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Cul-de-sac

by Meredith Areskoug
Douglas Cardinal Architect Inc., Kamloops Indian Band (Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc) Land Use Plan – Cluster of 10 homes, 2005, drawing. Courtesy of Douglas Cardinal Architect Inc.

ART GALLERY OF ALBERTA, Edmonton AB – April 13 – Aug 18

by Michael Turner

For many post-war North American parents, the cul-de-sac was a residential design feature that promised trafiic-calmed neighbourhoods and family-oriented block parties. However, for certain teenage children, the cul-de-sac had more in common with its 18th-century French origin – a word that (politely) translates as “bottom of the bag.” In its current exhibition, the AGA explores the range of meanings and perceptions carried by this culturally loaded word through the work of Alberta-born architect Douglas Cardinal, photographer and writer Christoph Gielen, and “image-based” artist Isabelle Hayeur.

Hayeur’s Uprooted (2012) is a meditative 11-minute video representative of the artist’s ongoing interest in the intersection of built and natural environments. Beginning with a soft-focus shot of an unpaved forest road, the camera zooms out to reveal a trompe l’oeil mural on the side of a suburban housing development. The path motif continues, linking people and “progress,” construction and destruction. Gielen’s aerial photography and video similarly shed light on our relationship to “growth” and our oftentimes disrespectful treatment of the land on which we, as human beings, are said to “prosper.”

If Hayeur’s Uprooted is a poetic preface, and Gielen’s images a mapping of more recent human settlements, Cardinal’s work is a potential road out: “a planning process based on Indigenous values of living in harmony with the environment,” one that asks, “What future is created when design is obliged to consider seven generations forward? What opens up with models of matriarchal understanding? And how might market-based and sustainable design practices learn from the tenets of natural law?”

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