bust/boom
 

Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens, Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, An Te Liu, Gordon Matta-Clark, Hwayeon Nam

The New Gallery, Calgary
May 25 – June 29, 2018

Co-curated with Deborah Wang

 

To date, the 2008 financial crisis is arguably one of the most significant events of the 21st century, an event that continues to impact our cultural, political, architectural, and economic landscape. bust/boom offers an attempt to make visible the complex and often immaterial ways we are affected by economic cycles. This exhibition strives to better understand both the visible and invisible conditions of our time, especially living and working within the aftershocks of “the crash.” It is therefore an investigative exploration into our own desire to continue to ask what happened and why. Given that 2018 marks the ten-year anniversary of the crash, this exhibition offers a reflection that engages perspectives before, at the time of, and after the historic event. bust/boom is also particularly timely within the specific context of The New Gallery given the highly cyclical and globally dependent economic history of Calgary as a city reliant on a single-extraction resource commodity.

 

bust/boom features several works that explore the abstract and tangible markers of economic cycles, as well as the very real ways that the financial crisis affects individuals, communities, and places. Offering a kind of metonymic approach, the exhibition further traces the cyclical and provisional nature of commodities and markets. Hwayeon Nam’s Botany of Desire intersperses images of the 17th century Dutch tulip mania with the stock market crash of 2008. The video combines the frantic sounds of a trading floor, broadcasts relating to recent stock market crashes, fluctuating stock market graphs, and colourful tulips deformed by viruses. By conflating the first speculative bubble (“tulip mania”) with the abstract ways contemporary markets function, Nam’s video addresses a complexity of discourses related to value and globalized economies. The work further compels an image of uncertainty, and the unpredictable character of markets and economies, which she visually relates to the volatility of natural cycles.

 

Following Gordon Matta-Clark’s interest in, and work with, “leftover” pieces of land and soon-to-be demolished buildings, bust/boom also looks specifically to the urban fabric as a sign of economic health. With projects such as Splitting and Conical Intersect, Matta-Clark draws our attention to the ebbs and flows of urban development by using houses as the medium for his large-scale sculptures. Engaging in acts of cutting, removal, and deconstruction, his works expose the frailty and precariousness of the building envelope. In Bingo/Ninths (the film), the house is demolished after being surgically “operated on” by the artist. We see the thinness of the house’s skin, the cheapness of materials, the way these houses are really “ticky-tacky.”

 

A double-edged sword, demolition signals a “boom,” whereas elsewhere, condemned houses are symptomatic of a city (or country) in decline. In An Te Liu’s Title Deed, a post-war suburban house is transformed with green paint into a colossal Monopoly piece, becoming a literal stand-in for the value accorded to its property – a pure symbol. Created in 2009 as part of a series of artist interventions on six post-war houses slated for demolition Toronto suburb, Title Deed also points to conflicting aspects of the real estate market: the wastefulness of tearing down existing houses to construct new ones, the health of Toronto’s housing market despite the crash, and the persistence of insatiable development practices.

 

Economic crises also have linguistic implications. Very specific vocabulary adopted during periods of financial upheaval with terms such as boom/bust, crash/recovery, and rise/fall becomes common parlance and a shorthand for complex systems. Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens’s Sesame Street Economics helps us focus on the language used to describe the economy (and other opaque systems), and the kind of assumptions and expectations these specific semantic indicators compel. The video presents a sequence of 486 economic terms alternating from mundane and easily recognizable concepts to advanced technical jargon pulled from specialized journals and policy documents. The playful colours and voice-over of the video, reminiscent of an educational game on the television show Sesame Street, creates a tension between the weight of the language being used and the seemingly impartial way it is presented. In this way, the project calls attention to the apparent neutrality of these terms versus the ideological authority they have on larger systems of political and economic power.

 

Countering Western ideas of economies of scale, exchange, and commodity, Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill’s sculptures and photographs show concern for, and bring attention to, interstitial zones of land that are often former sites of industry. For example, a tract of land beneath the Georgia Street Viaduct in Vancouver, a place formative to the artist in her youth that she warmly calls “the Wastelands.” As Hill notes, these in-between spaces have become gathering places for different kinds of publics who often remain excluded from “official” public spaces. They are publics who have fostered alternative economies, including bottle and scrap metal recycling, and inhabited the land of the discarded rail yard. Sculptures are made from materials salvaged from this area, and paired with images that document Hill’s interventions in the landscape. The result is a series of works that reflect on the various ways that this track of land has been a place of activity during periods of Indigenous, colonial, industrial, and neoliberal use. Resisting the aesthetics of poverty, Hill suggests that alternative economies are not necessarily a response to economic decline, but have long been part of pre-capitalist societies and a critical means by which to, as she says, “resist anti-human economic systems.” [1]

Taken as a whole, bust/boom considers the ways in which the economy impacts on our social, political, and urban conditions, while looking at, and asking how, financial systems interface with other systems.

[1] Curators’ call with the artist, 2017.