The Old Two Tone Town – Oksana Unguryan

I only recently moved to Toronto. Before then I mostly lived and grew up in the suburbs, and I’ve had this specific view of the city as hustling and bustling, noisy and full of skyscrapers. And for the most part that describes Toronto pretty well. Everywhere you go are busy streets and intersections, large crowds of people moving in different directions, stores and restaurants, cafés and advertisements, permeate my sight at every turn. The city is still new to me, even though I’ve been visiting it often in the past 5 or 6 years, and I like that I continue to discover some part of it that is tucked away and hidden. I mostly get glimpses of such places when I walk around with friends who know the city better than I do, know where to go and what shortcuts to take. It always disappointed me however that I can’t seem to find those places again. I might pass them by and see them in my peripheral but at those times I’m too busy to stop and explore it. That is why this course was so fantastic. It gave me time to experience the privilege of walking as a flâneur. Now flânerie is not a new concept for me, I’ve learned about it a couple of years ago, and what is fascinating about it is the wealth of theory and practice surrounding it. An article by Sally R. Munt paints the flâneur as a complex figure that embodies conflicting and opposing sates (5). Elizabeth Wilson states that the flâneur is an observer of the public sphere, and represents ambivalence (93), but are also typically viewed as an idle man of pleasure, who takes visual possession of a city as if it were a sexualized woman (98). Though these theoretical definitions are valuable what I chose to focus on was how the flâneur sees the city, and experiences it. Larousse in Wilson’s article states that flâneurs can only flourish in great, metropolitan cities (94). The wealth of stimuli excites the flâneur because he isn’t forced to narrow his gaze and look at particular places and things. Walter Benjamin writes that the street, lined with elegant shops and arcades, is home to the flâneur. For him the signs of businesses are wall art, the street a living room, and the walls are desks to him to write of his travels (37). And though he is idle he is not lazy. He acts as an unwilling detective of sorts, walking around and documenting what is of interest to him (40). And what I like is that according to Michel de Certeau the flâneur “forbids himself to take paths generally considered accessible or even obligatory” (90). He wants to get lost in the city rather than go to the ‘tourist spots’, and so that is what we did.

            Before exploring the city I already knew the general area I wanted to represent. I’ve caught glimpses of residential areas tucked away between busy streets and intersections, and I had no idea that there were places like that in Toronto. I figured many lived in apartments and condos, but a lot of old Toronto still remains and adds a lot of character to the city. In particular I focused on the architecture of these neighbourhoods and the sharp angles of the triangular roofs of the houses. Cabbage Town situated east of Dundas Square has great architectural details to their roofs. Many of those houses are also townhouses or semi-attached and I found it great how each house made itself stand out. I named my box “The Old Two-tone Town” because I was inspired by the way a seemingly single home is split down the middle and painted different colors to signify that there are in reality two homes. And so I decided to pursue the themes of: ambivalence, private vs. public, walking, and architectural details.


I designed my shoe first as I already had a general idea of what I wanted to make. My ideal shoe would’ve been an Oxford Spectator shoe as it had many of the details, which reminded me of the roofs, already in place; all I would’ve done was paint it differently. Unfortunately I could not find the specific style I wanted but I did manage to come into possession of a bare high heel shoe with a narrow toe point. At first I only thought of painting it, splitting the shoe down the middle like the house that inspired me. However, our instructors and artists that collaborated with our course encouraged us to imagine what it would be like to feel wearing the shoe. With that in mind I set out to also include various types of fabric and glue them to my shoe. I wanted it to have different colors and textures to it, which would be soft to the touch and comforting to wear, much like a home out to be comforting. One of the materials was actually from an old couch that I had when I was younger, reminding me of home. Truly speaking I am a flâneur in transition. I ought to feel content with the busy streets but also yearn for a more traditional home, and I felt that Cabbage Town was something in between.


Constructing my box was a bit more challenging. Incorporating video into the miniature neighbourhood was at first going to be straightforward. On an elevated plane I had the video playing at the far end of the box with fences up on the sides, cars situated in different places to create distance for the viewer and some greenery. It was a simple idea that was improved upon when one of the instructors suggested mirroring the image so it is not obvious to the eyes. It definitely made for better visual, as the see through material I used for the mirror created a phantom image of walking down a residential street. I lot of focus was on the video and audio, as I wanted to share how I saw the transition from a public to a (relatively) private space. Walking from a busy intersection of College St. (which turns to Carlton St.), where clear sounds of traffic are heard on the audio, and then turning to a smaller street with houses where the city noise quiets down and is replaced by rustling leaves, chirping birds, and children’s laughter. The video changes focus from traffic lights, cars and streetcars, to other (stationary) cars, but also greenery and the intricate details of the houses.

I could say that making something with my hands was difficult for a film theory graduate, familiar more with research and writing academic journals, but in all honesty it was a pleasure to create something and share it in a creative way that wasn’t obvious to interpretation. A lot of research went into understanding the themes and then embodying them. We had to be detectives, and walking was an ideal method in understanding flânerie (Benjamin, 40). Walking can be a challenge for some individuals, especially at a slow pace. Many lead active lifestyles that do not permit such luxury. Some may not fully understand what it is like to wander and take the time to see what goes around them without actually experiencing it. Thus the wandering that took place before the construction of the box and shoe was vital; it allowed discovery and critical evaluation of the city. Making the art installations materialized our points of view and expanded the theory in different directions, such as flânerie through a homosexual gaze, a female gaze, a child’s gaze, through the eyes of a filmmaker and so forth. Experiencing flânerie made me appreciate it, and it stayed with me longer than if I simply read about it. Walking around the city now I picture the miniature spaces that make up our metropolis and think about how they might be shared with others through more public and engaging means.

– Oksana Unguryan


Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. “The Flaneur.” In The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire. Trans. Harry Zohn. London: Verso, 1983. 35-66. Print.

De Certeau, Michel. “Walking in the City.” In The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press. 91-110. Print.

Munt, Sally R. “The Lesbian Flâneur.” In The Unknown City: Contesting Architecture and Social Space. Ed. Iain Borden. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001. 246-261. Print.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “The Invisible Flâneur.” In Postmodern Cities and Spaces. Eds. Sophie Watson and Katherine Gibson. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995. 59-79. Print.



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