Travels with Two Donkeys in the Valley
Saturdays from June 2-23 from 10am-4pm
Don River Valley Park, Toronto
Part of the Don River Valley Park Art Program of curated series of temporary public artworks taking place along the Don River. Curated by Kari Cwynar.
Photo by Claire Harvie.
In this new public commission, undertaken in partnership with the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, artist Gareth Long will care for two donkeys from the Sanctuary each Saturday throughout the month of June, taking them for short walks along the Lower Don Trail.
Long has introduced the motif of the donkey in many of his previous works, as a way of engaging with methods of education and the processes of learning. Culturally speaking, donkeys have a long history as a motif in art and literature, typically representing stupidity, the “ass” or the fool; but they are also often included to represent moments of metamorphosis. In some of the oldest donkey stories – The Golden Ass by Apuleius, Lucius, or the Ass by Lucian, and Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream – this “beast of burden” is frequently depicted as undergoing a process of transformation, changing itself, as well as the people and environments around it.
These shifts have strong allegorical parallels with the Don Valley. The modern (and colonial) history of the Don Valley is one of industry and labour, and over the past century the Valley has been transformed, over-industrialized and neglected. In this public work, Long layers these two narratives. As an artwork, Travels with Two Donkeys in the Valley is a catalyst for a new social situation set within the changing public landscapes of Toronto. The project creates an unexpected prompt for conversation with passers-by, who are invited to walk with the artist and the donkeys in the Don Valley. Through quiet, communal explorations of the Don Valley each Saturday, the learning here is manifold – in raising awareness of the vital work of the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada; in fostering dialogue around the ongoing transformations of the Valley; and in the project’s emphasis on empathy, care and ecological awareness as an antidote to a frenetic urban environment.
Each Saturday, the donkeys will temporarily reside in a shed installed in the Don Valley. The shed, designed by Long, is inspired by a modular schoolhouse design by mid twentieth-century French designer and architect, Jean Prouvé. His temporary, demountable architecture was produced as a solution to the housing crises of his day and espouse an underlying social and political consciousness in how they were designed and built. Long extends these principles to present-day Toronto, building the structure using materials that resonate with both the past and present of the Don Valley and the vernacular materials of the farm, while introducing the schoolhouse as a site of education and conversation – a reversal of the usual connotation of the donkey and a surprising discovery in the heart of the Don Valley. After the project, the shelter will be donated to the project’s partner, the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada.
The shed was designed and built in collaboration with artist and architect Christian Kliegel.
This project is possible with the support of the Toronto Arts Council, and with Gareth Long’s support from the Canada Council for the Arts.