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Issue 151

“Radiant Temperature of Openings” — Faraz Anoushahpour, Parastoo Anoushahpour, Ryan Ferko
by Žana Kozomora

Throughout the ’50s, a hydroelectric dam and artificial lake were constructed in Cornwall, ON, as a part of the St. Lawrence Seaway project. “Radiant Temperature of Openings” documents this transformation of the land. Despite referencing archival material, the exhibition’s historiography is not didactic. Instead, the anxious suture between data and memory is privileged over any linear chronology. There is no monument to the icon of supposed progress here—the hydroelectric dam. Rather, in the dam’s shadow, the artists present an inquiry into the logic that supports such infrastructure projects.

Upon entering the gallery space, three quaint oil paintings depict perspectives from a shoreline gazing out to bodies of water. According to the exhibition’s printed list of works, the undated oil paintings are titled Long Sault Rapids and painted by John Brownell, J.E. Crother, Jane Firn, and Dorothy Phelps, and represent the former rapids that vanished after the dam’s construction. The paintings rest on a fabricated wooden structure painted in white, as if to emulate their desired orientation on the walls of the gallery space it imitates, but from which they are displaced. Hovering on the structure’s platform above these works is an installation titled Demolition of former Customs Buildings, Cornwall Island, Ontario (2015). In this installation, a surveillance camera is fixed on a heap of photographs depicting abandoned office and storage spaces. The movement of my fingers sorting through the photographs is displayed by a small analogue monitor wedged underneath the same structure. The looped image of my rummaging elicits in me a self-conscious impulse to reorder the photographs as I found them, as if the camera determined the objects as a fixed orientation—on walls, inside archives—that becomes loosened throughout the exhibition.

The abandoned buildings featured in the photographs are images of former Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) buildings located on Cornwall Island. Demolished in 2015, the defunct buildings signified a visible site of conflict between police and the Mohawks of Akwesasne, whose rights of passage across the St. Lawrence Seaway under the 1794 Jay Treaty have been ignored by colonial policy since the drawing of the Canada-US border. Although the CBSA buildings may no longer be physically present on Cornwall Island, the colonial border has deepened through the weaponized patrol of movement. Another analogue monitor positioned nearby on the floor screens Untitled (Under the St. Lawrence River), an undated video depicting remnants of the flooded land. Forgoing the detailed labelling of coordinates and dates that frame data in an institutional archive, these images blur distinctions between data legitimized as fact and data labelled as memory, to highlight how colonial law constructs the former category to expropriate land, and dismisses the latter to undermine Indigenous sovereignty.

Surveillance continues to permeate the gallery space in the form of measurement. Architectural drawings of various built structures (including rooms in a home and a schoolhouse) sourced from the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) archives present a kind of map for the wood cribs that were ignited as part of the 1958 St. Lawrence Burns project, which was coordinated to dispose of properties prior to the flooding of the land that formed the St. Lawrence Seaway. A replica wood crib is also included in the exhibition as an undated installation. Titled Wood Crib, the installation recalls the possibility of fire as a destructive force—a force that could extend to the surrounding archives of colonialism, as a reminder of how data itself can be destroyed and compiled, again and again. Behind the crib are excerpted pages of empirical observations from the NRC 1959 Saint Lawrence Burns General Report. The observations trace the path of fire, heat, and smoke emanating from a burning structure on the brink of collapse.

As if between a state of assembly and ruin, the walls of the back gallery are lined with wooden house framing. Saint Lawrence Burns (2021), a video compiled from the NRC’s 1958 archival footage of the fires, is projected onto a built wall in the centre of the room. The film documents crowds of men gathering to observe the licks of red flame and thick smoke that escape through the windows and doors of houses that become skeletal against the cold white of a winter landscape. The burning structures suggest the titular “radiant temperature of openings”—a measurement for the intensity of heat emitted from those openings in a burning building that pose a risk of fire in adjacent structures. The exhibition resists fixing the viewer in a time capsule, and instead melds the logic of data collection with material memory to highlight the violence required by ongoing projects of colonial infrastructure. The coordinated investment between the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, military defense bodies, and related government agencies forced a reshaping of land. Empirical data that documents this reshaping was likely disseminated to insurance and demolition companies. Under the motivations of science, profit, safety, and risk assessment, the pursuit of colonial progress overwrites the right of the Mohawks of Akwesasne to move across their territories. As an expansive installation, “Radiant Temperature of Openings” prompts a consideration of the insidious colonial logics at play in these operations of government policy.

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