Adrian Di Giovanni, guest blogger
“Behind the wall, in Hull, which is the ugliest town I have seen on the face of this earth, if you look beyond the shadows of the buildings, all you will see are tenements”
For all you Remixed devotees out there, a bit of urban history, et quelques p’tits mots en français, now that the big opening bash is behind us!
If there are two things I’ve come to learn about Ottawa as a city in 4+ years of living here, it’s that, one, Ottawa is a diamond in the rough kind of place, and when you find those rare gems you are all the more grateful for it. Two, Ottawa’s true beauty, its heart and soul, lies in its rivers, which the city that fun forgot too often turns its back on.
The word on our sister city Hull (the Vieux Hull part of Gatineau) has been less forgiving. In the mid-1990s, for those of you who can remember that far back, a Quebec politician caused a minor political storm, when she called Hull the ugliest town on earth, evoking a ramshackle mix of government buildings and tenements.
To hear local visual artist Mawt Trood describe his upcoming Remixed exhibit, there’s no mistaking the ugly in Hull. Trood’s works, which will be on display at My Sweet Tea, feature a series of illustrations of various storefronts and locales in Vieux Hull. They are places that from the outside Trood affectionately describes as “vraiment ghetto.” Probe a little further though and you’ll see that his fascination with Hull, the urban and the ugly actually goes much deeper. The works are in fact a tribute to that age-old artistic conceit of finding beauty in the ugly, or at least the deeper meaning beneath its brutal façade. Mawt Trood creates his illustrations by hand on computer, using a Viacom tablet and programs he largely taught himself to use. In creating a new series, he usually begins by drawing an aerial grid of a neighbourhood and, from there, creates panoramic illustrations of specific buildings. Visually, the illustrations are an attempt to capture a series of contradictions or balances in contrast. Crooked telephone poles, and a tangle of electric wires evoke a sense of nature or the organic, in the rawest of urban settings. No-stroke lines are used to capture both ’big picture’ panoramic shots, but also the tiny, distinctive details that form a geography. Minimalist colours, 5 or less, and shading are manipulated to create depth.
In seeking to give shine to these otherwise rough locales, Mawt Trood is also driven by a larger sense of history. Behind the drawings are the tender stories of neighbourhoods, the comings and goings of everyday life not apparent from the beaten exteriors, which Trood hopes to capture before they are swept away, for good or bad, by the next wave of gentrification – or as it is more vividly called in French “embourgoisement.” A dumpy looking dépanneur stands in as a community centre, and stocks household items not typically found at a corner store for the residents of the nearby old age home. The cheesy (quétaine) bar where people from all walks of life, young and old, gear up for some good ole-fashioned Karaoke on Friday nights. A stand-alone barbershop. Then there’s the Patate Dorée frites stand, the truest of Quebec institutions – “il n’y a rien de plus québecois que ça” – that, in the 1980s, would dish out free French fries to neighbourhood kids as they wiled away those last afternoon hours playing aimlessly in the streets.
In Vieux Hull’s case, there is a special urgency to Mawt Trood’s work, as the grid is literally in the process of being redrawn. Less remembered, perhaps, is that in 1969 the federal government committed, within 25 years, to put one quarter of all of government buildings on the Hull side. Some of the shops depicted in Trood’s exhibit have already been expropriated and slated for demolition, to make way for new government buildings or parking lots, as part of a last belated push to meet that target. Mawt Trood draws inspiration, both visually and in subject matter, from a wide variety of illustrated books, that include childhood favourites like Michel Rabagliati’s “Paul à Quebec” and Alain Grée’s “1000 Questions,” period pieces like Miroslav Sasek’s 1960s “This is New York,” and Pascal Blanchet’s throw-back “White Rapids,” the true story of a town that was destroyed to make way for a hydroelectric dam in the Saguenay, and ends with the townspeople throwing the keys to their houses off a bridge into the waters below.
Trood also recommends “Le soleil se lève à l’Est,” a recent documentary on the Hochelaga- Maisonneuve neighbourhood in East-end Montreal. And that’s not mention Piet Mondrian, one of the all-time great grid-smiths and champions of a minimal colour, architectural worldview.
Special for Remixed, Mawt Trood is also planning four illustrations of Chinatown, featuring Shanghai, Raw Sugar, So Good, and an aerial grid of Chinatown. These are all places that he sees as Chinatown’s heartbeat. Trood was gracious enough to give me a sneak-peak of the Chinatown map, and I can tell you it’s all shaping up nicely. (Actually, my immediate reaction came thanks to my stomach: ‘mmm looks like a Singapore noodle grid.’ What can I say, we were coming on suppertime but, fortunately, my comment was met with laughing approval.) Mawt Trood is especially happy that the Chinatown map will connect up with the earlier one of Vieux Hull, where Booth Street meets the bridge over the river. Talk of Booth Street, naturally, got us onto Lebreton Flats, the most tragic story of gentrification in Ottawa’s history, and possibly its biggest failure to see the beauty in urban life and its many daily stories. (If you don’t know the history, check out this “Fields of Lebreton” clip.)
Next up, Mawt Trood has set his sights on Vanier, the next great frontier for Ottawa hipsters and gentrification and, if you ask me, a diamond in the rough kind of place par excellence. A tour of West Coast cities – Victoria, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and San Diego – with two-week stops in each is also on the drawing board for summer 2015…. So stay tuned for more! Mawt Trood was invited to participate by one of Remixed’s guest curators, Zara Ansar. Zara curates/operates the Ottawa Velo Vogue site, and the Plaid Parade. Check out more Mawt Trood originals, including professional graphic design and animation projects at: http://vimeo.com/mawttrood.