The Readable City at Angell Gallery


Jessica Thalmann. Moonlight, 2017. Archival Pigment Print, 20 x 30 inches, Edition of 10.



Angell Gallery
April 7–29, 2017

Opening reception Friday April 7 from 7 to 9pm

ANGELL GALLERY is pleased to present THE READABLE CITY, a group show featuring seven artists from Toronto and Montreal, working in photography, collage, video, sculpture and installation. The exhibition is curated by Associate Director Bill Clarke and features artists: Anna Eyler, Malka Greene, Eva Kolcze, Ella Dawn McGeough, Aude Moreau, Simone Rochon & Jessica Thalmann. Taking its title from a phrase in French scholar Michel de Certeau’s essay “Walking in the City”, the exhibition runs from April 5 through 29, with an opening reception on Friday, April 4 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

How often have you traversed a city park using a path worn into the grass by others rather than walking the route laid down by the park’s designers? When describing how to get from point A to point B in the city, are you more likely to think in terms of street names and numbers, or landmarks and buildings passed by on the way? Have you walked in a parade or occupied a public space during a demonstration.

In “Walking in the City” and “Spatial Stories” – essays found in The Practice of Everyday Life* – French scholar Michel de Certeau examines how we unconsciously navigate urban environments by using “tactics” like those above in response to the “strategies” employed by institutions and governments  to control our movements and influence our behaviours. Certeau, surveying New York City from the top of the then newly built World Trade Center towers, describes how governments, institutions and corporations view the city  as a unified whole, structuring streets in grids, naming parks or squares, and raising buildings and monuments that “historicize, hierarchize and semantically order the surface of the city.” The city’s inhabitants, meanwhile, resist these strictures by creating shortcuts, seizing control of public areas or defacing surfaces. For Certeau, cities are sites of struggle between forces of control and those of expression.

Unlike the capital cities of Europe, New York hasn’t “learned the art of growing old by playing on all its pasts,” according to Certeau. The same could be said of Toronto, which, like New York, seems always to be “in the act of throwing away its previous accomplishments and challenging the future.” (The same may not be said of a city like Montreal, which has done more to preserve a sense of its past.) Cities, however, are more than architecture and infrastructure. They are places where people seek success, acceptance and community, and arenas in which social movements coalesce and ideas ferment.

The exhibition also picks up on another thread in Certeau’s essays; that is, how people’s presence in spaces turn them into places. The artists here closely observe the surfaces of the city and give them new form, We are invited to consider how our actions shape the cities in which we live, and how, through collective action, we can produce communities in which everyone can say, “I feel good here.”

Text by Bill Clarke

*Quotes taken from: de Certeau, Michael: The Practice of Everyday Life: translation: Steven Rendall, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984.

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