Justin de Lima, creator of the eerie pink mobiles you may have seen hanging in the windows of the Art Hut, wants you to feel at least a little creeped out by gentrification. We sat down with Justin to find out why.
Tell us about your Art Hut installation, First Gentrification.
I’ve pieced together reclaimed objects to create works that parallel the changing community. The material was found on the street near the exhibition space and coated with a garish colour similar to those used by condo presentation centres. The sculptures, built from the debris of gentrification, are the remains of the neighbourhoods past. They reflect my conflicting feelings about how gentrification happens, and the binding of the objects represents own role in this process.
What sparked your thinking critically about gentrification in Toronto?
My mom grew up in Little Portugal and I lived in the neighbourhood throughout university. Whenever she helped me move apartments, she’d mention changes that had happened since she left the city for the suburbs. Family of mine who live in the city speak similarly, with nostalgia, disappointment, but also pride at their neighbourhood’s transition from Portuguese enclave to some of the hottest property in the city. I guess as a first generation Portuguese Canadian, I couldn’t help but feel cheated at missing out on what I considered an authentic cultural experience (problematic, I know), as well as a sense of responsibility for the change that was happening.
My parents were married in a Portuguese hall that is now in the process of becoming a condo on Ossington. And yet, my parents see the condos on Ossington as part of the ebb and flow of a city. I think it’s interesting that one generation sees progress and the other sees loss. I don’t think my parents have the same preoccupation with “authenticity” as my friends and I.
So how have you sought to confront gentrification in your work?
Gentrification is rarely a smooth process. There is the uprooting of both old buildings and communities. My work reflects that violence; it was created by breaking apart reclaimed objects and the piecing them together again to create gross and malformed new ones. These misshapen mobiles explore both the physical and emotional debris of condo living.
How do you think we can, as you write in your artist statement, ‘take responsibility’ for gentrification?
I think knowing the history of a neighbourhood and acknowledging its importance in the narrative of a diverse city like Toronto is a good start. Understanding a community as well as understanding your role in the process of gentrification. My work is my way of paying tribute to a neighbourhood that has informed my identity. It’s also my way of exploring the power I have in changing that same neighbourhood. As folks who understand gentrification, its ease and its way of destroying history, it’s our responsibility to help create more inclusive and preservative types of neighbourhood growth.
What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
I hope my creepy mobiles inspire unease in viewers, start them thinking about how gentrification works, their complicity in it, and what role they can play in creating positive change.
If you haven’t yet checked it out, First Gentrification is on for another week, until December 18th. Hope to see you there.