Rite of Way - Nuit Blanche 2014

in Collaboration with Sasha Phipps 

The streetscape with its litany of mixed use thoroughfares exists to facilitate the movement of people by organization and control. The choreography of this control is visible in the form of signs, sidewalks, pylons, pillars and crosswalks that completely dissolve into a background hum of our daily experience. The control that envelops us thus becomes invisible, a pervasive simmer that only boils over when the system is compromised. The streetscape is one of many such systems of order that we navigate each day, however it is discretely physical, the rules act directly on the body itself. It is this interactivity and the subversion of this affect on people that we explore in Rite of Way.

Rite of Way was a project that involved casting 750 cement traffic cones and using them to block a main thoroughfare in downtown Ottawa. The diminutive scale of the cones was offset by their number, acting as a strange anti-monument highlighting the myriad of ways that we are corralled each day. Our initial expectation was that the cones would interfere with pedestrian traffic and the resulting congestion would form complex interactions between people and the work, a slow process that would be captured in a time-lapse documentation. 

What happen however, was very different. For several hours viewers observed the work and navigated around it, leaving the pylons at rest. Yet when one person audaciously turned over a single cone, did this signal to the mass of onlookers that the preservation of order the obstacle maintained, could be challenged. Within minutes, some cones were removed and rearranged. Once the rigid formation was compromised, a playful pandemonium ensued - people began walking over the cones as if it were an amusement park ride; crushing the cement into powder. Reduced to ruins, some toss the cones about, while other even arrange small structures with the detritus that littered the streets.   


The whole work and the resulting performance optimizes the nuanced interactions between the artwork and spectator, it revealed how once a precedent of disruptive interaction had been established people took free reign to indulge in the chaos. Yet also how from the rubble, new creative instincts emerged to rebuild the artwork anew.