ArtScopeTO 03: Hanna Kostanski’s 20th Century Toronto: Intersections & Interactions

August 21, 2017 | By

Wide view of Hanna Kostanski’s paintings at The Urban Gallery (200 Queen St. East). The exhibit runs until Sat. Aug. 26, 2017.


Back in the fall of 2016 I started a shorter series of podcasts branded ArtScopeTO, with a purview to showcase interviews with artists not exclusively in film and filmmusic. It’s an irregular series that also reflects my very eclectic tastes, which in the latest episode deals with the preservation of a city’s urban history.

That’s a very loose classification, because it also spans the can of worms that isn’t exclusive to Toronto – the changes that naturally occur as a city grows and runs astray as urban planning isn’t properly executed. Wherever you’re currently living, you’ve seen local history and heritage vanish, or if lucky be preserved and repurposed in whole as a new venue, like a factory for stage plays, a corporate office broken up into micro offices for startups, or a former funeral house transformed into venues for local artisans. The latter are clever and creative possibles that don’t always happen, and Toronto’s habit of eradicating architectural history is well known among locals. There’s demolition by neglect, demolition before the law can do anything about, and that loathsome practice of facadism. There are ways to incorporate old buildings into new complexes that retain history and purpose of even a functional shell; and then there’s keeping a few stone arches to meet the minimum requirements of lackey boards that allow for an old building to be razed yet the whole maneuver to be passed off as preservation of a heritage site.

To paraphrase a term that recurs in my interview with painter and photographer Hanna Kostanski, there’s a deep rabbit hole filled with lost buildings, but the purview here is the key changes than arguably make up the natural stages in which the no longer functional and now outmoded are replaced with more practical and supposedly sexy buildings designed to serve current and future masses.

Kostanski lives in Hamilton but has lived and works in Toronto, so she’s well familiar with the ripple effects of changes that emanate from our bad planning, or putting it in a different light, inevitable growth.

Her paintings are no ordinary portraits of cities, taking her inspiration from images stored in archives that are snapshots of living urban communities in a series branded 20th Century Toronto: Intersections & Interactions.


Painter-photographer Hanna Kostanski beside her centerpiece portrait of Yonge and Dundas, on display at The Urban Gallery.


BlogTO did a piece on the series that began its run at The Urban Gallery, and her work quickly grabbed locals because they’re large canvases of intersections and venues many of us remember and still use. Our discussion is bookended by some thoughts which I don’t think are too critical, but I do share some memories of what’s transpired at Bloor & Yonge, the significant insignificant interactions lost to the developer’s backhoe, and why change needs to have some bridle(s) to prevent a downward spiral into banality.


A closer view of Hanna Kostanski’s Yonge & Dundas painting, and the texture that’s part of the portrait.


Kostanski’s paintings need to be seen up close. They’re large canvases with fine details, sharp colours, and textured surfaces that compel one to look deeper, almost peer around, and step back again to absorb the complete drama packed within one frame. Her work also begs us to explore our respective cities by delving into local archives and reacquaint or discover anew aspects hidden and buried.

I’ve strong impressions of when my family moved to a corner of North York, and before the 404 was built, I rode my bike through a creepy bug-filled field until I hit the highway under construction and rode around dirt mounds. Fairview Mall was new, Woodbine was being altered, and Seneca College was brand new.

The strangest memory wasn’t seeing the changes as the street behind us was completed, looped around, and houses were placed on those fields, but that one summer when I rode down to take that narrow path, it wasn’t there anymore.

My podcast with Hanna Kostanski is available on Google Play, iTunes, Libsyn, and YouTube, and her work can be seen until Sat. Aug. 26 at The Urban Gallery, 400 Queen Street East. Special thanks to Glenda Fordham at Fordham P.R. for facilitating the interview.

I should also point out two prior editions of ArtScopeTO were strictly visual editions, as the original concept was to take the words of artists, run them through an oscilloscope, and treat them within Premiere into a series of Q&A montages.



These experiments were fun to craft but I’m sticking with straight audio-only editions as there are three simple goals to attain before the end of winter 2017-2018: 1) make my experimental doc BSV 1172: Your Friendly Neighbourhood Video Store available for purchase with significant special features and an aggressive 5.1 mixed version available to cinemas for themed screenings; 2) shoot a 3D music video using a misaligned ENG tube camera; and 3) complete a film begun around 2006 after a significant script overhaul and reshoots.

I’ll post more info as things slide into place.

Coming next: reviews of John Byrum’s Inserts (1975) and Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1978).



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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Category: EDITOR'S BLOG, INTERVIEWS, podcast

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