Windshield needed replacement. There was no getting around it – I had to spend three hours walking through industrial lands surrounded by big box stores. This was where nature was left in the parts these worlds had no use to sculpt … yet. This was a place that did not expect pedestrians and surly middle aged men and women in trucks big and small challenged me with glances as they left and arrived to do their dirty and serious business. These men and women are competing to be heroes, and their enemy is people who walk instead of drive. I was hung over from my grad class end of year party. It was sunny and I have no idea where in this city I can buy a hat without a logo on it. These people see this space, our space, as a different world serving a entirely different purpose than I do. They truly live in the present and all the riches it brings and I live in a future that may never actually come to be because I won’t be there.
This is a good time of year for a critical reading of the landscape in my neighbourhood, and particulariy into the industrial section just north of here. The trees have no leaves and the snow is (mostly) gone leaving the curves of the land and the angles of the industrial structures bare. The snow makes the dirt go away and now detritus is everywhere before the green veneers over it.
I was wrong about nature seeping into cracks of our urban environment – at least in this place. It’s as manufactured as anything spit out from one of these plants. Trees are there to obfuscate the view from the strips of public still left in this area. Where we are supposed to look, how we look and what we see from a passing car has been organically reacted, funnelled and appeased to. Right now, the constant burned mechanical tinge in the air is stronger than usual. The wind, usually a force in the lower city, is even more pronounced during the early, dirty Hamilton spring.
I thought I was alone these last couple of years watching in awe the monstrous, billowing, sky creatures of Hamilton’s industrial sector.
Oh, I know Hamilton is and has long been an area of fascination for artists both casual and professional. Most of what I’ve seen (and much of my own work) is based on the ground up i.e structures and landscapes. But just above that is another landscape entirely – and I’ve been referring to the airspace above the industrial sector as “landscape” because what is going on up there is far too solid and far too much a permanent fixture to be called anything else.
I look for the flames when I cross into Hamilton from work, and I’ll always glance to the air above the architecture to see what is billowing where … and just marvel at how large and, literally, “opaque” these are. Night and day, though wind and rain, I would explore vantage points and study these shapes. I started to take pictures, then time lapse pictures, then movies, then collages… and now, thousands of photos later my first exhibit with this series of work opens tomorrow at 173 James Street North. Both formal and a flight of fancy influenced by a healthy dose of local activism and politics, I started to anthropomorphise the emissions as kind of creatures of mythology. (Is “anthropomorphise” the right word? I’m not sure as technically I am ascribing qualities of non-humans, greek gods, to non-human emissions… )
The relationship, for me, drew similarities to what I assume living among titans and gods would of been like. Huge and obvious, dominating and affecting the landscape yet uncaring and oblivious to gnats like me frittering away at the edges. Sure, I can indirectly communicate with the people operating this machinery, but that is also a claim of priests and oracles at any temple. There are always prophecies of doom and of hope flying about in classical mythology, as there are in Hamilton council and on the local chorus – twitter. I could go on, but that’s basically how my mind always keeps connecting things on me and then I tend to go “deep into the rabbit hole” with work and research. And that’s how I arrived at this collection of digital prints, my first solo exhibit in many years. It’s called “Uranus of Hamilton” – and yes, I know. The name has a few different stories to it, though it is the correct name as this 7 work exhibit refers to the creation mythology of Ancient Greece.
Anyways, so I thought I was alone out there watching for industrial emissions because of their visual qualities. But I was not alone – here’s a recent CBC Hamilton news article about Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton, who was out there around the same period “documenting and photographing the emissions for months”. I didn’t know there were laws on the opacity of industrial emissions, and it’s neat to think that what I saw as formally fascinating yet rationally horrifying was kinda validated by this unfolding environmental story.
I am very impressed with Lukasik and local residents for their work on this, and very grateful. It’s a real effort, I think, to break out of our accustomed blind-spots that build up over time and prevent us from seeing some of the absurdity right in front of our eyes. These titans of industry are no slouches – they know what they are doing and they know how to minimize the perception of their presence. For example, I can’t get anywhere inside the industrial sector – I once got in trouble by three security guards for standing on patch of corporate lawn to take a picture of a statue. Public parking is also non-existent in that area and they spend a lot of time and money doing marketing and PR based on charities and the arts.
As thick and opaque as Dafasco’s industrial emissions, this kind of practice shields their activities from most citizens by associating what we are seeing with warm and fuzzy feelings about community and jobs and things like that. Adding insult to injury is the fact that they are spending millions on marketing while receiving millions to keep the plants open. They are also not spending the millions government is spending to clean up toxic areas such as Randal’s Reef.
This asymmetrical scale of priorities and responsibilities is a neat trick of smoke and mirrors. I learned it takes full time dedication from patient and perceptive locals to see through it and be able to change the titan’s behaviour. I, on the other hand, was only observing the titan behaviour.
Some more work from that series is in this post, but not of the works in the exhibit though. You’ll have to show up sometime with April 12th to May 6th to see those.
Bonus: I’ve included a sort of “hidden” work in the gallery that is based on the below raw footage of Tartarus.
April 12th- May 6th
173 James Street North, Hamilton, Ontario
Opening reception Friday, April 12th 7-9pm
Displaced Landscapes: Uranus of Hamilton| Christopher Healey
Please join me during Art Crawl night on James Street North for my new show of photo based prints based on local skyscapes. These are selected works from my Hamilton series focusing on industrial emissions in the city – but pretends what we are seeing is actually Greek Mythology. Below is part of the exhibit statement: ~ Chris
“According to the poet Alcman, Aether was the father of Ouranos, the god of the sky. While Aether was the personification of the upper air, Ouranos was literally the sky itself, composed of a solid dome of brass.”
“After Cronus was born, Gaia and Uranus decreed no more Titans were to be born. They were followed by the one-eyed Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires or Hundred-Handed Ones, who were both thrown into Tartarus by Uranus. This made Gaia furious. Cronus (“the wily, youngest and most terrible of Gaia’s children”), was convinced by Gaia to castrate his father. He did this, and became the ruler of the Titans with his sister-wife Rhea as his consort, and the other Titans became his court.”
As an industrial city and port, Hamilton has a particular relationship with the sky, earth, fire and water. It’s an elemental dynamic that is always at play, and that makes for a sweeping and majestic landscape. This primal yet manufactured visual is reminiscent of Greek mythology, and prompted me to dissociate elements of what I was seeing, and to re-frame them as scenes from classical stories. The hubris, struggle and morality lessons of creation mythology are an apt commentary of a Hamilton in a state of identity crisis: The titans borne of industry and their older world status are being challenged by a younger, cleverer community. It’s a grand philosophical battle that is reflected in the devastated areas of the urban core and in the physical manifestation of our relationship with the sky.
Formally, since moving to Hamilton late in 2010 my process has been greatly influenced by the built heritage, community relationships / history with industry and the perceptions of Hamilton from both inside the community and outside of it. This series of work, outside of my usual practice of drawing and painting, is my first exploration of digital print based media.
Through digital photography and layering techniques, these prints are a perspective of landscape as environment of cloud, air and emissions. A familiar and often documented fixture in the Hamilton community, as well as many other communities, smoke stacks are universally symbolic of industry, environment and politics.
In this series, I am attempting to focus past these common discourses and formally examine the ephemeral and displaced characteristics emissions of steam / vapour / smoke without it’s architectural source or other visual clutter. It can be argued this moment of shape and process is a valid, important and beautiful part of our visual community landscape as any building or geological feature – especially if we remove it entirely of our own bias and associative meanings of it’s practical function and effects.
Can the shapes and movements of emissions transcend preconceived notions of industry and be accepted as a natural part of our immediate environment?
These careful studies ask this absurd question by de-contextualizing the natural and the manufactured as a process of artificially homogenizing multiple images. The result is series of very soft, subtle fields that are both familiar and strange, encouraging study and contemplation.
173 James Street North
Media Contact: Christopher Healey