Symbiosis n. (biol.) the intimate association of two dissimilar organisms from which each organism benefits [Mod L. fr Gk symbiosis, to live together]

Founded in 1992 by Michael Alstad and Steve Topping, Symbiosis was an artist collective active in Toronto from 1992 - 1997. Symbiosis mounted site-specific exhibitions that repurposed abandoned buildings to assemble new narratives - often from found materials discovered within these transitional spaces.
The collectives previous art interventions in compelling sites such as a nineteenth century church, a twentieth century cosmetic surgery clinic, and a turn-of-the-millennium banking institution, provided an environment which encouraged dialogue between audience, artworks, site history and conceptual ideas of space.


SYMBIOSIS - 511 King Street West, December 1992

The opus exhibition took place in the crypt - a basement in an old office building which once housed Saturday Night Magazine. Narrow hallways, vaulted rooms and dark cubby holes and niches served to exhibit artwork dealing with notions of displacement, shelter, underground esthetics and animality.

SYMBIOSIS 2 - 1087 Queen Street West, November 1993

For the second exhibition the collective took over two floors of the Great Hall - a nineteenth century building that once housed the Toronto School of Art and the Music Gallery. During the three week run twenty five rooms, including hallways and washrooms, were used for installations and artworks.

SYMBIOSIS - The Clinic 215 Victoria Street, April 1995

Symbiosis took over a site that had previously been occupied by The Institute for Restorative, Cosmetic & Liposuction Surgery, whose owners saw the urgency to relocate following the negative publicity and subsequent inquest into the death of their patient Toni Sullivan.

The Clinic was the first opportunity for Symbiosis to present a unified perspective on themes of the body and medical 'health' industry. The space was turned into a virtual clinic with most of the abandoned surgical equipment incorporated into the artist's works. Limited edition hand silkscreened artist books were created and distributed by Printed Matter and ICA Bookshop and Artexte.

SYMBIOSIS - Flaring Nigeria: Artists Against Crude Repression
Partisan Gallery, December 1995

Responding to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian writer and political activist, the Symbiosis Collective organised an exhibition/event to raise awareness and protest against the human rights violations perpetrated by the Nigerian government and Shell Petroleum Co. against the Ogoni citizens of the Niger Delta. Post card-formatted artworks created by Toronto artists were mailed to the Nigerian Consulate in Ottawa and Shell Corporation in Calgary for the duration of one year.

Ontario Hydro Building, Oct.2 - 25th, 1997

The Symbiosis Collective and four guest artists; Mathieu Beasejour and Victoria Stanton from Montreal, Jerelyn Hanrahan from Switzerland, and Ken Hayes from Toronto - collaborated in a project that explored the complex economic and emotional relationship between bank and client, institution and individual. Launched at a former Royal Bank Branch, The Bank of Symbiosis became a repository of ideas about 'economy' and surplus, western

The Bank of Symbiosis has been described as parodic, confessional, Marxist, capitalist, angry whimsical, ironic, loud, inscrutable, passive and infectious. A catalogue and video documenting the exhibition is available. The Symbiosis Collective gives special thanks to the generous support of our sponsors.



In Spite of it all, of a total rejection of the seductive, this is a very happy show. The art is politically engaged without being accusatory, the artists at ease operating materially in a theoretical environment.
Oliver Girling, Eye Magazine: April 27, 1995

The symbiotic relationship between doctor and patient gone wrong - with themes such as the ambiguous intimacy of the act of diagnosis, the dehumanisation of the AIDS patient and the impossibility of living up to societal views of the female body - are just some of the views represented.
Donna Lypchuck, Extra Magazine: April 20, 1995

In choosing to create a body of work at this particular location, the artists in Symbiosis explored some of the ramifications of aspiring to an ideal human form. Using video, sculpture, performance and painting, they examined the whys and the wherebys of a society in which eating disorders are widespread and euphemisms such as cosmetic surgery disguise the fact that healthy bodies are disassembled in the pursuit of fashion.
Virginnia Macdonnell, Matriart: Volume 6 Number 2

The Bank of Symbiosis

The Symbiosis Collective has taken over a vacant Royal Bank outlet downtown, and it's more fun by far than your regular branch. With many of the original signs, partitions and fixtures battered but intact, it is an ideal setting for this chaotic, off-the-wall examination of the root of all evil.
Gillian MacKay, The Globe and Mail: October 11, 1997

In the back of the bank they use the vaults...they have a violinist at one point who is playing behind the metal grill in the vault...its playing with the idea that serenity has to be enclosed...the other vault contains a lovely piece which deals with the recent Swiss Banking issues which prints up the names of all of those holders of the accounts that lie dormant and has those names exquisitley written up on the wall and lit in a reverential manner...
Karen Wells, CBC Radio - This Morning: October 20, 1997

The interplay between exhibit and exhibiting space, between a woman playing a violin and the vault in which she plays, between a video monitor and the filing cabinet in which it rests, does much to explode our notions of Western museum culture, where pieces of art are displayed devoid of context, reverently lighted and irrevocably sterilised.

Eric Pietersma, Varsity Review: October 29, 1997

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