Monday, June 27, 2005

150 Years of Foul Odors, Bad Art, Garbage and Beggars in London Ontario

I wanted to go for a walk today, and as smog and the smell of raw sewage is the norm in this dirty little town, upon reading the London Over Priced People's Press, I decided to go check out the latest art craze in honour of London's 150th despite the stench.

In a fleeting glance, they appear to just be six utility poles bunched together.

But take your time and the oddly decorated utility poles, on Riverside Drive overlooking the banks of the Thames River, come alive to speak a little about the history of London, as seen through the eyes of artist Kirtley Jarvis.
Forewarned by the free press, I took my camera, determined to give this installation piece more than a passing glance. I need not have worried however, for if I had been an unsuspecting passerby, I am sure I would have been stopped in my tracks by this visual monstrosity:

Personally, I think shit in a can would have been a more appropriate homage to London.
It's just part of a new art exhibit, You Are Here, celebrating London's 150th anniversary, housed mostly in the yellow brick cottage known as One Dundas Street at the Forks of the Thames beside the splash pad.

The work of numerous London artists is intertwined with historic maps and events of the city.

"You Are Here is a rare opportunity to view historic maps of our city in conjunction with work by London artists who bring an extra dimension to cartography," states Jarvis in a promotional pamphlet.

It was Jarvis, also the exhibit's curator, who spearheaded the effort to get city artists involved in the sesquicentennial celebrations.

"The contributors to this exhibition have explored and charted their experience using intriguingly diverse materials and techniques," Jarvis writes.

"Through their subjective map-making they reveal not only what is vital to themselves, but to the community and visitors to London."

Jarvis's contribution, The New Urban Forest, is located directly across the river from One Dundas Street.

Jarvis uses mostly wire on the poles to create images and words, all relating to the city's history.

"If you look around, the urban landscape is dominated by wires and poles," Jarvis said in an interview yesterday at the opening reception for her work.

"I just wanted to do something for London's 150th and there's a lot of history in the poles. I'm extremely happy with it."

It's a provocative work honouring the city's past, including the Beck Pole about Sir Adam Beck, founder of Ontario Hydro, and the Gallows Pole to remind us of Cornelius Burley, the first -- and some also say second -- man executed in London.

The rope broke in the first try, but held on the second effort.
As part of the Creative Cities proposal, council might want to consider bringing back public executions to encourage more visitors to London:
London's first gallows were erected in the courthouse square facing Ridout Street. People came from miles around to see the hanging - allegedly as far away as Hamilton and York (now Toronto). In a time when horse-shoe tossing was considered a major sport, a hanging ranked as one of the year's must-see events. An estimated 3000 people - ten times the village's population - turned out to gape at the spectacle.

As the wires on the poles are disconnected from a power source, my interpretion of this piece is that it is a celebration of the impending blackout.

However, my brief journey through London and encounter with four beggars in the span of only two hours, was yet to contain a high point. On my way home, my dashed aesthetic expectations were somewhat revived - this 'accidental art piece' was for me a more profound statement of the past 150 years:


mud said...

Agreed, art at the end really said it aswell :)

basil said...

Those are very sensitively rendered telephone poles. Their challenging aesthetic only proves their intrinsic artistic value.

Perhaps, as a means of celebrating London's 150th, rather than merely hanging people, we could have some good ol' fashioned crucifixions on these telephone poles?