Cohen Explorations Program in Visual Arts, University of Western Ontario
Sept 2003 – April 2004
Exhibition and event, Forest City Gallery, London, ON, Canada
Exposé 67 offered upper level and graduate students, in the art history or studio stream of the program, a funded opportunity to re-reflect upon a formative moment in Canadian cultural and political history, providing students with a framework for conducting interdisciplinary research and production.
In 1967 the world’s fair was hosted by the City of Montreal, fueled in part by the ambitions of then major Jean Drapeau to put Canada and more specifically the Province of Quebec onto the world stage. Guided by the general thematic “Man and his World”, Expo 67 would bring architecture, design, visual art, politics, identity and social consciousness together in an unprecedented way. Expo 67 was one of “the” defining moments in contemporary Canadian history, as it [Canada] entered the global arena as a fully-formed nation with a bi-lingual dentity, foreign policy, cultural politic, social contract, and vision that situated it as distinct from its southern neighbour, the US. Expo 67 functioned as a unique space of convergence for many of these ideas and issues.
As such it offered students a significant space to focus research interests culled from a wide range of investigations. For example, it was during this time that intense debates around American intervention into Vietnam brought thousands of anti-war protesters into Canada. American artist, Barnett Newman painted “Voice of Fire” (which now hangs in the National Gallery after much public furour over its acquisition costs) as his own personal protest to the Vietnam War. This painting, whose title is taken from Deuteronomy, was first displayed at Expo 67 in the American Pavilion (designed by Buckminster Fuller). Art Historian John O’Brian (UBC) has argued that this minimalist painting was strategically situated by Barnett Newman to make reference to Canada as a safe haven for American Draft Dodgers. “It was an anti-rhetorical painting that was profoundly politcal.” Expo 67 was also the staging ground for Canadian architect Moshe Safdie’s housing experiment Habitat 67, which has since become the permanent symbol of Expo 67. Convinced that he could make fundamentally better and cheaper housing for the general populace, Safdie used mass production technologies to design and build an expansive apartment complex with multi-tiered green spaces; creating a kind of garden complex within the urban core of the city. What he proposed was an experiment, not just in housing, but in community life. Conceived as a plan for affordable and innovative living, today Habitat is an expensive apartment complex.
From artists to designers, architects to urban planners, politicians to social workers, Expo 67 held out a promise for an optimistic vision of our nation’s future; wherein the complex demands of everyday life would be met by innovative thinking from a specifically Canadian context. Now more than thirty years later, the students in this course will look back at this decisive moment in Canadian history and re-examine its significance, flaws and legacy. Features of this course will include a speakers series, fieldtrip, archival research, seminar presentations and various production strategies to be determined by the actual course constituency. Taking a quote from Mike Davis’ “City of Quartz” the course looks back in time in order to “excavate the future”.