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Entries in rural urbanism (27)

Tuesday
Mar082016

métissage

Mark Dorrian and Adrian Hawker. Metis, On the Surface, Arkitektskolen Aarhus, Denmark, 2015

métis, from old French, mestis, from Latin mixticius, cognate of Spanish mestizo, Portuguese mestiço: the mixing of aboriginal peoples and Europeans.  In Canada métissage began with contact, centuries ago, emerging as ‘a distinctive socio-cultural heritage, a means of ethnic self-identification and a political and legal category’ (The Canadian Encyclopedia). 

It is a curse of postmodernism that everything can be metaphorical: the danger in delineating a Métis architecture is that the word ‘hybridity’ is inevitable.  But not here, with the capital M Métis: it is the architecture of a particular people, and yes it has hybrid characteristics, but not all hybridity in architecture is Métis.  

For On Site review 34: on writing, I mentioned a new book by Mark Dorrian, Writing on the Image. Architecture, the City and the Politics of Representation.   Circumstances meant I couldn’t do a proper review, however, Mark Dorrian and Adrian Hawker have a critical practice in Edinburgh called Metis meant to connect architectural teaching, research and practice.  Their word, metis, is from the Greek, rather than the Latin: Metis was the daughter of Oceanus, first wife of Zeus and mother of Athena.  The word metis combines wisdom with cunning, an Odysseus-like quality.  No connection with mixing, or métissage.
Metis's mandate is on their website: They focus ‘on the city and the complex ways in which it is imagined, inhabited, and representationally encoded. They seek to produce rich, multi-layered works that resist immediate consumption and that are instead gradually unfurled over time through interaction with them. Their approach is concerned with establishing a poetic but critical approach to the city that is sensitive to its cultural memory but is also articulated in relation to its possible futures.

In some ways this outlines what a métis architecture could be: taking the socio-cultural history of Métis building as fundamental to a Canadian architecture as cultural memory: a way of working that recognises encoded cultures through representation, and resignifies such cultures in a wise and cunning, complex and deep description of our various futures, whether urban, rural, individual or cooperative.

It is curious, this accidental coincidence of five letters, one with an accent aigule, that can begin to theorise a Métis architecture if you simply put them side by side and start to squeeze them together.  It is a kind of metissage in itself, a dadaist accident, that reveals so many new paths.

Tuesday
Mar012016

rural urbanism: Nanaimo

On Site review 27: rural urbanism. Spring 2012

On Site review 27: rural urbanism had a mid-nineteenth century plan for Nanaimo, most of which was built, and an aerial of it today, on the cover.  The premise of the issue was that planning orthodoxy privileges cities, and small cities, such as Nanaimo, haven’t access to the urban conditions on which such orthodoxies are based and as a consequence their expansion out of their very small town core is left to market forces, local councils and real estate developers. Rural urbanism is potentially a different way to frame small town development, starting with smallness, not largeness scaled down. 

Wednesday
Feb202013

uranium mines

The Rabbit Lake uranium mine, near the Dene/Cree community of Wollaston Lake in northern Saskatchewan.

This image is from the Graham Defence site.  John Graham is from Haines Junction, Yukon and was an activist against uranium mining. He is currently in South Dakota State Pen in Sioux Falls for the 1975 murder of Anna Mae Aquash. There is a tradition of the FBI extraditing First Nations men from Canada, famously Leonard Pelletier, based on evidence aimed at breaking apart the American Indian Movement.  Graham's is a truly terrible story in its details, but ultimately appears as the borderless reach of the FBI into activist social movements.
In May and June 1984 John Graham did a European speaking tour organised by European anti-nuclear and environmental groups, focussed on native rights and the problems of uranium mining in Canada.

Uranium itself is an element, U; unstable isotopes make it slightly radioactive.  It is dense and occurs in small amounts in soil, rock and water.  Uranium 235 is a natural fissile isotope which can transmute to fissile plutonium 239 in a nuclear reactor.  If I understood more of this process I might be able to understand what Iran is, or is not, doing.  Fission is produced with fast neutrons, and slow neutrons can be speeded up and concentrated to sustain nuclear chain reactions, generating heat and material for weapons.  Depleted uranium is used in armour, as in tanks, because of its density.  Depleted uranium dust released when exploded, during war, releases significant doses of radioactivity.

Uranium City, SaskatchewanUranium city was a 1952 company town for  Eldorado Mining and Refining, a crown corporation that opened a number of mines (52) in northern Saskatchewan.  It was based on the plan for Arvida, Québec, a 1927 ALCAN town.

Uranium mining, like almost all surface mines, come with associated toxic effects for water and people from tailings, which in this case have some residual radioactivity. 500,000 tonnes of waste rock, 100,000 tonnes of tailings, 144 tonnes of solid waste and 1343 m3 of liquid waste produces 25 tonnes of uranium fuel, so reports David Thorpe in the Guardian.  Historical evidence places life expectancy at 20 years after becoming a miner in a uranium mine.

Friday
Feb152013

asbestos mines

The Jeffrey mine in Quebec's Eastern Townships had mostly shut down by 2010 but was to be revived with a $58-million loan from the Quebec government. It is looking more and more likely that Canada's last remaining asbestos operation will never resume. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Jeffrey asbestos mine is next to Asbestos, Québec, east of Trois Rivieres, south of Québec.

The Jeffrey Mine, Asbestos, Québec. ⓒ 2013 Cines/Spot Image, Digital GlobeAsbestos: silicate minerals in long fibrous crystals. Used for its sound absorption, fire resistence and its otherwise inert insulative properties. And it is cheap. And it has been added to concrete, asphalt and other materials to extend structural capacity for building applications. And it is deeply injurious to lung tissue.

Here is a very good essay by John Gray and Stephanie Nolen on the complexity of the asbestos issue:  'Canada's chronic asbestos problem', The Globe and Mail, Nov 21, 2011.  Chillingly they say that although there is still much asbestos in the region it is relatively expensive to mine compared to 'lower-cost and comparatively unconflicted industries in Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, China and Zimbabwe'.  The pits at Thetford Mines have been quietly closed, asbestos has been renamed chrysotile, OECD-G8 Canada insists chrysotile is fine, Québec is cross that the asbestos industry is so maligned, probably given that it is so freely accessed in Zimbabwe.  What is wrong with that sentence?

Here is Asbestos when it was a few houses; a company town. As one can see in the google map aerial above, Asbestos is still a small town glued to the edge of the excavation.  Someday hence, will we wonder what people were thinking of, to throw whole generations into such danger?

Asbestos : V. Dubois, phot.-édit., [1918 et 1928], bibliothèque et archives nationales du québec

Wednesday
May022012

La Cité du Pétrole

This is a trailer for Marc Wolfensberger's La Cité du Pétrole / Oil Rocks - City above the Sea, 2009.

And this, a map from liquidinfrastructure.info

Tuesday
May012012

Neft daşları and soviet modernity

The Neft daşları project, in this video, indicates something of the heroic nature of this oilfield town built in the middle of a sea.  Somehow, socialist modernism, the invention of new urban forms in strange places such as the Azeri oilfields or Siberia, was always heroic, something that all through the Cold War we, on this side, were taught to ridicule – a legacy that still holds.

Consider the Alberta oil sands – a project of capitalist modernity – which is always grooming its image, not pushing the workers to the fore as in soviet propaganda, but foregrounding economic benefits and, belatedly, environmental reclamation.  During the oil boom of the late 1970s, they were officially called the Tar Sands.  Athabascan canoes had been caulked with tar for centuries, not oil, but even the name of the product has been smoothly and cleanly re-branded.  What is real here?

Oil sands workers live in camps, fly in from all over the country for two and three week shifts, either send their money home, a real third world economic practice, or blow it out through the narco-economy.  The workers are not even foregrounded for propaganda purposes. 

Monday
Apr302012

OIL: Neft daşları/Нефтяные Камни/Oil Stones

Neft daşları.  A town of 5 000 oil workers, 100km from Baku, Azerbaijan and 55km from shore in the Caspian Sea.  It is a spread out little company town where what one would normally think of as fields, is water.  There are sports fields, hostels, bits of lawn and gardens, a bakery, a clinic, a cinema.  Miles of trestle bridges connect an array of rigs, docks, wells and pipelines. A gas turbine electricity station makes the oil field operations completely automonous.

Built in 1949, this was the first offshore oil platform in the world; by 1958 the town was built and continued industrial and residential construction up until 1978.  There is a core population of 900, and a rotating population of several thousand shift workers, but no families or children. Water and food are brought in.  Pipelines have gradually replaced tanker transport as weather on the sea is violent and unpredictable.

Neft daşları is sinking, or the sea is rising.  There are other platforms in Azerbijan that have superseded Neft daşları, some of the 200km of trestle roadways have collapsed, some rigs are inaccessible.

Here is a good explanation of the project, and below, an overview:

Friday
Apr202012

Bill Bourne's rural urban blues

So Bill Bourne, grade 8 in 1967, living on a farm near Red Deer, saw Oscar Brand's Let's Sing Out on tv and thought, I can do this. 

He is a relentless traveller, staple of the summer festival circuit, a rough, jagged blade of a voice.  This video is from a gig in Vulcan, a real back of beyond town an hour and a half south of Calgary, where the town built a spaceship in honour of Star Trek, instead of the god of fire, Vulcan, for whom the town was named by the CPR in 1915: rails of forged steel and sparks and all, including all eight avenues and nine streets named after Roman gods and goddesses until they were renamed as numbers.

Anyway, whatever, Bill Bourne played there at the Vulcan Lodge Hall in 2010.  Gordon Lightfoot, still on tour at 71 and interviewed on Q yesterday, was about to play the Casinorama in Orillia, the town he grew up in. Really?  This is Gordon Lightfoot we are talking about. At 12 he sang at Massey Hall in the Kiwanis Music Festival. His mother said, you know Gordie, Bing makes a living at this.

All this continues a discussion in On Site 27: rural urbanism, the powerful relationship between the rural and the urban, and the kind of cultural production that comes out of rural areas, migrates to urban centres, but contains an insistent rural sense of completely open possibilities.

Monday
Mar122012

reading fashion

Arjen van der Merwe. Malawi 2010 is a series about modern and traditional culture. From van der Merwe's website: 'The fashionable models, in dresses by Cathy Kamthunzi, and shoes of Pec Fashion symbolize modern Malawian culture. They are placed in a traditional setting.'

Barthes' seminal essay on the writing of fashion talked about it as a system of signifiers coded and intelligible only to readers already in the system.  It was written when fashion magazines showed images in black and white, low resolution.  Captions and text carried colour, texture, narratives of elegance, aspiration, possibility.  
We don't have such writing anymore, captions to fashion images are simply lists of the clothes.  The images carry everything – all the narratives of impossibility and unattainability.  As we are continually told, couture is for selling perfume, the only thing from Dior we can all afford.  

In the next issue of On Site, which is on the dialectic between the periphery and the laws of urbanism dictated from the core, Jason Price has written an essay on Arjen van der Merwe,  a photographer in Malawi whose fashion portfolio uses Malawian models and garments posed in village settings.  Price, living in Malawi, takes a rapier to this work, pointing out the coded signifiers that would perhaps pass us by.  

For me, living here, i.e. not in Malawi, the narrative lodged in these images is a return to the village, surely an act of despair for anyone who has managed to escape their small town for a life of infinite possibility in the city.  Despite being dressed in wonderful urban fashion and great shoes, beautiful sulky girls are shown lugging buckets from the pump, or making bricks, or sweeping dirt floors.  

As a foil to these images, Tim Walker's portfolio of photos for Vogue with Agyness Deyn in Namibia are just as provocative.  A particularly pale girl, beautifully dressed, appears to be stranded in a sand-filled abandoned house with a highly decorative, almost-dressed young Namibian man and a docile cheetah.  It is a set of signifiers that rings all the bells of colonial privilege that allowed Europeans to live in Africa, to act badly, and yet be protected from the violence they attributed to all the peoples in the periphery.  Walker's Namibia portfolio is on a very thin line between an ironic ode to that kind of wilful innocence and the casual belief that such relationships have an aesthetic, apolitical beauty.

Tim Walker. Agyness Deyn, Simon & Kiki the cheetah in sand storm, Kolmanskop, Namibia, Africa, 2011. for British Vogue.

Thursday
Feb022012

Oxbow, Saskatchewan

Oxbow, Saskatchewan.

The classic prairie town: CPR tracks, Railway Avenue, Main Street crossing at right angles to it, the old town neatly conscribed by the section lines, the new town spilling north into the adjacent quarter-sections.  
Oil is near, developed in the mid-1950s, there is still a grain elevator, dating from the early 1900s, the oxbow is on the Souris River, population 1200, Highway 18 from the Manitoba border to Estevan follows the CPR line and becomes Railway Avenue as it divides the town from the elevator and its outbuildings.

 
Oxbow, Saskatchewan. Google Maps
There used to be one of these towns every 6 miles, or every township.  Now when you drive through southern Saskatchewan often all one sees is a roadside plaque saying that there had, once, been a town there.

We are such a long way from Monday and the Battle of Alesia.

Friday
Dec162011

Commercial Street, 1900-2005

Commercial Street, Nanaimo BC. undated postcard, ca 1910s

Commercial Street, Nanaimo BC. ca 1940Commercial Street, Nanaimo BC. 1965This all held until a few years ago when Nanaimo succumbed to the downtown revitilisation policy of knocking down the east side of lower Commercial, where Fletchers, Lindsays, the beautiful early modern Bank of Montreal and a row of small two storey buildings had been, to make way for a behemothic smoked glass convention centre, the ground floor retail bays unrented for several years, but I see a Dollar Store has moved into one of them.

Thursday
Dec152011

High River, 1957

Main street, High River, Alberta ca. 1957-1958. Glenbow Archives PA 3520-800

A while ago I was writing something about when Starbucks started to appear in Canada in the late 1980s and how radical it was that their signs were flat to the wall.  It seemed so sophisticated and European.  We had always had projecting store signs like the signs shown in the past two days' posts, neon until the 1970s when they were gradually superseded by back-lit plastic, which I really hated, with a vengeance.  Now hardly any signs project into this public realm, unless someone is being retro.

High River was and remains a very small town; its signs and awnings are modest – less money perhaps for commercial projection out into the street.  Robson Street was and is in a city, more money, more people on the sidewalk.  Pressure to redevelop and redevelop again means that Robson Street is a glassy glamorous canyon, while High River never experienced any pressure to redevelop itself, it just went out to the inevitable 1960s highway strip, thus little has changed from the view above. 

What would that volume between building face and car grill, between cornice and pavement, be called?  without using the word 'space'.  And it divides into two parts, one the size of the building, the other the height of the ground floor.

There is a lot of clutter on these sidewalks of the 1950s; they are complex little environments.  Here is a tiny photograph by Everett Baker, the photographer who travelled Saskatchewan with the wheat pool and then the Co-op, taking thousands of kodachrome slides. This picture is unfortunately tiny (the SHFS has a clamp on images), but could be a slice of either Vancouver's Robson Street or Hastings, or Broadway of the 1950s, or Oaxaca, or Elgin, Texas. 

Saskatoon, 2nd Avenue, 1941We have a call for articles on such things here. Some articles have already been proposed.  Interestingly they are a lot about a rediscovery of small towns by urbanites leaving the metropoli with their iPads, iPhones and broadband needs.  I suppose the question will be whether the small towns with their struggling main streets will change the incomers, slowing them down, or whether the urban emigrants will change the towns. The latter I think: one can get a latte everywhere now.

Friday
Oct212011

call for articles for On Site 27: rural urbanism

Is this Saskatchewan?

We've announced the call for articles for On Site 27: rural urbanism.  

Although I started thinking about this theme with the launch of  OIL: a new town in a resource extraction region and the array of choices for new towns, we also had the example of reoccupation of agricultural villages in Italy, an article by Lauren Abrahams in On Site 23: small things.  We had a photo-essay of Prince Albert Saskatchewan in On Site 19: streets. I had a recent report of Michael Taylor's observation of an urban flight to small towns in Denmark.  And on the BBC last week a discussion of the English village as the holder of a vision of England that is both outdated and important.  And last month in Sudbury, the Musagetes Café on the identity of small cities whose original reason for being has changed: the mine has closed, the smelter gone to China, the pulp mill defunct, the fishery closed – a variety of reasons that leaves small non-diversified towns at a loss.  

And visiting Chelmsford, one of the small towns that encircle Sudbury where the four important sites, the CPR train tracks, the Algoma Tavern, the school and the church all sit together in a row: this is not a village with a central square or any of those models where the power base is singular and evident: this lines them up all together.  We need a name for this, a way to speak about the realities of rural organisation.  

So, have a look at the call for articles, have a think, and see if there is something you would like to say about rural urbanism, a much overlooked and scorned subject.

 

or is this Saskatchewan?

Wednesday
Sep212011

the north

Terminology, very confusing.  As a child I learned that the difficulty in laying down the trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s was crossing muskeg, which swallowed tracks and even whole trains.  This is what happened in the north, which I assumed was in Northern Canada, somewhere in the Northwest Territories, and as with things you learn in grade 8, I never examined it again until this past week in Sudbury.  

It is not that muskeg isn't a treacherous thing, great wetlands that form where there isn't drainage: bogs, full of decaying plant material, trapped moose and train tracks which eventually form peat and I suppose, ultimately coal.  No, the other treacherous thing is the word north.

The northern imagination written about by Northrop Fry, Margaret Atwood, embodied in the Group of Seven and Georgian Bay is not the north I thought it was, The North, north of the provinces.  It is actually western Ontario.   
This came as something of a surprise, given that Sudbury sits at 46°N and has a growing zone of 4b.  Calgary, which no one would consider north at all, sits almost 600km north at 51°N in zone 2b.

In another instance, the Ring of Fire is generally known as the zone of earthquake and volcanic activity that rings the Pacific Ocean, where the Pacific tectonic plate grinds against the North American plate, the Eurasian, Australian and Nazca plates.  In the west we hear a lot about it, especially in Vancouver where all buildings have been essentially rebuilt to earthquake standards.

But in Ontario, Ring of Fire is a mine in the James Bay region where chromium was recently discovered and for which a smelter is planned, much to the purported benefit of First Nations in the area.  It is seen as a revitalisation of Ontario's mining interest and will be introducing Chinese development interests to Sudbury.   I only know this because I watched Steve Paikin's Agenda last night on TVO where there was a debate on whether industrial development or species protection was more important in the north.  Their north.  The wishy-washy conclusion was that we should have both, which means that mining and forestry will proceed with glee and with a few ameliorative concessions to fish, birds and migrating herds. Who do not vote.

It is a different country, Ontario.

Preparing the ground for flatland housing development. Lonely yellow hydrant awaits.  
Anyway, this train of thought was triggered by a new subdivision (above) on a ridge that looks down on Sudbury.  Downtown Sudbury has a problem with drainage, sitting as it does on the bedrock of the Canadian Shield.  Water sits in lakes or in muskeggy wetlands, (they'd be called sloughs on the prairie, bogs on the coast).  In older districts, streets and the little houses lining them in the bottom of the basin in which downtown Sudbury sits, regularly flood, the streets become culverts and swales, the water hasn't got a lot of options.  Thus, new development perched on ridges above the city has a certain appeal.  

Putting in services for new development requires, by convention, that they be underground.  But there is no underground here, it is solid rock, so ground is created in a cut and fill way.  The rock is blasted into rubble and shifted around to make flat sites for houses with the sewer and water safely installed beneath.  
There are a lot of similarities between Sudbury and Yellowknife, where new development does exactly this, rock blasted into coarse gravel for developer houses on cul-de-sacs one could find anywhere in Canada.  Aleta Fowler wrote about this in On Site 14: does one go to the north to live as if one was in a southern Canadian suburb?

Kenneth Hayes has introduced the term geo-cosmopolitanism to the discussion of urban development which, in its rough outlines means being aware of and taking into account the deep geo-logic of place.  The naming is important, we can put geo-cosmopolitanism in all its complexity onto a different way of looking at cities, more deeply rooted in their history, their industries, their place in the world. 

Tuesday
Sep202011

Sudbury

Musagetes Foundation held a Café in Sudbury last week, part of a series of investigations in how artistic thinking, practices and strategies can inform medium-sized cities whose industrial bases are either shifting or leaving.  Rejka in Croatia, Lecce in Italy, Sudbury in Canada.

The Big Nickel: didn't realise this had been a Centennial project, not authorised by the City, independently funded and built by the mining community and originally placed 36" outside Sudbury's city limits.  

The Big Nickel, 1963-4. 30' high, Sudbury OntarioN E Thing's 1969 photograph of an empty billboard in Sudbury.  This one is like the Stanfield fumble: he caught the football a dozen times in a row for a photo-op, fumbled one and of course that is the one they used.  The empty billboard is of course surreal, the empty frame, but only coincidently was it in Sudbury. 

Ian Baxter, N E Thing Company. Sign. Highway 17 near Sudbury, 1969
Sudbury Saturday Night, the girls at bingo, the boys are stinko, Inco temporarily forgotten.  Well, that bit was prescient.  
The Trans-Canada through Sudbury, a channel blasted out of the Shield, chemically blackened by ore-reduction processes that also produce slag heaps.

Kenneth Hayes has written a most amazing essay about why Sudbury even exists.  It is a history 2 billion years old, giant meteor hits the earth and splashes nickel, which may have been in the meteor but may have been deep in earth's core, into a great ring.  Nickel is what hardens steel for stainless steel.  Confusingly, much of the ore is smelted in Norway.  
There are other minerals, copper - lovely pale green river-run pebbles on gravel roads, and iron staining cliffs red when they aren't already black, all this found accidentally when the CPR was going through in the 1880s.  

However, mining requires less people these days, Inco is now Vale (Brazil), Falconbridge is now Xstrata (Switzerland), at the base of the Creighton Mine is a neutrino observatory, there is a new university, Laurentian, soon to have a new architecture school, there is a medical centre with a cancer research component that serves the Sudbury region, there are lakes, there is a fierce re-greening program and there is a hell of a lot of civic pride that appears to rest mainly on the ability to be in a canoe, on a lake, 10 minutes after leaving home.

The thing about stereotypes is that they can act as a protective shield.  The rest of the country can dismiss Sudbury, lodged as it is somewhere in Stomping Tom's 1970s, meanwhile Sudbury has been extremely busy developing itself for better or for ill, almost without attention.  

The swimming-pool blue of a tailings pond. Sudbury 2011

Thursday
Jun232011

delicate landscapes

Georg Gerster. Orchard in Jordan, 2004

Clifford Wiens, grand old man of Saskatchewan modernist architecture, did a campsite on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Maple Creek, that looked like this orchard.  I stayed in it in the mid-80s and all the trees were thin and weedy, indigenous species such as poplar and aspen, saskatoons and willows.  The layout was like a miniature version of the Dominion Grid, each camp site a section.  It was enchanting, so deeply rooted in a historic organisation of land, so proud of prairie trees that flutter in the relentless wind, so very orderly and in its way, unsentimental about what is needed when one pulls off the highway after a long day of driving. Strangely I seem to have forgotten completely the heroic concrete entry pavilion that usually represents this project:

Trans-Canada Highway Campground Maple Creek, 1964. Photo courtesy OFOF Clifford Wiens and John Fulker.

In 2001, driving back from Halifax, I tried to find it, actually to camp in.  This after a whole day of driving across Saskatchewan and finding the network of small towns that had existed just fifteen years before completely gone, and this campsite abandoned.  The trees were tall and untended, some had fallen, one ripped off my radio aerial as I drove in thinking I might stop there anyway.  But it felt haunted, a tragic failure of provincial pride.  A most uneasy site.   It had been a small thing, approached with a brave sort of rigour.

Tuesday
May312011

Rouleau, Saskatchewan

George Hunter. Rouleau, Saskatchewan 1954. CCA Archives.

Rouleau, Saskatchewan (1903), photographed from the air by George Hunter in 1954.  This is the classic image of a prairie town, located within the Dominion Grid (laid down between 1879 and 1884), wood grain elevators lining the tracks, the world of Who Has Seen the Wind (1947), a train stop on the SOO Line (to Chicago) built during the wheat boom that ended sharply in 1910.  Lots of dates, but all within the space of fifty years.

Rouleau, Saskatchewan. Google Maps, 2011Rouleau on GoogleMaps.  Not a lot has changed.  Rouleau is in the infamous Palliser Triangle, an area (officially a semi-arid nutrient-rich steppe) deemed by John Palliser, who surveyed it in 1858, to be uninhabitable because it didn't support trees.  The whole area suffered greatly during the droughts of the 1930s, but nearby is Claybank Brick Plant, now a historic site.  The clay was particularly suited to firebrick, used to line fire boxes in train and ship engines: CPR, CNR and RCN all in expansion mode up to WWII  – voracious clients for firebrick.

From 2003 to 2008  Corner Gas was filmed in Rouleau.  The iconic Saskatchewan rural wheat town was the physical fabric that supported a vision of Canada as a friendly but sometimes sharp-edged community, funny, pathetic, brave, funny, ridiculous, heroic, funny, everyday.  Corner Gas was the Canada that we like to carry about within us, without actually living there.  

Rouleau's slogan is 'Saskatchewan's First 1 Million Bushel Town!'  Does this mean much to any of us not from a farming background? No.  Does Rouleau care?  No.  Is this a brand?  No.  Does this say a lot about Rouleau?  Yes.

Wednesday
Mar092011

Marlene Creates

Marlene Creates. Entering and Leaving St. John's Newfoundland 1995. collection: Government of Newfoundland & Labrador, Provincial Art Bank.Marlene Creates, Newfoundland artist, has long photographed signs by the road, in the woods, attached to telephone poles, assembling the images into visual maps that indicate the emptiness of space in this country, whether they are in downtown Victoria or the outskirts of Hamilton.

Her early work shows influences of both Ian Hamilton Findlay and Richard Long: marks on the landscape, minimal reorganisations of nature that document that one was there.  More common are the highway signs, enigmatic markers of the edges of the city, or the edges of acceptable urban behaviour found in 'no parking' signs. 

Ian Toews did a segment of Landscape as Muse on Creates – The Tolt, the Droke and the Blast Hole Pond River; including, memorably, a project where she holds a camera under the blast hole pond and takes photographs looking upward, through the boiling water to her own face. 

Of Entering and Leaving St. John's Newfoundland, 1995, she writes,
'The City Limits signs that first caught my attention are the pair across from each other on the Trans-Canada Highway. When approaching St. John’s, one comes upon a sign announcing the city’s limits, but then there’s another 30 km of driving by woods and bogs before seeing any evidence of the city. And when leaving St. John’s, one drives those 30 km before coming to a sign that tells you that you really hadn’t even left the city yet.
Most of the landscapes surrounding these signs do not correspond at all to the image one might have of St. John’s. This creates a disconnection between the label announcing the city, the actual surrounding place, and the idealized image one may have of this city. St. John’s is larger than whatever idea we may have of it, including for those of us who live here. And Newfoundland, too, is and is not the Newfoundland of the imagination. Which is why my work may or may not be what one expects of a Newfoundland artist.'

Friday
Feb252011

company towns

George Hunter. Flin Flon, Manitoba, 1960. gelatin silver print. Collection CCA PH2009:0006:014. Gift of George Hunter. copyright George HunterThe Canadian Centre for Architecture holds the photographic archives of George Hunter, a photographer who, in the 1950s, photographed Canada's towns and cities from his light plane.  There is a series of mining towns, of which Flin Flon, above, was one.  As many of these were company towns, the series of eight images on the CCA website might be interesting to anyone who is working on our OIL: a new town competition/exhibition. 

Housing in such places is always laid down with zero concern for personal identity.  Is this to do with company priorities, or was there little concern for personal identity in the 1950s in general.  This dreary subdivision from 1958, Mayfair, is now quite a good Calgary neighbourhood.  We have the luxury of thinking about identity as we, in Canada generally, are wealthy and peaceful enough to think of such things.

Looking east on 66th Avenue (later Glenmore Trail) toward Elbow Drive, Calgary, May 7, 1958. Glenbow Archives File number: NA-5093-466

Monday
Jan312011

OIL: a new town in a resource extraction region

Just a reminder of On Site's exhibition / competition / call for entries for a new town in a resource extraction area. 
We are looking for ideas, ideas, ideas.  There are resource links on the call for entries page for general starting point information, however, you are being asked to figure out what the strategy should be, in 2011, for starting up a new town. 

On the Strand over the weekend there was a piece on video artist Diana Thater's installation on Chernobyl, which was effectively a new city built in the 1970s, something I hadn't realised when it was abandoned just 20 years later.  It is now inhabited by animals, wild horses walk the streets, swans nest on the tailings ponds.  Thater says it is a necessity of nature to persist.  She also talks about what a post-human world looks like, where political systems that built such installations were abandoned along with the site. 

We usually think of designing or planning a new town from point zero, or near to it, that builds into a community with shape and form.  One might also think of the new town when it becomes a discarded post-nuclear installation: what will it say about what we were?