Skip to content

May we suggest

Features / April 24, 2013

Slideshow: Wreck City Makes Ruins Right

Wreck City's Graffiti House, curated by Shawn Mankowske / photo Caitlind R.C. Brown (Image 1/26) Wreck City's Graffiti House, curated by Shawn Mankowske / photo Caitlind R.C. Brown (Image 1/26)

Playing house has never been so fun.

That’s what some might think upon encountering Wreck City—a set of nine Calgary houses slated for demolition that have temporarily been taken over by 100 local artists, musicians and performers. (Click on the Photos icon above to see a slideshow of images from the project.)

The creative forces involved in Wreck City range from Sobey Art Award nominee Terrance Houle and artist-run centre director Renato Vitic to community group Prospect Human Services and child-parent collective the Bum Family.

In addition to work by traditional gallery artists, there is an entire house devoted to graffiti, and there are also performances ongoing by musicians and theatre artists.

All the artists were brought together by a group of eight curators—several of whom are or were members of the Arbour Lake Sghool, which was involved in the Leona Drive Project that took over a set of to-be-demolished Toronto-area houses in 2009.

Many of the curators were also leads on the House Project, an exhibition that took over another to-be-demolished Calgary house in September 2011.

“One of the curators was living in one of the [Wreck City] houses” when the demolition notice came, says Caitlind R.C. Brown, a curator and artist involved with the project. “Behind that house used to be a gallery called 809 Gallery. So when they said the house was being demolished, we wanted the gallery to be eulogized properly.”

After approaching the developer who had bought the houses (Bucci Developments) with a proposal, the curators got the go-ahead to do the project. After an open call, the list of artists grew to more than 100.

Some artists have removed stairs, while others have built a bridge between two houses. Everything is “enter at your own risk,” says Brown, but reassures that volunteers are on hand to orient visitors during all visiting hours, and says that all the infrastructure has been tested by the artists for strength and durability.

While some in the Calgary community have criticized the project as being pro-gentrification, curator Jennifer Crighton notes that the installations were planned after demolition was already slated, and says that she hopes Wreck City will open a door to discussions on the issue.

“From an artistic point of view, there are things you can do to a house scheduled for demolition that you cannot do to a space that needs to be maintained,” Crighton says via email. “It also allows for a suspension of the normal rules governing a residential neighborhood, which opens the door to a discussion about how we are currently using the city, to reflect on its history, and imagine what we would like to see it become in the future.”

The other curators on the project include Shawn Mankowske, Brandon A. Dalmer, Matthew Mark Bourree, Ryan McClure Scott, John Frosst and Andrew Frosst.

Wreck City is open between 621 and 823 on 5th Avenue NW in Calgary from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on April 24 and 25; from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., including some performances, on April 26; and from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m., including a community reception, on its closing day April 27. More details are available on the Wreck City website.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor based in Toronto. Her arts journalism has appeared in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications, and her creative work has been published in Prism, Room and Freefall. She can be reached via