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James Nizam: Little Mountain’s Residual Life

Vancouver’s landmark Little Mountain public housing project generated controversy when it was demolished late last year to make way for a new, privately built “mixed use” condominium project. It’s a debate familiar to many cities, one that pits aging community infrastructures and the ideals of shared urban living against the commercial realities of urban renewal.

That political battle between past legacies and future potentials is one point of departure to consider when viewing “Memorandoms,” an exhibition of new photo works by Vancouver artist James Nizam at Gallery Jones. For the series, Nizam used Little Mountain’s abandoned residences as a studio, exploring the site’s echoing histories and lingering physical traces. Nizam has practiced this strategy before. In series such as Dwellings and Anteroom he occupied soon-to-be-demolished homes, turning empty rooms into camera obscura which he then photographed, capturing the living outside world on the unhinged doors and broken walls of a derelict past.

Rather than projecting new life onto his subjects, Nizam, in his Memorandoms series, suggests residual life in them. Each photo depicts a sculptural construction that the artist cobbled out of Little Mountain’s detritus. Piled chairs, drawers and light bulbs become a kind of memento mori, impromptu gestures to monumentalize a fleeting existence. Knowing that the destruction of these spaces was near adds urgency to these photos, but perhaps Nizam’s message is this: the wrecker’s ball doesn’t always have the final word. (1725 W 3 Ave, Vancouver BC)

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