This is the third in a series of six curated exhibitions I’m facilitating for Mahtay Café & Lounge in downtown St. Catharines: Sandy Fairbairn’s work was on view there from mid December 2022 until the end of January 2023.
I published a longer article about his work – many of the photos here are ones I considered in my response – with curated years ago.
“There’s a banal vulgarity to the rust belt wonderland that spans much of Niagara. A meanness, if you will, that is not so much a simple narrative as one that’s a stain spreading out in multiple directions. The ruins and building of what was, and the sparseness of what still ‘is’, define this place.
When walking the streets of this city (I walk everywhere, usually), I find myself often on Geneva Street or St. Paul in the downtown, two of the main spaces of the ‘Garden City’ of St. Catharines. The images I’m talking about here and responding to (already with a certain acidity) are of the same areas, by Sandy Fairbairn.
A graduate of OCA (long before it was OCAD), Fairbairn is from Welland – another outpost of the rust belt wonderland that is this region – and his eye has often been turned onto the architectural detritus that defines Niagara.
I’d also offer the reminiscences of the artist in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, when revisiting a city she abandoned (or felt abandoned by) emotionally long before her literal departure: “I am the wrong person to ask. This city is filled with bad memories. I can no longer see it for what it is….The fact is that I hate this city. I’ve hated it so long I can hardly remember feeling any other way about it.” Whether or not I hate this city depends upon the day, and vagaries of the political and developer class.”
You can read more of my response to Fairbairn’s St. Catharines images in that article for curated, titled HOMETOWN.
The St. Catharines Standard offered a brief article about his exhibition at Mahtay here.
Fairbairn has ‘documented’ the various cities of the Niagara Region: in 2020 I curated an exhibition of his photographs of the city of Welland at AIH Studios in downtown Welland titled Welland : Times Present Times Past. More about that exhibition can be seen here.
Fairbairn offers the following about his art and aesthetic, in this show:
“The downtown, built environment is in a constant struggle for renewal.Though tenants, graffiti and signage change, all are anchored by the city’s architectural heritage. Mature buildings, like the mature trees in a forest, provide a sense of security and continuity in the presence of this change. Every visit to town presents something new to the camera. I have no interest in these buildings as objects of nostalgia.This is what a Canadian industrial city looks like, affected by late stage capitalism’s neoliberal Globalization and Free Trade agenda.
My work has always included constructed objects in the sculptural tradition as well as photographic images. While the three dimensional pieces soon came to deal with historical themes and references, the photographic work has always been about the present. Most of what interests me creatively, I can now find with and express in the photographic medium. Photography can be a process of collecting and I regard my photographs as a kind of ‘found object’ artwork. I can’t make this stuff up.”
Many of the images in this show at Mahtay Café captured sites within walking distance of the exhibition, within the downtown of the ‘Garden City.’