This week, my first curated exhibition, Edmonton: EXPLORED, opens at the Art Gallery of Alberta for a two-month run. Besides shameless self-promotion, I’m torn as to how I feel about this show and my ongoing role within Edmonton’s arts community. I’m not really angling for either positive or negative reactions: more so I feel I’m finally putting my money where my mouth is and that I continue to be engaged with Edmonton, a city structure that can stand in for any other mid-sized sprawl city on this continent.
At the same time, in between days of install, I’m heading back to the U of A to begin my MA with a directed reading course on our flat city of urbanity and sprawl. Reading urban theorist and art critic Lucy R Lippard’s The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society, the NY-biased writer ranges from the point of mythologies and Marxism, framing the stories and identity of a city as being a history perpetuated by the privileged to the role artists have played in conduiting and documenting the gentrification of urban spaces. In writing about the ongoing decline of American boom cities and the general abandonment of a city’s centre for new development further from the centre (to the point of creating new cities outside of the abandoned core), Lippard notes that the city has always been a perpetual shuffle between developers and citizens, and that boiled down, it is simply about land value versus the value of its current tenants—insights all aptly applicable to almost every zone of Edmonton in the 21st century.
Image credit: "Untitled: Edmonton" Monica Pitre, 2008. Photo credit: Steve Teeuwsen, 2008
Commuting through the city core everyday, especially coming down from the 118 Ave zone of revitalization through forgotten blocks of redlined neighborhoods, the Edmonton I know is a city with no pedestrian traffic, scared off by the rumbling of semis and pick-ups roaring all-too-near, stepping around piles of plastic garbage blown to and from unkempt alleyways, and where street-level gravel lots and “For Lease” signs remain the constant norm.
Edmonton: EXPLORED started as an image in my head, a living diorama of several outdoor Edmonton Cultural Capital projects pulled together into one indoor setting. From street art to billboard art, the common denominator between artists and civically minded individuals Jennifer Berkenbosch, Clay Lowe and Ian Mulder, Ted Kerr, aAron Munson and Mark Templeton and Monica Pitre lie in their independently achieved engagements with this city’s contemporary identity. From current discussions on the merit of graffiti to making visible the faces of Edmonton’s immigrant population, across the board there comes a consistent engagement with challenging the city’s official mythologies, producing work and documents of work that actively participate in bringing attention to those perspectives easily forgotten once they were ghettoized.
A major underlying theme is navigating through Edmonton on a pedestrian level, which mostly restricts the work to the city’s inner core. Although the majority of work is a reinterpretation of their original presentations, the works invite you to shed the convenience and order of vehicular grid systems and engage in the act of walking—of physically tracing the city step by step—as a fundamental factor to internalizing your surrounding rhythms. Gathered within a space smaller than 600 square feet, the inner city is condensed, dissected and made accessible to those who do not necessarily inhabit those neighbourhoods. The gallery is only a presentation of reality documented, and the contextualized works are living and breathing just blocks away from their simulacrums. I know for me, the experience of walking through this city is an increasingly isolating experience, but that just means more than ever I need to explore why I remain here.
*First published in Vue Weekly, September 4 - 10, 2008