Varying Proximities: A New Series of Works by Broken City Lab

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For the past year or so, we’ve been working on a residency with Watershed+ in Calgary, Alberta. Watershed+ is a unique public art residency program that creates a climate of opportunity for water initiatives to build an emotional connection between people and Calgary’s watershed. Our task was to embed ourselves within the Water Centre (and Calgary in general) and really take the time to explore what the watershed means to Calgarians and us as visitors.

The Bow River and Elbow River are Calgary’s main sources of water and during our residency we explored ideas inspired by their physical structure, social implications, and municipal infrastructure. We went on a number of tours and took hundreds of photographs, audio clips, and short videos. After months of brainstorming, meeting, and reconfiguring, we have produced a series of works called Varying Proximities. An exhibition of the project was generously hosted by Stride Art Gallery Association in Calgary and will remain on view until Saturday, August 2nd, 2014.

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Varying Proximities (Connecting to the Bow Hotline) 

“Hello. One moment as I connect you to the Bow River.” With this simple introduction, you are transported to the river’s edge and begin to experience the Bow’s rushing, gurgling, and babbling efforts to connect to you. Whether nearby or across the world, anyone can attempt to connect to the Bow, and begin to explore its wisdom, or its secrets, or its songs, creating a unique opportunity to explore proximity and access as fundamental components of our relationship to the Bow River.

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The toll-free number to connect is 1-844-OUR-BOW-RIVER (1-844-687-2697) and the hotline will remain active for the foreseeable future. We installed a retro telephone at Stride Gallery to allow visitors to call the hotline.

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Varying Proximities (Bow-Inspired Hard Candy) 

What does the Bow River taste like? What colour is the water flowing through it? How does one savour the Bow? With the creation of Bow-Inspired Hard Candy, residents of Calgary can start to explore these questions through a fun and interactive public art work. Candies made from colour and flavour inspirations of the Bow allow residents to wonder about where the flavours and colours of the candies end and their own subjective experiences and memories of the Bow begin.

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The installation consists of 10 jars, each filled with about 100 candies of a specific colour. Municipal water from the Bow River was used in the production of these hard candies.

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Varying Proximities (The Results of Searching for “The Bow River”) 

In order to understand how images and ideas about the Bow River change over time, we produced a small booklet consisting of images pulled from a Google search of “The Bow River”. This collection of halftone images suggests a moment in time and further explores the notion of “varying proximities” in terms of web search language.

Copies are available in Stride Gallery and we encourage visitors to grab one from the two shelves mounted in the main gallery space before the exhibition ends on August 2nd.

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Varying Proximities (Subtext: River Signs) 

Distributed along the Elbow and Bow Rivers and affixed to the stormwater outfall signs, Subtext: River Signs, will aim to engage the public to consider a number of questions about the rivers that have come to define the City of Calgary. Playfully asking a series of questions, Subtext: River Signs, will be installed on up to 100 posts for three months and encourage thousands of residents and visitors to think about the ways in which we collectively and individually experience the rivers and how these questions might cue new relations, memories, and stories of the Bow and Elbow.

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Nearly 100 signs were installed in the second room of the gallery and demonstrate the breadth of the questions posed. Viewers are invited to ponder these questions and how they might relate them to their ideas about the river.

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The signs on display will be installed on posts around the Bow and Elbow Rivers this fall, so stay tuned for more updates!

Mirror Fence by Alyson Shotz


American artist Alyson Shotz constructed this large-scale picket fence from strips of mirror and placed it in a natural setting as a sort of suggested barrier or delineation of space. The project was a commissioned installation for Storm King Art Center in New York. What intrigues me most is the variety of views that are possible with this installation. From some angles it almost completely disappears, leaving you with the sensation of a photograph with an obscure horizontal smear across the center (like below).

via: Designboom


“Foam” by Kohei Nawa


Some of the best installation work can make you believe, even for a split second, that you have entered another world, or a place totally alien or unfamiliar. Artists have made naturally occurring phenomena like clouds appear in a gallery setting using a handful of tactics, but this work by Kohei Nawa uses foam to achieve it’s cloud-like effervescence.

The installation reads like a greyscale landscape of primordial ooze, with mountain-like ridges and valleys suspended on a layer of black sand. It’s lit in such a way that some portions of the foam take on the appearance of clouds, while some remain ambiguous, melting blobs.

via: Colossal



All Images: Foam, 2013. Mixed media. Photo by Nobutada Omote, courtesy of SANDWICH.

Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices) Opens October 19th at Modern Fuel


Exhibition Runs from October 19th to November 30th at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, Kingston, Ontario

In case you were wondering what all the cement boxes, wooden flags, and the humidifier filing cabinet were for, we have an exhibition called Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices) coming up at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre in Kingston, Ontario. The exhibition opens October 19th, with an opening reception for Archival Tendencies and All You Ever Wanted by Christine Dewancker at 7pm. It features all new installation work based on concepts surrounding archival practices. If you’re nearby or are looking for something to do in the Kingston area, please come out and check out the exhibition.

Through a series of installations, sculptural works, and participatory projects, Archival Tendencies (Lossy Practices) will demonstrate the ways in which we might reconsider our approach to the spaces, infrastructures, and bureaucracies around us. The exhibition examines the ways in which we document, share, and collectively remember these spaces within the frame of the archival practices, and use of follies as creative intervention. The works aim to explore the expressions of power through official and unofficial archival practices, and play with a range of archival tendencies and lossy practices. The exhibition will argue for a renewed effort and set of tactics to both earnestly “keep track of” and intentionally “lose sight of” a range of artifacts and ideas that are normally discarded, pushed aside, or otherwise forgotten.

Micro-Project: Make Your Own Bunting (Web App)


Whether making your own guerrilla celebration, working on a gallery installation, or even getting ready for some upcoming holiday festivities, we think our little automagic bunting app will make everything a little bit easier.

We got tired of hand-setting each letter when we’ve made bunting in the past, so we cooked up this simple little web app that takes any string of text you enter and converts each letter into a one-page gif file, ready to be printed, trimmed (using the handy built-in guides), and strung together using your favourite little bull clips, tape, or other hanging mechanism.

Try it out and send us a picture of what you do with it!

Calendars, Notes, Installations, Vinyl, Camouflage, Drywall, Tests, and Hearts

Our rate of posting on here has slowed down considerably since the summer. We’re still busy, it’s just the pace of the work and projects now seems to span longer and longer time frames, and with so many ongoing and overlapping projects, it’s just a lot more challenging to find the time to keep track of it all. We’re actually putting in more time than ever, with Hiba and I meeting regularly two to three days a week and our colleagues joining in when schedules allow. It’s amazingly fun and productive, but harder than ever to document meaningfully.

So, just for a quick look into the last four or five weeks, here’s what we’ve been up to…

Above, we’re planning for the 1W3KND Writing Residency, and we’ll be announcing our participating writers and artists really soon.

We’ve also been hosting biweekly events at CIVIC SPACE. Every other Monday is All Tomorrow’s Problems. We take a lot of notes.

Every other Wednesdays are Zine Nights, and then there’s Skills For Good(s) on a semi-regular Tuesday night schedule. All of these events are free and open to everyone. We usually post the details on the right-hand side column of the front page of our website, and also try to keep up to date. Emphasis on try.

Here are some of the leftovers from Alana Bartol’s recent Skills for Good(s) on Making a Ghillie Suit!

October also allowed us to play host to Sam Lefort returning to take on a project with students from Forster.

The project and exhibition were so great and it was incredibly fun to have Sam back for an entire month.

Here’s just a little peek at her installation.

And, the process of taking down the vinyl to make way for the upcoming Cross-Plotting, opening on Friday, November 9th!

Hiba and I have been working on some other parallel projects for an exhibition in January. Think planes and banners.

Rosina provided the new over-sized pad of paper. It’s been very helpful.

We also still have some postcards left from Sam’s show, if you’d like some.

We’ve been patching the walls, a lot. I think the winter break is going to be set aside for a painting party.

We’ve also had the pleasure of Laura Gentili as a kick-ass studio assistant. She’s assembled furniture, changed door locks, organized, scanned, and sketched her way through the last few weeks, and been awesome the entire way.

Sam was kind enough to leave our space a little nicer than she found it. Above, and installation to brighten up the back office area at CIVIC SPACE.

Also, we’re still working on our window installation, with the help of Paul Anderson. Earlier today, he was testing a contact mic, while also going over details to build the Max patch we’ll actually need.

And this afternoon, Hiba and I also picked up a project that appeared in How to Forget the Border Completely.

This is something that Danielle has been wanting to do forever. Above, a really early prototype.

We’ll eventually laser cut and etch these from aluminum. Installation to follow. Also, in the background, we’re writing. We’re still working on the Homework publication with Brennan and Cholé. And, we’re planning projects into the fall of 2013. It’s good.

Any Max Experts out there? Slow steps towards a new interactive project

Don’t mind the mess. A lot of the stuff on there is really just old ideas still scattered. These are early stages in using Max to try to figure out how to trigger some audio recording with some basic video tracking, and we’re not sure exactly how best to move forward.

This is a new project we’ve been trying to get off the ground for the window at CIVIC SPACE, but it’s slow going. Essentially, we want to use the window as a big microphone area where passersby can answer questions we ask on the future of Windsor. The questions will appear in vinyl in the window itself, but we want the interface to be buttonless. Basically, when you put your hand on the window in a designated area, it will start recording your answer and keep recording for as long as you keep your hand there. Technically, that mic will be located somewhere below the window and facing up. Sound tests so far have proven that sound quality to be very useable. While we originally wanted to try to work with contact mics to keep all the gear inside and away from the weather, the process of trying to test that has been too arduous. Instead, we’ve found a workable solution to store the small web cam and mic outdoors (yet covered) with a workable stable location looking up to the passerby, but we’re still working away to solve a couple of problems:

1. We need to test more to find the right thing to track to trigger the video. Because the installation would be up around the clock, we need to find the right place on the window and possibly an augmented lighting situation so that the cv.jit.moments object can keep track of what it’s looking for with more acuracy. So far, we can dial in the right numbers for a daylight and nighttime situation, but nothing that can do both — mostly because of the glare on the window during the day.

2. We still have to write the audio recording section. I’ve put together the basic skeleton in another patch, but essentially, we need that big black toggle box with the green X in it to automatically start a recording and then turn off again when it toggles off. That recording would be automatically saved to disk with the current date/time.

Would be happy to hear how you’d solve the problem below in the comments. We had wanted to have this up and running this month, but we’re already halfway through, so unless we can solve this soon, we might push it back to December.

Day 2 & 3 at Eastern Edge

The last few days have been so busy here, at Eastern Edge. In anticipation of the 24 hour Art Marathon that is happening today, we have been keeping busy getting the Public Space Gallery installed and running. Here’s a recap.

On Thursday, we held our “Assembling the Public Space Gallery Workshop”. Before the workshop, Josh and I had gone around and photographed all the spaces we wanted to include in the gallery tour. We projected them back at our space at Eastern Edge and discussed them with our workshop participants.

With a fake title card, we tried to imagine how they could fit on the space in order to properly frame each stop on the tour.

Around the table, Kumi and Emmanuelle reference a map to get a sense of the route the tour would take.

Then Josh tries to locate one of the spots. A notable characteristic of St.John’s is how the streets work in the city. Google maps has mad multiple errors in helping us find the places we were searching for. The streets curve and take sharp direction changes without any indication of street signs, making it a challenge and adventure for any newcomer of the city to find their destination.

After the spots were finalized, we set out to buy all the appropriate materials for the task. Rick Page, who is our lovely house host, is also a carpenter and was really kind in finding us some scrap wood to turn into stakes.

Josh tests the stake in the ground.

And it stands!

Next, we got the title cards for the tour printed and began to mount them.

The method: glue all around and super glue for the edges.

A Josh touch.

We have 24 title cards in total, making this tour a 24 stop one.

As mentioned above, Google Maps had a tough time helping us find the places we were looking for and so, the map above is one we collaborated with Google on to find the exact coordinates of the places we wanted to caption in the city.

Before we headed out on our “Installation/Walking Tour Workshop” we tested out a scrap piece of foam board to see how it held up on the stake.

Friday was all about install. We decided it would be interested to take our last workshop to the streets and take the first “official” tour of the Public Space Gallery, but also give the workshop participants the chance to have an input on where the title cards would be installed. So we set off with Caley, an Eastern Edge volunteer, as well as the designated tool assistant on this workshop walk.

First stop on the tour is Eastern Edge. Discussion on where title card should be installed ensues.

First title card up.

Eastern Edge.

Some of the installation spots required a sign to be installed infront of it in order for it to be properly framed. Emmanuelle created a tape handle for easy transport.

Caley follows her lead and makes a handle for the axe.

Second stop on the tour is the view from the harbour of Signal Hill. This place came up in conversation so many times during the workshops and other discussions we’ve had during our stay in St.John’s. It seems to almost be like the beacon of the city.

The view’s not bad either.

Similarly to Signal Hill, the Habour acts as a distinct characteristic of the city, as well as a gateway, both literally and metaphorically in understanding this place a little better.

If you’re here, you’re somewhere.

47.565, -52.705 are the longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates of this exact spot. We decided to include them on the title card as a fun play on the normal gallery artwork measurements.

Stop 4 is a parking garage located on Harbour Drive. What stood out as worth noting of this place is that it was the spot people mentioned when asked where the best view to watch the sunrise/sunset was. Signal Hill was a definite contender but the parking garage made us curious about what spaces are meant to be used for versus what they can or maybe should be used for.

The group consulting.

Another great part of the “Installation Walking Tour” was being able to face the challenges of installing title cards in an urban space that isn’t exactly designed for this type of project. Emmanuelle is an artist from Quebec and is participating in the Art Marathon alongside us. She came on the tour and was really good at problem solving ways of installing the title cards in trickier spots.

Her idea was to make a looping mechanism with the tape so that it can be wrapped around the pole and stand more securely.


Google was having a tough time in St.John’s and thought that this tiny shoe boutique was Bay Roberts, which is actually a whole district of its own.

Erin’s Pub is a place of identity for a lot of people in St.John’s. While most visitors and tourists go to George Street for their pub experience, the residents of St.John’s find this pub to be a more accurate representation of their culture and heritage.

As we searched for a good spot to install, a gentleman that worked at the pub asked what we were doing. When we explained to him the project, he told us that we could put it wherever we wanted and that his boss will be happy to see it.

Discussing the spot.

Urchin Art Materials and Papery was another spot Google misread, but still worked for our Recently Changed Collection because this store just opened a month ago.

They gave us rubber suctions to hang our sign and also gave us some for the road. Thanks Urchin!

Susan Shiner was another participant that came with us on the walk but had to leave half way through. Before we parted ways, she pointed out to us that on her shopping bag, it said “changing perspectives”, which she said was what she felt she experienced on our walk. I was really glad to hear that because Susan has lived in St.John’s her whole life and have her say that our walk helped her point out things in the city she had never noticed before made all the work of this project worth it.

Next on our tour was the Rocket Bakery.

While this place may appear to be a normal bakery, we’ve experienced it as a real gathering spot in the city. Some people come here to eat a meal while others stop in on a grocery run. Josh and I had a few meals here and noticed the range of customers from men in business suits having meetings to grandparents taking their grandchildren out for a treat.


Josh marks off the places as we go.

As a part of the Fancy Artist Talks presentation on Wednesday night, a collective known as Noxious Sector discussed the project they were doing in St.John’s called The Haunting of George Street. The premise of the project is pretty playful and funny but stems from their genuine curiosity revolving around ghosts and whether or not you can actually haunt someone or something. While George Street is known as the partying district of St.John’s, it was more interesting to note something happening below the surface that the majority of people on this street didn’t know was happening.

This two block street has the most bar and pubs per square foot of any street in North America.

As we were installing the title card, the members of Noxious Sector showed up on site. Maybe they’re haunting us?

This spot was deemed as a place that is irreplaceable.

Holdsworth Court.

Reading funny posters.

Anna Templeton Centre is keeping the textiles alive.

This building used to be a bank before it was taking over by this centre.

Hiding in one of the alley pathways, The Ship Inn was talked about as the best music venue in town. People from St. John’s are always willing to talk about music, as its the biggest scene out here. The amount of music festivals and shows always going on is quite amazing.

This is a great spot to see where the city and nature meet. Sadly, the infrastructure being built is starting to block the view.

Down on Prescott and Water, the view is really cool.

An onlooker engages with the project.

St.John’s has Jelly Bean houses everywhere. It is definitely one of the first things you notice about the city.

The corner of Prescott and Gower is a great example of the brilliantly playful homes found throughout the city.

The mailboxes too.

The scary storm approaches.

Tucked away in a residential district, the Resource Centre for the Arts is where a lot of the local musicians, dancers, artists and actors spend their days.

Just below the LSPU hall is this staircase that leads to the next street block. These staircases are so common throughout the city because of how steep some of the streets are.

Similarly to most downtowns, parking in St. John’s is hard to come about. Older generations complain about this a lot because it has caused the downtown scenery to change a lot. This used to be a place only ever experienced on foot but has now become an urban center dominated by the automobile. However, one thing that is delightfully different from downtown St.John’s to other cities is how local businesses occupy 95% of the storefronts. All the big box stores are pushed to the outskirts of town, about a 25 minute drive away.

Huge church right in the downtown.

A part of the Where am I? Collection.

There’s a on going joke in St.John’s that because the Basilica and the Rooms are only a few blocks from one another, the Rooms was actually the box the Basilica was delivered in . The Rooms is a massive gallery and museum that over shadows any other architectural structure in the downtown.

After the install at The Rooms, a massive storm swept through and rained us out. While the title cards are fine, we weren’t able to finish our tour in its entirety. With four more spots to visit, we’re heading out this morning before the marathon begins.

More soon.

The (Nearly Complete) Letter Library Archive

When the Letter Library was up earlier this month at CIVIC SPACE, each participant had the option to borrow a disposable camera from us, photograph their letters, and bring the cameras back. Well, after developing nearly all the cameras (still a few more to come) here is the nearly complete archive of all the photos we received from the project.

Feel free to comment below if any of these photos are yours, and please link us to photos that aren’t up in this archive that you took yourself!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Letter Library and captioned the city.

Continue reading “The (Nearly Complete) Letter Library Archive”

Recap of the Letter Library Opening Event!

It’s been an incredible few weeks prepping for the launch of CIVIC SPACE and the Letter Library. Huge props to everyone who helped out, especially Kiki Athanassiadis & Lucy Howe! There’s a few hundred letters strewn about the space, waiting for you to takeout and caption the city. Stop by over the next few weeks — we’re Monday – Friday 11am – 4:30pm + Tuesday-Thursday 7-9:30pm. There’s more information on CIVIC SPACE on the new website too!

But before a total recap, it’s worth posting on some of the things that came together in preparing for the launch. Above, Josh’s extender-tool to reach high places with letters. Hacked together from a lot of spare wood and a paint roller.

The shelves of letters waiting to be hung.

Josh testing the rigidity of his extender tool.

And then, a street test.

Josh reaches.

It works.

Then, onto installing the more permanent sign on our building … atop the ladder.

Hiba at dusk.

Inside, prepping the file for the vinyl cut.

End of the night before the big day.

Hiba on a ladder

The next morning, Hiba and Rosina head back out to finish installing the sign.

Inside, weeding the vinyl.


Across the street, Hiba talks to Claire Bronwell.

Inside, Rosina works on installing photos for the collage wall.

Getting reading to install the vinyl.

Meanwhile, Hiba, Kevin, and Kiki start mounting the letters on our walls.

Vinyl, installed.

Ro working on the photo wall.

Then, the launch kicks off with letters immediately heading out into the streets.

There was an incredible group of people floating in and out all week. We’re excited to get the photos back once the rolls are finished off.

From the outside, an installation…

Entering the space from our front door.

Proof of fun.

More letter selections.

Library card.

Piling letters before heading out.

Kiki making her selection.

Letter hunting.

Then, Hiba puts the returned letters back up.

Kevin converses.

The photo wall.

The letter wall, as people bring back their letters.

Last install of the evening.

Huge thanks to everyone who came out for our first event. As the rolls get finished, we’ll be installing them on the wall and posting them on the site. And, remember, the Letter Library is still open. If you’re in the neighbourhood stop by!

More soon, but first, a weekend to recover.