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Susan Dobson

Artist Statement

If you have driven through the streets of most suburbs, you have seen the row houses of equivalent design, decoration, and setback. Such standardization seems depressing to you, but the important thing is that it seems even more depressing to the suburbanite. As a consequence, an enormous amount of effort has been spent by suburbanites to make their homes different from those on either side and across the street. The more identical things are, the more he seeks some distinctive touch to symbolize and validate any particular tract house as his house.

Since 1998 my artwork has encompassed themes of sameness and lack of autonomy in consumer culture, typically viewed metaphorically through the subdivision vernacular.

In the series Home Invasion, for instance, the suburban subdivision is explored photographically. For this work, I made colour panoramic photographs documenting rows of nearly identical assembly line homes at various stages of construction in order to question the implications of uniformity and assimilative living practices.

In a later series of photographs, titled Natural Law, I examine the inherent futility of demarcating space: smoke stacks and tree branches vie for attention; a tree obscures a flashy Schneider’s meat billboard, and road kill on a freshly sodden grassy slope suggest that natural selection acts indiscriminately of artificially imposed boundaries. Despite extensive infrastructure, “maintenance free” materials, sturdy fencing, and billboards marking industrial progress, the principle of Natural Law exposes the irony of ownership, as the landscape inevitably surmounts artificially imposed perimeters.

In No Fixed Address and Paint Palettes, I examine how ornament and decoration are used to delineate space and assert autonomy. For No Fixed Address, I photographed the front doors and entrances of 25 subdivision homes on a suburban street in Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. The structure of each home is strikingly similar in design, and each doorway is flanked by a set of nearly identical pillars. To offset the architectural sameness, many home owners have made a variety of superficial changes. Some front entrances have been renovated; others are replete with flower pots, elaborate entrance hardware, a wide range of concrete and flagstone steps, wreaths, seasonal ornaments and decorative mailboxes. Although the monotony of the 100 photographs is striking, the subtle “home improvements” become important signifiers of an attempt at demarcation.

Paint Palettes further explores the notion of the decorative, by parodying ordinary household paint colours and their exotic, grandiose paint names. Each piece is presented as an oversize paint sampler, depicting 65 identical garage doors sporting a variety of paint shades. The differences between shades is subtle, and at times hardly noticeable, yet the paint names differ radically, intimating that garage door paint can reflect a great deal about the lives of the home owners.

The series Open House extends the No Fixed Address and Paint Palette series into the interior realm, by examining domestic suburban interior spaces. Although each interior differs more radically than the exteriors might suggest, it becomes apparent that the changes made to each space rely heavily on decoration and ornament. Thus all three bodies of work suggest an irony: How is it possible for a person’s sense of autonomy and place to be described through mock-classical imitations, pastiche, paint, or ornaments that are themselves mass-produced, heavily marketed substitutes for true artisan practices?

The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art
The Canadian Art Database: Canadian Artists Files

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