Brendan George Ko Monarch Butterflies at El Rosario II

Critical Distance Billboard ⁠ accessible_forward
180 Shaw St
Outside of Artscape Youngplace
Mar 16–Apr 20
    Brendan George Ko, Monarch Butterflies at El Rosario II, 2020. Courtesy of the artist

In early fall, the iconic monarch butterfly embarks on a heroic 4,000-kilometre journey from southern Canada to the mountains of central Mexico—one of the longest insect migrations in the world. Made while on assignment for The New Yorker, the image presented on this street-level billboard by Toronto-based photographer Brendan George Ko documents one stage of this epic passage.

A partnership between the Mexican government and the World Wildlife Fund, The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve covers over 100,000 acres north of Mexico City, helping to preserve the monarch’s habitat. The reserve belongs to multiple groups, including Indigenous communities and communal-land villages, providing tourism income to locals who once relied predominantly on logging and mining industries in the area. Climate change and habitat loss, both in Mexico as well as in Canada and the United States, have resulted in declining butterfly numbers over the last few years. Land conservation and the protection of biodiversity across the continent are key to sustaining their numbers and supporting the monarch’s incredible journey. 

Ko’s mural on Shaw Street depicts the arrival of millions of monarchs to a forest filled with oyamel firs where they hibernate for four months, at altitudes of around 10,000 feet. Presented on a site where an old maple once stood, it is a reminder of the larger connections at play in the natural world, and a cue to slow down and observe the monarch butterflies fluttering about in the park or garden this season.

Co-presented with Critical Distance Centre for Curators

Curated by Tara Smith

Brendan George Ko is a visual storyteller working in photography, video, installation, text, and sound. His work conveys a sense of experience through storytelling, and he describes the image as supplementary to the story it represents. In 2010, Ko received his BFA from the Ontario College of Art & Design University, where he majored in photography, and he went on to the Master of Visual Studies programme at the University of Toronto, where his practice focused on video and sound.

Installation Views

    Brendan George Ko, Monarch Butterflies at El Rosario II, installation view, billboard at Critical Distance Centre for Curators, Toronto, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT
    Brendan George Ko, Monarch Butterflies at El Rosario II, installation view, billboard at Critical Distance Centre for Curators, Toronto, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT
    Brendan George Ko, Monarch Butterflies at El Rosario II, installation view, billboard at Critical Distance Centre for Curators, Toronto, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT