By Nina Kalirai
The beach has become a pretty popular place in the winter time here in Toronto, thanks to the annual Winter Stations event. Winter Stations is an international design competition that brings art installations to The Beaches. One of the winners of this year’s competition is the Women’s March Hat Hut or Pussy Hut, a piece dedicated to making a statement about women’s rights.
VIBE TALKS Correspondent Nina Kalirai recently had the chance to speak to Tomek Chwieszczenik, Winter Stations organizer.
Nina: What is the Winter Stations event?
Tomek: Winter Stations is an annual art exhibition that we hold down at the beaches. The installations that we display are the results of an international competition that we hold, on our website winterstations.com. Designers come up with unique ways to use the lifeguard towers in the winter, as relating to whatever the theme we may have for that year. These installations are typically open for a six-week period, starting on Family Day. This year, we run from February 19 to April 1. We are an organization that is a partnership between Ferris + Associates, Landscape Architects, who I happen to work for, Raw Design Architect and Curio Art Consultant.
Nina: How long has Winter Stations been taking place in Toronto?
Tomek: This is actually our fourth year.
Nina: Where does the Winter Stations event take place exactly?
Tomek: The exhibition takes place at Kew-Balmy Beaches, down at Ashbridges Bay. It starts at Woodbine and Lakeshore, and then it carries over East to the Balmy Beach Club.
Nina: The theme for this year’s winter stations is RIOT. The Women’s March Hat Hut is one of the winning designs of this year’s event. Tell us a little bit about this piece and its significance to this year’s theme.
Tomek: This installation was actually designed by two architect’s names Martin Miller and Mo Zheng, from New York. We really loved their submission because it encapsulated exactly what we wanted when we came up with this year’s theme of RIOT. The theme was chosen because we wanted to give the artists an opportunity to express themselves after, what to us and I’m sure everyone else, felt like a particularly fraught year full of political and social tension. It was meant to be a cathartic experience as well as for us to show our support for various progressive causes.
Nina: Has there ever been a piece at Winter Station before that represents what the Women’s March Hat Hut represents?
Tomek: I think in the previous years; Winter Stations was decidedly apolitical. We really didn’t have that in our mission. This year we wanted to do something a little bit bolder. We wanted to draw a line in the sand and show where we stand and where we throw our support. We felt that this could be something really big that we could bring to the waterfront.
Nina: How many judges are there for the Winter Stations event?
Tomek: We had six different jury members this year from different part of the design industry or the government. You could find them on our website. They’re quite and interesting bunch of people. This year they sifted through close to 250 individual submissions from 50 different countries, to come up with this year’s list of winners.
Nina: You had mentioned that the judges came from a background of design or the government. Are these judges mostly international or are they more local within Canada?
Tomek: The ones that we had this year were quite local. We had Mary Margaret McMahon who’s a councillor for The Beaches. We had some graduates from the landscape/architecture program from the University of Guelph. Filmmakers. Architects. We had Lisa Rochon who is the Globe and Mail architectural critic. We had quite a few people, and generally they’re all local. A few years ago, we had invited Peter Hargraves, who’s the organizer of Winnipeg Warming Huts, which is kind of a similar event and where we drew our inspiration for Winter Stations.
Nina: Are judges able to request certain pieces like the Women’s March Hat Hut, in terms of what it represents, from competitors who are interested in entering the competition?
Tomek: I think this year when we came up with the theme, it was somewhat general. It wasn’t really focusing on race or gender or anything, but we knew we wanted it to be political. We got all sorts of different submissions, which I regret aren’t public, but there were quite a few interesting ones. A lot of them dealt with women’s issues and stuff like that, but we never specifically ask for that.
Nina: And of course, we’re using the censored version of the pieces’ name here on air, but do you see any possible conflicts with the public in regard to the name of the piece? Maybe families who are coming to see the artwork with their children or anything like that?
Tomek: I think not. The name of the hat is sort of, more to us, a play on the cat. A pussycat. Obviously, there’s implications in terms of female anatomy, and you go on the word that I can’t say’s website, and they actually go into it in detail about how it’s sort of a double meaning, which is expanded on for its work for the movement.
Nina: Here in Canada, inclement weather is obviously an issue at times in the winter. In terms of certain instalments needing certain conditions to function, have you ever had to take down a piece due to the weather?
Tomek: It’s funny you should ask that, because I think last year or the year before, we experienced incredibly strong winds and they actually ripped a couple of the installations completely apart. We also occasionally deal with vandalism and things of that nature, but generally they seem to be able to withstand the six week run on the beach.
Nina: What determines a winning piece?
Tomek: It’s really subjective. It all comes down to the judges and what they believe to be the most valuable submissions. The quality of submissions that we receive is amazing. Any of them are potential winners, as far as we’re concerned. It really comes down to personal preference of the judges and whether they feel it fits the current year’s theme, whether it’s actually buildable within budget, whether it will be striking to see. Whatever they value most.
Nina: Where can listeners go for more information on Winter Stations?
Tomek: You can check out our website, as well as just reading all the news articles about us. If you Google us we’re featured in the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail…we’re everywhere.
Our Correspondent also spoke with Martin Miller, Co-creator of the Pussy Hut, and winning design at this Winter Stations event.
Nina: What inspired the Women’s March Hat Hut and what does it represent?
Martin: The hat is inspired by the women’s march. We were hoping to make a monument to what the march is about and progressing the women’s rights movement. It’s something that’s very important to us. My partner Mo is an incredible woman in the field that we work in. I’m very happy to have her as a partner. I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of different great women throughout my career, so I think in a way for me personally this is kind of an homage to them.
Nina: What went into the creation of the Women’s March Hat Hut? How many people were involved? Was there any machinery that needed to be used?
Martin: To be able to make the hat there’s been a lot that’s gone into it, in terms of trying to innovate knitting at that scale. We had a great team of 3 individuals, Emma, Issa and Ellie here in Ithaca, who’ve been leading the prototyping and testing. We’ve tried to use pretty much off the shelf kind of things, but there has been some innovation in terms of how we were able to stuff the fabric tubes, testing various dyes and inks to get the perfect pink for the hat, and figuring out how exactly we could knit at the scale of an occupiable kind of space.
Nina: With the entire process from beginning to end in mind, what was the hardest part when making the Women’s March Hat Hut?
Martin: That’s a good question. I think it’s been a pretty smooth process. We saw the brief from the Winter Stations group. The brief was RIOT. For us, I think we’re huge supporters of the women’s movement and it seemed like a great symbol to try and create at such a large scale. The most difficult part though, I would say was just trying to get the right pink.
Nina: Around how much did it cost to create the Women’s March Hat Hut?
Martin: I believe the cost is going to come in around $6000. That involves the structure inside, the fabric, the stuffing, the dye, and trying to take care of everyone who’s participated.
Nina: If you could do anything differently about this piece, what would it be?
Martin: That’s a good question. I think it’s going to come down to seeing it in it’s final form and how it performs and behaves. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to say how we would do it differently until we see it in place. As of now, everything’s gone pretty well. We’ve had a really great team and overcome some good obstacles, in terms of the design and execution. But if we could do anything differently…I don’t know…make it bigger!
Nina: Because this is such a big piece, did you guys create the piece here in Toronto or was it created in New York and then sent over to Toronto?
Martin: It’s not there yet, but we’re fabricating this here with our students in Ithaca. Our plan is that we’re actually going to put it on top of my truck and we’re going to be driving it, from Ithaca to Toronto.