The artists placed labels next to 14 pieces of failing infrastructure. (all images courtesy James McCleod/AusterityTO unless otherwise noted)

In Toronto, museum-quality wall labels now accompany a broken water fountain, a chopped-off tree, and a sign announcing the abrupt end of a bike lane. In a project they call AusterityTO, James McLeod and Tom Ruhig placed 14 plaques on examples of failing infrastructure across the city. Ahead of Toronto’s upcoming municipal elections, AusterityTO seeks to highlight what the artists see as the shortcomings of the city’s current mayor John Tory, who is seeking a third term.

On the satirical labels, the works are attributed to “artist” John Tory.

“Using ultra-low taxes, municipal bureaucracy and political stagnation as his primary artistic tools, John Tory has embarked on a conceptual undertaking of unprecedented scope and scale,” reads the project’s description.

John Tory, “Garbage” (2022), plastic and steel.
Detail of John Tory’s “Garbage” (2022), plastic and steel.

McCleod told Hyperallergic that he blames Tory’s conservative mayorship and Toronto’s low tax rate for the city’s failing infrastructure. “A garbage can that literally can’t take garbage and is sitting on the street taking up space is a pretty good visual metaphor,” he said.

A label describes this police car as a “gift of the artist.”

One intervention consisted of placing a label on a section of a street that cars are forbidden from parking on, even though a police car is frequently seen stationed there. “On its face, this may appear to be a conflict,” the label reads. “However, keen-eyed observers will note the markings of the Ontario Provincial Police, and understand a deeper meaning. Throughout his artistic career, the provincial government has been an important patron for the artist.”

A map shows where AusterityTO’s works are located, although McLeod said some have been removed. He said a plaque placed near a police station “didn’t last long.”

AusterityTO is not the only group creating provocative public art ahead of the city’s election next week. “#JohnTory’sToronto” places QR codes on examples of failed public utilities like trash cans (the link brings the user to the group’s Twitter page).

Others have dragged the city’s public transportation system. Yesterday, public transit advocacy group TTCRiders painted an unsanctioned bus lane in the city, criticizing the current mayoral administration for a lack of action and calling on candidates to establish more lanes.

Public transit advocacy group TTC Riders painted a fake bus lane on the city streets.

In a less outwardly political act, artist Shari Kasman has posted 128 flyers over the course of the month alerting riders to bus route changes. The posters are brutally honest: “506 Carlton streetcars will probably eventually show up” but “even if one does get here, it might take a very long time to get to your destination,” and replacement buses will be “slow and crowded.”

Kasman started thinking about her project after a particularly grueling wait for a bus, when she eventually returned home to grab her bike. Then she saw a particularly ridiculous bus stop pole plastered with diversion notices.

One of Kasman’s simplified signs (photo by and courtesy Shari Kasman)

“I thought, ‘This is just bonkers, I don’t know who thought this was a good idea.’ Anyone who walks up to that is not gonna know what information is pertinent,” Kasman said. She reworded the signs, making them both easy to understand and honest. She said people who use other bus routes asked her to make signs for theirs, too.

The city recently fixed the 506 route that Kasman frequents. “I didn’t think they would really do anything, I just wanted to make fun of them,” Kasman said. “And make people laugh and help them by explaining it.”

Toronto’s municipal elections will take place Monday, October 24.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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