El Dorado

SAW-Gallery, Ottawa

(in collaboration with Jo-Anne Balcaen)

"El Dorado" is a ceiling intervention at SAW Gallery in Ottawa. It was conceived in part as a response to the white cube of Modernism and its emphasis on an aesthetically neutered presentation space consisting solely of four walls. It also references the Baroque ceiling, with its painted frescoes and gilding, which metaphorically blew the lid off its lavish interiors to reveal visions of the heavenly skies.
The Baroque ceiling both defined and neglected the room it covered. Structurally, it provided a lid for the box; aesthetically, it aggressively competed for your attention by pulling your eye upward, away from the decorative wallpaper, stately paintings and brocade fabrics.

SAW Gallery is located in the basement of the former Law Courts building. Due to this location, its ceiling is very low. While visiting the gallery, we were struck by the ceiling’s strong presence and the decision to leave its heating, plumbing and ventilation systems exposed, rather than install a less distracting dropped-panel ceiling. Despite efforts to subdue this industrial maze by painting it flat black, (thereby hoping it will recede from our peripheral vision); it still hovers like an ominous cloud.
In response to this interesting architectural feature, we painted SAW Gallery’s ceiling completely gold, transforming industrial material into a decadent Baroque display.

"El Dorado" was conceived to be on display for at least one year.