Transition in Progress: the art of mobility and migration

A wooden cart sits at the corner of Queen and Munro streets. It almost looks like a food cart, with a metal bar propped up by cinder blocks, two large bike wheels on either side, and a drawer sticking out. Even the people running it wear aprons. But a closer look shows maps of Toronto burned into the wood. Black and white photographs on plastic blocks line the top of the cart. Instead of the lid opening up to a freezer full of popsicles, it reveals drawers of plants and trinkets donated by people from the community. This cart doesn’t sell food. This is Transitions in Progress, a mobile laboratory detailing what migration means to four distinct Toronto communities.


TiP is part of an international project called Performigrations: People are the Territory, which explores issues of mobility and migration.

Roberta Buiani, an artist and activist, responded to the open call for Performigrations with Elena Basile and Valentina Sutti. She brought in Lorella Di Cintio, an associate professor at the Ryerson School of Interior Design, to help with the planning of the mobile lab.

“If we had slapped it in a gallery, something would be missing,” says Buiani, who came up with the idea of a mobile lab. That something is what they’re searching for in the communities.

Di Cintio worked with two third -year interior design students from Ryerson and an OCAD graduate over the summer to create the cart.

For Di Cintio, design activism is about removing expert knowledge. She works with the community to create a space that they can turn into their own place. The items representing the community are found at the bottom of the lab and are only visible if you pull out the drawers with other objects on top. This reflects the idea of burying something and then uncovering it.

Buiani* lugged what feels like 100 pounds on a bike to four different neighbourhoods on Queen Street. Their stops are shown on the inside lid of the lab. They started at Parkdale on Sept. 1 and made their way to Trinity Bellwoods, Church and Queen, and finally Riverdale.

Roberta is on right
Even people who aren’t part of the neighbourhood are welcome to share their own experiences in the city. Nicholas Richards writes his story of how he just moved to Toronto after living in Beijing for 10 years. He suddenly found himself on strike as a teacher’s assistant at Glendon. He drops in the red square and pin he wore for the strike into a collection box next to the lab.  

While the lab tried to bring the community together, it also contributed to some mistrust in the neighbourhoods. “We got perceived as some sort of government thing,” says Basile. At Trinity Bellwoods, people confused TiP’s request for a contribution as a request for a monetary donation.
“We are not a business. We are artists,” says Buiani.

The team is already getting invites to other neighbourhoods in the city. Their next step is the exhibit in the Paul H. Cocker Architecture Gallery at Ryerson University from Oct. 19-24.

Photos by Madonna Dennis

*Correction: This article originally said Basile was lugging the cart around. It was actually Buianai.