EK Modernism: New Works by Sylvia Grace Borda

At CSA Space until April 12. For information and access, see www .csaspace.ca/

Sylvia Grace Borda's show at CSA Space is a modest précis of a vastly larger project. Some 615 times larger. Titled EK Modernism, the exhibition of 13 small colour photographs (out of a total 8,000) represents a contemporary architectural record of East Kilbride, Scotland, which was built after the Second World War. Borda spent a few months there last year, as the first guest of an international artist-in-residency program at the East Kilbride Arts Centre. What she learned in Scotland has implications for the often-deprecated postwar heritage of Canadian cities.

Before arriving in E.K., Borda had intended to document the city's traffic roundabouts, employing a similar conceptual-indexical approach to that of her acclaimed 2004 project, Every Bus Stop in Surrey, B.C. However, she was so struck by the modernist vision that had prevailed in this first of Scottish New Towns-and by the fact that many of its buildings are now under threat of demolition or renovation-that she decided she would walk the entire place, taking photos of what she saw.

The works on view include understated shots of elementary and secondary schools, detached and row housing, shopping and aquatic centres, pedestrian passageways, and green spaces. These images have nothing to do with touristic notions of what British towns should look like. Instead, as Borda noted in a recent interview with the Straight, they bear on a postwar utopian impulse to create a "city of the future". The planners and architects who designed E.K. paid special attention to livability, sustainability, and community coherence. The schools, for instance, were seen as multipurpose centres equipped with state-of-the-art theatres. Smartly designed and expensively executed, they often stand on hilltops, in parklike settings, enacting metaphors of enlightenment and farsightedness.

Borda pays special attention to now-deteriorating architectural details, such as geometric facades, coloured panels, big windows, and walls of hand-fired brick. In some instances, the modernist buildings come across as drab and charmless. Lack of maintenance, the artist suggests, reflects a generalized lack of appreciation, making the buildings more vulnerable to demolition.

So much contemporary representation of modernist architecture is accompanied by a note of censure, a condemnation of modernism's failures to achieve its utopian aims. Borda's project is the reverse: admiration for the accomplishments of postwar planners and architects in creating a well-functioning and humane built environment. Look at what you've got here before it's gone, she seems to be saying. Just look.