The notion of the Canadian wilderness being a kind of terra nullius—an empty territory void of people or civilization—has a long legacy in our cultural history. Early colonizers used this paradigm to justify their infiltration of the land and their marginalization of the people in it, while their desire to see a depopulated and pristine wilderness was reflected in visual representations of the national landscape.
Though our understanding of this problematic historical legacy has shifted drastically in the past few decades, in a country as large as Canada, it is sometimes difficult to shake the feeling that somewhere “out there” there might still be uncharted territory: a genuine wilderness that has escaped our urbanizing instincts. SAGAMIE, a national exhibition centre for contemporary digital art located in the Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean region almost 200 kilometres north of Quebec City, is certainly “out there” on the periphery of larger, urban cultural centres like Montreal and Toronto. But as their current exhibition by Quebec Triennial participant Isabelle Hayeur makes clear, even these rural communities have become the setting for suburban sprawl and housing development dominance.
Known for her large-format digital montages of suburban landscapes, Hayeur’s recent suite of photos combines fragments of prefabricated suburban houses and reference homes to create a collaged survey of the architecture of suburban sprawl. At once surreal and completely plausible, the “Maisons Modèles/Model Homes” series relocates these manipulated houses into new contexts that are simultaneously no place and every place. The “cookie cutter” architectural forms that reappear throughout the series—including steepled roofs, bay windows and double-car garages—intensify the sense of disorientation, but also draw attention to the formal characteristics of what Hayeur describes as “the spectacle of urban sprawl.”
While some homes in the series are clearly still in-progress, showing exposed woodwork or tarp roofing, others seem to be completed and ostentatious showrooms for prospective buyers. Titled after different women’s names, such as Nadia, Tiffany or Roxanne, Hayeur’s model homes are branded in a seemingly arbitrary way; yet these fanciful appellations lend the monster houses a unique personality, framing the photos as a sort of family photo album. Taken together, the series of digitally altered ideal homes reminds us that a desire for repetition and familiarity constantly permeates our quest for a place to call our own on the fringes of urban modernity. (50 rue St-Joseph, Alma QC)