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Street Life

March 8th to April 25th, 2012

Museum of Contemporary Art-Calgary (MOCA Calgary, formerly Triangle Gallery)
104, 800 Macleod Trail SE

Presented by MOCA, Museum of Contemporary Art-Calgary

Organized to complement the “This is My City Festival”, Street Life surveys the range of artistic responses to the city as muse and subject matter for art. In other festival projects the focus was perhaps primarily upon problems most associated with urban life: homelessness, poverty, prostitution, alcoholism, isolation and the evidence of urban decay and the stress of modern existence.

Clearly, these remain vexing, compelling issues that have been with us as long as people have chosen to gather to live in the shared confines of metropolitan environments. George Pepper paints a 1930s portrait of life in a downtown park, an urban enclave where people gather to ward off loneliness and the ills of joblessness, idleness and homelessness set against the backdrop of the great depression. Fred Herzog’s photographs of 1960s city environments recalls the city as a contemporary jungle where life’s acts are played out: slick advertising, neon displays competing with hand-made cardboard signs vying for our attention, street vendors and food carts jockeying for our business as the affairs of urban life are carried out at street level. His photos present the city as the place that all of us intermingle on the same platform: the powerful with the disaffected, the advantaged and the challenged, the beautiful and the down and out.

Today, Ken Lum’s dramatic photo project , “There’s No Place Like Home” (2000/2004) exposes to plain view the battle lines drawn as new inhabitants, new immigrants, occupy the city clashing with established resident populations and their values; it asks: ”Whose city is this anyway?”. Dominique Rey presents eerie images of sex trade workers who transform the very nature of the experience and ownership of our streets at night.

Popular culture of the 1960s, movies and folk music legends chronicled the transformation of values and experiences by newcomers to city life, people from rural or agricultural backgrounds thrust into an alien existence. Visual artists too, like John Will, respond to the carnival atmosphere of the street; viewed sometimes as comic or entertaining, while on the other hand terrifying and threatening. Robert Rauschenberg, Ron Moppett and Michael Snow, poets of the streets, roamed the city gathering the tossed away detritus disgorged by the rapid pace of the city as machine: discarded newspapers, cartons, products, and dysfunctional broken technology abandoned en route. They crafted these into poignant memoirs of urban archaeology. Penniless street people created chip-carved picture frames, jewellery boxes and mirror frames out of discarded cigar boxes as a token of currency and trade item in order to eke out an existence (see above right).

Others looked up, away from the plastic bags, bottles and refuse swirling around their feet, to instead gaze upon the wonders and majesty of the built environment, gleaming towering architectural marvels, mesmerizing electric lights unique to our times. Curated by MOCA's Jeffrey Spalding, Street Life presents the city as the source of artistic inspiration a place worthy of reflection a lived reality to lament or rejoice as well as a wellspring source of contemporary art materials out of which art can be created.

Jeffrey Spalding RCA, C.M., Artistic Director,

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