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Glitter and Rust

Restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community liveable again.  Isaiah 58:12

Flame from the refinery rise broken, red and riveting; and the high vault of heaven looks far away and cold.  Bruce Cockburn, Get up Jonah


The title of this show is a nod to the so-called “Glitter and Doom” years of Berlin in the 1920’s – a reference to the decadence and turmoil of the German Weimar Republic that bridged the gap between Germany's loss of the Great War and Adolf Hitler's rise to power. The Weimar years were terrifying time of war reparations, hyperinflation and political upheaval, but paradoxically, it was also a period of unparalleled social and artistic freedom. The transitioning identity of interwar Berlin is a study in contrasts. While many traumatized Germans remained shell-shocked and disillusioned by the unprecedented barbarism of the Great War, others revelled in the blissful amnesia of sexual indulgence and jazz cabarets.

In many ways, Hamilton is also a city at the crux of transition. Rusting waterfront factories along the four linear kilometers of the city’s industrial waterfront recall an earlier time when steel production dominated the city’s identity as a blue-collar community. Hamilton’s industrial heyday transformed the physical landscape into a network of smokestacks and coke piles representing a financially prosperous legacy of manufacturing before global competition and the outsourcing of heavy industry extinguished the blast furnaces. Many of these industrialized landscapes that shaped physical footprint of the city are now vacant “brownfields,” a term used to describe idle or underutilized industrial sites that resist the potential for redevelopment because of environmental contamination. Globalization forced Hamilton to deal with the realities of a deindustrialization process that characterize a rust-belt city -- the economic and cultural struggle to recover and reinvent itself as a post-industrial community.

Today, Hamilton is in the process of reinventing itself: from a city built on heavy industry to an affordable alternative for families and creatives displaced by the rising prices in Toronto and the banal urban sprawl of its surrounding boilerplate sleeper towns. In the skeleton of the industrial ruins the city is experiencing an artistic and cultural renaissance, grounded in the shadow of an existing identity. As a Hamiltonian who has made a home in the shadow of the factory walls, my art considers the tension between past identity and urban renewal built out of old bones. The bones help us remember a time when an economy based on production gave us free reign to dominate the landscape with manufacturing sites. These factories remain as defining feature of Hamilton’s skyline, and this symbolic shell of its history forms is backdrop of cultural memory on which new stories can be told.


My work places these old bones in visual tension with Hamilton’s heritage architecture. Rather than portraying the factories as “ruin porn,” a genre that decries the human scarring of the landscape as tragic and ugly, I have attempted to capture something of the industrial sublime. Although these post-industry sites no longer produce a productive sense of awe though an overwhelming scale, part of their beauty is in the ruins themselves as a memorial to a lost history.

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