January 1, 2004
by Nyla Matuk
Linh Ly, a photo-based artist living in Calgary, has recently created a conceptually-informed catalogue of 48 photographs out of more than 180 she has taken, of spaces in between houses and buildings located in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Halifax. The suite, called The Spaces Between Us, began in 1999 as an interrogation upon Ly’s discovering “the empty and sometimes dark void” in between old gable-roofed houses in Calgary. So struck was she by these spaces and their uncanny quality in an otherwise familiar, friendly suburban context, that she decided to document spaces in between buildings in other cities as well. In 2001, she received a grant from the Canada Council to pursue the project in Toronto and Halifax. Through the photographs, she wished to ask denizens of these cities if they recognized their own urban or suburban environments when presented only with the spaces between buildings. She also wished to discover if a different perception of these communities might emerge through the viewing of these works. In her own words, Ly “tries to bring awareness of the details of absence from our environment and question the incongruity of unfamiliarity within the familiar.”
Comparing Ly to photo-conceptualists such as Roy Arden and Dan Graham, who “lay bare the economic operations of the built environment,” Tomas Jonsson further notes in his essay in the catalogue that “these areas are private property and as such inaccessible to us…the images reveal subtle negotiations that take place to assert identity, either through alienation or integration.” The assemblage of a collection of interstitial spaces can be read as a purely random aesthetic musing or, more simply, as a comparative game of recognition of the character of each city’s housing idiom. And Ly’s decision to use typology as a methodology for the project makes the work accessible to viewers coming from artistic, architectural, social or historical vantage points.
But the largely dead-on repetition of the photographer’s vantage-point from which many of the images are taken underscores what Jonsson identifies as a paradox of the suburban condition–where “the desire to be part of a community is joined with the desire for privacy and pronounced individualism.”
Linh Ly’s catalogue The Spaces Between Us was produced in 2003 with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. It is Ly’s first photo-book.