March 23 — June 3, 2023
Opening Thursday, March 23, 6-8 PM
Book Launch Saturday, May 13, 2-4 PM
PARI NADIMI GALLERY
254 Niagara Street, Toronto, Canada
Wed to Sat, 12-5 PM, or by appointment
Mackenzie Place concludes a trilogy of Pari Nadimi Gallery exhibitions focused on the consequences of the architectures we construct. Each exhibition presents a variation of the internationally ubiquitous concrete tower apartment building, inviting us to consider the evolving significance of these buildings. Radiant City (2014) examines tower apartment neighbourhoods across Toronto, while Skip Stop (2019) focuses on the rise and fall of this building type in Toronto’s Regent Park. Mackenzie Place presents a unique tower apartment, located far from its usual urban context, making it a symbol of both the reach and the edge of global capital and settler colonization. The tower’s singular presence also provides a unique opportunity for generating creative representation of its surroundings.
Mackenzie Place is an immersive installation depicting the near-arctic town of Hay River (Xátł’odehchee) and the K’atl’odeeche First Nation in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The primary element is a series of multi-channel time-lapse films shot from the roof of the seventeen-story tower that presides over the center of the town. Derived from nearly one million still images, the films bring to life a panorama of environments and activities across four seasons. To the north, we see institutional infrastructure such as schools. To the west, we see industrial areas, with the Great Slave Lake (Tucho) visible on the horizon beyond Canada’s northernmost train line. To the south, commercial and residential fabric are visible, and to the east, we see the namesake river and the seemingly limitless boreal forest beyond.
Officially named “Mackenzie Place” but informally known as “the High Rise,” the tower was completed in 1975 to house workers for the controversial (and ultimately cancelled) Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. Never filled to capacity, and empty since a major fire in 2019, this relic of colonial resource extraction was home to newcomers to Hay River for nearly fifty years, whether Indigenous (Dene, Inuvialuit, Cree, Métis), settler, or immigrant. Since the fire, new owners from “down south” have promised renovations, citing urgent and growing housing needs, but, as of March 2023, no work has begun. Locals are quick to try to divert attention from the building, stating that the tower is not characteristic of Hay River. Yet the tower is omnipresent, both visually and in the narratives of residents and visitors alike; it is the hub of “the Hub of the North.”
The installation aggregates the carousel of space and time that the building—and its diverse inhabitants—bear witness to, year after year. As befits its conflicted position in the local imaginary, the building is seemingly erased from the town in the films, remaining present only as a shadow on the projection screens. Because Hay River is just below the Arctic Circle, the sundial silhouette of the tower evolves from a single moment of visibility on the winter solstice to a full rotation across all four screens on the summer solstice.
Mackenzie Place is also a meditation on creative monomania. The original goal—to capture one image per minute per direction for 365 continuous days—proved elusive, despite five years of trying. Freed from this obsession, the films instead register the peculiarities of technology, timing, and teamwork present at a given moment in the project’s trajectory. The final films capture the creative method with more authenticity than a film derived from a complete set of images ever could have. Collectively, they present a richer dialogue between process and product.
Finally, Mackenzie Place links the careers of my collaborators and I, who return to Hay River again and again even as our jobs take us further away. The voiceover in the films is excerpted from anthropologist Lindsay Bell’s book Under Pressure: Diamond Mining and Everyday Life in Northern Canada in Northern Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2023), which launches at PNG during the exhibition’s run. Through a focus on everyday life in Hay River, including lives lived in the tower, Bell’s ethnography illustrates the ways northerners navigate the opportunities and obstacles created by large-scale resource development. My and Bell’s research and creation intersect around the quotidian nature of the High Rise structure—both inside and out.
The creative and ethnographic products that accompany the films serve to further reinforce the tower’s outsized influence, both in Hay River and in my work. Two large prints reveal the tower as it inhabits the mind’s eye: like the sun, a visually dominant gravitational anchor that we avoid gazing at directly. The accompanying artist’s portfolio, a prototype of a future monograph, consists exclusively of images taken either of—or from—the tower. A selection of Bell’s raw field notes is arranged alongside, suggestive of the parallel universe of anthropological inquiry that exists alongside this visual investigation. My and Bell’s collaborative activities aim to “picture the north” as heterogenous and variable rather than reproducing further cliched images of the arctic as a place of either extreme fragility or boundless opportunity.
Mackenzie Place explores the legacies of colonialism through an unlikely lens, by holding the viewer’s attention on the structures of development and how people live within them.
Mackenzie Place was initially pursued with my long-standing collaborator Tori Foster. Ken Latour at Aurora College facilitated community partnerships in Hay River. Jacob Barker, Craig Kovatch, Jared Monkman, Kevin Wallington, Sophie Call, Patrick Poisson, and many others provided further local assistance; thank you, Hay River. Cindy Lafond, Blaine Maillet, and Harry Satdeo provided access to “the High Rise.” William Amos, Issac Hillman, Aldrin Lupisan, Jared Monkman and Sharon To helped refine the equipment and capture the images. Philip Otto edited the films and helped install the exhibition. Lindsay Bell introduced me to Mackenzie Place and wrote the script; Madelyn Hertz, David Knapp, Philip Otto, and Zsofia Villalba voiced it. Additional footage courtesy Lindsay Bell and CBC North.
Primary funding for Mackenzie Place provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Insight Development (2013-15) and Research Mobilization, Creation, and Innovation (2022-23) programs. OCAD University, the University of California, Irvine, the University of Western Ontario, and the Beall Center for Art + Technology provided further funding.
Hay River’s High Rise was built on a gathering place of the K’atl’odeeche First Nation and Dehcho Dene peoples. Pari Nadimi Gallery is located on the historical domain of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples. Jackson travelled to both locations from the unceded territory of the Acjachemen and Tongva peoples. Indigenous presence in these lands date back over 10,000 years; colonial actions have irreversibly transformed them in a small fraction of this time.
Mackenzie Place Prologue (or, what we thought we were doing) Single-channel digital video, 1:46 Jesse Colin Jackson & Tori Foster, 2017 Mackenzie Place Time-Lapse #1 (December 5—24, 2014) Mackenzie Place Time-Lapse #2 (June 20—December 27, 2015) Mackenzie Place Interlude (or, where is Mackenzie Place?) Mackenzie Place Time-Lapse #3 (December 16, 2016—April 23, 2017) Mackenzie Place Time-Lapse #4 (August 27—31, 2017) Mackenzie Place Time-Lapse #5 (September 1, 2017—October 2, 2018) Mackenzie Place Epilogue (or, then the High Rise burned) Multi-channel digital videos, variable Jesse Colin Jackson, 2023 Additional footage courtesy Lindsay Bell and CBC North Woodland Drive and Commercial Road, Hay River, as seen on April 22, 2013 (Nothing Going On redux) Inkjet print, 40”H x 60”W Jesse Colin Jackson, 2023 3 Capital Drive, Hay River, as seen on June 21, 2015 (NE, E, SE, S, SW, NW, N) Inkjet print, 60”H x 40”W Jesse Colin Jackson, 2023 Mackenzie Place 2013—2018 Artist’s portfolio, 19”H x 13”W Jesse Colin Jackson, 2023