The Bloorcourt – Haritha Popuri

I engaged with the western end of Bloorcourt (Bloor St. from Ossington to Dufferin), bringing together three key features of the site: the Bloor-Gladstone library, the Dufferin subway station, and between them, a bench inscribed with a poem by Dionne Brand. The poem reads:

Walking here, I turned my face to you and said,

how on earth will we live, who will dance with us,

will there be music? And you said, sure,

the usual birds will sing, the usual hours will pass at night,

and I asked you, will there be fame? And

you said, sure, but only between us.

It will be spring, forsythia will follow us and

we will hear the lake breathe.

Waiting then, I felt the world coming toward me.


Just as Charles Baudelaire fences the Parisian phantasmagoria with his pen,1 Brand punctures the smiling, cosmopolitan bubble of Toronto with her own haunting lyricism. Her contribution to the Bloorcourt bench extends the project she carried out as the city’s Poet Laureate (2009-2012). Called Poetry is Public is Poetry, the project works with writers to make permanent, public displays of poetic texts near municipal libraries. Brand writes, “Poetry beautifies public space, pays respect to the intelligence of the citizenry, gives respite from the grind of daily living and engages the city’s humanistic ideals.”2 To read text in the urban landscape that is neither an advertisement nor a signpost is to be peculiarly beyond the domain of the imperative—there is nothing to buy, no rule to obey (however grudgingly).

And yet, it is possible to be claimed by such poetry, even if only for a second glance. It may effect a pause in the routine flow of your Busy Important Life. Or perhaps you pass it every day, always with a stray, guilty thought to read it fully next time. Or maybe you don’t notice it at all and simply plop down for a bit of rest, stretching your leaden legs out as you face the library. The projection in my shoebox attempted to play with the contingency of this encounter, animating the text to look like it is slipping away, as happens when one passes by in a car or distractedly on foot. It also brings out the ephemerality that so captivates Baudelaire, the erotics of fleeting strangers in a crowd; one could say Brand’s city poems see the unconscious flirtations of your roving eye, your swaying hips. The projected text is my personal response to the inscription on the bench. It is my attempt to defuse the voyeuristic character of the panorama photo in my box, a setting which proves almost impossible to insert the photographer on the scene.

Fig. 2 - Panorama


It speaks to the respite I found from my Haligonian heartache when I first visited the Bloor-Gladstone in September. The design is similar to the Halifax Central Library, a place where I spent many a pleasant daydream leading up to my exodus.

The dissolving text also captures my struggle with the poetic medium, where I feel as if each time I stretch out my hand to grasp hold of a meaning, I am swatted away. But I think that meaning becomes possible through persistent redirection—do it enough times and something will reach out and grab you. This is one way to read Benjamin’s dialectical image, in which fragments of past and present, lived and historical experience come together in a flash of recognition. In the name of dialectics, I attempted to play with the spectator’s perception through the fragmented panorama, the double screens for the projection, and a reversal of interior and exterior features of the space vis-à-vis the shoe and shoebox. To explain the last example further, I did not interfere much with my original shoe, allowing instead for the black velvet filigree and minimal additions from a second shoe to speak to the inner design of the library. In that way, I used the exterior surface of the shoe to represent the interior space of the library. In addition, the glass screens inside the box were embellished with abstracted designs from the library’s windows—the grid evincing the modern extension, the arch the Renaissance Revival original. The spectator is thus ambivalently located inside the building looking out, or outside looking in.

Concerning the construction phase, I felt as if the materials had a language my hands could not speak. I was working with things as they werefalling apart—the foam disintegrates, the glass sinks forward, the glue dries too fast, the light flickers off. My craft-speak being clumsy at best, I repeatedly knocked over the pieces in the cramped shoebox. It was like a syntactic gap where you don’t know where the verb fits in relation to the subject, or maybe a failure of timing, like a poor joke. Yet, there was the pleasure of the unexpected when a material worked in such a way you had not anticipated, one that nuanced your original idea. I experienced this with respect to shaping the foam to bend the panoramic fragments away from and towards the viewer. It was also neat to understand the relation between parts and whole in a tangible way and in sourcing various materials from different sites. This is rare in a culture of the ready-made, what with the microwaveable dinners, broken iPods being replaced rather than fixed, tourist packages, etc.


This course has challenged the assumption that the built environment, particularly in cities, is self-evident. When you give space at least the chance of being poetic, you start to notice that the foot you stretch out and expect to find even turf is suddenly unsure of itself, tricked by the haints and “ain’ts” of a space that is more than what meets the eye. There were two surprising instances during the research phase that connected directly to Benjamin’s notion of an unconscious optics, of which I will relate one. The panorama setting of the iPhone produced a scaled-down version of the entrance to Dufferin station that allowed me to see that the coloured tiles were not randomly placed but rather a mosaic magnifying a plaque to the left that I had observed long before.

Fig 4 - Unconscious optics

Another way to relate metroARCADE to an unconscious optics is by comparing the shoebox to the daguerreotype camera. Benjamin characterizes Baudelaire’s uncanny perception as the ability to detect the photo negative of modernity’s worldly essence without the developing agent that alone is capable of producing the true picture. The dynamic of the spectator’s encounter with the shoebox’s interior suggests something of that photo-alchemy, yielding secrets of a space overlooked.


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