My Winnipeg: Artists’ choice
Posted February 13, 2013 by jake moore
on LABOUR DAY (2013)
I am best known for large scale, poetic installations that assert beauty, experience, and a materiality that might initially seem in contrast to this project, but my turn to the political is not new. While here its appearance is more overt, social commentary has been threaded through my practice. Firstly, the material construction and siting of this project is as consciously considered as any other work including the inherent meanings of things, (neon signs, vinyl print advertising for mass market, postcards). But most importantly – when one conceives of space as their medium, there is always an undercurrent of the performance of power, for to occupy or to claim space is to lay bare social structures both implied and explicit. It is here where works such as “the gift horse - I trust you” and “aerie: clear channel” interface with this consideration of the documentation of this early incarnation of the public square in Winnipeg - Portage and Main.
The site is charged as the symbolic centre of the city yet, currently, no citizens are allowed there above ground. Barriers have replaced sidewalks at the intersection, so that people can no longer intersect with this spatial identifier of their city. Portage and Main has become isolated and in many ways the barricades there act as bijou settings to present the center as a jewel, worthy of renewed consideration. The barricades act as a framing device for narratives and actions old and new. They have taken the site out of the everyday. In 1979, when Joe Zuken led his parade of 100 people, including three in wheel chairs, from corner to corner, he was performing the need for recognition of the needs of the people to take precedence over corporate and governmental greed. It is a similar gesture to that we now see enacted in the Idle No More round dance. It also harkens the collective power of the SAVE OUR JETS rallies. The intersection is where the latent desires, needs, and powers of a people are spatialized. In Labour Day (2013), pictures produced on the same adhesive material that now covers buses with advertising, I present the site in two distinct moments in time. They mirror one another and are illuminated by the faulty neon sign that announces both the day on which the images were taken and thus their subject matter, but draws specifically on the lack of power brought to labour or the people. The red scares that decimated Winnipeg’s industrial promise leading into the fabled general strike of 1919 articulated the undoing of the multiple cultures that assembled to form this city and compounded the fragile identities-in-displacement into a latent self loathing that seems to have allowed their erasure from public view. The town square goes from active and occupied in 1909 to desolate and unpopulated almost one hundred years later. The flashing red light acts as a signal, stop – proceed with caution.
While my earlier works addressed identity politics through mythological characters like Helen of Troy and Orpheus, and cultural tropes like not sleeping at Banff, Labour Day(2013) confronts the now mythological space of Winnipeg. Before Guy Maddin identified us as sleep walkers, author Sandra Birdsell described us as underwater dwellers, still struggling against the current of glacial Lake Agassiz. We are equally weighted and fed by our past. Each connects the prairie dwellers experience as somehow out of body though entirely embodied, something especially poetic when considering the deeply sensorial phenomena of lives lived here, the exceptional cold, the dry baking heat, the indescribable light, the access to sky, and the certainty that creatures are stirring beneath us, their sentience seeping up through the calcite and haptically legible in the limestone of our most important, to immigrant culture, buildings.
A deep thank you, and an equivalent apology are owed to Larry Glawson.
He agreed to photograph Portage and Main in 2007 when I was first unpacking this project idea for Subconscious City at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. His role as documentarian of my works in Winnipeg was more deeply aligned with collaboration than with service as he would listen so carefully to why I felt installation could not be documented so I would need him to share his experience of the work, not illustrate my intentions. The apology is required as his technical expertise has been sullied by my printing, where I took the perfect file he provided me with and altered it to mirror more fully the postcard primary document from the Valentine and Sons image and increased its scale tenfold. But he is an artist and understands the conceptual end of this production. I am indebted to all he has shared with me, and to the city that burns like a cinder in my eye, my retina forever altered having been born though it.