peter riedel

Toronto man creates gravity-defying structures by balancing rocks along the shoreline

Some artists create pieces to last generations in an attempt to immortalize beauty in the form of a painting or statue, but sometimes the most impactful artwork of all is as temporary as life itself. 

And that's exactly the kind of art Toronto resident Peter Riedel creates when he spends hours balancing rocks on the shoreline only for them to be washed away mere days later — something he's been doing for nearly 16 years. 

Riedel first arrived in Toronto in 2005 after going through a tragedy in his personal life. He had never been to the city before and didn't know a soul, so he spent much of his time in solitude. 

One day, while sitting alone at Sunnyside Beach, he remembered watching a man build a structure out of rocks in Vancouver's Stanley Park years ago.

"It completely mesmerized me," he told blogTO.

So, without any prior knowledge of the art of rock balancing, he got up and started to stack. And it wasn't long before he was hooked. 

"It was really for mental escape and peace and quiet of the mind," Riedel said, adding that he'd work on three creations a week when he first started rock balancing, with each structure taking between four and six hours to complete.

"It was really something very meditative and continues to be for me more than anything."

In his early days, Riedel said he knew nothing of the rock balancing pros, such as renowned artist Andy Goldsworthy. But as he became more invested in the practice, he was introduced to all different kinds of work, and the endless possibilities excited him. 

Now, roughly 16 years after working on that first piece, Riedel is still creating gravity-defying structures in spots around the GTA, and his most recent piece could be found at Len Ford Park in South Etobicoke until it was washed away by the snow, wind and waves from Tuesday's storm

Although it only stood for a couple of days, Riedel said many passersby approached him to thank him for his work, with two people even offering to tip him as a token of their appreciation. 

"So many people will stop and thank me and compliment and tell me how peaceful it is for them or how meditative it is for them and it's really nice," he said. "It's certainly not my intention but it's really nice to hear that that's how it's received."

More than anything, Riedel said he balances rocks for the meditativeness of the activity, and he certainly doesn't expect or want money from anyone that just happens to see and appreciate one.

And that's partly why he isn't perturbed by the fact that these structures sometimes disappear in nearly the same amount of time as it takes to construct them.

"If they never fell or disappeared, I would run out of spots to build. As I'm building them, I know they'll last a day or two. They're very temporary which is the reason I take photos to kind of have them live on in that way because people have often come the next day to see if they're there and they're gone already," he said.

"They're very temporary but it creates a clean slate, new opportunities, new ideas."

Only when he sees someone purposefully knocking the structures over does he get frustrated, but Riedel said that fortunately doesn't happen too often. 

"In the past I've done long-distance running, I've done Tai Chi, meditation, but my mind always goes somewhere else while I'm doing it," he explained.

"So for me, this is the first thing, and I only started doing it when I was 45, and it was the first time in my life that I experienced a total effortless escape of thinking of nothing."

Lead photo by

Peter Riedel

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