Over the next two years, an extraordinary transformation will take place at Arts Court. The Ottawa Art Gallery will be pulling up stakes and moving into a brand new purpose-built high-rise in the lot next door. Arts Court will be renovated and connected with the new building, and a reconfigured interior will see SAW Video take up new digs, including a new media art gallery for the presentation of works. Though physical changes to the site have not yet gotten underway, numerous invested parties have been working towards this goal for a long period of time.
SAW Video has commissioned a number of artists to produce media artworks in order to chart, and at the same time contemplate, the progress of the Arts Court Redevelopment. The title of the project, Cultural Engineering, makes reference to an exhibition of video, installations and texts by the artist Tom Sherman at the National Gallery of Canada in 1983. That same year, Sherman was appointed as the founding Head of the Media Arts Section of the Canada Council for the Arts, and he was then, as he is now, an acerbic critic of new media and communications. The National Gallery was then located at an address now occupied by the James Michael Flaherty Building, home to Finance Canada. While the archeology of any city will reveal its political unconscious, it is perhaps unavoidable in the nation’s capital.
The artists in SAW Video’s Cultural Engineering will certainly be excavating the complex significance of the Arts Court site over the course of its redevelopment. Though they are participants in the cultural engineering of the ambitious Arts Court undertaking, they are at enough of a remove to provide a critical perspective on it. In the 1980s, Tom Sherman was also one of the founding editors of FUSE magazine, which published investigative journalism by artists. The artists in this project are conducting similar artistic research, and what their investigations unearth will be published here for your consideration.
Meredith Snider’s approach to the project is rooted in a research-based art process that will take the results of public surveys about Arts Court she is conducting and translate them into a series of interpretive artworks. Her first video, Architectural Façade: an exterior perspective, is an initial glimpse beneath the surface of Arts Court, revealing public perceptions of what takes place within the historic building.
Timothy Smith uses time-lapse videography and digital image compositing to contrast the relative stasis of architecture with our awareness of the passage of time, underscoring our bodily relationship with space. Smith’s establishing shot, for his first post, discloses more clearly the behavioural patterns of pedestrian movement around Arts Court by eliminating other traffic from the frame.
Stay tuned for further reports from the field.
– Michael Davidge