Threads Converging into Wholeness
Published Date: Aug. 4 2022
Image: Photo by Annia Vee, courtesy of STEPS.
As a local landmark, the Skein mural exudes a vibrant community’s collective self-determination and remembrance of what once defined the neighbourhood. Located near Dufferin and Eglinton, the multi-dimensional piece was a collaborative effort of PA System (Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson), STEPS Public Art, and the local community. The insides of two petite pedestrian tunnels are adorned with bright rainbow colours, while the road-facing walls of the infrastructure are covered with bewildering forms that are dominated by pinks, greens, yellows, and blues. Skein turns out to be a perfect metaphor that permeates the visual aesthetic of the mural and the community’s collective efforts. By definition, a skein is a length of yarn that is loosely coiled and knotted, an element that figures as a part in a complex whole. This is the key to understanding what is depicted on the underpass.
The project, which was extremely complicated as it entailed the closing of a very busy street and the implementation of numerous safety precautions, was initiated by STEPS through community engagement sessions. These meetings were attended by different neighbourhood organizations, historians, and residents of all ages. It was through these conversations that the theme of textiles emerged. The community was ignited by the thought of commemorating an old yarn factory nearby which no longer existed. While the mural embodied this reference wholeheartedly with the colourful thread-like arches of the tunnels and the twisting knots on the exterior, the textile motif would appear in future artistic projects within this neighbourhood—stand-alone threads of creativity that were pulled together by their common source of inspiration.
Having taken the pulse of the community, STEPS enlisted the art collective PA System to execute the technical artistic expertise needed to bring Skein to existence. STEPS continued to facilitate community engagement throughout the various phases of the project, staying true to its “creative placemaking” mandate—a beautiful commitment of empowering people to activate the spaces they love. STEPS invited a local school to paint alongside PA System and hosted a celebration with local stakeholders after the mural was finished. From concept to completion, the Skein mural tumbled through phases, picking up threads of thoughts, opinions, and inspirations held by community members only to present them as a tangible whole on the walls of this underpass.
Prior to the appearance of the Skein mural, there weren’t many public art activations in the area. This “placemaking” project showed residents what can be achieved by bringing the creative minds of community members together. The neighbourhood now regularly hosts different art initiatives—some that STEPS has taken part in and others that it hasn’t. Yet, the textile theme persists within the community. A way-finding marker, for example, was installed at one of the entrances to the Beltline Trail. Made out of wood and designed to look like a railway post—hinting at the history of the trail itself—the way-finding marker features a contemporary textile pattern and metal lettering. In a more fleeting activation, the community also hosted Woven, a series of temporary art animations in the park adjacent to the Skein mural.