Room 2B; Apart­ment (Mari­na Roy); Unti­tled Gar­den (Abbas Akhavan)
(instal­la­tion made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Abbas Akhavan)
Dun­lop Art Gallery

Crossing the Hedge

By Jennifer Matotek, Director/Curator

Hedges remind me of a time when some­thing pri­vate hap­pened to me. We use hedges for pri­va­cy, to cre­ate the idea of indoor spaces out­doors. We use hedges for divi­sion, to sep­a­rate our prop­er­ty from our neigh­bours, because we don’t want them to see what we are doing. The root of the word house,” accord­ing to some ety­mol­o­gists, comes from to hide” and is shared as a root for oth­er words like host,” and hotel,” but also hos­pi­tal,” hos­tile,” and hostage.” Home, the media teach­es us, is a place where we are sup­posed to be safe and loved. But it is also a place where we learn what hurts us, and where we hurt, and where we learn how to hurt oth­ers. Some of the most bru­tal enhanced inter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques” of the con­tem­po­rary era (used in Guan­tanamo Bay, for exam­ple) tend toward the use of domes­tic items, such as water and cloth – indoor and out­door domes­tic items not unlike some of the mate­ri­als which com­prise the first part of Mari­na Roy and Abbas Akhavan’s site-spe­cif­ic instal­la­tion at Cen­tral Gallery.

In recent years, the home has been a source of eco­nom­ic trau­ma for many fam­i­lies across North Amer­i­ca. The 2008 sub­prime mort­gage cri­sis forced many Amer­i­cans out of their homes, emp­ty­ing out many of the hard­est hit cities, such as Detroit, by the thou­sands. A few years lat­er, Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na destroyed thou­sands of people’s homes in New Orleans. It is impor­tant to note that these two trau­mas large­ly impact­ed the lives of per­sons of colour and those who were low­er-income, and that it was the gov­ern­ment who failed to pro­tect them. When peo­ple left their homes, nature took over — both Detroit and New Orleans are now over­run by thou­sands of stray dogs, like­ly gen­er­at­ing scenes rem­i­nis­cent of the 18th cen­tu­ry build­ing tak­en over by ani­mals in Roy’s cel ani­ma­tion Apart­ment, where rooms are in decay and sins abound: glut­tony, van­i­ty, pride, and even murder.

When I first moved to Regi­na, I was fas­ci­nat­ed by my neigh­bours, hav­ing nev­er owned a house before. Some were, and are, warm, wel­com­ing, and fun­ny while oth­ers are down­right odd, and seem to have an invis­i­ble no tres­pass­ing” sign on their yard. Over the three years I have lived here, things that at first seemed innocu­ous grad­u­al­ly took on a more omi­nous tone. When I not­ed to my hus­band that I was pleased to see our neigh­bours final­ly replaced their old garage with a new white struc­ture, I was hor­ri­fied to learn that the for­mer garage was the site of domes­tic abuse which result­ed in mur­der and a jail sen­tence for the hus­band. When I see the garage now, rather than pleased, I feel fear­ful, and the rep­til­ian part of my brain takes over.

In response to stress and fear, humans some­times respond inap­pro­pri­ate­ly — laugh­ter is not an uncom­mon side effect of fear for exam­ple, which you can wit­ness in psy­chol­o­gy exper­i­ments such the Mil­gram exper­i­ment. Dur­ing the Mil­gram exper­i­ment, white male par­tic­i­pants were asked to tor­ture oth­er unseen (and secret­ly, non-exis­tent) par­tic­i­pants in anoth­er room. The moti­va­tion for the exper­i­ment was, in part, to under­stand the Holo­caust — to ques­tion how decent peo­ple could behave so inhu­mane­ly when goad­ed by author­i­ty, rather than stop the screams of fel­low men.1

When we hurt peo­ple, and do so bar­bar­i­cal­ly, which part of the brain are we using? Is it the civ­i­lized” part which drove set­tlers to build homes and cities to raise our fam­i­lies in? Or is it the emo­tion­al, reac­tive, rep­til­ian part that encroach­es neg­a­tive­ly upon our civ­i­lized, domes­tic life?

To cross a pri­vate hedge is to trespass.


1. Mil­gram Exper­i­ment, Big His­to­ry NL, Thresh­hold 6, YouTube video, pub­lished March 19, 2013, accessed May 12, 2016,