Neighbourhood

    Thursday, January 18, 2001 to Saturday, February 24, 2001

    In contemporary urban culture, where privacy is actively defended by a public that aspires to anonymity, the overwhelming majority of multi-household residential structures are built to imply discretion and conformity. Bland and unassuming exteriors assimilate easily into the urban landscape, ensuring the security of residents. Expressions of personal taste and individuality are generally confined to the homes' interiors. The only external indications of the intimate lives contained within these buildings are visible in the decorative accents displayed on their balconies and in their windows.

    I use photography to subdue the predictable dreariness of most rental architecture, preferring to accentuate the varied patterns and cosmetic abnormalities of individual façades. These subtly distorted images (taken with a plastic camera) mimic the sight pattern of the human eye when it casually observes an unremarkable spectacle: focus appears arbitrary and perspective is warped. With the sky and occasional power lines serving as a backdrop, the structures I photograph appear to have been uprooted from their surrounding environments, corresponding to the psychological experience of the contemporary urbanite. Relocated to the gallery, these buildings create an artificial neighbourhood whose architectural prototypes modestly defy urban trends toward anonymity. We are reminded that a structure's façade is shared between community and tenants, and that Ottawa's cityscape is constructed out of buildings that differ in age, upkeep, and other fundamental attributes. Yet, these façades remain superficial, in the gallery as on the street. Distinct barriers between public and private are part of every urban community. The windowpanes of these buildings appear opaque rather than translucent, reflecting the city's face back to the viewer.

    Nikki Middlemiss