Glendon McGowan

This Is What We Are Left With

This Is What We Are Left With documents and recontextualizes natural spaces divided by manmade development. In metropolises such as Toronto, the human experience of the natural world is largely restricted by constant development and increased infrastructure. Because of this, our relationship with nature has become increasingly obscured. Employing Toronto’s Don River Valley as a point of departure, this installation investigates the relationship between environment, history, and human interaction within the confines of the urban landscape.

Foundational to a city affected by growing urbanization, the Don River acts as a distinctive physical feature within the city, historically playing an important role in the settlement and development of Toronto. Stretching from Lake Ontario to the city’s northern limits, the Don River has long served as a source of raw materials and an important habitat for various species of wildlife. This Is What We Are Left With suggests that, with the city engulfing it, local inhabitants have lost reverence for the river and surrounding space, becoming less attentive to it. What was once part of the vast landscape and natural parkland that stood as an antithesis to the hectic pace of the city, has been taken for granted, along with the ecosystem it supports.

As populations surrounding the Don River rose, human intervention began, and areas within the valley became sites for refuge and garbage dumping. Recent visits reveal increased construction and increased urban infrastructure being developed. While some residents have attempted to restore the area, it remains a public space at the mercy of multiple interests. A changing environment and reduction in the natural space mean not only detrimental consequences to the human population but the wildlife as well, who rely on the intricacies of the river system for their habitat and survival.

Basing the project on the premise of my experience and familiarity with certain sites, I have walked, photographed and thought critically about the landscape presented within this series. In the process of doing site investigations of spaces along the river, temporary and permanent interventions in the landscape are documented, prompting questions about what is left, what is still being constructed, and what is yet to come? Simultaneously, a subtle juxtaposition between industrialized and natural elements in the landscape emerges in the images and acts as a prompt for inquiry. In displaying a series of found objects This Is What We Are Left With brings attention to them as overlooked materials that are used to control and act upon nature. They function together to activate their existence as references for change which has and is meant to be taking place.

As a landscape consistently subject to transformation, the Don has been shifted to suit the anthropogenic enjoyment of humans, rather than existing as a landscape to be observed. In making nature “ours” we have lost the distinction and significance that has long come with the Don River Valley. If we are indifferent toward nature and the habitat it provides, perhaps it is time to step back and comprehend what is left.