“Messages To: The Edmonton Remand Centre Newspaper” by Lindsey Bond

The other day after a visit to the Art Gallery of Alberta (Mistresses of the Modern is still on so get down there!) I was walking through Churchill LRT Station and saw this poster in one of the ad spaces on the wall.  “Oh,” I thought, “that’s Lindsey’s new thing.”  I have a passing acquaintance with Lindsey Bond from her time as Assistant to the Director at Visual Arts Alberta — on her typing skills I inflicted the absurdly long titles of my absurdly small paintings.  I noticed the QR code on the display and, of course, got out my phone. How interesting: I was standing in front of a piece of public art which is part of an attenuated show displayed across more than a dozen public transit stations. And the entire virtual gallery is now also in my phone.  This is good!

I thought of one day many years ago in the Mexico City subway when I noticed that at decent intervals through the station there were screens displaying brief history lessons — public education indeed.  I thought at the time it was such a good thing to be using public space for education and information rather than marketing.  Lindsey’s multi-platform photography exhibit (it will be launched as an old fashioned book at the end of March) is a wonderful marriage of good old public art and the ubiquitous smart phone.

But, I haven’t even touched on the substance of “Messages To:”

Before now I hadn’t known that illicit messages are openly passed from the outside to those held in the Edmonton Remand Centre by the ancient medium of chalk on the sidewalk.  Unlike many I’ve met in Edmonton, I know where the Remand Centre is — I find it amazing that a big building pretty much right in the heart of the city is invisible to most citizens.  If the building is invisible, those inside certainly and sadly must be as well.

But Lindsey’s photos of the chalk messages to inmates heartbreakingly shows that those inside are not ignored by at least a few outside.  Pink hearts abound in the sidewalk drawings.  Even the more concrete messages such as to “Call Ashley” take the time for endearing pet names.  While we are zipping across town in a crowd of commuters, all of us staring at our phones, there are those held in Remand, whatever their alleged crimes, who look out the narrow window for a bit of outside personal loving contact from chalk on the sidewalk, contact which will be hosed away at nightfall.  This chalk is the one tweet they’re allowed to receive for the day or the week or the month.  Lindsey’s exhibit preserves this virtually unknown communication medium and shows us a place in our society most of us don’t — or don’t want to — know about.  This is really good.

The downtown Remand Centre is going to be closed soon, replaced by an obscenely large new holding facility on the northern edge of the city.  I don’t expect the sidewalk will be as visible there, and that is a loss.

Lindsey Bond’s “”Messages To:  The Edmonton Remand Centre Newspaper” is in LRT stations and in your phone until June 7.  QR the virtual gallery and enjoy some thought provoking art — both Lindsey Bond’s photographs and the chalk messages the photos preserve  — on your way to work or school or on your way home, and text or tweet about it to your friends.  I might even think about chalking the QR code onto the sidewalk in front of my house.

The Book of the Project will be launched on May 26 at Latitude 53, 10248 – 106 Street.