statement of work
(Project)ions of Community is an Augmented Reality art installation in Barton Village, Hamilton, Ontario that displays scenes and sounds from Parkdale, Toronto. Certain areas and angles throughout the neighbourhood will activate the work by using an iphone or android mobile device installed with the free app “Aurasma Lite”.
By utilizing the architecture of both neighbourhoods, I have overlain videos from Parkdale into various parts of Barton Village that act as visual triggers for the AR technology, with an effort to match the spaces as closely as possible. For example, standing on the north-east corner of Wentworth and Barton and facing west is a “trigger image”, one that will bring up a video overlay of Parkdale from a similar vantage point. The contrast between the two communities can be a bit disorienting.
To access the work, one must walk through the neighbourhood seeking out the trigger image locations. Some of these locations are public spaces such as a park, while others are in neglected spaces such as an empty lot or empty storefront. Others feature spaces that are uncomfortable for many to confront, such as the facade of a strip bar. The Aurasma Lite app contains an area proximity map of these locations, and I have supplied thumbnails of the trigger images – more information is available on the instructions for participants page.
This work is not about the people who live in Barton Village – it’s about the people who don’t live here.
It’s about the perceptions of our neighbourhood in the heart of downtown Hamilton, one of the poorest in Canada. For many, my community is synonymous with drugs, violence, crime, urban decay and sexual exploitation – not so very different from the actualities of other Canadian suburbs, but laid bare to judgement by the pervasive poverty. People from Hamilton, and people who have never been to Hamilton, strongly associate Barton Village with danger and consider it best avoided, when possible.
I have lived here for two years and cannot claim that I have always felt safe or comfortable. I do not pretend to have all the answers, or assume that I am qualified to assign blame. What I can do is create a community discourse on the very act of pedestrian participation, of interacting with the neighbourhood by creating a work that encourages walking, looking and spending time in Barton Village. Driving through a community may render that community a mere sideshow, but spending time walking in a community helps to build it. A catch 22 to be sure for Barton Village, as the rows of empty storefronts, shuttered public schools, brownfields, neglected houses and trash everywhere do not readily encourage social participation.
I have lived in various “poor neighbourhoods” almost all of my adult life. Hintonburg in Ottawa, Saint-Henri in Montreal, Parkdale in Toronto – all of these, in my experience, were subject to very similar (mis)perceptions and prejudices. All three communities have undergone the process known as gentrification – typified by an area being transformed by artists, boutiques, developers and businesses in ways that drive up real estate values, the cost of living and taxes to a point where the pre-existing community can no longer afford to live there. I have seen this process, in various stages, as I lived in these areas and I see how different the communities are now, both in architecture, sounds and social behavior. A time-based media element to the work is that as Barton Village develops and changes over time (and it will eventually), the scenery and architecture that function as trigger images will also disappear, and so will this digital project. I find the buildings and their various states of upkeep, adaptations and uses quite beautiful, and I feel it is important to work with and document this neighbourhood before it changes forever.
By taking advantage of the lower real estate costs, by focusing my practice on this neighbourhood, I feel like a harbinger of gentrification – a process that is not always welcome by the community affected. Artists can be the vanguard of this process, and we are also the inevitable victims: the cost of living and sudden lack of affordable studio and public spaces drives the creative class, and the workers who originally built it, to other areas that are still accessible. Through my work here, I am left with some difficult questions: Essentially, am I participating in an exploitative process that takes advantage of the poverty of this area? Am I to share in the blame of the eventual destruction of the neighbourhood as the current residents know it?
Projecting expectations on a community is a powerful force, perhaps as powerful as taking a walk through it. My work, (Project)ions of Community, addresses this by contrasting the shared experience of one neighbourhood, The Village of Parkdale, with the expectations of another area, Barton Village. The hopes, aspirations and critiques are told through the spaces and architecture of these two areas.
Please feel free to comment, ask questions or supply feedback in the comment form below and I will do my best to respond.
~ Christopher Healey