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York Hotel Art Exhibit at Latitude 53

York Blue Room. Supplied

The York Hotel at 96 Street and 104 Avenue was demolished in February of 2012. For many in the area, it was viewed as an intense problem spot and it was a relief to see it go. For artists Sydney Lancaster and Marian Switzer it was a source of inspiration. Their photographic exhibition YORK runs from July 25 to August 31 at Latitude 53, (10242 – 106 Street).

“I became interested in making work about the York Hotel when I saw the place shortly after it was closed; that would have been in August 2010; I was part of a team of staff and board members from Latitude 53 that was looking at the location as a possible site for a new home for the gallery,” says Lancaster. “Looking at those rooms, I was struck by how much the entire place seemed to be in a state of suspended animation – as if at any moment, the person that lived in that room was going to return and take up where they left off. The more I saw of the place, the more I felt that it was extremely important to have some sort of record of the human artifacts that remained. My artistic practice is concerned with the relationship between public and private narratives, and the role memory, objects, and place have in forming identity. The objects we live with tell stories and become markers of lives and experiences and memories; all of those things were going to disappear when the hotel was demolished. Marian and I had been looking for a project to work on together for a while – and the York was an ideal opportunity for us to bring our respective work together.”

“Much of my own photographic work explores places that insinuate a presence: objects, messages, and other ephemera left behind by previous inhabitants all tell a story,” says Switzer. “These things seem to me to be ‘witnesses’ to the lives of the people that used them. I also felt for a number of reasons it was important to preserve parts of the York before it was demolished.”

An artistic look inside one of Edmonton’s most notorious hotels might enhance people’s perceptions of the building. “There was much more to the place than the reputation it had, even in those last years,” says Lancaster. “I feel that the fragments of personal stories we discovered there are important, that they needed to be acknowledged. What we found speaks volumes about the essential human need for emotional and physical security, for a place to identify as ‘mine’ or ‘home’.”

“When we first started working on YORK, I was focused on a single idea about the show: I was interested in these abandoned spaces, and the stories that they could tell,” Switzer explains. “Over the next few months, the work evolved as I realized that YORK was about much more than the space. It touched on housing issues, the preservation of historic buildings, and most importantly our own stereotypes regarding the “type of person” that would reside in the York Hotel. I am hoping that people who see the show take more away from it than just their initial reaction to the images. I hope that, like myself, the work and the ideas it explores are something that they continue to ponder and discuss. The York Hotel was much more than just a building; it was an escape for some, a home for others. A first step or a last resort.”

The artists acknowledge the City of Edmonton for the opportunity to work in the York Hotel, and the Edmonton Arts Council for funding the development of this work for exhibition. To learn more about YORK and the artists, visit their blog at: “yorkhotelproject.wordpress.com”:http://yorkhotelproject.wordpress.com.

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