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Invisible City project invites writers to engage with abandoned Toronto sites


Gideon Samson participating in a former iteration of The invisible City (Photo: Corneel de Wilde)

In an attempt to draw attention to and rethink the use of obsolete urban spaces‚ Netherlands-based artist Sjoerd Ter Borg conceived of The Invisible City‚ a project that brings authors into abandoned buildings to practice their craft. After taking place numerous times in Amsterdam under the name The Publisher of Vacancy‚ the idea was picked up by Toronto organization Endless City as part of its FORMS summit for artists and creative thinkers‚ taking place Sept. 28–30.

“We have a lot of interesting buildings [in Amsterdam] that are vacant, but there is no money for redevelopment, and owners won’t permit temporary use. This inspired the project‚” Ter Borg says. “These iconic buildings, having once had an important public function, are symbolic of thousands of vacant places. I created new use for them, but [also] started a new way of thinking about their qualities, which could shine light on future developments. What I hope to achieve is new use and at the same time a reflection of the past, present‚ and future of the city and aspects that normally remain invisible.”

As part of The Invisible City‚ Toronto authors and photographers took to abandoned city spaces for inspiration and to revive them as workspaces. Writer Andrew F. Sullivan wrote fiction in the former Unilever soap factory in the Don Valley Parkway–Lakeshore Blvd. area on Sept. 23. His work will be presented and discussed during this weekend’s summit.

“It unlocks your perspective and places your work in a larger context where you’re not the only one trying to create some meaning‚” Sullivan says. “I think fiction writers should be more open to collaboration, more open to challenges outside their comfort zone‚ and look to produce work in unfamiliar or even hostile places.”

Ter Borg says the ways a writer can integrate‚ describe‚ and imagine spaces in new ways makes fiction the most relevant art form for his projects. “The writer, readers‚ and characters perceive the space differently and it evokes different associations. When you ask architects about the future of these places, they will provide a scale model,” he says. “But when you ask writers, perception can be totally transformed… in switching between fiction and reality, hidden features unveil totally different aspects.”