At first glance, Whiteside’s suite of large and medium-sized drawings appear as menageries of colourful and exotic aquatic species. In Spadina (2016), for instance, a lithe and green-coloured American eel...
At first glance, Whiteside’s suite of large and medium-sized drawings appear as menageries of colourful and exotic aquatic species. In Spadina (2016), for instance, a lithe and green-coloured American eel descends diagonally through the water towards its unsuspecting prey – one of several Siamese fighting fish that occupy the same glass enclosure.
Like all of the works in this exhibition however, Whiteside’s juxtaposition of rare, beautiful and foreign underwater species now found in the Greater Toronto Area is informed by a deeper investigation of the ecological consequences of both aquacultural development and our need for spectacle.
As a rapidly expanding global city, Toronto has experienced growth that has been costly to biodiversity. Loss of habitat, pollution, overfishing and other environmental problems that accompany development have significantly impacted ecosystems of Lake Ontario and other local waterways. Globalization also presents us with strange and accidental migrations of great consequence: the integration of the Great Lakes into global trade networks via the St. Lawrence Seaway inadvertently resulted in the introduction of invasive species—like the round goby and zebra mussel—into Toronto’s local underwater environment.
A stroll through downtown Toronto reveals a condensed form of the dislocation of aquatic life: the aquarium. This ubiquitous form of display appears in various guises – decorations for dentists’ offices or hotel lobbies, commodity presentations at pet stores of fishmongers, or entertainment and education at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. In the logic of the aquarium, the plants’ and animals’ state of displacement is overcome in their aestheticization. In this way, the aquarium’s fantastical and alluring arrangements efface the realities of ecological crisis. This disquieting effacement of globalization and climate change, and particularly of Lake Ontario, is an essential concern for Aquariums of Toronto. -- Ripley Whiteside
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