To create PATH, Michael Alstad infiltrates the underground maze of food courts, bank machines and retail shops of the PATH Network, on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14th, 2001. It is a systematically designed consumer network stretching over 10 kilometres, and forming the gut of Toronto's financial district.

During their lunch hour, thousands of white-collar workers scurry for an hour in the basements of Toronto's tallest buildings. Their efforts are not exactly romantic gestures juxtaposed against the grandiose architecture above ground; buildings dusted in gold, candle-shaped, dimly lit twin towers, knight-like, proposed by Mise van der Rohe, or Calatrava's stately galleria, as enchanting as the Black Forest, fittingly transformed into white steel. These are Toronto's landmark bank buildings rich with metaphors of romance. The workers are more like runny unformed concrete, oozing out from these utopic structures.

Alstad uses the detached observer's eye to navigate the PATH Network. He poses as a tourist to gain video access of people at bank machines, and others sifting through stock market indexes, Valentine cards and boxes of chocolates. PATH is a re-mix of clicking heels, incomprehensible sweet-nothings and electronic money transactions. Alstad heightens and jams the droning effects of bottoming finance activity with desperate consumer frenzy, which propels the most romantic day of the year. The resulting four-minute video, as fate would have it, also marks the day in the history of the Toronto Stock Exchange that saw a huge decline and sell-off of high tech stocks through the worlds largest fibre optic company, Canada's Nortel Networks.

PATH is a video work that is as much about high-powered finances and consumerism as it is about the shifting sense of art practice. Traditionally, artists have and continue to use the notion that a period of creativity is necessitated by reclusion.

Alstad is proposing a new shift in the paradigm that creativity = reclusion. He does this both physically and temporally with PATH by choosing Valentine's Day to record the workings of a highly sophisticated and confusing underground network. Alstad has co-founded Symbiosis Artist Collective, YEAR ZERO ONE - - an on-line forum, gallery and resource for digital media art, and curated countless other projects. However, it is the administrative role that must be perceived as a period of reclusion from the role Alstad is most interested in cultivating: his role as artist. Alstad does this by moving out of the traditional gallery environment to make his art/work.

In the case of PATH, however, the art/work is brought back into the gallery as evidence and manipulation of the infiltration. It is a gesture of place that seemingly blurs the line between art and work.

GROWTH (1997) is a precursor to Alstad's PATH. Conceived for The Bank of Symbiosis, an exhibition organized by Symbiosis Collective in a former bank site in Toronto, Alstad constructed an immense GROWTH sign out of lawn grass: green, muted, and eventually dying through the course of the exhibition. The Bank of Symbiosis project challenged the art space by placing it within the architecture of the bank, and GROWTH turned splendor into drought.

In the twentieth century, work became less meaningful to us. The terrain for satisfaction dwells within non-working time. This impacts on the way we shape our world.

Does non-working time continue to offer both entertainment and social value today? Alstad poignantly points out with PATH that the act of thousands of people who leave work with fixed determination to get a hot meal, do their banking, or run an errand, does not necessarily account for a break in non-work time. Rather, it is only the rhythm of work that alters - yet rhythm itself allows the fiction of rest and entertainment to enter. From within the PATH network, work is organic, flowing through and clinging to the patriarchal structures of the office towers. What we construct is merely an alternative environment to the "constructed" working environment in order to provide a greater sense of satisfaction. This double construction, so to speak, becomes a very strained terrain of satisfaction.

Today, people are, more than ever, attached to their work. Even romance is work on Valentine’s Day. Here lies the strength of Alstad's own work: PATH has the acute ability to show us the animal scurrying within his own cage.


Paola Poletto, Toronto - 11.20.01
P A T H was included in the international competition at the 5th Graz Biennal of Media and Architecture in Graz, Austria - 11.7.01 - 11.11.01

Paola Poletto is an artist and arts administrator. Most recent initiative is the Inflatable Museum at She is Project Coordinator at DXNet, a network and portal for the design community - - and division of the Design Exchange, Toronto; visual arts editor for Broken Pencil magazine and founding co-editor of Kiss Machine Magazine. Paola is represented by Artcore Gallery, Toronto.