Martha Eleen. High Tech Road #1 (detai), 2007. Oil on wood. Image courtesy of the artist.

SUBURBIA: An Exploration of Suburban Life

John Armstrong & Paul Collins, Dodo Lab, Martha Eleen, Labspace Studio, Jesse Louttit

September 27–December 28, 2014

Curated by Patrick Macaulay



In the suburbs
I learned to drive
And you told me we’d never survive
Grab your mother’s keys we’re leaving

– Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs”

There are those who classify the suburbs as a place from which one escapes, downplaying the significant influence they have on many urban lives.  For many artists, the suburbs carry the twofold designation of being outside the realm of artistic innovation, and the places that drove them to pursue their first creative endeavours. The suburbs have had and continue to have an indelible effect on Canadian art. The haste with which many flee the suburbs is referenced in these lyrics by Arcade Fire. However, the song also intimates that these are also the places where we become who we are meant to be and it is from the suburbs that we learn to maneuver in the world and “drive.”

– Patrick Macaulay, Director, Visual Arts



John Armstrong & Paul Collins

In the “My mother was in a bad mood” segment of John Armstrong and Paul Collins’ road movie, Four Sisters, the scrolling text reads, “We were far from home, way up in the northern and eastern reaches of the city. Some family obligation. I had never been so far out of the centre. It seemed impossible to drive for so long and not reach countryside.”

Armstrong and Collins are city dwellers. They come to the suburbs as flaneurs, in the tradition of the dérive as practiced by the Surrealists and Situationists. In Four Sisters, Collins and Armstrong view the suburbs from afar, bouncing from one city limit to the next and back again, as though unable to leave the gravitational pull of the centre. As itinerant street photographers, they hit the suburbs looking for unfamiliar and surprising views. It is here that they find scenes and compositions that are sufficiently empty or open to call for their painted interventions. These suburbs may be in Ontario, China, India or France. What connects them is that they are at a remove, distanced and pregnant with imaginary possibilities.

John Armstrong & Paul Collins have been engaged in an itinerant, collaborative art practice since 1999. Collins lives and works in Paris, and Armstrong in Toronto. By frequently meeting in one or the other’s cities, or elsewhere on the planet and even more regularly in cyberspace, they are able to hash out their projects and physically/virtually work side-by-side. Their photographs, videos, performances and painted images record places, events and objects they come across in the course of their daily lives. These elements are variously juxtaposed to suggest narratives that play with the porous nature of individual and collective memory.


Dodo Lab (Lisa Hirmer)

Lawns of a Speculative Future is a creative exploration of the lawn, which considers this important and iconic element of the suburban landscape in the context of the major economic, political and ecological shifts in which we currently find ourselves. Neither entirely apocalyptic nor utopian, the work imagines future possibilities for this abundant suburban space with speculative alterations and appendages to otherwise recognizable suburban forms, which suggest adaptations to the unpredictable changes the future will surely offer up one way or another. The project wonders if within the inherit productivity (and allure) of suburbia’s greenness there is a latent potential to which we may indeed turn in the future. It also asks (by gifting seeds to those who want them) if there is, perhaps value in anticipating changes to come.

Lisa Hirmer is an artist working at the intersections of visual art, design, performance, and social practice. Formally trained as an architect at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, she used her award-winning M.Arch thesis work to move past the traditional boundaries of the discipline and begin an independent practice of interdisciplinary creative work. The majority of Hirmer’s work is created under the pseudonym DodoLab, an experimental, ever-evolving creative practice (which she cofounded in 2009) that explores the public’s relationship with contemporary issues. She has exhibited work and created commissioned projects across Canada, in Europe and in the UK.


Martha Eleen

Peace Village and High Tech Road represent the second and third part of the series Into the 905: The View From the Car, which I began in 2004. “905” refers to the telephone area code of the suburbs surrounding Toronto. Initially, I was compelled by the bleakness and banality of the landscape and the shock of the massive housing developments as seen from the road over the highway barricades. The car is the connector between the domestic, commercial and industrial zones.

North of Canada’s Wonderland there is a subdivision called Peace Village which is built around a mosque. I fell into a relationship with the inhabitants simply because I was painting in their public spaces and because of the religious and cultural practices of this community, there is a lot of participation in public life. As well, against the backdrop of current international wars, fear of multiculturalism and a growing level of mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims, my residency here was recognized by the leadership of the mosque as an opportunity to promote understanding and diversity through art.

High Tech Road runs along the wasteland behind the mall. Somehow imposing big box stores and monolithic hydro towers fall so beneath our notice that they become almost invisible. I am drawn to these places where there is no context for paying attention. By stepping outside of social expectation and conditioned response, one becomes attuned to the underlying human geography that is normally overlooked or misunderstood. It becomes interesting through observation of the fall of light on surfaces, the placement of forms in space, and of colours, natural and artificial. These concerns are as much a part of the meaning of my paintings as are the functions of these forms.

– Martha Eleen

Martha Eleen’s interest is in the relationship between culture and landscape. Her work has received critical attention in the form of curatorial essays, reviews and publication and has been exhibited in public galleries in Canada, the US, Mexico and Japan. Eleen’s work is represented in public collections including the Art Gallery of Ontario. She is an honours graduate of Emily Carr College of Art (Vancouver). Her work is represented by Loop Gallery (Toronto). She lives in Toronto with her son, Gabe, and she teaches painting and drawing at Toronto School of Art. Eleen will be exhibiting at W.P. Kennedy Gallery (North Bay), Art Gallery of Northumberland (Cobourg, ON) and Loop Gallery in 2015.


Labspace Studio

Empty(ing) Nest is a towering installation (doubling as a yard sale) constructed from the personal objects and belongings of one suburban family, the Mendes clan. Accumulated over the span of 25 years, transplanted from the artist’s childhood home, and installed in the gallery, this vast collection offers a static portrait of a family in transition. Now with their children fully grown and on their own, Mr. & Mrs. M. face the daunting task of purging their four-bedroom home.

Empty(ing) Nest explores the personal histories we construct through the objects we consume and the value we place upon those objects we choose to let go.

All items on display will be available for purchase at the end of this exhibition at a yard sale in the Artport Gallery on December 30, from 10am–2pm. Items can be viewed and purchased in advance at

John Loerchner and Laura Mendes have been collaborating for nearly eight years under the Labspace Studio banner. Both are graduates of the University of Toronto’s Visual and Performing Arts Department. Their art projects and curatorial initiatives are often site-specific and participatory in nature, blurring the lines between art and life, incorporating elements of performance, installation, multimedia and public-generated content. Projects in 2014 include commissions for The Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair, Art of the Danforth, Art in Transit, Harbourfront Centre, No.9 Contemporary Art & The Environment, Art Souterrain and Nuit Blanche (Toronto and Montreal). Their work has received national and international media coverage.


Jesse Louttit

I grew up in the suburbs, Brampton to be specific. I was born in Toronto before my parents decided they needed more space for our family.

When I finished high school I left Brampton as fast I could. I wanted to get out and see more of the world. Since moving away, I have always felt that I could never move back to a suburb. Being recently married, I’ve thought about where I would want to live if my own family starts to grow. With the rising cost of houses in the city I have begun to question that feeling.

Thinking back to growing up, I remember times of fun hanging out with my friends skateboarding, enjoying our summers and trying not to get into too much trouble. With this nostalgic and romantic mindset, I headed back to the suburb that I grew up in to re-create some of these memories with a new generation of kids who are wondering how fast they can leave.

– Jesse Louttit

Jesse Louttit is a visual artist that lives and works in Toronto. His images often explore people and settings within daily life. His work has been featured in PDN, Applied Arts and Canadian Art. He has exhibited his work at Pikto, Harbourfront Centre, and Toronto Images Works. Louttit was the recipient of the CONTACT Photography Festival 2011 Portfolio Reviews Exhibition Award. He has also an Applied Arts Award for Craft Cinematography as Director / Cinematographer and an Art Directors Club of Canada Broadcast Cinematography award as Director / Cinematographer for his first project as a Director of Photography / Director.

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