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culture

At an Ossington Gallery, a Condo Critique

"Intersection," an installation by artist Felix Kalmenson, highlights the unsettling side of Toronto's condo boom.

A view of "Intersection," by Felix Kalmenson.

“Intersection”
Xpace Cultural Centre (58 Ossington Avenue)
October 19–November 10
FREE

The sheer creepiness of Felix Kalmenson’s photo and sound–based installation piece, “Intersection,” is striking. Upon visiting, one is viscerally assaulted by its constricting, dungeon-like space in the dim bowels of Xpace Cultural Centre, a gallery on Ossington Avenue. A perilously low ceiling, exposed pipes, and a harsh concrete floor all add to the effect. The piece is intended as a critique of Toronto’s current condo boom.

“Intersection” seems a natural extension of its gloomy room: the installation consists of a narrow, walk-through maze of vinyl banner panels slung over steel frames. On each panel is printed an eerily lit, photographed image of stark condominium accoutrements: steep, concrete stairways flanked by metal railings; an institutional white-bricked wall; glass doors reflecting endless, monochromatic windows; grey facades; tightly drawn blinds. Accompanying the visuals is a track playing white, industrial noise—captured, the artist says, from Liberty Village.

“I wanted to create an alienating environment that’s really claustrophobic and uncomfortable,” explains Kalmenson, a former student of architecture and geography. “It relays the feelings I have, going through these spaces.”

While anti-condo tropes are an increasingly common part of the Torontonian vernacular, Kalmenson’s approach feels fresh. In playing on the senses and provoking a kind of instinctive dread, the installation puts viewers in a frame of mind conducive to contemplating a more intellectual kind of condo critique. “Intersection” evokes what Kalmenson calls an “increasing privatization of public life,” and “new geographies of exclusion.”

According to Kalmenson, the spread of condos and the attendant demolition of historic architecture threatens to erase our collective history and memory.

“When you demolish historical architecture…you are demolishing memory in that architecture. And a lot of that architecture reflects our history back to us in way that helps activate contemporary struggles,” he says. “It signals our industrial heritage, and with that, struggles we’ve had with things like labour rights…But [condos] represent this hyper-modern, late capitalist notion of us existing outside of, and beyond, history.”

“They are hyper-modern, ahistorical edifices.”

What Kalmenson finds most problematic about condos, though, is the way they draw sharp socio-economic borders within the city, segregating privileged communities from poorer ones.

“What ends up happening is these condo developments act as vertical gated communities,” he says, “where they demolish a whole block of the city and construct an inward-looking community that contains almost all the amenities necessary for life, and doesn’t necessitate meaningful interaction with surrounding communities.”

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