If you’ve ever gotten the feeling of being watched while walking along Davenport, there’s one storefront to blame.
Today, attractions are sparse along Davenport Road. Once the shoreline of what was then Glacial Lake Iroquois, and later a major thoroughfare into Toronto monitored by a tollbooth at Bathurst—now commemorated by a replica cottage—it’s still a thoroughfare now, though there’s at least a spacious bike lane and, a smidge further north, an elevated view of where Lake Ontario licks terra firma.
But approach Christie from the west, and you’ll see two painted eyeballs gazing out at Davenport like gargoyles. On a storefront sign, the irises frame two words stitched together by a mathematical equation: Observation=Dismay.
“When you open a storefront, you can call it whatever you want,” says Roy Kohn, laughing as he recalls a passerby complaining that their sign was too negative. Kohn and Kate Vasyliw form a collective art team that goes by WeSee Inc. and “Observation=Dismay” is meant to encapsulate how they feel people react to art or new visuals. The main floor of 911 Davenport Road serves as the WeSee Inc. studio workspace, while the window gallery features installations from local and international artists, rotating every five weeks. (It’s called “Roadside Attraction.”) Vasyliw and Kohn live upstairs along with two cats, Simon and Frank. The studio and the hosts are welcoming, and inside, the feeling’s of a homey living-room blended with curiosities, projects in-process or completed. Louis Armstrong croons while Simon rolls around on the floor.
Kohn and Vasyliw, both OCAD grads, are multidisciplinary visual artists who have worked extensively in installation and have recently delved into video, performance, and guerilla art. The first film of a WeSee Inc. trilogy, Kerplunk, featuring Vasyliw’s video persona Katinka, appeared at the Washington, D.C. Independent Film Festival in March. On the beach wearing a dress swathed in eyeballs, Katina dances and swirls to the point of vertigo to an eerie pop song lauding consumerism.
“We didn’t really pursue the whole gallery thing,” Vasyliw notes, and Kohn adds that “it’s a little boring.” “It’s a little scary, really,” Vasyliw continues. The pair say they’ve gravitated to fashioning art where it’s not supposed to be—outside galleries—instead. They ambushed an ugly telephone booth on Christie, affixing a “Fun Booth” sign to it and outfitting the interior with mirrored mylar and the exterior with fuchsia fur. Turns out that the eyeballs rep something beyond players in visual art: WeSee Inc. is interested in deception and superstitious beliefs systems, and the motifs and humour of sideshows, and the line between appearance and reality, are explored in much of WeSee Inc.’s carnivalesque repertoire. “People want to be deceived,” Roy observes, with some dismay.
“Roadside Attraction” is part of a growing number of window galleries around the city that are putting art into public space, providing streetside wallpaper and making for engaging pedestrian fodder. (Carousel magazine curated a special project among many of said windows, including Observation=Dismay’s.) Your eyeballs are all that’s missing.