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