• Mark Dion MOCA Toronto

The Life of a Dead Tree
Public Programs

Artist Mark Dion brings a massive, fully grown, deceased tree, along with its inhabitants, to MOCA for the museum’s first summer exhibition in the Tower Automotive Building. This specially conceived project marks the 100th anniversary of the Tower Automotive building and brings attention to our role in observing and caring for Ontario’s natural ecosystems.

Experience The Life of a Dead Tree by Mark Dion through a series of talks, workshops, and guided walks that open up an appreciation for dead trees and the myriad life forms they support.

Learn more about The Life of a Dead Tree (May 24-July 28, 2019).


Mark Dion in conversation with Marc Mayer | May 24

Friday, May 24, 7pm
Floor 2

Tickets: $15 general admission, $10 for members

Mark Dion is an artist whose work examines the ways in which dominant ideologies and public institutions shape our understanding of history, knowledge, and the natural world. In Dion’s practice, the lines between art and science are often blurred. On the opening of his exhibition, The Life of a Dead Tree, the artist is joined by Marc Mayer for a lively discussion that focuses on the intersections between art and science in relation to nature and how these considerations manifest in his exhibition at MOCA.

About Mark Dion

Mark Dion has received numerous awards, including the ninth annual Larry Aldrich Foundation Award (2001), The Joan Mitchell Foundation Award (2007) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Lucida Art Award (2008). His work was included in dOCUMENTA 13 and he has had major exhibitions at museums including the Miami Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and in London at Tate Modern and the Natural History Museum. In 2006, Neukom Vivarium, a permanent outdoor installation and learning lab for the Olympic Sculpture Park, was commissioned by the Seattle Art Museum.

About Marc Mayer

Marc Mayer was Director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada from 2009 to 2019. Formerly director of the Musée d’art Contemporain de Montreal, he was the Deputy Director for Art of the Brooklyn Museum after leading The Power Plant in Toronto from 1998 to 2001. Marc has organized such widely acclaimed exhibitions as Judy Chicago’s ‘The Dinner Party’, 2002, and the ‘Jean-Michel Basquiat’ retrospective of 2005, both for the Brooklyn Museum, and, with co-curator Sarah Stanners, the National Gallery of Canada’s 2014 Jack Bush retrospective. His most recent publications include Art in Canada, published on the occasion of the 2017 sesquicentennial of Canada’s confederation.

Register here

Melanie Sifton | May 31

Friday, May 31, 7pm
Floor 1

Horticulturalist Melanie Sifton presents a talk on urban ecosystem management and nature in the city. Intersecting with Mark Dion’s exhibition, The Life of a Dead Tree, Sifton discusses her in-depth experience in building and supporting urban oases and natural areas in cities. Soil ecology and restoration—often overlooked factors in urban design and construction practices—will also be discussed.

About Melanie Sifton:

Melanie Sifton is a horticulturist and urban tree nerd with a background in public garden leadership. The former director of Humber Arboretum and Centre for Urban Ecology in Toronto, and the former Vice President of Horticulture; Facilities for Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City, she is currently pursuing doctoral studies at University of Toronto to investigate plant-soil interactions and landscape remediation for urban forest conservation.

Register here

Dr. Sandy Smith | June 7

Friday June 7, 7pm
Floor 1

Dr. Sandy Smith is a Professor in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto. She specializes in forest health, urban forestry, and is a leading expert in the ecology and biological management of invasive forest species. Taking the ash tree on display in Mark Dion’s exhibition as her starting point, Smith discusses her research investigating the effects that invasive insects and dying trees have on forests.

About Dr. Sandy Smith:

Dr. Sandy Smith is a Professor in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto, and is cross-appointed to the School of the Environment, UTSC, and Dept of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB), University of Waterloo, and Algoma University. Sandy has published over 140 journal articles and book chapters in the area of forest health and urban forestry, and has served on national science committees (NSERC) and provincial scientific panels for managing invasive insects including Asian long-horned beetle (ALHB) and emerald ash borer (EAB). Her research addresses ecosystem resilience and the natural control of forest pest species, including invasive insects, earthworms, and plants.

Register here

Lisa Jackson and Mathew Borrett in Conversation | June 12

Wednesday, June 12, 7pm
Floor 1

For Biidaaban: First Light, Lisa Jackson joined forces with 3D artist Mathew Borrett to create an interactive virtual reality experience that pictures a future Toronto overgrown by nature. Intertwining scenes of the city’s downtown core overtaken by plant life with spoken and written text of the Wendat, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) and Anishinaabe (Ojibway), Biidaaban: First Light is a work of Indigenous futurism that creates a world where languages and vegetation thrive. Join Jackson and Borrett for a conversation that delves into the process of making this extraordinary work.

About Lisa Jackson:

Lisa Jackson is a cross-genre filmmaker whose works have screened at Hotdocs, Tribeca, SXSW, Berlinale and London BFI, and aired on many networks in Canada. Her work has garnered many awards including a Genie and Canadian Screen Award and Playback Magazine named her one of Ten to Watch. She is Anishinaabe, lives in Toronto, and her recent projects include the internationally acclaimed VR Biidaaban: First Light and the short IMAX 3D film Lichen. Along with a large-scale immersive installation Transmissions, on the power of Indigenous languages, she is also working on more traditional film and TV projects. See more at lisajackson.ca

About Mathew Borrett:

Mathew Borrett is an artist living and working in Toronto. He has worked as an illustrator, and as an environment/concept artist in the film and TV industry.

This program is presented in partnership with the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (ACC/CCA).

Register here


Drawing Insects | June 16, June 23, July 7, July 14

Drawing Insects MOCA TorontoInstructor: Matthew Wells
Floor 3

Capacity: 15 per class

Age: All ages, children under 12 must be accompanied by a caregiver

Artist and Illustrator, Matthew Wells, leads a series of workshops that focus on drawing on insects. Open to all ages and levels, participants will learn the purposes of drawing and documenting biological entities, as well as techniques for rendering the unique contours and vibrant colours of a variety of insect species. Taking place alongside Mark Dion’s exhibition The Life of a Dead Tree, these workshops give participants the opportunity to draw insect specimens that have been cultivated from the tree on display, including the emerald ash borer beetle.

Please bring a small journal or sketchbook. All other materials for the class will be provided.

About Matthew Wells:

Matthew Wells is a visual and sound artist based in Toronto.

Sign up today:

Sunday, June 16, 10am–12pm
Sunday, June 23, 10am–12pm
Sunday, July 7, 10am–12pm
Sunday, July 14, 10am–12pm

Tickets: $45 general admission, $35 member pricing

4-class package: $35/class

Sign up for all four classes and save $40!

Nature Drawing and Journaling | May 30, June 6, June 15
Nellie Sue Potter MOCA Toronto

Illustration courtesy of Nellie Sue Potter

Instructor: Nellie Sue Potter

Floor 3

Capacity: 15 per class

Age: 16+

Join botanical artist Nellie Sue Potter for a workshop that explores the world of nature drawing and journaling. In this workshop, participants will learn about different journaling styles and will be guided on how to render natural objects and begin their own nature drawing and journaling practices. This workshop takes place in the gallery on Floor 3 alongside Mark Dion’s exhibition The Life of a Dead Tree. Participants will have the opportunity to draw directly from the tree on display and study some of the myriad life forms it supports.

About Nellie Sue Potter:

Nellie Sue Potter is a botanical artist whose work has received numerous awards. Her work has been shown in solo exhibitions across Toronto, and was included in international botanical art exhibitions, including the New York Botanical Garden’s inaugural Triennial, and the Canadian Museum of Nature’s Art of the Plant, a part of Botanical Art Worldwide in 2018. She has taught botanical art at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Botanical Garden, and High Park Nature Centre. She is the owner and art teacher of Nature Art Studio, an art gallery and teaching space, which specializes in botanical and natural science art. Her intent is to share, through her artwork and teaching, her appreciation of the natural world.

The workshop fee includes a full art materials kit with a journal and graphite pencils.

Sign up today:

Thursday, May 30, 1–4pm
Thursday, June 6, 1–4pm
Saturday, June 15, 1–4pm

Tickets: $45 general admission, $35 member pricing

In-museum Scientist: Alexandra Ntoukas
Every Thursday–Sunday
May 24–July 28

Throughout the duration of The Life of a Dead Tree, MOCA’s in-museum scientist, Alexandra Ntoukas, will conduct research and interact with the ash tree on display. She will be collecting data on the types of insects found within the tree; the physical impressions that destructive insects leave on the surfaces of trees; and the ways in which molds and fungi decompose trees. Visitors will be able to experience and learn from Alexandra’s research as the exhibition unfolds. Every Thursday–Sunday, Ntoukas will be available for demonstrations and discussions around her work.

Invasive or not? | In-museum Scientist: Alexandra Ntoukas

Every Saturday
June 1–July 27

Free with museum admission.
Children under 12 must be accompanied by a caregiver.

Throughout The Life of a Dead Tree, insects will be collected as they emerge out of the ash tree on display. This workshop begins with an introduction on what invasive species are, how they enter our ecosystems, and the risks they present. Participants will then have the opportunity to look at insect specimens and identify whether they are invasive or not. Those interested will also have the option to stay and draw an insect or write what about they learned in the workshop.

Decomposers: Molds, Fungi, Mushrooms, Yeast | In-museum Scientist: Alexandra Ntoukas

Every Sunday
June 2–July 28

Free with museum admission.
Children under 12 must be accompanied by a caregiver.

Decomposers, such as molds, fungi and mushrooms, are part of the final stages in the decline of a tree. They break down wood and create opportunities for insect life. Join our in-museum scientist, Alexandra Ntoukas, for a workshop that focuses on the different types of decomposers and their unique characteristics and functions. Using magnifying glasses, participants will learn how to identify molds and the important role decomposers play in our ecosystems.

Dead Tree Walks

In conversation with Mark Dion’s exhibition, The Life of a Dead Tree, a series of guided walks led by biologists, field naturalists, and arborists will investigate the multifarious lifeforms that are supported by dead trees and their importance to Toronto’s ecosystems.

A biodiversity exploration series, these walks will happen every other Saturday in different park areas across the city of Toronto (rain or shine!).

Trees and Coexistence | West Toronto Railpath | May 25

With Richard Aaron
Saturday, May 25

Meeting point: In front of MOCA, south end (158 Sterling Road)

Tickets: $10 general admission, $8 member pricing

Discover the diversity of tree species that grow along the West Toronto Railpath with field naturalist, Richard Aaron. This unique park area of Toronto is home to a variety of invasive and endemic trees—some arrived here on their own, while others were planted; some species are well-behaved, while others are more aggressive. Spend time with the different tree species and learn their characteristics, behaviours, and how they live together.

About Richard Aaron:

Richard Aaron is a seasoned naturalist who lives in the High Park area. Over the years, he has conducted numerous walks, talks, and workshops for over 90 organizations, ranging from naturalist clubs to universities, in both Canada and the United States. His main areas of interest are wildflowers, trees, fungi, slime moulds, dragonflies, moths, and ecology. You can learn more about Richard on his website.

Register here

Dead Tree Abundance | Todmorden Mills | June 8

With Paula Davies and Stephen Smith
Saturday, June 8

Meeting point: Todmorden Mills Park, 67 Pottery Road. Meet at the front doors of the Papermill Theatre building.

Tickets: $10 general admission, $8 member pricing

Paula Davies and Stephen Smith lead a walk along the Todmorden Mills’ Wildflower Preserve Trail. A site that is dedicated to ecological restoration, Todmorden Mills is abundant with dead trees and home to a variety of plants and animals. This walk explores dead trees in various stages of decomposition and the different life forms that are supported by them, including wildflowers and Toronto’s unofficial mushroom species, Dryad’s Saddle.

About Paula Davies and Stephen Smith:

Paula Davies has been active in environmental stewardship since the late 1980’s, beginning with the City of Toronto Task Force to Bring Back the Don, the East York Environmental Advisory Committee, and in 1991, forming the Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve (TMWP) at Todmorden Mills Park with noted environmentalist Charles Sauriol and horticulturist Dave Money. The TMWP, a registered charity under Paula’s direction, is actively restoring forest, wetlands and meadows at the 22-acre (9.1 hectare) park, just north of Danforth Avenue.

Stephen Smith is a forester and certified arborist with the firm Urban Forest Associates (UFA) Inc. As a restoration practitioner, he has designed and supervised hundreds of ecological restoration projects throughout Ontario over the past 35 years, working with many partner groups, and is the author of the invasive plant species list for Ontario. He is a founding member of the Society for Ecological Restoration Ontario and a member of the Ontario Invasive Plant Council (OIPC), and the Forest Gene Conservation Association (FGCA).

Register here

Dead Trees and Cemeteries | Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto Necropolis | June 22

With Melanie Sifton
Saturday, June 22

Meeting point: Toronto Necropolis entrance (Google Maps)

Tickets: $10 general admission, $8 member pricing

Cemeteries, particularly those created in the rural cemetery style, have been important historic areas for public access to trees and meditative landscapes. In fact, cemeteries pre-date planned parks in North America, and therefore have a tradition of nurturing some of the best collections of urban trees. This tour in the Toronto Necropolis explores many aged and veteran trees, dating back 100-150 years in some cases. We will look at the cycle of life and death in trees, including the impacts of invasive pests and diseases on trees of Toronto.

About Melanie Sifton:

Melanie Sifton is a horticulturist and urban tree nerd with a background in public garden leadership. The former director of Humber Arboretum and Centre for Urban Ecology in Toronto, and the former Vice President of Horticulture & Facilities for Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City, she is currently pursuing doctoral studies at University of Toronto to investigate plant-soil interactions and landscape remediation for urban forest conservation.

Register here

Dead Trees for Biodiversity | High Park | July 6

With Scott MacIvor
Saturday, July 6

Meeting point: Outside the entrance of Grenadier Restaurant (200 Parkside Dr, Toronto)

Tickets: $10 general admission, $8 member pricing

Deadwood is a source of decay and decomposition. These processes drive nutrient cycling and provide building blocks for biodiversity conservation. Deadwood is threatened, especially in cities, by removal as a result of aesthetic issues, human safety or biofuel collection. As a result, deadwood biodiversity—from birds to insects and frogs to fungi—are also under pressure. Come and appreciate deadwood as it rests in the rare oak savannah of High Park, and experience and discuss the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning it supports.

About Scott MacIvor:

Scott MacIvor is a community ecologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Science at the University of Toronto Scarborough. He is interested in biodiversity in cities (especially bees) and how to promote conservation and ecosystem functioning in urban planning and design.

Register here

Snags: the Airbnbs of the Animal World | Wilket Creek Park | July 20

With Carling Dewar
Saturday, July 20


Meeting point: Wilket Creek Park near Leslie St. and Eglinton Ave. E. Meet at the parking lot off of Leslie, just north of Eglinton (Google Maps)

Tickets: $10 general admission, $8 member pricing

Have you ever been on a road trip and had a hard time finding a place to stay, and when you finally found a place, it wasn’t what you’d hoped? This is happening a lot in the animal world, especially for species who depend on snags (dead standing logs) for all or part of their life cycles. Join Carling Dewar to learn about the competitive market for snags, which species depend on them, and the solutions that animals and humans have come up with to address this problem.

About Carling Dewar:

Carling Dewar holds a Masters of Environmental Science from the University of Toronto, and is involved in a variety of conservation initiatives, from flying squirrel research in Haliburton Forest, to species-at-risk policy implementation in Ontario and across Canada. She continues to support these initiatives through volunteer work with the Kawartha Wildlife Centre and in her position with Ancient Forest Exploration & Research as a Forest Ecologist and Outreach Coordinator.

Register here

Tall Grasses and Tall Trees | Lambton Forest | July 27

With Michael Henry
Saturday, July 27


Meeting Point: Lambton Park Arena (4100 Dundas St W). Parking is available at the arena, or take TTC to High Park Station, board the 30 Lambton bus, exit at Howland Ave, and walk up the hill to the arena.

Tickets: $10 general admission, $8 member pricing

The forests of Lambton Park were historically shaped by fire which allowed an impressive and now very rare black oak-red pine savanna to form there. Join forest ecologist Michael Henry to walk among 200-year old oaks and red pines, through beautiful prairie grasses, and learn more about Toronto’s urban old-growth forests. After the guided walk, if people wish, they can walk part of the Carrying Place trail between Lambton Park and Jane Subway station.

About Michael Henry:

Michael Henry is an expert on old-growth forest ecology, and the author of Ontario’s Old-Growth Forests. Recently he helped draw attention to threatened old-growth forests in Algonquin Park, where he and Nate Torenvliet found unprotected forests over 400 years old. He is the lead author of Ontario’s old-growth forests (second edition spring 2019), is working on a book about old-growth forests of Ontario’s Greenbelt (fall 2020), and blogs about forest issues.

Register here

VR Experience

Biidaaban: First Light
Lisa Jackson with Mathew Borrett, Jam3 and the National Film Board of Canada
June 10–July 7

Jack Weinbaum Family Foundation
Mark Dion, The Life of a Dead Tree, Emerald Ash Borer, 2019. Illustration by Matthew Wells. Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery New York / Los Angeles. Photograph: Tom Arban Photography Inc.