In The Wake of Progress June 15, 2021

In the Wake of Progress

Against the backdrop of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Edward Burtynsky’s In the Wake of Progress challenges us to have an important conversation about our legacy and the future implications of sustainable life on Earth. 

The world premiere of renowned Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s In the Wake of Progress will fill the immense digital screens surrounding Yonge-Dundas Square, in a fully choreographed blend of photographs and film, with a staggering musical score. This free, outdoor experience in the heart of Toronto tells the epic tale of humanity’s impact on the planet.

Following a 40 year career spent bearing witness to this human incursion into the natural world, with a perspective, style and oeuvre unique to Burtynsky, this powerful new multimedia production will be unlike anything ever created.  

Why Yonge-Dundas Square?

Yonge-Dundas Square is one of Toronto’s primary crossroads. It is, arguably, the epicentre of consumer capitalism in our country. For the first time the bright screens of the square, normally filled with advertisements, will be taken over by art that asks us to consider what is left behind in the wake of our progress.  

“It is my hope that In the Wake of Progress, presented in one of Canada’s busiest intersections, will provide a poignant statement illustrating the extent of human taking for the sake of progress,” says Edward Burtynsky, “A place that was once — just beyond our recent memory — pristine nature, is now transformed into a landscape of glass and concrete, sound and light. Where once there was a forest, dense with biodiversity, now there is this concrete jungle dense with the trappings of human life.

Edward Burtynsky’s In the Wake of Progress premieres June 11 & 12 at Yonge-Dundas Square. Part of Luminato Festival Toronto 2022.

Why now?

Over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began to disrupt life as we know it, urgent questions about our health are at the forefront of humanity’s collective consciousness. The climate crisis is no longer a discussion of what will happen in the future. It is a discussion of what is happening now

If you look at the current science available to us, it’s no secret that we, as humans, are facing a crisis as a result of the atmospheric loading of hydrocarbons and particulates, and the decreasing of terrestrial and oceanic biodiversity as a result of human expansion. The 40-year arc of Edward Burtynsky’s career speaks to this unsustainable expansion and the subsequent precariousness of our existence. There exists a very real sense of urgency to bring the message of this work forward, especially now in the midst of an intense global crisis that arguably signifies the overreach of human progress. 

“These images are meant as metaphors for the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear,” says Edward Burtynsky, “We are drawn by desire, a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption, and our concern for the health of our planet, sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.” 


About Edward Burtynsky

Edward Burtynsky is regarded as one of the world’s most accomplished contemporary photographers. His remarkable photographic depictions of global industrial landscapes are included in the collections of over 60 major museums around the world, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the Tate Modern in London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California. Major (touring) exhibitions include Anthropocene (2018), Water (2013) organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art & Contemporary Art Center, Louisiana; Oil (2009) at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.; China (2005 five-year tour); and Manufactured Landscapes (2003), National Gallery of Canada. Burtynsky’s distinctions include the inaugural TED Prize in 2005, which he shared with Bono and Robert Fischell; the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts; the Outreach Award at the Rencontres d’Arles; the Roloff Beny Book Award; and the 2018 Photo London Master of Photography Award. In 2019 he was the recipient of the Arts & Letters Award at the Canadian Association of New York’s annual Maple Leaf Ball, and the 2019 Lucie Award for Achievement in Documentary Photography. Most recently he was awarded a Royal Photographic Society Honorary Fellowship (2020). Burtynsky is an Officer of the Order of Canada and currently holds eight honorary doctorate degrees. 

Get an inside look at Encountering In the Wake of Progress