For the month of October, Toronto is offering an exciting and intriguing reason to visit the oft-loathed Gardiner Expressway.

And, rest assured, it has nothing to do with cars or the return of the city’s maddening traffic

From October 1 to 30, a ‘secret room’ under the Gardiner Expressway has been transformed into a large-scale immersive art commission, presented by The Bentway and Exhibition Place.

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Set in a rarely-seen space behind the highway’s concrete in a shortage chamber, Confluence is inspired by the water systems that have shaped Toronto and invites guests to flow through the convergence of natural and human-made forces. 

Here, the star of the show is the good, old-fashioned picnic table. Taking on a variety of twisted, twirling, and contorted forms, these wooden picnic tables are arranged to evoke Toronto’s long-buried and lost rivers. 

Gardiner Expressway

Created by Maine-based artist duo Striped Canary, (Stephen B. Nguyen and Wade Kavanaugh), Confluence uses standard 2x4 lumber to form a series of undulating picnic table “waves,” which dive into and out of the concrete architecture of the Gardiner. As they wander the artwork’s fluid streams, visitors are guided by the sound work of Toronto artist Anne Bourne, composed in response to Confluence

As we envision a new future for the Gardiner Expressway, Confluence reminds us of the many forces that have influenced and continue to shape our urban environment,” says Ilana Altman, Co-Executive Director of The Bentway. “Though temporary in nature, the project’s approach to materiality, to layered histories, to navigation, and to our most prevalent public symbols both reflects on and will inform our shared landscapes below the Gardiner.”

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Though they may be an afterthought when navigating Toronto’s current concrete jungle, the city’s waterways charted important walking trails and gathering places for Indigenous peoples -- including the Mississaugas of the Credit, Anishnabeg, Chippewa, Haudenosaunee and Wendat peoples -- across millennia. Since colonization, many of Toronto’s rivers and creeks have been buried underground or rerouted to carry sewage and stormwater, demonstrating how essential resources can be irreparably altered by urban development. 

According to its creators, with its juxtaposition of the current rush of the vehicles on the Gardiner Expressway and its revisit of times past, Confluence calls for a new balance between the natural and the built forms; the present and the past; the hidden and the seen.

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“One of the ways we connect with our audiences is with a shared way of seeing,” says Striped Canary. “Confluence adopts the vernacular of public space to create an immersive environment that is at once familiar and foreign. The work will use a form that is highly recognizable -- the picnic table -- to give shape to an invisible natural phenomena, that of the waterways that have flowed beneath Toronto.”

As for the picnic tables, post-exhibition, the wood will be disassembled and distributed to a collection of community organisations for repurposing. Admission is free or pay-what-you-can but guests are required to make reservations online