Painting the town black and white

Here’s an idea: take two crumbling homes, paint one white, and the other black. Pretty cool idea, right? Karie Liao the artistic director of the Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area (CAFKA) thought so when she programmed Don Miller’s large-scale installation, Saturn and Cronos. Miller is an idea-based visual artist and intuitive carpenter who will paint the abandoned homes at 51 and 53 David Street  (located in Kitchener’s downtown Victoria Park neighborhood) as part of this year’s festival running May 31 to June 29, 2014.

If you live on David Street, however, you might not think it’s such a cool idea. Neighbours are sick of the unsightly housing blights on the block. While the bones of the buildings are solid, surfaces languish in rot. Get close enough and you can smell the mould and mildew through one of the several broken windows. Shingles from the roof routinely rain down on the parked cars in the lot next door. Those who live in the houses and apartments close to 51 and 53 David Street are tired of the drugs and detritus and will do whatever it takes to make the buildings disappear. Effective immediately.

I get it. As a homeowner and a parent I can empathize with the neighbours perspective. They are frustrated by the seemingly endless stream of excuses and delays, and the accompanying bureaucratic nightmare. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is also a really interesting project that should have a lasting positive impact on the community. Art in public spaces has a surprising way of transforming those spaces for the better.

I’m not going to try and convince you this is going to be a good work of art. I don’t know if it will be… for you. No one can predict that, thankfully. What I can guarantee is it will change the landscape of David Street. Hopefully it actualizes the CAFKA 14 theme and causes those who see it to “turn our heads sideways and upwards, turn toward contemplation and curiosity, turn toward the artworks and then toward each other in conversation.” In other words makes us see our world, take notice of our world in a unique way and take a break from the monotony of our A to B to C routines.  Replace B with F and see what happens.

Of course some of you will still agree with KW Record’s Luisa D’Amato and continue to debate the artistic merit of this project. You may even go so far as to suggest what I’m saying is just more “unique mixture of chutzpah and horse manure” but don’t let her dismissive tone distract from the unique opportunity to use creativity as a tool for community unification. That’s right ladies and gentlemen: use art to bring the community together.

Why not try and integrate the demolition into the installation itself. Maybe go so far as to arrange between the developer, artist, city and festival to throw a closing night block party during which the transformed buildings are destroyed. I know there will likely be numerous hurdles to jump over for this to happen yet think of the large-scale memories this event could generate. People would be talking about it for years. From a ritualistic perspective I’d be interested to see what it’s like to celebrate this destruction, this tearing down as a group rather than simply a routine activity that happens on any given Tuesday.

Whether we like it or not these houses have become symbols worthy of a creative send off. Don’t let them go without an audience.