“You must look at the land always, so my energy is for the land.”
— Maria Thereza Alves
Introducing our second annual Grow Op International Artist Residency. The residencies begin at Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island and then continue at the Gladstone during the exhibition. Providing artists with the opportunity to engage with our city, connect with other artists, and deepen the conversation around crucial issues, this year’s residency features two artists.
We visited Maria Thereza Alves (Berlin, Germany and Naples, Italy) at Gibralter Point, where she is currently developing a new project on Toronto’s relationship with water.
What made you excited to take the Artist-Residency with Artscape for Grow Op 2019?
Maria Thereza Alves: I was here in November with OCAD because I was awarded the global experience project award. They selected 9 students who I met with once a week. I asked each one of them to take me on walks they thought were important for a foreigner coming into this place. It was a beautiful experience; they gave me the political geographical and social background of each neighbourhood.
But then I realized we never went to the lake. Water is very important for me. This was too strange, in three weeks I never went to the water.
I got up and walked in straight line to the water, and it was very sad. You get to the harbourfront with all these condos, and it’s a hard edge, like being in a bathtub. That highway, that awful highway, destroys any sense of the water. This stayed in my mind, so when the opportunity to come here with this residency with Grow Op I wanted to do more research with water and ask why is it that the city has no relationship to the water.
In terms of Lake Ontario, what stands out in terms of untold histories?
MTA: It was an island of healing for the original Anishinaabe people. But there’s this need for settlers to claim any possible land as recreational. I really have a problem with the idea of recreation, that land has to have a use that is defined, as a park or nature reserve. This whole island is becoming like Disneyland. You have all these structures that have to exist because it’s recreational. Can’t we just have an island?
How does the work you’re exhibiting for Grow Op 2019—The One That Got Away—work with the theme of Energy? What do you hope people will take away from your work and the theme?
MTA: It’s about resilience and survival, and the energy that is required for that. It’s a story told by one man in the former island of Xico in the state of Mexico. This island no longer exists because a Spanish person came in the late 1800s and unilaterally dried up this huge lake, which resulted in the collapse of 24 indigenous villages. I’ve been working there since 2009.
What will you cover in your Grow Op Artist Talk?
MTA: For my talk I want to talk about the history of the community museum. It was founded by one of the poorest communities in Mexico. There was no interest from the government in a community museum, but they saved 5000 artifacts. When they opened in 1997, two truckloads of soldiers came to intimidate them. When I was there doing research there, 24 police came with riot gear to arrest the director.
This is a museum that does amazing work. They’re all community based people. They also teach other museums how to preserve works. They do this all on their own.
Does most of your work revolve around settler colonial narratives? What impact do you hope your work will have?
MTA: I am interested in many things, but of course coming from my background, the situation of colonization is just there, so one has it in one’s blood. One does a lot of work on that because one has an interest in that. One does not feel comfortable in that situation.
I never know what the impact will be, and that’s why I like doing the work. I want to find out how to best reply to situations. For the community museum, I asked them what they wanted. When I work with communities I try very hard to be responsive to their needs, and they wanted a book. Today that book is used by progressive teachers to teach history. Now people have the real history of the place.
Why is it important you spend you energy focusing on nature and the relationship it has with human energy?
MTA: I come from an area that had been the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil. A lot of the forest was destroyed. The village my mom comes from was stripped of the rainforest for coffee plantations under the time of slavery. Coffee destroys the fertility of soil quickly. My hope in life is to be able to buy a chunk of that destroyed area and bring back secondary forrest. That takes about 25 years to get some ground cover with trees and habitat with local animals.
That history is very clear. You must look at the land always, so my energy is for the land because otherwise this is the stupidity we will live in.
“Alves’ projects are researched-based and develop out of her interactions with the physical and social environments of the places she lives, or visits for exhibitions and residencies. These projects begin in response to local needs and proceed through a process of dialogue that is often facilitated between material and environmental realities and social circumstances.” — Read more on Maria Thereza Alves’s website