Somewherelse Collaboration: Trish Roque and Raquel Da Silva

Issue 7 | Imagining New Worlds

In October 2020, Raquel Da Silva and Trish Roque worked together on a proposal for Toronto’s Year of Public Art. Ultimately, the city went with another installation, but the artists are opening up and sharing their vision regardless. Conceived with the help of Somewherelse, who connected them with each other and Lay-Up Youth Basketball, Roque and Da Silva dreamed up an ode to after-school basketball, one that was meant to reclaim public space and shed light on inaccessibility in Toronto.

Basketball is the perfect court on which to critique issues of access, it’s one the most popular sports in the city, involves minimal equipment (two nets and a ball) and there are courts all over Toronto. However, the playing field isn’t always fair. 

Lay-Up is a community-based basketball program,designed for kids aged six to fourteen, living in Toronto’s Neighbourhood Improvements Areas. It’s a cost-free program that helps them develop basketball skills but also real-world skills. The game is their foundation, but the extended culture of basketball—fashion, art, music, film, photography, social justice, technology and entrepreneurship, all come into play. 

Lay-Up presented a framework for the artists to work from, reflecting on who in this city has access to basketball courts and recreational space. 

Chris Penrose from Lay-Up mentioned to the artists that “their installation was something that he really wanted to see happen in Scarborough, that there was still a need for it. And that the proposed space could function really well, because it served as a community gathering space,” said Roque in an interview over Zoom. 

The Vision

Wire structures stretch skyward, with mirrored acrylic backboards attached, that reflect the big blue sky. Beneath them a painted design by Da Silva that makes up the court, covered with an undulating water feature that abstracts the colourful design. All around the mixed media installation are steps to sit on and watch. But no basketball can be played here. The scale is simply too large, the water a hindrance. They mocked-up an installation that reclaimed public space while simultaneously alluding to inaccessibility, of something being just out of reach.

It would be a representative rather than a functional basketball court. They planned to project onto the installation and use data visualization to add another level, representing statistics of which youth in the Greater Toronto Area don’t have access to courts and other playing fields. 

Laying Out the Process

Da Silva and Roque started their proposal months into the pandemic, so all the collaboration was virtual. They would work on different elements, bring it together, talk about it, and then keep building it from there. Roque is a 3D-modeling wizard and she created renders, bringing their vision to life. Originally, they planned to create a traditional basketball court but as they warped their concept and questioned what a basketball could look like, they added in the underwater element and a different scale. Earlier iterations had abstracted basketball nets that looked like people, bringing the human element more explicitly into the design. 

Both Da Silva and Roque have childhood experiences playing basketball. 

Da Silva grew up in Rexdale (one of the communities Lay-Up serves). “There wasn’t too much around us. There was a basketball court down the street and a park and that’s about it. So it was pretty much just that growing up,” she says.  

Roque, inspired by her father who played basketball back home in the Philippines, started playing in elementary school. She played all the way through high school on school teams and in a recreational league. She stopped eventually because she didn’t see a professional career in her future and she found that as a girl she would get treated differently on the court, that the boys would take it easy on her, which frustrated her and dissuaded her from continuing. 

The Goals of the Installation

They wanted the work to reflect and engage diverse audiences and to start conversations around making the sport more accessible and inclusive. The question of who has unlimited access to recreational space in this city and who isn’t offered that privilege is one that deals with income inequality and racism. 

Basketball courts are not neutral ground, they are inherently politicized. In the past, austere controlling policies were enacted, where nets would be removed from backboards at night to discourage the gathering of youth deemed to be a “threat” to the social order. Of course, this only happened in certain neighbourhoods. What is that meant to tell us about what institutional bodies think of those people? 

As Toronto expands and grows, public spaces are being bought out by companies and they become private spaces. Anything related to sports or community participation should probably be our priority, but it doesn’t always feel like that’s the priority of the city.

 

Written by Kelsey Adams
Lead Photo Illustration by Marta Ryczko
Photos courtesy of the artists