Luminato Trinity Bellwoods

Abramovic's MAI Prototype lands in Trinity Bellwoods

The Luminato Festival has been successful at attracting international artists over its impressive seven years on the arts scene. But this year, there's a marked shift in programming with an eye towards attracting younger audiences, the variety that whiles away their weekends enjoying the splendors of Toronto park life.

Performers gracing the marquee in past years — Leonard Cohen, Randy Bachman, Robert Lepage — all carry a certain weight, albeit primarily with older, more affluent audiences. Performances like these have traditionally been set at familiar venues, from David Pecaut Square to the Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre.

But there's a change afoot in 2013 that embraces artists and sites that will appeal to younger audiences. Viktor&Rolf Dolls at the ROM, Gob Squad at the Festival Hub, and Future Tastes of Toronto: At the Kids Table in the Distillery all reflect a fresh energy this year.

No space downtown attracts as young and hip a crowd per square metre than Trinity Bellwoods. It's here where the urban, artistic pulse of the city can be felt.

This year, the park plays host to Marina Abramovic's MAI Prototype, the performance artist's legacy project modeled after the institute that will open in her name in Hudson, New York. It's no coincidence that Trinity Bellwoods has been chosen to host this internationally celebrated artist's new project.

Luminato Artistic Director Jorn Weisbrodt describes, "Marina wanted a place of retreat and Trinity Bellwoods seemed ideal as it is a place where people go to enjoy and sort of have this little escape into nature and [find] a serenity that pulls them out of the bustle of the city."

The park has long been a site for the city's festivals alongside tennis, slacklining, and drumming circles. But there are deeper ties between Abramovic and the milieu of Trinity Bellwoods.

While she may be the "grandmother of performance art," Abramovic has recently gained a cult following with a younger generation on the occasion of a major retrospective at MoMA. Young art enthusiasts slept overnight in round-the-block lineups for a chance to sit across the table from the revered star, spawning a documentary by Matthew Akers and the popular blog Marina Abramovic Made Me Cry.

Actor James Franco is among the familiar faces shown taking part. It's not a far stretch to consider Franco as a stand-in for the Trinity Bellwoods ilk, a hip crowd with an appreciation for art that's elevated by a contemporary sophistication and an awareness of what's going on in the city. The park has become grazing ground for this connected group of young people.

One of Abramovic's major tenents is that durational performance helps the public reconnect to reality. The MAI Prototype features a series of durational exercises that will encourage participants to rediscover the qualities of the material world, making the familiar unfamiliar. Akin to staring at a work of art in a gallery for an extended period, Abramovic challenges participants to peer deeper into our activities.

A weekend at Trinity Bellwoods is in itself an exercise in durational relaxation. The abundant greenery and conditions ripe for people watching render the space a vortex where time is fluid and technological devices lose jurisdiction. Park life here seems to exist outside of our traditional clock. The conditions encourage a more firm connection with organic architecture and the park's many inhabitants.

These qualities combine to make Trinity Bellwoods a performative space all its own — the agents and actions of the park a reflection of the city's collective, urban ambition. The jugglers, flower headbands, and musical interludes project a certain artistic necessity. It's a social performance that differs from the scene that unfolds on a Monday morning on Bay Street, for instance, but it's even distinct enough from the mood of Withrow or High Park.

Weisbrodt describes Trinity Bellwoods as a site bound by an "invisible border" where decompression serves as a "counterbalance to city life and its busy streets, high rises and traffics."

While it may appear to be a weekend haunt, a place where bohemian dreams become reality, Trinity Bellwoods is also a hotbed of performance. The Queen West locale, anchored by decades of a past avant-garde history, is the vibrant habitat of Toronto's youth. Luminato, in collaboration with Abramovic, hopes to showcase the park's performance potential for a younger generation of eager participants.

Photo by Canadian Art

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