Back/Fill

Text excerpted from the 2019 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival catalogue:

Back/Fill (2019) explores the detritus of Toronto through images of construction debris dumped at the Leslie Street Spit. Featuring a massive mural adhered to the north elevation of the new Daniels Building in Toronto, and large-scale photographs mounted within, the project raises questions about the cyclical nature of the built environment’s material character, with its phases of demolition, construction, preservation, and renovation.

Commonly known as Tommy Thompson Park, the spit is a manufactured peninsula and wilderness reserve built entirely from Toronto’s clean construction waste. Debris from the recent renovation of the Daniels Building—a storied structure that began its life as Knox College—and the construction of a modern wing by architectural firm NADAAA were also dumped at the spit. Dobson’s panoramic mural on the building’s glass façade stretches between two sloped earth walls. Her image reveals layers of rubble, creating the illusion of backfilling with material culled from the Daniels Building’s demolition and construction. In effect, Dobson creates a series of “plausible fictions”: that the site’s discarded construction debris has somehow returned, and now re-occupies its former location; or perhaps, that fragments of other demolished downtown buildings, now vanished, have opportunistically reappeared as backfill to claim a prominent location within the city’s “new” downtown.

Inside the Daniels Faculty, Dobson’s photographs of construction remnants retrieved from the spit—such as wire, brick, and piping—are positioned in its main public space. Affixed to custom-built support structures adjoined to elements of the building, the works activate dialogues with the surrounding architecture and creative community. Formerly lost in the spit’s jumbled anonymity, these artifacts assert new identities here, simultaneously architectonic and anthropomorphic, minted through the persistence of their material specificity. Writ large in Dobson’s highly detailed photographs, these fragments of a former time and place appear intensely present, as characters with a past. Back/Fill questions the endless cycle of architectural destruction and displacement. While recognizable artifacts within Dobson’s re-situated debris may elicit memories of Toronto’s lost architectural history, they also foreshadow a future past: this will have been.

Curated by Bonnie Rubenstein and Laura Miller


Back/Fill, Inkjet on Vinyl, May 2019
Installed on the North Facade of the Daniels Faculty Building, Toronto, Ontario
24 ft x 63 ft (7.3 m x 19.2 m)


Back/Fill, Inkjet on Vinyl, June 2019
Installed on the North Facade of the Daniels Faculty Building, Toronto, Ontario
24 ft x 63 ft (7.3 m x 19.2 m)


Back/Fill, Inkjet on Vinyl, July 2019
Installed on the North Facade of the Daniels Faculty Building, Toronto, Ontario
24 ft x 63 ft (7.3 m x 19.2 m)


Unidentified Artifact
Premium Inkjet Print on wood support, 2019
60″ x 65″ (152 cm x 165 cm)

Dobson_03
Pipe
Premium Inkjet Print on wood support, 2019
82″ x 48″ (208 cm x 122 cm)

Dobson_03
Wire Coil
Premium Inkjet Print on wood support, 2019
82″ x 46″ (208 cm x 117 cm)

Dobson_03
Toronto Brick
Premium Inkjet Print on wood support, 2019
86″ x 35.5″ (218 cm x 90 cm)

Dobson_03
Installation on custom built supports inside the Daniels Faculty Building, Toronto.
May – Sep 2019

Dobson_03
Installation on custom built supports inside the Daniels Faculty Building, Toronto.
May – Sep 2019

Dobson_03
Installation on custom built supports inside the Daniels Faculty Building, Toronto.
May – Sep 2019

Dobson_03
Installation on custom built supports inside the Daniels Faculty Building, Toronto.
May – Sep 2019