Sunday, September 11, 2005

Fountains for Jeff

I never met Jeff Chapman, aka Ninjalicious, but I'm a big fan of Infiltration, the zine and website he founded. Jeff was one of the originators of the now-global urban exploration movement; in fact, he coined the phrase. He accomplished a lot of other stuff too -- zines, online projects, collaborations -- so it was almost a surprise to learn that, when he lost his battle with cancer late last month, he was only 31.

Jeff's brother Kyle put out a call for friends and admirers of Jeff to pay tribute to him by jumping in fountains. That was a big part of the reason why we decided to walk Exhibition Place on Thursday. We were also curious about what the grounds would look like a few days after the end of the Ex.

It turned out to be a fascinating place. Most of the garbage and litter had been collected already -- as we went in, we saw a lot of orange-vested sanitation workers, and peering into buildings we saw sacks of garbage piled into mounds of Biblical proportions. The streets were wide, tidy and completely empty, like some model city whose population had mysteriously vanished overnight. Over at one end of the grounds, the massively opulent Liberty Grand was playing host to the gala launch party for Deepa Mehta's Water, so the only signs of life we saw were occasional small groups of people in formal eveningwear, heading that way.

The exhibition pavilions were empty and desolate, but spotlights still illuminated the facades of the Better Living Centre and all the other monuments to space-age, retro optimism. We came across a white gazebo, still brilliantly lit. Eerier still were the many fountains that dotted the landscape, glowing with shifting and flickering coloured light, for no-one's benefit but our own.

The first fountain that some of our group jumped in was relatively small and unlit, so it wasn't until everyone had climbed out that we noticed the dead rat. Ew. Subsequent fountains were larger and brighter, inspiring greater confidence. Many had signs saying "LAKEWATER: DO NOT DRINK OR TOUCH," which we thought was kind of a sad comment on the state of Lake Ontario.

The largest fountain, above, featured a wide pool, in the centre of which was a sort of island with benches and an enormous bronze sphinx and angel statue. We knew we had to defy the signs and visit that island; urban exploration, after all, is all about "going places you're not supposed to go." The water was freezing (though apparently clean and rodent-free), but the benches were comfy. There was some kind of enigmatic inscription up there, something like "The peace is in you; you be the peace."

We walked back to the gates; Laura found a hula hoop in a tree and we rolled it around the streets on our way out. We saw swarms of very-much-alive rats darting in and out of the shrubbery near the streetcar stop.

I've put up a set of photos from the walk here. Jason's are better, though.

Update: There's a nice post by Laura about the walk up on the psychogeography blog.


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