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Greylands / Zones Grises

(Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)

Greylands, LeBreton Flats, Ottawa, 1999
Greylands, Faux Housing Development, 1999 Greylands, Faux Sales Office (Trailer), 1999 Greylands, Chalk Line Drawing Robot, 1999
Greylands / Zones Grises is both a project title and the name of a group of artists, architects and engineers who create and present in situ projects, both virtual and physical. It's also a collaboration between two groups: Artengine (Ottawa) and KIT (Manchester, England). Artengine is an Internet artists' centre that invites projects designed specifically for the Web, promotes work by its own members and sparks discussion of subjects touching on contemporary art practices. Active in Canada, England and Australia, KIT uses conceptual installations to pursue theoretical questions involving architecture, public space, technology and eschatology. Its approach is interventionist, and its projects unearth the political history underlying sites chosen for analysis.

Presented in satirical fashion, the Greylands/Zones Grises project consists of a critical commentary on the use and planning of urban space, along with reflections on the production of social space, both virtual and real. A drafting table (Java applet), robot, architectural and historical research, Web site and faux building project are Greylands' main elements.

The term "zones grises" or "greylands" is double-edged. In the field of urban planning, it describes those sites used then abandoned by industry, currently undergoing rehabilitation for other uses; at the same time, the term evokes the project's ambivalent siting between the virtual and the real. More specifically, it examines contaminated lands located in urban environments, using a socio-political perspective. The first version of the project evolved at LeBreton Flats in Ottawa, land considered dangerous by environmental health and safety standards. The project's designers created a Web site with a map of the land in question, drawn as if it were a housing development Site users were invited to "inhabit" the space by designing and drawing up plans for a house that would not only exist in a polluted environment, but that would be erected on toxic soil, as if nourishing itself on industrial waste left by prior generations. Proposed house plans were then outlined in chalk on the condemned land itself, using a robot directed from the Web site by means of a global positioning system (GPS).

A second version of the project took place in Mexico.

Participating in the project were artists Jen Southern (UK), Toby Heys (Australia), Alexandre Castonguay (Quebec), and Antonio Outón (Mexico), architect/historians Scott Weir (Canada) and Wayde Tardif (Canada), and computer scientists Csaba Csaki (Canada) and Ralph Siemen (Canada).

Jacques Perron © 2004 FDL