In downtown Toronto, the Gardiner Expressway is never far from the civic spotlight. A notorious site of daily — and seemingly constant — gridlock, the crumbling elevated expressway is a perennial political controversy. But as the decades-long debate about demolishing the Gardiner’s eastern flank continues, a public space has transformed a 1.75-kilometre stretch under the rebuilt section of highway west of Spadina Avenue into a civic beacon. And this month, The Bentway inaugurates its 2023 summer season with a program dubbed Beyond Concrete.

Beyond Concrete: Previewing The Bentway’s 2023 Summer Season

Running from May 26 to September 24, Beyond Concrete comprises a wide variety of curated performances, art installations, talks, events and experiences. The program explores the nature of a unique urban site as well as the broader relationships between human-made infrastructures and the ecosystems — including a wealth of urban plants and animals — that exist alongside it (and sometimes in spite of it), springing up through the concrete cracks.

A rendering of Balete Bulate Bituka by Leeroy New, debuting as part of Beyond Concrete at The Bentway.

A rendering of Balete Bulate Bituka by Leeroy New.

Kicking off with an opening night party on May 26, the eclectic yet thematically focused program includes the inaugural North American commission by Filipino artist Leeroy New, the otherworldly Balete Bulate Bituka. A seemingly parasitic creature — woven with bamboo, living plants, and hundreds of locally-sourced discarded plastics — emerges from a landscape that was once a landfill, as if unearthing the history of human intervention that created the site now occupied by the expressway.

Leeroy New at work on the installation.

Leeroy New at work on the installation. PHOTO: David Laboy

New’s striking installation will be joined by Buffalo- and Austin-based Double Happiness, photographer Genesis Báez, Tkaronto-based Lisa Jackson, as well as works by Public Visualization Lab/Studio and Alex Sherrif. During this month’s opening weekend, New and Báez will also host a free public talk, while a performance of The Aliens of Manila promises to be a highlight of the opening night party.

For The Bentway, the summer program represents another milestone. “The Gardiner is so much more than the concrete, traffic, and debates we’ve become used to (in fact The Bentway has already helped reveal that),” says Anna Gallagher-Ross, Senior Manager of Programming at The Bentway. “We’re excited to be working with artists from Toronto and around the world to consider, in the midst of a rapidly changing climate, the ways in which urban nature and the built environment can co-exist, entangle, even collaborate.”

Beyond Concrete: Previewing The Bentway’s 2023 Summer Season

PHOTO: Brandon Ferguson.

The thought-provoking program will be rounded out with a dose of summer fun, including the return of The Bentway’s al fresco dining experience, Communal Table, and the popular roller skating program. A full schedule of Beyond Concrete events is available at The Bentway website.

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