Long Distance Call
Drumheller, Alberta plays an important role in regional, provincial and Canadian identity. The town operated as a centre for coal mining and resource extraction in the Albertan hinterland for decades beginning in the late nineteenth century. Professional and amateur paleontologists began discovering fossil specimens in the area, making Drumheller synonymous with dinosaurs. With the eventual establishment of the Royal Tyrell Museum, Drumheller’s economy shifted from coal mining to tourism in the mid-twentieth century. Drumheller and the Dinosaur Valley’s historical and unusual landscape fosters a unique identity in the region, inspiring both fictional and factual anecdotes. These anecdotes create pervasive cultural narratives that have woven themselves into civic imaginings. Our artistic intent is to explore the liminal space between the reality and the lore of the town through photography, 3d printing, artifacts and archival research. We will examine the town as a living and organic entity of cultural, natural and colonial heritage. We will question and examine the boundaries of the collective understandings of Drumheller as a dreamscape and its designation as national and provincial historic site.
Long Distance Call is an artist collective consisting of Frédéric Bigras-Burrogano, a Montreal-born artist and Marianne R. Williams, a cultural heritage information professional and researcher currently based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. LDC’s collaborative practice focuses on the use of photography, research, 3D printing and soundscape to investigate the liminalities of documentation, identity, and primary source materials. Concerns with the construction of national narratives through landscape and examining the bias of authorship in documentation and evidence are large areas of focus.
LDC has exhibited at Les Territoires (Montréal), Der Greif, a process 2.0 at the Krakow Photography Festival (Krakow) and The New Gallery (Calgary). LDC’s images have been published in the magazine Sculptorvox (Nottingham, England) and the collective has delivered lectures at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Canada (Calgary), the University of Toronto, Xiamen University (Xiamen) and Tête Gallery (Berlin). Most recently, LDC was awarded a Creation and Research Grant from the Quebec Council of Arts and Letters.
Excerpt from “Hills of Home” curatorial essay, published in October 2016
*link to full essay here
The Waldorf Hotel still functions as a bar and serves as an organic site of living heritage. Rather than enshrine the history of an old coal mining hotel under glass and interpretive panels, the Waldorf invites those truly interested in Drumheller’s cultural history to visit the bar for a $3 can of beer. There’s no tour guide or audio headset in this archive, simply a friendly bartender who told me about the ghosts of old coal-mining tenants who haunt the hallways and play tricks on her when she’s alone. The decor has evolved since the pinnacle of the coal mining days: glowing slot machines line the walls of the pool room, and peeling polyurethane loveseats the shade of nicotine are scattered under florescent lights. Inexplicably, a series of paintings of motorcycles and the planet Jupiter hang on the walls in Gothic window frames. In order to comply with Albertan liquor laws, the Waldorf must provide a selection of food suitable for a light snack in order to serve alcohol, and so small bowls of assorted off-brand pretzels and cheese puffs can be found around the bar or on top of the slot machines.
The hallways of the hotel are decorated with plastic flower vases and milk glass vases on scratched china hutches filled with mismatched and threadbare towels. The distinctive smell of decades of coal dust and tobacco hangs in the air and sticks to the carpet, creating an olfactory experience both startling and familiar. The floor creaks and wheezes beneath your feet. It’s a tired building, exhausted and barely breathing, but still alive. There are numerous handwritten signs reminding guests and tenants not to smoke inside or on their fire escapes.
The architectural facade of the buildings in Drumheller appear as if taken out of an old Western. Even in the middle of its frenetic summer tourist season, the streets are empty at twilight. The props and backdrops of the town, dinosaur murals and sculptures, look like the remains of a film set that halted production halfway through. The actors have all gone home; the performances are all over. The landscape of the canyons, coated in taupes and high contrast beiges that flicker and change throughout the day, in addition to the surrounding ghost towns, reinforce this Wild West image. An eight-story fibreglass model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the World’s Largest Dinosaur, overlooks the entire town and focalizes the inescapable surrealness of Drumheller. Nowhere in Drumheller can you escape the presence of a dinosaur.