art exhibit called Cities of the Future.

“Aletide”, an audiovisual interactive installation by Italian artists Fabio Giampietro, Ilaria Vergani Bassi, and Paolo Di Giacomo, comes to Toronto from Milan where it was first exhibited last year. The trio collaborated with composer Alessandro Branca to create a sensory artwork that recalls our first childhood experience on a park swing – but amped up. The swinging movement, surrounded by oscillating visuals and wind-like sounds, according to observers’ first comments, “feels like soaring over a concrete and glass canyon.”

Riding Aletide, an interactive swing with vertiginous qualities. Photo by Ilaria Vergani.

Riding Aletide, an interactive swing with vertiginous qualities. Photo by Ilaria Vergani.

Aletide – Interactive installation from Paolo Di Giacomo on Vimeo.

The photographs are on view from October 18th-30th at the Canary District Presentation Gallery at 398 Front Street East in Toronto. For more information see www.CanaryDistrict.com.

Case study in Planning for Higher Education Journal

The Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) published my case study/planning story: “A Transformational Gallery for Ryerson University’s Architecture School.” It is my first contribution to an academic journal —- happy for any feedback!

Abstract: The Department of Architectural Science at Toronto’s Ryerson University was already committed to community engagement. However, the need for a permanent gallery provided a new catalyst. The collaborative nature of the integrated planning process presented the school with an opportunity to revisit its public programming mandate. The school’s transformation, through the innovative physical positioning and use of the gallery, deepens its dialogue and level of engagement both within the University and the greater community.

The full article can be downloaded here.

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First page of the article. Volume 43, Number 1 Utilize-Space | Oct–Dec 2014.

Paul H. Cocker Architecture Gallery, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University. Photo by Shai Gil.

Paul H. Cocker Architecture Gallery, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University. Photo by Shai Gil.