Walter Willems’s series of four backlit photographs, souterrain, installed at sidewalk level in the windows of 461 King Street West, examines the interface between people and the built environment. The pictures were taken in Arnhem, the Netherlands, while the artist was employed by a demolition company to document their methods and techniques. Willems also became interested in readings beyond those which he was being paid to provide. As is quite common in cities in the Netherlands, and in large cities everywhere, squatters had usurped the abandoned building where these photos were taken and had been living there before the premises were sealed in preparation for demolition. In the low-ceilinged basement of the building, Willems discovered the detritus from what appears to have been the last party thrown by the squatters before their departure; a suspended moment in time. What Willems detects in this trace of human presence is an eerie yet poignant sense of loss, perhaps akin even to post-apocalyptic emptiness. In the photographs, the trash, covered in a thin layer of dust, is strewn about as if the partiers had suddenly vanished in the midst of their revelry.

Although his photographs do not specifically refer to the building on King Street West, they do point to the cyclical use and development of architecture. Originally built in the early 20th century for industrial use, the buildings in this recently gentrified area of Toronto now house trendy bars, restaurants, design houses, domestic lofts and other non-industrial enterprises. It is not, however, the artist’s intention to romanticize the past or celebrate this current circumstance. Willems considers it his task to present viewers with facts for contemplation and reflection. In the case of this section of Toronto and the building in the Netherlands where the photographs were taken, one might consider the displacement of one social class by another. (excerpts from an essay by David Liss, CONTACT 2005 magazine)

Walter Willems was born in the Netherlands and currently lives and works as an artist, curator and project co-ordinator in Toronto, Canada and Amsterdam, The Netherlands. As an artist Willems works in numerous mediums including photography. He is one of the founders of NEW REMOTE - an independent, international artist collective that uses technology to facilitate long distance creative collaborations between groups of artists in different geographic locations. NEW REMOTE projects often result in time-based works involving video, audio, and performance.

Four backlit photographs, each 58 x 27 inches.

View exhibition images (PDF)