Article 22: What Happened to the Toronto Reference Library's Fabric "Jungle"?

Toronto Department

When I was 13, living in the suburbs, a rare trip downtown made a big impression on me. And no place then was more enchanting to me than the Toronto Reference Library. It is still the loveliest indoor public space in the city, but something beautiful there has since been lost. Here's what my youthful mind remembers: 

When you entered the doors of the library you immediately saw an indoor fountain and pond, and above it, an insane mass of white fabric, both messy and elegant, rigorously ordered and overgrown. And you needed to walk beside the fountain and pond and beneath the folds of this fabric to get to the library proper, like passing through a jungle narrow to reach a lost temple of books. With this strange little space - lush, intimate, messy, soft, so different from the hardness and professional order of the city - and then the sudden vast open space of the library's wondrous 10-story atrium, the Reference Library was the most romantic and perfect of places in the entire city. 

So I was very sad to grow up and become a frequent visitor of the library but find the "jungle" gone. The pond was still there, but no sign of the fabric forest existed. Over the years I asked a number of people working at the circulation desks about it and they didn't know what I was talking about. Eventually someone suggested that I check out a certain binder that the library keeps amid the stacks on the top floor, a binder filled with newspaper clippings and documents about the library itself. There was the answer to what the jungle had been. 

It was "Lyra", a sculpture that the library had commissioned specially for that location by the entrance, created by artist Aiko Suzuki, a Japanese Canadian like the building's architect, Raymond Moriyama. 

A photograph of Lyra’s unveiling in 1981 shows dancers surrounded by the aerial sculptures: members of Toronto Dance Theatre performed in the library lobby’s emptied fountain pool at Suzuki’s request. According to a Toronto Star article by Lotta Dempsey July 26, 1980 Suzuki " sees the strands of white and earth tone fibre moving delicately with air currents - "breathing" - and catching light as its visual harp like music.... "I am not a weaver, or a craftsman" she says firmly "I am an artist." Lyra was made of 1 million feet of white nylon fiber and was the largest fiber sculpture ever commissioned in Canada, suspended from 146 points in the ceiling. It took Suzuki eight months to complete her 45 by 23 foot sculpture. 

So what had happened to Lyra? 

I wrote an email to someone at the library's art desk and in response I received this email from the manager of the library:  

Dear Mr. Stokes,
I was passed along your inquiry about Lyra. Although I’m relatively new to Toronto Reference Library, I was able to discover the following information. If you’d like to know more, please let me know and I’ll see what I can dig up.

Lyra, a textile sculpture by Aiko Suzuki, hung at the entrance to the Toronto Reference Library from 1981 to 2003, at which time it was taken down at the request of the artist due to its deteriorated condition. The sculpture’s location near the main entrance, suspension over water and requirement to have fire retardant coating all contributed to physical deterioration of the textile over time. The Library then proceeded to secure an assessment to determine if the sculpture could be cleaned and restored to an acceptable level and what the feasibility of achieving that would be. Test results from the Canadian Conservation Institute concluded that the significant risk of the conservation treatment and the associated cost far outweigh the anticipated benefits of this work. Unfortunately, the artist’s original intent would not be able to be satisfactorily recaptured.

Following the artist’s passing and with the test results available, library staff had a number of meetings and discussions with Ms. Suzuki’s daughter, we reached a mutual decision to decommission Lyra.

Gillian Byrne
Manager, Toronto Reference Library 

There was the answer, with new and more melancholy questions. I sent Ms Byrne a number of these follow-ups and never received a response. But what answers would satisfy me. Something beautiful was gone. 

Lyra fiber sculpture Toronto Reference Library by Aiko Suzuki

--David Stokes