Authors: United Visual Artists Location: Toronto, Canada Commissioners: Cadillac Fairview, Lanterra Developments, Maple Leaf Sports Public Art Consultants: Public Art Management – Karen Mills and Justin Ridgeway Dimensions: 90 metres x 3 metres Project Year: 2010 Photographs: James Medcraft, United Visual Artists, 2010
Inspired by the experience of walking through the dappled light of a forest, Canopy employs mass production and precise fabrication to evoke and reflect nature. Thousands of identical modules, their form abstracted from the geometry of leaves, are distributed in a non-repeating growth pattern. During the day, apertures in the modules filter natural light to the street below. After dusk, particles of artificial light are born, navigate through the grid and die, their survival determined by regions of energy sweeping across the structure. The result simultaneously recalls the activity of cells within a leaf, leaves in a forest canopy, or a city seen from the air.
United Visual Artists (UVA) was commissioned by Public Art Management to create a permanent installation for Maple Leaf Square in Toronto, Canada. Given a pedestrian sidewalk as the site for the work, we wanted to create a work that people could connect to, immerse themselves within, and almost escape momentarily from the hard environment of the city.
We set out to create a sculpture that simultaneously evoked man made rationality, natural irregularity, and blurred the distinction between the two. The result was Canopy, a work consisting of over 8000 identical polygonal modules which together form a 90 meter long organic mesh suspended above the sidewalk. Canopy is a regimented grid whose modules recall crystalline materials, the cells of leaves, and the shape of the maple leaf itself. The modules grow outwards from seed locations to colonise the grid, subsequently not every cell is occupied by a module
During the day, natural light reflects and refracts through apertures in the modules to the pavement below; at night, the canopy comes to life. Particles of light are born, move around their environment, and then die. The particles thrive or perish according to the whims of larger, cloud-like regions of energy that sweep across the canopy. Although the piece is hard, angular and mechanical, the overall impact is softer and more organic – reminiscent of a forest canopy, with dappled light modulated by passing weather systems.
The location of the artwork in downtown Toronto encourages a different interpretation. Canopy can be read as a city seen from the air – the particles of light become people navigating the sidewalks, vehicles moving through traffic, or the continuously changing lights in the windows of the condominiums that surround the site. Canopy is a meditation on the essential commonality between what we think of as ‘artificial’ and ‘natural’ processes – in both cases, the action of multitudes of short-lived entities creates a large, long-lived complex system – the “city” and the “forest”.