WNDW – Portraits

To wrap up the last WNDW exhibition I hosted a workshop in the big green space between 18th and 19th at Oak st (right behind the house hosting the WNDW) for the kids in the neighbourhood.

This is a pretty special place (the 900 blocks of W 18th & 19th), one of those rare remaining examples of postwar veterans housing that still exist in the city. The heart of this neighbourhood seems to be a block long greenspace in what would regularly be the alley between the two streets.

The 17-units of affordable rental duplexes on this block were colloquially referred to as “The Balfour Estates” up until the land was sold this past August to Wesgroup Properties, moving in onto the slow moving chopping block of redevelopment so many in this city are all too familiar with.

I must admit the kind of childhood that this greenspace makes possible seems rare to find in an urban environment these days. Many of the units are home to young families, and as I was checking out the site for the WNDW show, it was impossible to miss the hoard of kids running around the space. It seemed like a no-brainer to use the space for a workshop.

Thinking about Helena, and her work I decided work with the kids to create their own portraits using an instant camera. I showed them some historical and contemporary examples of portraits, including one of my favs- Nina Katchadourian who has a practice of taking self-portraits in the style of Flemish paintings in the washrooms of airplanes, using whatever props she can find on the plane.

Nina Katchadourian, Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style (2010-)

and also the amazing Cindy Sherman, who has gained wide acclaim for her often eerie and cinematic  self-portraits.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still 21 (1978)

From there we talked about the conventions of portrait making, and the kids spent the rest of the time working in small groups creating their own portraits.

needless to say, much fun was had by all, and it was all facilitated by a genius piece of urban planning from a half-century ago. Hopefully however this space is developed in the future, that core piece of green that makes the neighbourhood what it is will survive.

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