Denizens of Toronto’s downtown core have a new neighbour these days: a hulking four-tonne cast-bronze sculpture, Ballast, by Los Angeles-based Canadian Jed Lind. The work’s shape suggests the prow of a ship breaking the surface at the northwest corner of Charlotte Street and King Street West, a dramatic interruption in the flow of city life. The form comes from the profile of a Great Lakes freighter of the sort that plied the waters of Lake Ontario at the turn of the last century. “This is definitely a working boat, made for carrying things,” says Lind, who installed the piece with his crew two weeks ago. “It’s not a cruiser or a yacht.” Here, it offers the idea of shelter from howling snow or blistering sun alike. It’s a meeting place – something to talk about, to dream about, to be absorbed seamlessly into this fast-morphing part of the city.
Lind has a long history with boats and building ships. Growing up in Toronto and camping in the summer, canoes were a part of his childhood. In art school at the California Institute of the Arts, and then afterwards, his interest in boats shifted gears, as he created hybrid vessel sculptures that married boat shapes with Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic grid structures, an early inspiration for the artist. “The geodesic dome doesn’t put people into corners,” Lind says. “It’s not linear; it’s soft and round.” Also, he says, the geodesic grid suggests that idea of community, of utopia. “It makes me think of the counterculture of the sixties and seventies,” a moment when the future was contemplated with a kind of rapture.
Lind also came to be fascinated by the Dutch-born Los Angeles conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, who mysteriously disappeared during a transatlantic performance/voyage in 1975, an endeavour titled In Search of the Miraculous. (His boat, Ocean Wave, was found floating unoccupied off the coast of Ireland.) Haunted by the tale, Lind went on to imagine Ader’s vessel in a series of sculptural variations, objects that evoked mystical voyages. A series of colour photographs continued in this groove, documenting the historic use of old overturned boats as improvised housing sheds in the wind-blown Shetland Islands, where wood was scarce and shelter even scarcer. In these pictures, Lind gives us structures intended for ocean travel, but repurposed by the islanders to serve the human need for putting down roots – a contradiction in formal terms.
In Toronto, Ballast continues this thought trajectory. Ships need ballast, or weight, to steady them under sail, and this structure has so much weight that it is nearly immoveable. But neighbourhoods need ballast too, and Lind’s public sculpture will serve admirably, anchoring in-swarming condo dwellers in a sense of place and history. “This used to be a part of the city where things were made,” Lind says. “I felt that, while I was getting to know the site. I remember talking to some of the construction workers here about their excavations, and the kind of stuff they had found over the years,” he says. “One of them told me about finding a dock underground,” a relic left over from the city’s earliest days. Now, where heavy industry once held sway, the new urban dwellers are taking up occupancy – the young professionals, the cultural and information workers who will build the city’s future. Lind’s Ballast rises here like a memory of a past that is soon to be submerged in time. “There’s a history beneath our feet,” says Lind, “and as soon as it is paved over, it seems to be so easy to forget.” A little less so now.