It was raining this afternoon as I moved about the Quarters clutching my map of Dirt City/Dream City. If you get the chance, rain or shine, turn a corner or go down an alley before the end of July and be surprised by a day-brightening bit — or lot — of art. Today the Quarters was alive with people quite obviously not usually there, people seeking out the art. I understand Tix on the Square ran out of its free maps of the exhibition early in the afternoon. I printed my own copy of the one online.
I think I nearly found all the artworks. Let’s see . . .
First up (on my route) is Jill Stanton’s parking lot sized painted pebble faux mosaic “You will be okay” — the title is the text — a huge statement of reassurance to a depressed and cloudy sky. The colours are the colours of sidewalk chalk and I couldn’t help but think of “The Edmonton Remand Centre Newspaper” and Lindsay Bond’s photographic project documenting it. “You will be okay” is a gargantuan shout of all the messages chalked each day on that nearby sidewalk it marvelous. A marvelous and thought provoking piece of ephemeral art.
A little further west on 102A Ave is “Futile Fancy” by Jes McCoy. From a distance I thought of the mini-golf set-up at Fort Edmonton Park. Close up I thought of a playground but an oddly and intriguingly non-functonal and perhaps unfinished playground. Then I realized it is an obstacle course. Perhaps the apparent non-functionality and unfinishedness makes Futile Fancy a metaphor for the City itself.
Around the orner, beside the old Koerman Block, present home of the Hung Fung and the Alberta Kwan Ying Athletic Clubs, is Tiffany Shaw-Collinge’s “Garden Reflections”, a beautiful sudden garden of straw planters, beautifully complementing the old wall with its faded painted ads. Despite the rain, I wanted to sit and enjoy the curve of the paths and the warmth of the soil. Having long been fascinated with Jeremy Bentham, I found the allusion to his Panopticon prison design both interesting and, in this context, thought provoking.
Up on 103A Avenue, there is a “Lonely Mountain” by Mackenzy Albright and Rachelle Bowen, although how such an inviting, stairway riven mountain could be lonely I don’t understand, especially with Jackson McConnell’s whimsical lollipop tree and cartoon city “Campsite” tent right at its foot.
At the far north of the exhibition space, on 104 Avenue, is Holly Newman’s lovely poem of loss and hope, “Crow’s Advice” on a series of banners. As well there is a wall of tags on which to offer advice for mending a broken heart and tiny fabric hearts to take away as payment for suggestions. “Crow’s Advice” surrounds Emily van Driesum’s “The Placebo Effect”, a grove of cut poplar saplings, literally (in a figurative sense) stitched into place, drying and fading as the days pass, a bit of a forest in the Quarters, but a placebo, not the real thing.
More than half of the large works in Dirt City/Dream City are concentrate at the corner of Jasper Avenue and 95 Street. Nickelas Johnson’s “Ripped off and Red” is the most eye-catching, a huge, red-painted severed hand lying palm up in the green grass. Nearby is Aaron Paquette’s beautiful “Everyone is Welcome”, an uncovered tipi frame sheltering an apple tree and surrounded by a flower garden. The whole is set on something of a medicine wheel. The coloured cloths hanging from the tipi poles bring to mind a visit to the Rib Stones east of Edmonton, where similar but smaller bits of cloth perpetually hang from the branches of the poplar grove near to the sacred stones. The Quarters, a very human place, like every human space, is a sacred space.
Across Jasper is Destiny Swiderski’s monumental rope structure “Dream Catcher” completely prepared to catch some exceptionally big dreams. I expect such dreams will come.
A number of pieces are on billboards and might too easily be ignored. Nickelas Johnson’s “Tent City” is a beautiful, slightly abstracted design of tents in blue. Matt Prins’ “Billboard for 91.2 FM The Mouth Hole” is a lovely parody of the many obnoxious ads for radio shows that litter every city. As well, the billboard is a real ad for a fictional program on the real very low power radio transmitter (91.2 on your FM dial) that can be picked up in a very limited area around the Artery (9535 Jasper Ave.)
“My Heart is in Quarters” by Aaron Paquette is a truly lovely painting, an image of three peacefully sleeping figures, a family, in Paquette’s usual style of bright, solid colours, strong lines, and gold leaf. I first encountered and was struck forcefully by Paquette’s work in the Narrative Quest show earlier this summer at the RAM. For me, “My Heart is in Quarters” is a high point of Dirt City/Dream City.
Carly Greene’s “Simulacrum” is easy to miss: clothes hanging from lines between buildings. But the clothes are hung with iron pins, intended to rust and streak the clothing, marking them with history as the old buildings of the Quarters are marked with their history. Certainly this day of rain in Edmonton will help complete Greene’s vision.
Andrew Buzschak’s “Pulse Points” are scattered throughout the Quarters, easy to miss blue signs on poles, a little like slightly shortened street signs. But, look more closely: Buzschak has used phrases from the City’s urban renewal boosting literature in an ironic and cautionary contrast to the current state of some areas of the Quarters. The signs are lit in the evening by solar powered lights which will certainly make the pieces, and their message, stand out very well.
Unfortunately I didn’t see Adam Waldron Blain performing on his violin. what a wonderful addition to the exhibition his music would be. Together with the soundscape provided by 92.1 FM, live music makes Dirt City/Dream City an inspired moment in the history of the Quarters.
And history is something that runs through the entire exhibition. The history of the community that has been here, that is here today, and that will continue to be here in the future, whatever the bulldozers and builders may have in store. Dirt City/Dream City is a gentle warning, a firm reminder, and, from what I saw today, a much visited statement that the Quarters is not terra nullius. This is a community, a community of communities with a rich history and a vibrant present. Both must be recognized and respected if future redevelopment is to be itself something living rather than just a dead pile of concrete, steel and polystyrene.
It’s summer. Go down to the Quarters and have a walk around. See the art. See the communities so often ignored. Think. Consider. Remember.
And know that no Dream City ever becomes real without a Dirt City to live in.
Update, July 31: it’s just been announced that Dirt City/Dream City has been extended to the end of August.