The idea of ‘place’ and its meaning is a recurring thread in my work. This preoccupation seems particularly apt at this point in my life, as I am really ‘betwixt and between’ in many ways: some projects have concluded, others are taking shape; I am revisiting the NEST work, and preparing for a new exhibition; the sabbatical here in Halifax is very quickly coming to a close, and so I will be back at packing and sorting and moving; we are also selling the place we have here, so that is another layer of transition, another shifting relationship to place.
The calendar year is coming to a close, the Winter Solstice just past … returning to light, to work, to a place I have called home for many years.
I think that’s why this building struck me so. I’ve gone by it many times over the years, over many walks downtown, but this time the layers seemed particularly evident, the exposure of change to the wide world more vivid.
Surfaces like this are also a rare thing in Edmonton – we are very good at erasing our history, at least when it comes to buildings. The boomtown preoccupation with the new, coupled with the relative youth of this city has contributed greatly to this erasure, as has the tendency for development to place profit and efficiency over preservation. So, place is different there; its associated narratives and threads of history are less easily read on the surface. They are there nonetheless, but it takes digging (or flying above it all) to really begin to grasp it.
I have often been thoroughly disheartened by what feel like thoughtless, short-sighted erasures and edits to the tangible records of place/history out west (certainly in relation to the preservation of buildings and history in Halifax the difference is most dramatic). But for all of that, there is a deeper thread to understanding the meaning of place for me, that cannot be broken by myriad (and seemingly endless) boom-town-construction changes. Or perhaps that thread is because of the change: because the economy has brought so very many ‘come from away’ people to Edmonton for its entire history – and especially so in the last 40 years – I am something of a rare bird. I was born there. It is a corner of the world that has shaped me irrevocably, if for no other reason than time in.
There are people out here who can go ‘home’ to a place that has been in the family for generations, to a house that has stood for centuries. I can’t do that – I am the daughter of an immigrant and a first generation Canadian, both of whom did their best to forget the past of the ‘old country’ and even of all but the barest snippets of their growing up years. They saw the house they called home as setting them apart from all of that by its modernity – they renovated the original house to their own design, laying claim to space, changing the land the house stood on, leaving their personal stamp on what they built. 20th Century Pioneers. The life of the place can only really be measured from the very late 1950’s or early 1960s as the place I knew as home. And now, the house and yard has been completely changed by the current owners, and almost everything around it has been transfigured by suburban expansion; even the long, straight roads I walked have been erased, in favour of winding asphalt and cup de sacs.
But the river is still there. The ravine is still there. The changes matter, impact the place deeply, make it a different city. But not entirely. I guess its in the blood, somehow, in much the same way the ties to ‘back home’ run so deep out here in the Maritimes.
It’s just the surface realities that are very different.