Our Stories | St. Michael’s Magazine: Jerome McGrath

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White Night

For the last four years, hundreds of thousands of people have flooded Toronto’s downtown streets one Saturday night in early fall for the Nuit Blanche arts festival. This is an event when people explore back alleys, public squares and other urban spaces, seeking out hundreds of dusk-to-dawn contemporary art installations. In the midst of all this, my partner Rina Grosman and I built a small refuge from the big-city bustle entitled The Lost and Found Forest for last year’s festival.

The Lost and Found Forest is a 40-foot-long tunnel that mimics a natural landscape with artificial materials: life-size images of trees are recreated using lengths of plastic string intricately woven around thousands of nails. Sounds reminiscent of the forest are present, too, but also man-made. If you listen carefully, you can hear the creaking of the trees, the wind and the chatter of woodpeckers they are, in fact, the rustling and wobbling of different plastics and the hammering of nails. The installation allows visitors to be immersed within a forest within a city for only a short while before they exit and find themselves back in the urban landscape they know, in this case in Toronto’s trendy Liberty Village.

This was our third collaboration and first public display. Rina has a background in fine art, and mine is in economics and international relations. A hobby of mine since university has been to gather sounds of all types and make them into audio collages and new music. It was at the previous year’s Nuit Blanche that we thought to combine our talents and create this project together. For me, it’s quite a change of pace from my career as an investment advisor.

For more than four months we worked with over a dozen friends and volunteers who gave up their evenings and weekends to help create all the parts of the exhibit. Many of them are friends I made at St. Mike’s: Kazuki Mukai 0T5, Casimir Soare 0T4, Lily Wong 0T4, Elizabeth Bozek 0T3, Nick Magnone 0T3, Erin McTernan 0T4, Michael Muir 0T4 and Joe Figueredo 0T4. A small plug: St. Michael’s College is a great place to meet your best friends and the kind of place that has many opportunities for you to explore and grow in different and complementary ways. A few of my personal favourites include the Out of the Cold soup kitchen, the Dean’s Cup intramural sports and the SMC Student Union. It’s the kind of place that can help you accomplish more than just good grades.

When the sun rose the morning after Nuit Blanche, more than 5,000 people had walked through The Lost and Found Forest, and many were obviously deeply affected by the experience; we were one of three winners of the People’s Choice Award, which is given each year based on a vote by the public. Though it’s exciting to receive an award, knowing that our artwork connected with the people who saw it is the best compliment any artist can get.