Trading Places This project began four years ago when I wrangled my way aboard the last Canadian-built lake freighters still operating in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway with the intent to reacquaint Canadians with their ship-building heritage and domestic merchant marine.
It was immediately clear to me that here was an opportunity to tell a great Canadian story; the contemporary tale of shipping and the perils of the sea as immortalized by Lightfoot’s Edmund Fitzgerald; the disappearance of our ship-building heritage as the last of these aging vessels are decommissioned and replaced with foreign-built ships; a little known career path for our youth; and the struggle of resource-based industries to maintain their place on our increasingly gentrified waterfronts. Trading Places follows the movement of three primary bulk commodities that touch our lives on a daily basis; WHEAT the bread we eat ORE the cars we drive GYPSUM the walls that define the rooms in which we live
I lived the archetypal Canadian story celebrated in song - at the opening of the spring and close of the winter shipping season- sharing the harsh yet beautiful conditions merchant mariners work in. Their lives are governed by the rules of the ship and the sea, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week often without internet and cellular phone service.
The Saint Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes form Canada's first highway; the harvest and movement of natural resources to market the primary reason for the initial siting and growth of communities along both shores. Yet as gentrification relentlessly pushes heavy industry away from its historical place in the landscape we make shipping ever more difficult. Leaving us to contemplate this; one boatload of iron ore is equivalent to 980 trucks on our roads or approximately 350 railcars. Do we wish to build more rivers of asphalt or better utilize our natural infrastructure?
Building upon the work begun four years ago, I am increasingly drawn to the issues resulting from the evolution of our waterfronts. New housing developments sit cheek by jowl with aggregate companies. Monster homes creep into port lands near petrochemical storage and marine supply chain. As our economy has relentlessly shifted from manufacturing to service generation, we are still left with the problem of how to deliver the goods we use in our daily lives. Trading Places is thus more than simply a view into the domestic merchant marine. It is part of a larger discussion of the themes of gentrification and the schisms created as residential and recreational pursuit trade places with heavy industry. Industry once venerated and idealized in the modernist movement of the 1920s is now relegated to disdain and condemnation. Even clean industrial facilities draw the ire of a public who believe that these companies no longer deserve a place in our landscape. And thus I turn my artist's lens increasingly to these uneasy juxtapositions as they exist along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.