“The +15 is the term for a network of indoor Calgary walkways that allow downtown workers to commute from building to building sheltered from the weather. Ghost is a 22-second looped video shot in the +15 at a location where The Glenbow Museum is connected by a bridge to the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts. It was a failed music video that explores the relationship between urban culture and the institutions that direct our cultural practices. The venue is a specific corner that once had been a safe place for street people to congregate. Cameras were installed to deter loitering and the system has been successful in maintaining a surveillance method that lets pedestrians know who is around the corner. Ghost represents a simultaneous before and after look at the space and becomes an exploration of formal aesthetics, layers and lines.”
- Ken Buera, Artist Statement on Ghost
Tucked away at the end of the Art Gallery of Alberta's 2010 Biennial of Contemporary Art, Calgary artist Ken Buera's 22-second looped film is a concise and startling piece of contemporary Canadian social commentary. With intersecting footage of a hip-hop jumper passing over and through day-to-day walkway users, the urban spirit of the +15 walkway infrastructure in Calgary is evoked as the phantom in the concrete; passing through unnoticed, jumping in a relentless and dizzying loop before disappearing completely. The practical uses of the walkway are juxtaposed with the aggressive movement of the jumper, whose leaps both invade and evade space in an attempt to reclaim the area's sense of humanity.
Though only 22 seconds in length, the effect of this loop is startlingly aggressive. Guest Curator Richard Rhodes describes the film as an expression of a "failed social contract"1, as the pedestrians in the walkway move entirely unimpeded and unaware of the ghosts climbing out of the walls. The film, through repetition, becomes the cycle of power and control over public infrastructure and the stifled spirit of urban artists, commenting on the separation between class and culture in a burgeoning Canadian city like Calgary.
What the video suggested to me, in its incessant and aggressive loop, was a lament spurred by public apathy toward surveillance and control. The pedestrians are not only ignorant to the spirit of urbanity leaping from the walls, but also to their surveillance within the concrete infrastructure of Canadian industry. It underscored the sense of disconnect between middle-class Canadians and the thinly veiled subculture of Canadian art, despite the fact that they can, and do, share the same social spaces.
I stood glued to the screen for several minutes as the loop seemed to intensify with my understanding. This simple "failed music video"2 unearthed a problem plaguing contemporary Canadians both within the walls of the +15, and without. Cultural apathy, along with the marginalization of artistic subcultures (cultivated by both the subculture itself and the dominant cultural paradigms) have created a divide in traditional ideals of tolerance and understanding that have always been a part of the Canadian cultural fabric. Surveillance and control of public spaces has made phantoms of the carriers of artistic cultural difference, and alienated creativity from public infrastructure.
Though quite scathing in its critique, Ken Buera's film Ghost is an astute commentary on contemporary Canadian urban life. As part of the Art gallery of Alberta's 2010 Biennial of Contemporary Art, it represents the social state of contemporary Canadian art in Alberta while paying homage to the spirit lurking within the walls of the most seemingly innocuous public places.
1 Richard Rhodes' commentary in TIMELAND: 2010 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art Catalogue. Published by the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton.
2 Ken Buera's artist statement in TIMELAND: 2010 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art Catalogue. Published by the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton.