December 21, 2012

There Goes The Neighbourhood!

Things got a little too hot on King last week.

If there is any city in Canada that is heating up its real estate market right now it is Hamilton!  All happy thoughts aside though, Hamilton's councillors better double check that things don't start catching on fire.

Mo' rubble, mo' problems.

There is no questioning, one of Hamilton's most vital yet delicate features it has to offer are its beautiful feats of architecture.  As anyone from the GTA with the bad taste of faulty glass towers in their mouth will gladly agree that this city is refreshing.  Almost everywhere you look are the storefronts, towers and homes built by masterful masons and bricklayers nearly a century ago.  Most of the architecture is much older and in better shape than anything else in Ontario.  Buildings in the city's core are comparable in age and stature to those in Quebec and the Maritimes and for a fraction of the price too!  Hamilton is dead centre in the middle of Canada's Golden Horseshoe and there is no doubt things are starting to pick up.  People are flocking to the city for the urban feel they only wished they could afford, until now.

 The original CNR Station (built in 1931), now LIUNA Station banquet hall.

Many officials may read the growing statistics and simple numbers that equate to more highways and cookie-cutters in the burbs.  And when a striking 72% of the Hamilton population lives at a higher altitude than the downtown core, things don't always turn out in favour of the lower half.  An ongoing problem in short term Canadian politics has been just that, everything now functions on a short term basis.  If Hamilton is to succeed in the future, everyone needs to plan ahead.  This is coming from the city that sold its train station only to sluggishly come back to it as a flourishing new banquet hall they can't have.  Now the city will attempt to build a train platform and kiosk across the street on a likely miniscule budget.

GO's new generation of stations: a simple platform, shelter, kiosk and vast parking lot.

In the depths of municipal politics there is ongoing debates over land use and development in Hamilton, and many of the ideas seem to contradict the overall growth of the city and nobody seems to be stepping in.  Where's the ref?

It's becoming evermore evident that large numbers of historic buildings in the city are being demolished and turned into parking or gravel lots.  The common safety card is pulled to excuse the large number of losses, and Hamiltonians are told 'we can't save 'em all' from almost every angle of city hall.

Sanford Avenue School to be demolished for green space.

Take the Sherman School at 149 Sherman Ave. N. for example, coming close to heritage status on the city's Inventory of Buildings of Architectural and/or Historical Interest on page 94 and now it is being ripped down to build a park.  Now don't get me wrong, parks are great, but there are developers who want to revitalize the space and turn it into a community and cultural centre.  If public centres of this sort are being denied in order for more park land, we won't have any spaces left for cultural development.  This neighbourhood is already home to a vast assortment of empty lots that could be used for park space.  See CBC.

An easier venue for green space that is practically building itself.

In the heart of Hamilton's Gore Park four large historical buildings in a row are going to be demolished with no future developments planned.  These buildings are just subject to destruction so the property owners will not have to face any restoration challenges when they're deemed historically significant.  The Gore Park will not only lose several historic buildings, it will also gain another gaping void if the city council doesn't act by January 9th.  How can a city function properly when its landlords are allowed to vacate residents and successful businesses to avoid gaining heritage status turning the most vital parts of the city into wasteland?

And how does the city figure a casino downtown is going to help matters at all?
That will be a whole new can of worms.

 Everything you see here is to be vacated and demolished before it can reach historical status.

Hamilton has been given a second chance at reinventing itself and this time it wasn't the steel industry that broke its back for the city, it was creative arts and cultural sectors that pulled the weight.  With the 'new steel' in town, assets of the arts and culture should be embraced and shared to investors and most importantly this includes the historical real estate the city has to offer.  Drive-thrus, big box centres and commercial parks can be built anywhere and there is plenty of questionable open spaces to develop parkland.  Let the prime retail locations foster new pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods and retain the large vacant schools and warehouses for more ambitious cultural developments.

 Liberty Village and The Distillery District in Toronto

The success of Toronto's restored Distillery District and Liberty Village neighbourhoods can been seen as great examples of reinventing large industrial spaces that might otherwise be demolished.  Try poking around the north end of Hamilton and you'll discover massive districts of abandoned facilities much larger and older than Toronto's.  Just imagine the opportunities available to create flourishing new cultural micro cities.  Imagine what they could offer back to the community!

Some of the many spaces just begging for development.
Not demolition.

Let's hope the next time the hammer is raised it will fix something, cause these places aren't coming back.

Congratulations, to those who fought and worked hard to bring life back to the Lister Block! 

Pearl Company, Staircase Theatre, 270 Sherman, Gallery on the Bay, and the WAHC just to shout out a few more!


Almost two years ago I started working a really interesting position creating professional mascots for large sports teams and TV characters.  At first thought, the job was a far fetch from the regular due service in the food industry that many artists dread.  Located in the Lakeshore neighbourhood of Etobicoke between large empty rubble lots, social housing complexes and Ontario's newest super prison were five of us hired to construct a gnarly array of bizarre and ridiculous costumes.  If you can think of a mascot, there is a good chance one of us made it.

At first, the work was energizing and full of very informative and innovative construction techniques and materials.  However, as a result of the increasingly repetitive and monotonous work, it all began to take its toll on us.  The sweatshop feeling was becoming evermore present as we were pushed to work harder and harder.  We no longer found it amusing to wear the costumes for fittings and developed more intense exercises amongst ourselves to increase the level of excitement among us.  It is hard to explain the thrill you get watching your nodding coworker jump when you slap his desk as you walk by.  You know it is going to come back at you.  It really keeps you on your toes.  In an environment with high powered saws and precision blades, the old boss giving you the run down on your performance and justifying your financial shortcomings just wasn't quite lifting our spirits enough to keep us awake anymore.

A couple of slingshots and a crossbow.

That year, all of the mascot builders developed a close bond as a group, sticking together, yet withholding a subtle resentments cowardly expecting each other to stand up against the company.  Gradually, it wasn't that uncommon to have an 8 foot block of foam barricade you into the washroom, or returning to your desk to find everything you own glued in place.  As the bar rose and little antics escalated, it became a necessity to have a slingshot and a pocket full of chopped glue sticks at all times.  Slingshots turned into cannons, and eventually it just wasn't fun anymore unless you trapped your coworker in a giant box or something.

One day, I was at my desk assorting large bins of mascot parts when I was unexpectedly trapped in a cardboard box.  This day changed the prank game for good.  It was way more humiliating having a box hammered down on your head then collecting small welt wounds from glue bits being shot at you.  The key was to construct a box trap that would stay on someones head.   After a week or so the razor box head trap had evolved, equipped half inch thick rubber shoe treads cut in triangles facing upwards inside the box which would lock around a person's neck when pushed down far enough.  Same idea as the razor box from Saw II, but with rubber.  On the outside it was decorated with spare mascot eyes, a propeller hat and a couple of floppy arms that would flail about as one of us struggled for a good 10-15 minutes to get it off our head.  It was the utmost humiliating thing and it was worn with discontent at least twice a day.  You can imagine the paranoia of working in a sweatshop in constant fear of getting trapped, tied up and shot at with glue pellets.

The real deal: don't get this guy stuck on your head!

The razor box trap from Saw II.

As our cabin fever-like state raged on, particular rivalries formed.  For proximity reasons, the target of my choice was the coworker that sat the furthest from me, Eugene.  Our relationship was both calm and tense at times.  Eugene was the oldest employee having worked there for 7 years and considerably more experienced.  He often touted about his time in the trade, but nevertheless he had the expertise to back it up. Despite our frequent assaults on one another, the space between us gave good grounds for cooling off when things went too far.  When it came down to business, we could always call a truce and brainstorm new ideas.  During downtime, we put our workplace differences aside and went out to one of the nearby derelict properties or to the lake where Eugene would often meditate.

If you are still reading by now, I will keep a long story short.  Later that year, the five of us all found our jobs to be a meager waste of time and quit one after another to go our own ways.

Eugene and I have kept in touch and occasionally share a laugh about the past, but for the most part, the boxhead days are over.  Eugene is still consistently creating costumes and masks of his own, inspired by easily accessible materials and with little bits and pieces from the mascot making world.

Corp Bot

When I found out that Melody and I would be opening a gallery, Eugene's masks came to mind.  Recently, Eugene had contributed large cardboard creations to Manifesto shows at both the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Regent Park Arts and Culture Centre.

As part of plan to include various other ex-mascot creators we created our first annual mask and costume Halloween show at the gallery.  Experienced artists can showcase their talent by creating completely unique costumes never seen before, for sale too!  Just in time for Halloween.  Anyways, that's a whole other story, I will get into that later.  In the meantime, we needed a poster boy.


Eugene Paunil was raised in Markham and lives in Toronto.  He is currently working as a freelance mascot maker and artist.  Having studied industrial design at OCADU, Eugene has learned how to carefully render objects in 3D and has a strong passion for furniture design.  In recent years, Eugene has primarily been working with cardboard, creating full head masks reminiscent of various recognizable animals and other creatures.  The cardboard in each mask is left bare, creating a unique skeletal effect exposing the materials and process to the viewer.

From Cardboard at MANTA Contemporary in October 2012.

Eugene included a collection of five large cardboard fabricated masks both wearable and decorative for our October exhibit titled, "From Cardboard" due to the lengthy history of the material in Eugene's trade and the importance it plays in his work today.

The Crazy Cockatoo and Ramasaurus Rex

For more of Eugene's work go to