The Great Lakes: HOMES
A popular mnemonic device for teaching school-age children the names of the great lakes is HOMES for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. But if the notion of home is the very exemplar of the familiar and the valued, how ironic that we are so unfamiliar with the lake's life-processes and, by implication, put so little value on them. What's in the lake? How often have those of us living next to Lake Ontario or to any of North America's other "great inland seas" considered the question?
FishNet takes this collective absence of curiosity and display of neglect toward our immediate, essential environment as the ground for a subtle form of protest art. In answering the question it seeks to also undo this neglect at the imaginative, communal and practical level by turning the real into the imagined and the imagined into the real in a generative and self-generating, affirming process that mimics the life-giving properties of our natural environment.
There are 179 species of fish in Lake Ontario. In its first phase FishNet took 52 of these species and introduced them to the student's of 25 Toronto area schools through both a craft project and a web-based forum that had students researching individual species and sharing their findings. What you see before you is the result of this first "craft" phase of the project which, beyond the efforts of over a 1,000 school children, also enlisted the imaginations of 55 teachers, 12 artists, art educators and numerous other participants who, along with helping the students craft their answers to our question – What's in the lake? – also crafted their own.
The Fish and the Lakes
The abundance of life—imagined and real—that these efforts instantiate stands in stark contrast to the depleted state of the Great Lakes' fish stocks. Environmental awareness has increased in the past three decades to be sure, but the problem of environmental degradation has not been solved. If we entirely stopped introducing toxic chemicals into the lakes today it would take six years for Lake Erie to flush itself 90 percent clean, twenty years for Lake Ontario, one hundred years for Lakes Michigan and Huron, and five hundred years for Lake Superior. Currently the triple threat of global warming, water diversion and the un-intentional introduction of invasive species combine to further complicate the effort to reverse the decades-old decline of the Great Lakes which, on its own, was a daunting task. In the end, it is the fish that tells the tale.
Release a Fish
The second phase of FishNet's "craft and release" program addresses the question of how we as individuals can contribute to these efforts. By purchasing a "release license" for one of our crafted fish you are contributing to two charities—Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and Great Lakes United—that aim to revive and protect the Great Lakes bio-region and its fish stocks. A small portion of the funds collected will also be used to 'release' crafted fish into other schools in the Great Lakes and so spread the program's educational component in a self-generating process that mimics the role of a hatchery. In this way the project aims to make the imagined abundance before you real on a practical, communal and imaginative level.
If you would like to make a donation and release a fish, please go to the reception desk in the gallery.
FishNet has received grants from Harbourfront Centre's Fresh Ground new works and the Ontario Arts Council, Arts Education program. Additional financial support has been provided by the Toronto District School Board and Inner City Angels.
Claire Ironside's design and art practice draws on her academic training in design, geography, and environmental and communication studies. She is the recipient of several design grants, awards and scholarships and holds a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Toronto, a Master of Environmental Studies from York University and degrees from the University of Guelph - a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture and an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Urban and Cultural Geography. As a designer she has worked in the public and private sector, specializing in urban infrastructure design and planning, architecture, landscape design, and public art.
More recently her creative practice has been focused on trans-disciplinary collaborative explorations combining design, art, craft, technology, commerce and education in support of making 'art of the possible'—work that stimulates real world change. Current areas of focus include developing and designing: architectural interventions both real and imagined, information based projects and exhibits, and merging craft, design and art to create renewed objects and works.
As a Professor in Sheridan College's Bachelor of Applied Illustration, her teaching and research focus combines alternative research methodologies and cultural practice to support information based communications in both two and three dimensions.
Angela Iarocci is a Professor at Sheridan Collage in the York/Sheridan Program in Design where she teaches undergraduate courses in information design, design fundamentals and professional practice. Her research investigations are concentrated in information visualization, mapping, diagramming, built installations and collaborative practice. She has a Bachelor degree in industrial design and is a graduate of the University of Toronto Master of Architecture program. She is the recipient of several academic scholarships and design grants. Her professional experience is concentrated in environmental graphic design, specifically on wayfinding and interpretive installations.
Claire and Angela have been engaged in art and design projects centered on social and environmental issues which draw on their diverse interests in collaborative creative practice, the combination of manual and digital methods of production and the use of information design for education and advocacy.
Organizations/Agencies & Collaborators
Harbourfront Centre – Fresh Ground new works
Harbourfront Centre – School Visits
Ontario Arts Council – Art Education program
Toronto District School Board (TDSB)
EcoSchools Program – Richard Christie
Visual Arts Program – Lisa Sanders
ArtsJunktion – Eileen Orr
Participating TDSB Schools
Allenby, Bedford Park, Berner Trail, Bruce Jr., Denlow, Fairglen, Fenside, Firgrove, Givins/Shaw, Hillmount, Island Public/Natural Science, Jackman, John D. Parker, John English, Lanor, Military Trail, North Prepatory, Oakridge, Ogden, Pleasant, R. J. Lang, Stanley, Summit Heights, Twentieth St., Woburn
Inner City Angels
Jane Howard Baker, Executive Director
Amy Barns, Programs & Special Projects
Inner City Angel Artists
Tai Kim McPhail
Ministry of Natural Resources
Marc Desjardins, Management biologist