Nocturne's building inspection | Arts & Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Nocturne's building inspection

For this year's festival, artists are turning the inside out, drawing attention to the city's architecture: modern, historic, empty and forgotten.

For Nocturne, people aren't just invited to look at art, but to look at architecture through art.

Some of this year's artists will insert their work into vacant spaces. Others will fill in the void left by demolition (or the memory before massive renovation). And still others will project onto and into buildings currently in use. In altered states, familiar Halifax structures and sites may well attract new attention and due consideration.

Some reject empty buildings as signs of decay. Others receive a signal of future progress. Barrington Street, and its banks of papered-up windows, has been a focal point for the debaters. Scott Saunders' attention had returned again and again to two horizontal bands of windows on opposite sides of the street, specifically the former Sam the Record Man (1651 Barrington Street) and the old Dooly's location (1652 Barrington). Saunders is leading a team to create a sound and video installation called Tide's Comin' In....

"The windows cascade down the street," he says. "We wanted something that's going to create movement up and down it."

In a sense, says Saunders, they'll "stitch" into the buildings, via the windows, footage shots of the surf at Cow Bay. They'll sync up sound, which Saunders describes as "very loud surf, swell, wind and birds going out of four speakers arrayed up and down the street, which should bind the whole space together."

Consequently, he wants to transform a peripheral experience into a focal one. "Hopefully, it cuts through the numbness or stops the hypnotizing, hypnotic type of relationship we have as we move through these environments [by] creating a different kind of feeling than you've ever had in that particular place before, with those particular people around you."

Arianne Pollet-Brannen's work Genuine Leather occupies window space in the Roy Building (1657 Barrington). Five women and one man will wear the textile artist's designs made from reconstructed leather shoes. Leather "just makes the person feel a certain way: powerful," offers Pollet-Brannen. "The performers will do very simple acts, based on how they wish to respond to the public. They're in charge."

Her "mannequins with an attitude" don't have to face onlookers if they don't want to. They can stand or sit, she says. "Instead of the gazer on the outside of the window, they will have control."

As backdrop to her figures, Pollet-Brannen will use commercial fabric printed with a "simply elegant" polka-dot motif that Gerald Ferguson, who died last week (see page 43), had been experimenting with. The two artists' studios neighbour each other in the Immigration Annex Building.

With the built fabric of any city undergoing constant change---blending, resolving, dissolving---it's as if a city's in constant struggle with itself. Is dissolution, particularly of heritage buildings, a natural part of this evolution? Will often-maligned modern and post-modern architecture ever be considered part of architectural heritage, with an equal place alongside (not replacing) 19th century structures, as in other Canadian cities?

With Resurrection: Kelly Building (1790 Granville Street), Charley Young and Sarah Roy offer ground for discussion. Their installation's centerpiece is a frottage-printed 30-by-40-foot-long piece of fabric. They'll graft that on the site as a "second skin of the old building." For one night, it'll no longer be a "voided space," explains Young.

The building gets another life, however temporary, complete with doors, display windows and brick pattern reproduced in "life-sized representation."

"It should be pretty ghostly, pretty haunting I hope," says Young, who's still working on the lighting scheme. Originally from Calgary, Young has observed "how people come and go" from Halifax. That transience echoed in the city's architecture.

"After the old Trinity Church on Cogswell Street got knocked down, it occurred to me then that the architecture of Halifax is equally as temporary as the people."

The Kelly Building, she points out, was a registered heritage property, but still it got knocked down. "I really feel like it's a loss of history," continues Young. "It's heritage that's just gone forever."

History is arguably always on the verge of being lost; it's easily ignored and forgotten, whether a building comes down or not.

For some, Dalhousie's Faculty of Architecture and Planning (5410 Spring Garden Road) is likely just another old building in Halifax. Of course, the goal and the hope is that a new generation of architectural practitioners is taking shape within its walls. Architect and professor Sarah Bonnemaison and a group of her students will temporarily transform the school by suspending a "field of light," according to Bonnemaison, to follow the formal sweep of the building's iconic stairway.

"The whole idea and magic of this is that it will look just like a floating carpet in a way," says Bonnemaison.

The light will extend out toward the street, passing through the largest window in the facade---crossing the threshold from space within to space without, or vice versa, eradicating the division between the two domains.

"It will give the illusion that this sort of cloud of little lights will come right through the window," says Bonnemaison. "It's really simple. Its inspiration is minimalist art or land art."

Approximately 500 glowsticks will be used, a number deliberately chosen to symbolize the "soul of each student." About that number of students attend the school each year, Bonnemaison says.

Similarly, three NSCAD classes are working, respectively, on audio, video and translucent drawing for In Transit (Port Campus, 1107 Marginal Road). Barb Lounder's students started the process by researching actual stories and testimonials of immigration to Canada, official documents and government policy reflecting the positive and negative decisions this country's made in the past, at neighbouring Pier 21. They circulated "dossiers"---information in transit---with the rest of the students.

"They appreciate what Pier 21 does as an archive, a site of memory," Lounder says.

Her class will provide primarily a video and still-image component, using media to metaphorically illustrate the challenges and difficulties of such crossings they studied at the national immigration museum next door.

Cliche and easy "happy endings" are being eschewed, Lounder says. "People remember Robert Dziekanski--- that the inquiry's happening right now---out west and that's a story of a failed immigration. They're aware that there's this other side to it or that there's this gloss to it: Canada welcomes immigrants. But in another way, they're not really wanted or that there's not really this affinity with them."

The video will be projected on two porches facing the Marginal Road side of the building. Visible from ground level, they'll show student bodies in various types of movement. "They're paring down to this basic language of movement," Lounder says. Some students have experimented with crawling, while others will run or block another trying to cross.

At the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (1675 Lower Water Street), selections from the museum's massive collection of 19th century ship portraits---the biggest in Canada---will be projected onto a south-facing brick wall of the Robertson Store Chandlery. The old retail store's core dates back to the 1830s, explains Dan Conlin, the museum's curator of marine history.

"Our ships were all over the world and painted by artists all over the world," explains Conlin. Artists from Hong Kong to Antwerp to New York painted vessels from Nova Scotia.

The portraits are at the heart of a museum that exists in what many say is the heart of Halifax---its waterfront. "I only have space to display about three of them at a time in our public gallery. So we've always wanted to exhibit more of them," says Conlin, who's happy to bring the collection outdoors, as most of the paintings are hidden away on storage racks.

He's planning on cycling through roughly 100 of the 300 in the collection. Though there will be "dark and stormy oils," Conlin says, "A large number of them are watercolours. The Mediterranean artists did a lot of watercolour images, which I must say tend to project better because they're brighter." In other words, they look good at night.

Sean Flinn is a freelance writer living in Halifax.

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