Last year I walked into the Hearn Generating Station and gazed around in awe. The Hearn is a decommissioned power plant and the building is vast — it’s a rough, raw, absolutely beautiful ruin.
While the Hearn is the type of place you’d expect to visit for an illegal rave, I was actually allowed to be there — I had tickets for Unsound, a two-night music event/party held as part of Toronto’s 2015 Luminato Festival.
The first night of Unsound was dark and atmospheric — the music consisted of “ambient soundscapes,” “noise” and “drone metal.” Exploring the space, with its dim lighting, damp concrete walls, exposed metal beams, puddles of water, chunks of fallen debris and scores of people facing a giant screen with a light projection, I felt like I was either partying in a post-apocalyptic future, or had stumbled upon a cult meeting.
Side note: I hope the music of the future is better than drone metal. I kept waiting for the bass to drop or for some kind of musical climax…BUT IT NEVER CAME. This music is not for me. See below for a taste. The second video is over 13 minutes long, but scroll through and you’ll see what I saw that night.
Night two of Unsound 2015 was more like a rave — it was brighter inside, with colourful strobe lights and more danceable music (better than the first night, but still not my flavour). I would have really appreciated Levels by Avicii up in this place.
While I didn’t leave Unsound with new musical interests, I did leave with an appreciation of the Hearn, and was happy to see that the 2016 edition of the Luminato Festival would be housed in this venue. I can’t say I understand or particularly appreciate modern art (I often find it confusing), but in this case, the venue itself was an attraction.
I skipped Unsound this year (surprise, surprise), and instead, spent my money on a ticket for Situation Rooms. Luminato hosted the North American premiere of Situation Rooms, which is an interactive…experience (it’s called a “multi-player video installation” on the Luminato website). Basically, you hold an iPad in front of you and wear a pair of head phones, both of which provide you instructions and information about who you are and what you’re supposed to do. The experience begins with you walking to a door (the number of your door is indicated on the iPad screen), and when you are told to, you open the door and ‘step into’ seven minutes of someone else’s life. All of the ‘characters’ you ‘play’ are connected to the global arms trade in some way. This ain’t fun and games, folks! As you physically move through different rooms, opening and closing doors and in some cases, climbing and descending ladders and stairs, you interact with other participants playing their characters. Everyone sees the world through the eyes of 10 different people. My most memorable characters were a Doctors Without Borders physician working in Sierra Leone (this one was quite disturbing actually), a former hit man for a Mexican drug cartel, a war zone photographer and a German activist. Situation Rooms was a very unique and interesting experience, offering some fascinating and heartbreaking perspective on our world, war and weapons. I would recommend a Situation Rooms experience if the opportunity arises (all of the slots sold out quite quickly at Luminato).
Beyond the video installation, I enjoyed exploring more of the Hearn this year (entry is free). It looks like the space has been opened up quite a bit, as you’re allowed to go upstairs and into sections that were blocked off in 2015 due to safety concerns. Of the installations I saw, the giant disco ball was cool, and you can get a nice Instagram shot of a brick wall with the quote “don’t look back.” I also watched a very strange film featuring nude people cavorting around the Hearn, sometimes led by a woman in a Victorian-style dress. If you want to be creeped out and laugh in confusion, you should definitely watch this film. I will stick to my Netflix — I just do not understand this kind of “art.” Luminato also featured a few more parties this year (in addition to Unsound), a restaurant (reservations went quickly), theatre and Toronto Symphony Orchestra performances, talks and more. I might check this talk out on Sunday: Art, Culture, and Place-making in the City.
Three fun facts I learned about the Hearn (from a very enthusiastic and absolutely lovely Festival volunteer):
- The Hearn was once the largest enclosed space in Canada
- The Hearn’s smoke stack was the tallest structure in the Toronto (before the CN Tower was built)
- A number of films have shot scenes in the abandoned venue, most recently, Suicide Squad (out later this summer)
Luminato runs for a few more days (until Sunday, June 26) — it’s just another cool Toronto thing that’s worth a visit! (And don’t let the out-of-the-way location deter you — there’s a free shuttle bus!)