Art and gentrification in Marconi-Alexandra

We spoke to two artists behind the forthcoming exhibition Inside-Outside.

“Columns, Third Floor” by Frances Foster

The artist Frances Foster has lived in Marconi-Alexandra for 27 years. Her friend, the artist Brenda Fuhrman, is a more recent arrival from Ontario, and together they are presenting two views of one rapidly changing neighbourhood through the story of a handful of old industrial buildings and their inhabitants.

The neighbourhood of Marconi-Alexandra, to many, is simply Mile Ex, but what name you use depends a lot on how long you’ve lived there. Mile Ex is the younger and hipper moniker, and on Google Maps the name “Marconi-Alexandra” will only barely flicker into view as you magnify in or out. The name Mile Ex seems to have won, but its contours remain contested. Fitting that Google favours Mile End when an intensifying tech and AI boom is one of the major agents of change in the neighbourhood, while the name and spirit of Marconi-Alexandra is increasingly overwhelmed by the new generation (and new consumerism) that Mile Ex represents. Inside-Outside: Views of Marconi-Alexandra and Mile-Ex is Foster and Fuhrman’s upcoming exhibit of zines, paintings, prints and recycled objects whose focus is the precarious harmony of artists and the smaller businesses that occupy formerly industrial spaces. Both artists, faced with growing gentrification and the transformation it entails, focus on remembering the past (both its materials and its people) as a way of preserving the community around them.

I asked Fuhrman and Foster why they chose to work with materials that emphasize the nostalgia of their project. Foster noted the importance she places on physical craft. “It’s not just up there in the Cloud. It’s not just robots doing it, it’s actual human hands.” She added, “I understand AI will probably be important for artists like digital cameras were and photography back in the 19th century… however I still have this love, this connection to the beauty of canvas, the beauty of paper, the beauty of recycling. That powerful idea of not just throwing it away.”

Fuhrman, meanwhile, noted that one of the reasons she works with prints is that they’re more democratic than, for example, painting; far easier for someone of more limited means to purchase and put up on their wall. For both artists, material is important evidence of handicraft, an echo of the artisans and other workers who used to be employed in these buildings.

The show’s tone is quiet and personal, featuring not only paintings and prints but also the horseshoe of Foster’s dead friend and fellow artist, as well as a rail spike, both of which Foster feels “resonate” with the sense of place and past that this show is trying to evoke.

Art about gentrification in a gentrifying neighbourhood will always be a little tricky. Because art’s relationship to capital is complex, and because, in the eyes of the sweaty developer, the value of an artist is held as much in their cool and potentially rent-hiking glow as in their actual art.

This exhibit’s concept is far from conceptually complex, and the writing that accompanies the exhibit is uncomfortably sentimental, albeit still of local historical interest. However, it’s worth considering that the subject matter, that of remembering as a way of enduring irrevocable change to the communities we build on temporarily affordable ground, well, that’s very real to a lot of people. This show’s forte will be its sense of place and memory. ■

Inside-Outside is on at the Galerie LSB (6750 l’Esplanade) from April 25 to May 9. Vernissage April 25, 5:30–8:30 p.m., free.