Catchin a cold at Toronto new surf shop

Aliya N Barnes in front of Elie Landesberg’s photo.
Photos by Sveta Soloveva 

Try on a juicy rash guard, flip through a surf magazine, grab a board of your dream and … go surfing!

Are the Great Lakes too cold for you? Don’t worry, Surf the Greats company got you covered. Their new surf shop and café at 276 Carlaw Avenue offers thick cold water wetsuits, surf booties, and mittens from Rip Curl. While the warmest gear keeps your body comfortable, the beach-inspired events and parties will take care of your mood. For example, until July 29th, Catchin A Cold photo exhibit showcases works from 16 artists who represent all five of the Great Lakes.

Hidden in the labyrinth of the building, the shop became one of many surfers’ favourite spots in Toronto even before it opened. Even while under construction, it hosted Toronto’s premiere of environmental movie Island Earth and welcomed adventure photographer Chris Burkard who was in to Toronto to present his surf documentary Under An Arctic Sky.

Now the shop is officially open and it offers everything surfers need for their soul and body, from surfboards, apparel, sun care, and printed matters to surf and yoga lessons, energizing drinks, and many exciting events like film screenings and live music concerts!

“The atmosphere is totally amazing,” said 20-year-old Aliya N. Barnes, who attended the grand opening party on June 29th. “It’s colourful and bright, but it still has a nice surf chill feeling. I feel like I wanna live here.”

Surf the Greats’ owner Antonio Lennert said that the physical shop is an extension of their online platform that brought many surf enthusiasts together through organizing beach cleanups and free yoga classes and offering surf equipment and lessons for the last three years.

“We started online as a media outlet to connect all different communities of surfers over the Great Lakes using hashtag ‘surf the greats’,” he said. “I feel like we’ve earned the community’s trust by giving, and now the community is giving back to us. That’s why now we have a home, and there’s so many people here and so much positivity. It just feels very special.”

Surf the Greats’ sign over the bar table is shimmers in its juicy colours, shifts from pink to blue and from blue to green. Dj Great Lake Shark (Ellie Landesberg) creates a tropical vibe with folktronica tracks until the band Gold Complex takes over with their live acoustic.

Gold Complex performs at the surf shop on June 29

Guests sample RISE Kombucha, order beer from Sweetgrass Brewing Co., and explore newly arrived surfboards and apparel. There are a couple of major brands like Vans Canada and Rip Curl, but Surf the Greats tries to stay local as much as possible and carries products from Montreal, Tofino, BC, and Toronto, along with their own brand.

Walking through the rows of beach bags and rash guards, the visitors occasionally stop and stare at the photos of Catchin A Cold exhibit. The sixteen photographs vary from black and white to colourful, and show surfers riding or waiting for waves, walking to and staring at the water. “What you see on the walls is a mix of professional photographers and people who go to beach with their phones,” said Lennert. “We tried to make sure that we represented all the Great Lakes, amateur and professional photographers, male and female photographers.” Surf the Greats announced the photo competition in the winter and, working with Vans Canada, selected the winning works out of 700 submissions.

Dj Great Lake Shark (Elie Landesberg) creates a tropical vibe at Surf the Greats’ grand opening party
“I took this photo in Scarborough, Ontario, in a very-very stormy day, and there was one surfer out in very turbulent water,” Elie Landesberg told Novella about his black and white photo. “Because the sky was so grey and the birds were blowing around the sky, I thought it was a metaphor for my life and for surfing to see somebody sitting insulated, so calm among so much turbulence and chaos.”
Lennert said Surf the Greats will host a new event every week. Many of them are free or by donation. Check out a screening of a the surf movie GIVEN on July 20, a wave forecasting workshop on July 29th, and beach yoga every Sunday morning.
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Novella’s July Art Guide

Multi-National Conglomerates Hostile Take Over of the New World Order by Lawrence Paul Yuxwelupton. Source.

It’s difficult to be anywhere in the country in July without echoes of Canada 150 ringing in your ears. This summer’s celebration is, after all, a big one. Instead of going against the grain of festivities for our monthly art guide, we’re working with Canada, in a way, by noting exhibitions this month that are solo exhibitions of or include work by incredible Indigenous artists.

ANISHINAABEG: ART & POWER (JUNE 17TH — NOVEMBER 19TH)

In the past, the Royal Ontario Museum would classify Indigenous art as cultural artefact, separate from what would be considered by fine or classical art. In this exhibition, which opened mid-June, that division is gone. Anishinaabeg artwork is displayed with detailed beadwork charting the artistic movements of the Anishinaabeg from 19th-cnetury friendship bags to the Woodlands School art movement. Co-curator and North Caribou Lake First Nations artist Saul Williams wrote descriptive labels for the artwork and recorded video discussing their symbolic and spiritual meanings.

Find out more here.

UNSETTLING: BASIL AIZERI, LORI BLONDEAU, DUORAMA, TERRANCE HOULE, LISA MYERS (JUNE 22ND — JULY 22ND)

Unsettling sets out to do exactly what you would expect it do: disturb, upset, destabilize. Through the works of five different artists and artistic groups, the exhibition aims not only to unsettle its audience, but to unsettle the land it is on and the neighbourhood it is in, which would be Scarborough, at the Doris McCarthy Gallery. Within the context of Canada 150, the artists then aim to go bigger and disrupt the clean and pretty congratulatory narratives found throughout the mainstream anniversary media. The artists will do this all through painting, photography and sculpture.

Find out more here.

MARY ANNE BARKHOUSE (JUNE 22ND — AUGUST 20TH)

Canadian jeweller and sculptor Mary Anne Barkhouse is known for her animal imagery-heavy artwork that highlights ongoing environmental and Indigenous struggles. Her current exhibition with the Koffler Gallery, titled Le Rêve aux Loups, is her first solo exhibition in Toronto. The exhibitor is comprised of sculptures and photo collages, using the realistic and the absurd to highlight themes of adaptation and persistence, regeneration and resistance.

Find out more here.

JEFF THOMAS AND NAFISEH EMADMOSTOFI  (JUNE 29TH — AUGUST 27TH)

At the Art Gallery of Mississauga this month, there are two solo exhibitions: one by Jeff Thomas, titled A Necessary Fiction: My Conversation with George Hunter and Edward S. Curtis, and the other by Nafiseh Emadmostofi, titled Burning Desire. Thomas’ exhibit is an examination of archival work by photographers who used Indigenous people in their work. Thomas deconstructs the images, changes the narrative and questions the place of such pictures in a time of self-determination and independent voices. Emadmostofi, selected from a call for graduation students from the University of Toronto, Mississauga and Sheridan College, is an award-winning Iranian artist. Her work in this exhibition is allegorical, drawing on images of the swan and burning books to touch on topical issues to spark protest but also to envision a better world.

Find out more here.

EVERY. NOW. THEN: REFRAMING NATIONHOOD (JUNE 29TH — DECEMBER 10TH 2017)

The Art Gallery of Ontario can be, in a word, traditional. And usually, just like with the ROM, I never post their exhibitions on here because they get enough press and funding as it is. However, both of these institutions have showings this month that are worth note. The AGO’s is an exploration of what it means to be Canadian right now. Artists showing include Gu Xiong, Yu Gu, Robert Houle, Meryl McMaster, Seth, Esmaa Mohamoud, Ed Pien & Shuvinai Ashoona. The exhibition looks at where Canada is from, more than 150 years ago, where it is now and where it could go, using a multitude of artists and perspectives to attempt to answer these questions.

Find out more here.

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Contact Festival: Talking to Suzy Lake

Suzy Lake, ImPositions Pan F Contact Sheet, 1977, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects

The Scotia Bank Contact festival is Canada’s largest photography festival, with over 1500 participating artists and 200 exhibitions taking place through the month of May. It sprawls throughout the entirety of the Greater Toronto Area. This year, the festival focuses on Canada and recognizes the 150th anniversary of the confederation; explores both documentary style pieces that capture an ever-changing Canadian landscape and images that challenge our notions of the medium.

Novella had the privilege to speak with renowned artist and 2016 Scotiabank Photography Award winner, Suzy Lake.

Lake is a veteran photographer, video maker and performance artist. Her works deal with body image, ageism, beauty, as well as gender and identity construction. She explores the effects of social convention and power dynamics: “About forty to fifty years ago I started working with issues of identity and realized that, as one is trying to find one’s voice, one becomes aware of what the resistance is and so that continued as my visual journey until now.” Although her work is highly politicicized, Lake isn’t interested in preaching, “the thing is, I create work where I’m asking a question and raising discussion. It’s not agitprop. I’m not trying to convert someone.”

Suzy Lake, Puppet Study #10, 1976, gelatin silver print, string. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects

Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1947, Lake grew up in a politically tumultuous era where racial tensions ran high. She became politically active in her young adulthood. She studied painting at Wayne State University, but felt the medium did not help her reconcile what was happening around her. She began experimenting with photography and performance art on her own accord. Witnessing the Detroit Race Riots first hand, she and her husband were forced to leave her hometown, and ended up in Montreal, Quebec.

Lake quickly realized that Canada, too, was fertile ground for the exploration of identity and power dynamics. For example, when she moved to Quebec, she discovered that she was technically her husband’s property under the Quebec Civil Code. The FLQ, a political party who violently advocated Quebec’s separation from Canada, was also active in Montreal at the time of Lake’s arrival. She sought progression through her artwork. Lake cofounded a forward-thinking, artist-run space in Montreal called Véhicule Art Inc, in 1972. Many consider it to have been at the helm of contemporary art.

Lake’s interest in the dynamics of power flourished. As she described it, there were: “Identity issues that were being addressed and they were politicized and there was resistance to them and I was very interested in that because it was very much similar to the civil rights work that I was doing in Detroit. So really, power dynamics are power dynamics. The story might be different, but the dynamic is the same.”

Suzy Lake, Thin Green Line, 2001, chromogenic print. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects

Lake moved to Toronto in the late 1970s. She began to create work concerning both identity and landscapes, these were a testament to how she felt about deeply Canadian issues. Her installations, “Desire and the Landscape” and “Authority is an Attribute, Part I and Part II” explored Canada’s convoluted relationship with landownership. In “Desire and and Landscape” she juxtaposed the pride of a community in a rural, industrial paper mill town in northern Ontario, with the fallacious expectations of cosmopolitan tourists.

“Everyone really identifies with their surroundings if they have been in a place for a long period of time. Living in Montreal for ten years — that was a length of time where I learned about its history the nuances of personality so and so forth. We have a pride in that comfort of where we are and what it looks like. It becomes part of who we are,” she said.  “If you’re a tourist, you kind of idealize what that is and it’s not necessarily on the same terms as the caretakers of that land.” For the piece, Lake created wall drawings with colored graphite pencil and intermittently hung photographs of tourists.

Canada’s historical power dynamics, clearly fraught with injustice, were incorporated into her work, she explained, “The Temagami land claim was living on a tremendous amount of Ontario, they’re hunters and at the same time desire of all the cottagers of the Temagami area had desire over the beautiful vacationing landscape and the soft wood lumber industry Goulard assumed desire and ownership over the pine forest and hydro and so you know there is a different kind of investment by others than those who are really the caretakers of the land.”

Her piece “Authority is an Attribute Part I and II” further explored the relationships between First Nations people, the provincial government, and the logging and tourist industries. In Part I, we met the figures of desire and issues of appropriation, each colonial figure had a set of binoculars because their gaze holds the power of decision-making. For Part II, the Teme-Augama Anishnabai Band Council asked Lake if she could create an exhibition on Bay Street that non-Indigenous people in Toronto could see. The Council wanted the exhibition on Bay Street (Toronto’s equivalent of the infamous Wall Street in New York), “because that’s where important decisions are made.” Lake said, “They wanted their side of the story told so every decision, every visualization that I did, I would go up to Teme-Augama and present it to and have it approved by Band Council so it really was a collaboration, but I visualized it.” The photos consist of triptychs of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai Band members smiling on their rightful land and home. She also included photos of the previously identified authority figures with binoculars from Part I as well as in cut out installations to really accentuate their taking of space. There is also a small series of silver gelatin prints entitled “Game Players” of businessmen in suits playing chess on the Augama Anishnabai land. The businessmen also represent aspects of neo-colonialism.

Whether Lake is dealing with beauty ideas, ageism, or other societal constructions, her work sparks conversation. Her work is a visual manifestation of how we may feel about social injustice.

CONTACT is celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday—yet many see little reason to celebrate our colonial foundations and the ongoing disempowerment of indigenous groups. Lake’s Attribute I and II function as an important reminder of the many injustices that Canada has perpetrated over those 150 years.

You can see Suzy Lake’s exhibition is on from April 29-August 13 at the Ryerson Image Centre.

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Cold and Amazing: Recent Events to Celebrate Surfing in Toronto

Antonio Lennert says his company Surf the Greats partners with some local exclusive brands for their new surf shop in Leslieville that will open on June 29th. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Even though many Torontonians think they have to travel far to surf, the local community of wave riders is growing in popularity. More and more people are popping up on the boards in the midst of lakes Ontario, Huron, and Erie.

The adventure and lifestyle company Surf the Greats is going to increase the excitement for the new obsession even more with a couple of big surf events. The screening of Under An Arctic Sky at The Royal (608 College Street) welcomes its renowned adventure photographer Chris Burkard this Thursday. The other — opening of a surf shop/cafe in Leslieville next month — will get surfers everything they need for their soul and body.

Over the past three years, Surf the Greats has been fostering the local surfing community through film screenings, art exhibitions, beach cleanups, surf lessons on the Great Lakes, and surf camps in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Costa Rica. This year the company partnered with Chris Burkard Studio to present the documentary Under An Arctic Sky by Burkard and filmmaker Ben Weiland. The film follows six surfers in the most remote corner of Iceland.

Surf the Greats’s CEO Antonio Lennert said he’s excited to meet Burkard in person for the first time“[Burkard]’s been a big inspiration for us to get outside, explore the nature and take beautiful photographs,” he said.

In order to spread the world about surfing in Toronto, the event will also screen two local short films: On Days Like These You Must Surf by Jake Kovnat and Sweet Water by Andrew Wyton“They were the best short films on Great Lakes surfing we’ve seen so far,” said Lennert. “I thought it would be a great opportunity for local filmmakers to show their work to the big name surf-photographer and filmmaker.”

Kovnat and Wyton were each going to their surf spots over the course of Novella’s interview with them: to Hawaii and to Lake Erie, respectively.

“I feel so amazing! I feel high every time I come in from the surfing on the lake,” said Kovnat. “No matter what else is going on in my life, it feels incredible.”

His black and white documentary tells the story of Larry Cavero, who, together with Lennert, introduced Kovnat to surfing on the Great Lakes. Every time Kovnat shares his surfing experience, the excitement grows in his voice: “I heard about surfing in Toronto around 2013, 2014…And in 2015 I met Antonio and Larry. That was the first time that I went to surf by myself. In the process, Larry actually sold me my first wetsuit and he let me borrow a surfboard just for free. So, I went out on lake Erie and I did horribly, but it was so cool to be out there in the water. And water is really cold. You were always told to be careful and safe in the water, and then you are out there, you feel amazing.”

Kovnat said, as his film was self-funded and all the participants donated their time, the most difficult part for him was the production and getting everyone together:

“When you do a ‘passion project’ like this with basically no money but a really great story, you have to work around the schedule of your crew and schedule of the waves, which is completely unpredictable.” The best part for him was getting shots of Larry and his daughters in Larry’s house and seeing Larry “living his life outside of the water.”

For Wyton, who has shot videos about surfing before, the weather was always one of the most challenging things. “You can never shoot in the wind because your lens will be drowned in the water,” he said. “It’s frustrating just keeping your lens clear all the time.”

Wyton said he enjoyed observing nature and capturing its mystery, which inspired him to do even bigger projects in the future. “I’m happy, but I’m never satisfied,” he said. “I’d like to make another one [film], but I’d like to get more professional surfers.”

The screenings of the three films will be followed by a Q&A with Burkard and a 20-minute presentation about the documentary. The guests will be able to talk to Burkard and purchase his new book. 

Lennert added that they wanted to organize a similar event in 2014 when Weiland and Burkard released their film The Cradle Of Storms. However, it took them a long time to build the network with the Californian producers. “We just opened our company, so we didn’t have enough connections to make it happen,” Lennert said. “We’ve been in touch with him [Burkard] since then. And when we saw he’s releasing his new film, we reached out to him and his producers in California… It took us a while to find the right venue in Toronto that could accommodate 350+ people at an affordable rate. It was a big risk.”

During the event, Surf the Greats will also announce the grand opening of their new shop in Leslieville on June 29th. Lennert said his shop will have everything surfers need: boards, wetsuits, and exclusive clothing brands from Tofino, Montreal, California, and New Jersey. It will be a kind of surfers’ hub with a small cafeteria and space for workshops, yoga classes, and live screenings of surf competitions like the World Surf League (WSL).

“Now we have only one surf shop in Toronto,” Lennert said. “And we don’t actually have the space where the community can hang out outside of waves. So this is going to be a kind of a community’s home.”

VIP-tickets are sold out. Click here to find a last-minute GA ticket. 

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A Conversation with Simeon Posen at Toronto’s Liss Gallery

Simeon Posen at Toronto’s Liss Gallery in the heart of Yorkville; photo — Ryan Emberley

Simeon Posen, the famed Canadian architectural and landscape photographer, needs little introduction. With works spanning over four decades, two grants from Canada Council for the Arts, and the recent inclusion of The Iran Collection into the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection, Posen’s consolidated his position as one of Canada’s most respected photographers.

Posen is easy to talk to; the type of man one says of afterwards, He looks at you right in your eye. When I met him briefly at Liss Gallery in Yorkville — where you can see a selection of works from the Iran Collection — to discuss the exhibit, Posen was preparing for the opening night in the midst of his associates and admirers. We sat down among the hubbub of the preparation, surrounded by images of mosques, faraway lands, and markets.

Hoon: How did the Iran Collection come to be a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection?

Simeon Posen: We were at the MET, visiting, and my partner said that we should contact the museum and show them the work. So after a number of phone calls, I eventually got to the right person, and he came down with one of his associates who was one of the associate curators. And they saw the photos and said, These are beautiful photographs and we want them. It was as simple as that.

Persepolis by Simeon Posen

H: Could you tell us a bit about your time spent in Iran in the ’70s?

S: I was there for two and a half months — there’s actually a map there where you can see how I went around. I went from North to South and from East to West. I was visiting to look at the extraordinary architecture of the country. Iran’s one of those countries where pretty much you can go anywhere and see something phenomenal. It’s not like northern Ontario where you can drive for three days and only see trees [laughs].

H: It’s interesting that you mention Northern Ontario. You’ve also photographed farmhouses, which aren’t necessarily buildings we look at as architectural feats.

S: As an architect, I look for simplicity, rhythm, patterns, lines. They’re not that unrelated. When photographing something like the Persepolis, it’s pretty hard not to take a beautiful photo. With something a little simpler and basic, you may need to work a little harder to find a composition you like. I’m not really interested in city buildings or new buildings — not that there aren’t some wonderful ones.

Isfahan – Friday Mosque by Simeon Posen

H: Part of the reason why the exhibit seems timely is because it feels, in regards to the turmoil in the Middle East, in part like an act of preservation. Did you have that in mind when you were photographing in Iran? 

S: No. I photographed them because they were beautiful buildings and because I’m interested in them as such and extraordinary structures. That dome there [points to the above photograph], if you look at it, you’ll see that it starts at the top as an octagon and it spreads out until it hits 32 points or so at the bottom. It’s phenomenal design. Phenomenal construction, apparently built without scaffolding. It’s incredible feats of ingenuity and design — that’s what I’m interested in. The fact that they are universal expressions is wonderful and I’m glad to know that. But that wasn’t what I was there for.

Firuzabad Highway by Simeon Posen

H: One of your influences is Ansel Adams, the famous landscape photographer. Could you describe to us his influence on your work? 

S: The beauty of the world expressed in architecture or landscape is fantastic. His landscapes are unbelievable and beautifully done, of course. But he was an inspiration because I was having trouble developing prints at that time. I was getting prints of very high contrast and…I just…basically, I gave up. I was at a school in the States and one of my friends there said, You should read one of Ansel Adam’s books on how to make an exposure called the Zone System. So I went into Phoenix and bought the book. The Zone System is a brilliant observation on how highlight and shadow work in relation to film. So I was reading along one particular page, scratching my head, and got to the bottom of it where there was a little asterisk that said, Don’t give up, go back [laughs]. So I went back, about twenty times, until I finally understood what he was talking about, which was the relationship of highlight to shadow; and the nine steps most film have between the darkest dark and the brightest bright. When you have that knowledge, you can start designing your negatives.

Isfahan — Friday Mosque by Simeon Posen

H: Could you take us through your creative process?

S: It’s simpler than you think. I taught a course a number of years ago at Toronto Image Works and all I said to people was — and this may sound corny — when you’re out someplace, if something catches your eye, that’s where you put the lens and make the photograph. It’s no more complicated than that. That changes as you change, but the best and the hard thing to do is to not think about it. If there’s something you want to explore, do so, but try not to think about it so much; instead, try to be intuitive about it. That’s the approach: put your lens right where your eye is.

H: So don’t think about compositions and whatnot?

S: Don’t think about it. Don’t look for the s curve and the rule of thirds and all those horrible things they teach you at camera class. I remember, many years ago when I was a kid, I showed a collection of the things that you do for composition to an artistic cousin — there was the s curve, the crosses, all the things that make a “good photograph.” And my cousin, he closed the book and said, Just go out and take pictures [laughs]. So that’s my advice. Stop thinking about and just enjoy it.

Damavand by Simeon Posen

H: You photograph in black and white. Is there a reason for your preference? 

S: Black and white has a way of abstracting things. There are wonderful color photographers whose works I admire, but I don’t know if I particularly think like that. But the uninspiring answer is that thirty or forty years ago, color was really hard to do; you needed perfect temperature control, all kinds of stuff. So even if I wanted to get into it, it was very difficult. It’s the difference between watercolor and oil painting — you have to know and look for different things.

Soltanieh — House Interior by Simeon Posen

H: Do you have any photograph in the collection you like in particular?

S: The answer is no. I once asked a friend of mind who has two kids, Which kid do you prefer? The answer was, It depends on the day [laughs]. Yes, there may be some days when I look at a photo and think, I really like that one. But on the next day, I’d really like another. I guess, maybe, I’d lean toward certain ones to a certain degree, but they are all like children. The attitude toward making the photograph in one location to another isn’t that much different.

H: I’ve heard that you developed the Iran photographs in the hotel bathroom made into a makeshift darkroom. Why the sense of urgency?

S: It’s a fair question. I was concerned, and in those days, security wasn’t like now — though it may be worse now. It was very erratic. I was worried that somebody was going to say, What’s in the box? Open it up. Nobody did as it turned it out. A box of developed films isn’t going to care if you open it, but a box of undeveloped ones… your whole trip is ruined. Or even when traveling around, if the box opens up, the films are ruined. There was a lot of anxiety about it.

Simeon Posen’s The Iran Collection will be on view at Yorkville’s Liss Gallery at 112 Cumberland Street until May 27th.