Title of Artwork: SNAPSHOTS
Artist: Derek Michael Besant
Location: Fourth St. S.W. Underpass, on each side of the two underpass abutments that divide traffic.
"I see the 4th Street Underpass site as a cinematic moment, where the abutments serve as screens for pedestrian traffic to have a sequence of brief visual encounters that animate the action of moving through those spaces. The portraits represent a cross-section of what any downtown core of a big city reveals and conceals as the flow of occupants. The reference to Polaroid SNAPSHOTS invites an immediacy... an intimacy, to what is a high traffic public art context. And between the hundred steps it takes to traverse this corridor, we might just come face-to-face with ourselves…"
- Derek Michael Besant
The Appearance of Things
Visually, the images have been composed to resemble Polaroid photos, and this enlarges what would simply be a face, to become an object at large-scale. Added to this is a cast shadow to lift the hand-held Polaroid images away from the wall as an illusion and animate the movement implied across the site. A jangled rhythm akin to walking. There is something in the immediacy of referencing the Polaroid too, in that it develops rapidly and without a negative. An instantaneous representation, as fleeting as the pedestrians themselves dwelling momentarily in the transitional space of a hundred steps.
Meanings and Motives
Black and white imaging is a great equalizer. Interestingly enough, the text fragments take on a double-ambiguous meaning depending how they read in context between who you imagine the people to be:
Homeless or Business Executive / Transient or Jogger / Unemployed or Student / Secretary or Itinerant
The text fragments are all put in the first person singular, addressing the questions with “I.” The cumulative texts together beg us to consider not only the other person’s situation but perhaps our own identification of self, as circumstantial epitaphs:
I LIVE HERE • I HAVE A JOB • I OWN NOTHING • I SLEEP OUTSIDE • I WORK HARD • I WANT IT ALL • I AM HONEST • I WAIT FOREVER • I AM HUNGRY • I WANT LOVE • I AM ALONE • I LIVE HERE • I WALK TO WORK • I KNOW YOU • I CAN WORK • I MAKE MONEY • I SPEAK FRENCH • I THINK BIG • I DO FINE • I WILL SURVIVE
The art project attempts to position everyone as a cross-section of the mix of people who depend, one way or another, on this route into and out of the downtown sector, the architecture of passage. The portraits are a collective vehicle of equality that celebrates those who pass by one another in daily activity. This could be any city, anywhere. The common themes address the dilemmas and decisions necessary in all big city redevelopment planning, as far as an acknowledgement that people occupy a site for different reasons, different goals depending on who they are, where they are going and where they have come from.
Derek Michael Besant is well known for his unorthodox use of materials and technology in creating exhibitions, installations and collaborations as a Canadian artist. The hybrid forms he realizes often include soundtracks that relate to his themes of memory, language, and the body as metaphor.
The dislocation of the figure often haunts his imagery, whether he explores the themes of Sleep, Dreams, Migration, Forgetting, Falling, Silence, Reflection or Submersion. The physical / psyche balance is always in question in Besant’s projects, from his illusion in the form of a 50 foot high mural of a pinned veil on a building façade, a transported 115 foot high Waterfall to the heart of Toronto’s Banking District, two mammoth steel chairs balanced on one another or a stretch of prairie sky arching over six lanes of traffic; his public art pieces always take on their own life within the setting they are integrated into.
SNAPSHOTS is a temporary public art piece that has been installed on site to help bring vibrancy to the 4th St. S.W. underpass during the design and construction phases of underpass enhancement work. Complementing the theme of connection, Derek’s piece captures notions of ‘place and personal context.’
Public Art Budget: $20K
Commissioned by: Planning, Development & Assessment
Project Completion: October 2015