Feb 12 – May 23, 2022
After All That Was Solid Melts Into Air
Publication with texts by Melissa Bennett and Paul Weinberg
This project started out in response to images by two photographers in the AGH collection. Little is known about either George Hunter or John Heddle, but both documented significant moments in Hamilton’s industrial history. My 2013-2019 Steel Town series of collagraphs juxtaposes industrial sector housing with views of the industry, and I had been thinking about creating work around the city’s car culture since I first came to Hamilton in 2003.
Heddle’s cyanotypes portray stages in the construction of the T.H.&B line in the 1890s, including bridges, tunnels, tracks and stations. The fact that the historical railway never reached the goal of its plan, presents an ironic parallel to the stumbling halt in building Hamilton’s LRT. Initiated in 2011 the LRT was approved by City Council in 2017, cancelled by the Province in 2019, and is once again in progress.
The proposed LRT line traverses both impoverished and revitalized neighbourhoods, long stretches of shuttered business areas, and pockets of hip sectors, along two major thoroughfares from an East End mall to the University in the West. Of the 60 properties acquired in 2019 by Metrolinx to make room for construction, 21 were vacant, considered unsafe, and scheduled for demolition. Following the purchase of 102 rental units, 87 tenant households were displaced. My expectation of public works and public services could not come to terms with the empirical reality of what was being neglected or demolished in the lower city, at the same time as private developments seemed to be booming elsewhere.
However, I did not intend to focus my art-based research on the decline of Hamilton’s industry, nor on the threat of gentrification or ongoing political squabbling. Along King Street east of Sherman, someone applied pastel coloured paint to the hoarding on a number of the marked buildings in the fall of 2019. It was the transformation of the streetscape along King Street East that inspired me to start taking photographs, and to dig for explanations.
Despite all the wealth of archival information that I found, I continue to wonder why so many people opposed the LRT when it would bring huge improvements to public transit and lower city business? Did anyone object to the 1956 overnight conversion of major downtown streets in favour of cars over pedestrians? Having joined the last phase of protest against the Red Hill expressway, I wonder why big trucks still roar through the lower city. How did the Brightside neighbourhood vanish in the 1960s? Who benefits from expansion into farmland, and the neglect of certain areas?
After documenting many different stages of rapid change along King Street east over the course of two years – from active businesses and housing, to boarded up buildings and construction fencing, and newly revealed historical details – I created absurdist reality composites from hundreds of disparate images. A parallel to my interpretation of photographic truths can be found in the name given to the railway in John Heddle’s cyanotypes. TH&B suggests that the railway (1892-1987) intended to run beyond its actual track, to Toronto and to Buffalo. I find it difficult to not be cynical about the master plan.
presented with a grant from the Ontario Arts Council.