I had the good fortune to spend a couple of weeks in southern California in February, lapping up record-high temperatures, the considered lines of Craftsman bungalows, aching photography by Minor White, the hypnotic slurp of Pacific surf and, in Laguna Beach, arresting moments of poetry, as I stumbled again and again on stunning pieces of public art: a bench supported by three figures, a Gaudi-esque chess set-up, illuminated glass-and-metal text about the ocean, even sea-shell forms on a concrete high-school ledge, there to prevent the thwack and scrape of skateboards.
After noticing, and noticing, I realized this art was deliberate, committed, central to the identity of Laguna Beach. The city budgeted for it, had a process, was intent on providing its citizens and visitors with a transcendent experience. What a gift.
I have long thought that Toronto needs more of this. Sure, we have moments – the murals under rail passes, Coupland’s Canoe, Noel Harding’s elevated wetlands on the east side of the DVP, Cynthia Short’s rabbit creatures on the south side of Metro Hall – but we need more and smaller statements to take us out of the inhuman sensory assault of urban life and into a poetic realm.
Public art makes you pause and contemplate something other than your immediate destination, your immediate thoughts. It takes you somewhere deeper. In the shallows of hyperconnectivity, following a deeper line – for even a few seconds – is a timeless breath.