Friday, 4 July 2014

INSTALLATION OF THE WEEK: THE TERRY FOX MIRACLE MILE

BY KATHERINE HANNEMANN

June 28, 2014 marked the 33rd anniversary of Terry Fox’s death. Of course, his death is not what makes Terry Fox remembered thirty-three years later, but rather his brief yet extraordinary life. And this is precisely what the Terry Fox Miracle Mile, this week’s featured object/installation, attempts to convey in a series of lightbox panels permanently on display in Canoe Landing Park.

Miracle Mile at Canoe Landing Park. Source: Toronto Savvy 
I would be hard-pressed to find a Canadian for whom Terry Fox was not a household name. The legacy of his “Marathon of Hope,” or endeavour to run across Canada in an effort to raise awareness and funds for cancer research, remains a fixture of Canadian history. Additionally, Terry Fox’s unwavering perseverance continues to remind us of what a remarkable individual he was. Running an average of one marathon (or 26.2 miles) per day on one human leg and one prosthetic leg, Fox ran from St. John’s to just outside Thunder Bay before stopping due to recurrence of cancer in his lungs.

Terry Fox. Source: WordWarrior
Because of this legacy, it is no surprise that Terry Fox has been remembered and memorialized in all sorts of ways, ranging from statues to running races to postage stamps and honorary titles. The Terry Fox Miracle Mile is, in my opinion, one particularly innovative example of such memorials. Created by Douglas Coupland (another notable Canadian), the installation presents several seemingly unrelated images -- a child’s drawing, a smorgasbord of diner food, a torn-apart gym sock -- weaving them together with text panels that describe their importance to Fox’s journey across Canada as well as details of his life and his goals.

 
Text panel from the Terry Fox Miracle Mile. Source: Flickr
The installation is spaced along one mile, guided by little red maple leaves lining its perimeter. An introductory text panel invites viewers to experience the mile however they choose: walking, running, or any other mode that takes viewers around the panels. To me, the most baffling element of this installation is the experience of distance itself -- the single mile of the installation is a mere drop in the ocean of Fox’s own journey (3,339 miles, to be exact). Indeed, in Coupland’s own words, “I can’t wrap my brain around what a staggering physical accomplishment it was.”

My experience of the Terry Fox Miracle Mile not only caused me to think about this “staggering physical accomplishment” and the awe-inspiring potential of the human spirit and body, but also about the ways that Terry Fox in particular (but historical figures and events generally) have been remembered through objects, exhibitions and memorials. Elsewhere, Fox’s legacy has been conveyed with static objects -- for example, one of his sneakers in the Out of the Box exhibition at the Bata Shoe Museum or the Marathon of Hope 1980 Ford Econoline van at the Canadian Museum of History -- but this installation struck me as uniquely engaging and memorable. True, there was no “authentic” object to point to as an actual remnant of his journey. However, through its unexpected imagery, physical challenges, and thoughtful text, the installation provides innumerable avenues (physical and intellectual) through which to honour and remember Terry Fox. Another important aspect is that the installation is permanently on display in an outdoor public park, and it uses this public presence to reach an audience with a diversity of memories and experiences of the Terry Fox story, encouraging them to learn more.

 
Part of the Terry Fox Miracle Mile. Source: Flickr
Perhaps this blog post would have been better suited near Terry Fox’s birthday, July 28, because the installation truly is a celebration of his life. Luckily the Miracle Mile tells his story on any given day of the year, so choose an arbitrary date and go see it.

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