07 August 2009

Marginal Stories

South Point Douglas
Gregory Beck Rubin and Conrad Dueck

In the process of junking its tools of production, Winnipeg has assembled the objects for a museum. Curated by homeless people, bound by trees, tall grass and water, Sheldon’s junkyard archives without restriction the making of the prairie city. And its location is symptomatic of development in Canada – build it, junk it: there’s so much more land. But a closer look at the topography of Point Douglas reveals the framing of the junkyard, and this frame anticipates a new kind of museum.
Covering roughly one-half square mile, South Point Douglas is marginalised in part by its proximity to Winnipeg’s downtown. It is bordered on the west by Main Street, the premier street of Winnipeg, which constantly revolts against efforts at gentrification. Bending around the south and east of the site is the main waterway dividing the city, the Red River, badly polluted and threatening to flood every spring just after break-up. The train tracks that bisect the city pass through the Point, and compose the northern edge of South Point Douglas, ultimately isolating this area from normal city development.
Containing the old Canadian Pacific Railway station, South Point Douglas is a former city centre, one in a string of attempted civic re-inventions. At its tip is Sheldon’s junkyard, a swelling of the city’s waste under casual surveillance, the final destination for decommissioned industrial machines, heavy metal, rusted truck cabs, antique domestic objects, dunes and dunes of paper. This is a museum that documents the possible lives of objects, but the collection is uncontrollable, wild and under constant tension.

Behind the main gate is a factory wall punctured by the openings of delivery docks; the factory has been closed for years. Parts of the brick wall have been tagged by graffiti artists, and the ground is scattered with countless stoves, fridges and other domestic appliances. It is a jumbled lot, and it is hard to focus on any particular point.
We notice the sound of water, closer than the river. Its gurgling draws our attention to the far end of the wall where there’s a pipe hanging off the roof, in front of a window. It’s a peculiar water collection system: discharged from the pipe, streaming in front of the glass before landing and running down long sections of ductwork; the water trickles through an opening to the long aluminum counter top along which it rolls neatly to the corner, slows down, and pools. The pool reflects the sunlight on the wall, and the water slowly drips off the counter and into a black bucket on the ground. Vegetation has crept through the spaces of rusted metal, and little plants grow along the top of the ductwork towards the pipe. The industrial cabinet is tilted, and the peeling paint reveals coats of teal and salmon mousse.

Near the tracks to the east of the compound is a yard littered with machines, swallowed by paper in drifts like snow banks. The paper creates a malleable landscape, an elaborate topography engulfing cars, forklifts, bins, switchboard, and containers. It curls like roots into the spaces in and between them, crawling through the windshields, twisting itself to fit through engines and broken glass. The limits of the paper topography are unclear: it appears to reach all the way to the river. We are tempted to step onto this landscape, but like a snowdrift, it could refuse to support us and we would fall in.

We are looking for the responsiveness of objects to multiple forces. We seek out the proofs of decay and reinvention; we want to gauge the vitality of things that fill places like this. Every element of the junkyard makes apparent the wide-ranging and co-existent forces trespassing the site, with no distinction drawn between causes. Objects are moved by people with divergent motivations, causing new systems to develop: an abandoned factory, a flourishing architecture; technology transcending its original function. The site, as a part of the city, demonstrates the inevitability of continual change, redefinition of an area that has been considered as finished.
Leadership is taken from the margins, in terms of the systems of power in the city. The curator is neither a single person carefully crafting a single line, nor a group of people working in concert, rather curation is a series of decisions in competition with one another, undermining and reframing what others have thought to have completed. And almost every action is anonymous.
The person who comes to observe this museum is just one of a diverse group of trespassers, all of whom curate the collection: whether out of necessity or curiosity, they all activate this site. Unlike the normal order of museum-making, objects sit in an apparently unplanned state: time will elapse, objects will move, the specific interaction, the play of water, will have changed – the experience may or may not be repeated – the junkyard museum is an organism, never static.

Rubin, Gregory Beck and Conrad Dueck. 'Marginal Stories' On Site review, no. 20 Winter 2008
©Gregory Beck Rubin and Conrad Dueck and On Site review

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