The fifty-fifty percent off store, 2016

the fifty fifty arts collective

“the fifty fifty percent off store” is an installation that subverts the popular notion of Victoria as an idyllic tourist destination.  Behind the superficial pantomime erected for the blocks of tourists milling up from the cruise ships is a city out of touch with its own history and troubles.  Homelessness is rampant in Victoria; rental occupancy is close to zero, yet expensive mansions sell for millions.  Meanwhile, business after business is shuttering up downtown because the rent has become so unmanageable.  

Victoria has a difficult history, too.  There is an acrimonious relationship between the government and the indigenous people of the area, stretching back to the first Hudson’s Bay Company fort.  The city is built on unceded land.  The Garry oak meadows, once the foundation of local food systems, have been razed to build golf courses and strip malls.  Horrifically racist incidents mar Victoria’s past.  Yet, none of these matters are discussed.  The façade Victoria puts up as a sleepy enclave of charming old England doesn’t allow for such thorny conversations.

This installation, then, presents a gift shop and tourist hub that reflects a fuller representation of Victoria.  Postcards and brochures off up descriptions of Victoria from the artists’ counter-narrative vision.  The photographs here, along with those set on the walls as large posters, have been shot specifically for the show by the artists, using a combination of digital and analogue film.  They show abandoned buildings, stores for rent, and failed civic projects in juxtaposition with images of Victoria's affluence and the excesses of its clichés.  

Meanwhile, gift shop tee-shirts, hand-stitched by the artists from vintage clothing, reflect a more balanced representation of a visit to Victoria.  The shirts all contain messages one certainly wouldn’t find in the popular shops along Government Street.  Here, the twist on the prototypical souvenir is accentuated by the fact that the shirts are constructed out of scraps.  Most locals cannot even afford the sort of luxuries that tourists enjoy here in Victoria.

The racks for the clothing, the postcard racks, and the benches provided, meanwhile, are all built specifically for the show.  These items use a combination of old-growth wood, salvaged from gentrification/renovations projects in Chinatown and Market Square, combined with a series of racks and metal taken from the dumpster behind American Apparel.  Much of this material has been discarded as the downtown, making way for the encroaching tech industry, bursts into a rash of glass condos built well beyond the price range of many of Victoria’s working locals.  The history of the city is literally becoming scrap for the dumpster.

The show is meant to be playful, but at the same time, it seeks to hold a troublesome mirror up to Victoria.  The object is to record and question the massive physical and mental dispossession currently occurring here as the city enters into a new phase of gentrification.