7×7 in, 18×18 cm
Foreward by Geoffrey Carr, PhD
Images of Vancouver Canada and the redevelopment of small scale buildings into towers and condos - a disappearing city. Photo documentation is augmented with hand drawn details and impressions to create a mixed media interpretation.
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Traces Diary | Foreward
Decades have passed since the truthfulness of photography has been called into question. Far from a neutral, unmediated, and transparent medium able to capture the “real” world, photography now occupies an uncertain critical space: between the actual and virtual, presence and absence, objectivity and subjectivity. Yet this nuanced criticality seems far removed from the recent dearth of images made on cell phones, clear by the cliché, evidentiary demand: “pics or it didn't happen”. Shirley Wiebe’s small, intimate prints—produced both on a single lens reflex camera and a cell phone—collapse such distinctions, merging a self-reflexive photographic practice with a device that elsewhere makes so many bad pictures.
In this series, Wiebe’s photographs yield a trace of her nomadic drift through various redevelopment sites in the Lower Mainland. In a sense, her images are a love letter to a rapidly transforming region, a love that doubtless feels unrequited by many who face record low vacancy rates, rising rents, and renovictions. The pictures also divulge something of the artist’s gendered subjectivity—trespassing on places of “men’s work”, to convey her embodied encounter with profound and lasting changes to the built environment. This transgressive tension played out between the artist and men met on site; it also emerges in supplemental imagery—drawings and superimposed photos—layering not only media but also the complexity of the artist’s personal perceptions of the seemingly impersonal processes of demolition and redevelopment.
In this overdetermined, conflictual space, Wiebe’s work cannot help but register some measure of urgency, melancholy, and dread. One building seems to vomit the contents of its interior, while the shades of sickly green of another almost justify its destruction. Precariousness, promise, and inevitability haunt each frame. Instead of a contingent patchwork quilt of additions and repairs, the assertive presence of new construction. In place of a kitschy Lao Tzu, contemporary taste. Rather than a messy, discordant, and vital accretion of pigments and architectural forms, a hygienic orthogonality that inoculates such tatty pasts.
That said, Wiebe’s vestigial capture of disappearing places also delivers a peculiar, oneiric sense of wonder. A prone, pristine round-headed door, a surreal Venetian window, a series of soon-to-be entombed graffiti—each in their own way suggests a fleeting fugitive charm that evades the instrumentality of urban redevelopment. These photographs do not testify that a particular event happened. Rather, they mouth the words to a beloved, half-forgotten song.
Geoffrey Carr, PhD
Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory
University of British Columbia