Due North

How PA Sys­tem brings its ex­pe­ri­ences with Cape Dorset youth to Toronto

Designlines - - Contents - BY TERENCE DICK

How artis­tic duo PA Sys­tem shares its ex­pe­ri­ences in Cape Dorset with Toronto

AT THE SOUTH-WEST COR­NER of Trin­ity Bell­woods Park, an old, nine-me­tre-tall mu­ral by Alexa Hatanaka and Pa­trick Thomp­son is vis­i­ble. The cradling hands, hid­den fig­ures and un­fa­mil­iar land­scape are ren­dered in bold colours and fine de­tails. Though fad­ing, it still speaks to the sub­ject mat­ter at the heart of these artists’ work, and to truly un­der­stand it, you must travel as far north as Canada goes.

Thomp­son came of age in Ot­tawa’s graf­fiti scene and met Hatanaka in 2010, while she was study­ing print­mak­ing and ma­te­rial arts at OCAD Univer­sity. He had al­ready cre­ated mu­rals in north­ern com­mu­ni­ties and when she joined him, the artists fell in love with the re­gion.

As com­mis­sions came in from ham­lets like Igloo­lik and towns in north­ern Que­bec, the duo – called PA Sys­tem – wanted to in­volve the youth they met. “When the op­por­tu­nity came up to paint a mu­ral in Cape Dorset in 2014, we were de­ter­mined to of­fer a ro­bust workshop for youth,” says Thomp­son. “That set the stage for get­ting a real sense of what youth were keen on but not ac­cess­ing.”

That’s how Em­bassy of Imag­i­na­tion, an arts ini­tia­tive for these youths, came to be. Hatanaka and Thomp­son – who live and work in Park­dale – now spend three months of the year in Cape Dorset, and have in­vited teenagers from the com­mu­nity to paint mu­rals in Toronto and Mon­treal.

In ad­di­tion to upcoming projects in Chet­ti­palayam, In­dia, Hawaii and Toronto, PA Sys­tem re­cently con­trib­uted an in­stal­la­tion to the AGO’S Ev­ery. Now. Then: Re­fram­ing

Na­tion­hood ex­hi­bi­tion. Some of the ma­te­ri­als for this work came from the re­mains of Cape Dorset’s high school, which was de­stroyed by ar­son and is cur­rently be­ing re­built. Floor­ing scraps were used to cre­ate a gi­ant lino-print of styl­ized snow­drifts, and sal­vaged alu­minum was cast in the form of snow­mo­biles. These were orig­i­nally mod­elled by the kids in Cape Dorset us­ing home­made play­dough, scanned and then en­larged in Toronto with a 3D printer.

“We not only want to share our per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences – the joys and con­cerns re­gard­ing our favourite place on earth – but we felt it nec­es­sary to find a way to help bridge the gaps we ob­serve,” says Hatanaka. “The youth lack ser­vices and recre­ational pro­grams; many lack the nec­es­sary equip­ment en­abling them to ac­cess ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing of their own cul­ture and tra­di­tional knowledge. En­gag­ing the youth helps them to cre­ate the re­al­ity they want, with art.”

To that end, sales of the cast snow­mo­biles go to pur­chas­ing ac­tual ve­hi­cles, and pay­ing el­ders to guide youth trips out onto the sur­round­ing land to hunt or ice fish. This en­cour­ages in­ter­gen­er­a­tional learn­ing and con­trib­utes to im­proved men­tal health and well­ness. “We’re drawn to the dis­con­nect that ex­ists be­tween the south­ern art mar­ket and the re­al­ity of the North,” says Thomp­son. “This project re­volves around ac­ces­si­bil­ity. We’re try­ing to en­cour­age the art world to give back to the youth we work with.”


 PA Sys­tem’s Pa­trick Thomp­son and Alexa Hatanaka with a ver­sion of the lino-print they’re show­ing at the AGO.

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