Site Specific Practices and City Renewal: The Geo-Politics of Hotel Installations in Urban Spaces

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Veitch, Michelle
Installation Art , Hotel Buildings , Site Specific Art , Gentrification , City Renewal , Urban Geography , Critical Aesthetics
This dissertation examines site specific works produced in hotel buildings by exploring the multiple and contending narratives which gave meaning to city spaces where divergent communities lived, worked and socialized. I analyze the ways in which artists altered urban sites on a visual, sensorial and perceptual levels by focusing on installations produced in three hotels from 1980 to the present: the Embassy Hotel in London, Ontario, and the Cameron House and the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, Ontario. By facilitating critical interventions in these architectural spaces, artists responded to the conflicting agendas of varying constituencies—from city planners and artists to hotel owners and residents. These commercial establishments, which combined bars, cafés, performance venues, galleries and room rentals, demonstrate the ways in which art and cultural production reflect broader social patterns and urban life: economic shifts, questions of diversity, activist struggles, consumerism, unemployment, and community. In addition to providing spaces for creative practices and art installations, the hotels each went through a series of renovations, transforming the once derelict buildings where low income tenants formerly resided into gentrified buildings, thus changing the social, symbolic and historical significance of the architectural sites. Working across these complex socio-spatial patterns creative communities re-envisioned urban geographies through contemporary art practices which impacted how and why people perceived, conceived and experienced the surrounding environment. By producing and exhibiting works in city spaces artists participated in urban regeneration in the local neighborhoods of London and Toronto; yet this was necessarily coupled with gentrification, and the displacement of local residents (including creative communities and people living in poverty) who could not afford rental increases. I evaluate the critical aesthetics shaping site specific installations by drawing attention to the contradictions and tensions underlying city revitalization which concurrently enabled and disenabled community formations. I argue that artists contended with the geo-politics of identification, dis-identification, belonging and unbelonging by negotiating differing subject positions through which tenants and workers made claims to property rights and ownership. They produced what Michel Foucault referred to as “heteropias” by representing, contesting and inverting the hotel sites, thus creatively and critically engaging with – rather then simply supporting or opposing – the paradoxical possibilities of urban regeneration (Foucault, "Of Other Spaces", 24).
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