Impostor Cities: Canada Pavilion
at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia
OTTAWA, May 17, 2021 – The Canada Council for the Arts presents Impostor Cities at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, from May 22 to November 21, 2021. The exhibition is curated by David Theodore of McGill University and realized by Montréal architecture and design practice T B A / Thomas Balaban Architect. The official Canadian participation is commissioned and generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.
Impostor Cities is an international exhibition that explores how Canadian cities double as others onscreen. It’s about architectural identity—and it’s about faking it. From Canada’s streets to film and television screens all around the world, Impostor Cities reorients audiences’ understandings of their built environment. The exhibition has never felt more relevant, as the architecture we live in is that of the global generic city, we see onscreen together.
Canada’s architecture is “film famous.” But unlike Paris, New York City, Istanbul, or Rio de Janeiro, Canada’s cities rarely play themselves in film and television. Toronto stands in for London and Manhattan, while Montréal masquerades as Moscow and Paris. How is Vancouver able to double for North Korea (Seth Rogen's The Interview), Toronto for Tokyo (Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim) and Winnipeg for a small slice of mythic Americana (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, starring Brad Pitt)?
Impostor Cities prospects new directions for Canadian architecture by celebrating the protean cities and buildings that pose as cinematic doubles. It presents a playful counterproposition to the glorification of national identity through architecture and film, confronting entrenched nationalistic traditions of documentary storytelling that depict Canadian landscapes and cityscapes as unique. A playful critique of cultural self-presentation, Impostor Cities examines movies as powerful sites of architectural experience, expression and authenticity.
In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Impostor Cities exists onsite at the Canada Pavilion in Venice and online (website live, May 22).
The Canada Pavilion will be wrapped in green screen material, accentuating the Pavilion’s distinct form, creating a new, Impostor building visible across the Giardini, the traditional site that now hosts 29 pavilions of foreign countries. Impostor Cities is collaborating with an interaction design team lead by Jane Kate Wong as well as new media artist Allison Moore to bring this wrapping to life. Using chroma key technology, iconic Canadian buildings will take the Pavilion’s place, re-imagining this corner of Venice as Canada. Onsite, scan the QR code with your camera lens to experience the Pavilion transform into iconic Canadian cityscapes on Instagram.
The Impostor Cities online experience will include visitor information, press materials, a boutique of merchandise created in collaboration with emerging fashion designer Spencer Badu, and tantalizing glimpses inside the pavilion. It features video streams that show the Lobby in Venice and clips from the Screening Room.
Visitors will also experience Canadian buildings and cities through filmmakers’ eyes. Designed as a four-channel video installation the Impostor Cities Screening Room will feature clips culled from over 3,000 films and television shows shot in Canada, choreographed by video editor John Gurdebeke. Film scholar and multimedia practitioner Randolph Jordan composed the soundtrack with Ambisonic surround sound recordings made on location in the buildings and cities depicted. The installation was developed in collaboration with sound designer Florian Grond, A/V integrator Éric Fauque, and graphic designer Pawel Karwowski. Canadian interior design studio Atelier Zébulon Perron created bespoke furniture for the installation.
Exclusive video interviews with Canadian architects, film directors, set designers, and other industry insiders will frame the exhibition across social media platforms and online (website live, May 22). Expect fascinating and intimate anecdotes from David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Austerberry, Tamara Deverell, Guy Maddin, Douglas Coupland, Alanna Thain, Claude Paré, and more and on how cinema reveals Canadian architecture.
May 20 at 1:00 p.m. EDT, the Canada Council for the Arts will host an immersive virtual inauguration celebrating Impostor Cities at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Guests will explore the curated 3D-designed environment with an official presentation by the Commissioner, Embassy of Canada to Italy, Curator, and Presenter.
May 22 at 11:00 a.m. CEST, Impostor Cities opens to the public onsite at the Canada Pavilion and online (website live, May 22).
Impostor Cities was selected through a juried competition. The selection committee included Mirko Zardini (Architect and former Executive Director and Chief Curator, Canadian Centre for Architecture), Kitty Scott (Deputy Director and Chief Curator, National Gallery of Canada), Sasa Radulovic (Architect, 5468796 architecture, Winnipeg) and Manon Asselin (Architect, Atelier TAG, Montréal).
“The exhibition is designed to put visitors in ‘movie mode.’ That’s when you start thinking about architecture through screens and movies, rather than through photographs or drawings or through visiting the buildings. We’re designing for visitors who have never been to Canada. They might say, ‘Hey I’ve seen that film, but I didn’t know it was downtown Vancouver.’ So we're optimistic that we can inspire people to think about what architecture and Canadian identity mean in a world connected through media and screens rather than through culture.
David Theodore, Curator, Impostor Cities
Montreal architecture firm TBA along with curator David Theodore and the Impostor Cities team are incredibly honoured to have been selected to represent Canada at the 2021 Venice Biennale in Architecture. The prestigious world exhibition offers a timely opportunity to show off the Cana-dian buildings and spaces that have quietly shaped our shared cinematic narratives. Impostor Cities presents a playful counter-proposition to the belief that architecture is founded in geogra-phy, climate, and history, asking: What does it mean that a Vancouver street can stand in for Prague in the morning and New Delhi in the afternoon, or that Toronto’s Art Deco R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant inevitably plays a sinister hospital or a prison? Impostor Cities explores how Canadian architecture has so artfully doubled as other places, challenging visitors to think about authenticity and identity at a moment when the blurring of fact and fiction onscreen takes on an important significance.
Thomas Balaban, Jennifer Thorogood, Designers, Impostor Cities
The innovative approach of Impostor Cities will bring together even more people from a greater diversity of backgrounds than would otherwise travel to see it in Venice—and it does this in a way that’s gentle on our environment. We need international exchanges like this that unite people in sustainable ways so that, in turn, we can build a better world together after the global COVID-19 pandemic. Impostor Cities points to the vital role architecture—and the arts and culture, more broadly—can and should play on the shared journey ahead.
Simon Brault, Director and CEO, Canada Council for the Arts
About the Curator, David Theodore
David Theodore is the Canada Research Chair in Architecture, Health, and Computation at McGill University. He also co-directs the Emerging Digital Methods for Architectural Research project based at the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture. An active design critic and journalist, he has written for the RIBA Journal, Frame, Log, and the Harvard Design Magazine. He is currently associate reviews editor at the Journal of Architectural Education. As a curator he has been part of shows at the Vancouver Art Gallery, McGill University McLennan Library, Subtle Technologies, Power Plant, Design Exchange, and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
About the Presenter, T B A
T B A is an architecture and design practice established by Thomas Balaban in 2009. Now a partnership with Jennifer Thorogood, the Montréal studio straddles research and practice, producing idiosyncratic work that reflects the history of our cities while proposing new trajectories for their development. The office’s projects have been widely published and won numerous awards in Quebec and across Canada. In 2016, T B A was selected by Canadian Architect magazine as one of Canada’s emerging talents. Thomas Balaban is an associate professor at the École d’architecture de l’Université de Montréal.
About the Commisioner, The Canada Council for the Arts
The Canada Council for the Arts is Canada’s public arts funder, with a mandate to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts. The Council champions and invests in artistic excellence through a broad range of grants, services, prizes and payments to professional Canadian artists and arts organizations. Its work ensures that excellent, vibrant and diverse art and literature engages Canadians, enriches their communities and reaches markets around the world. The Council also raises public awareness and appreciation of the arts through its communications, research and arts promotion activities.
The Canada Council has proudly supported Canada's representation at the Venice Architecture Biennale for many years and has recently doubled its investment to $500,000. This increased financial support is part of our strategic commitment to enhance the international profile of Canadian art and artists.
Impostor Cities Team
David Theodore (Curator) + T B A (Presenter), Allison Moore (Interactive Video Content), Cameron Cummings (Research and Design), Christeen Francis (Screen Printing), Ella Den Elzen (Research), Éric Fauque (Audiovisual Integration), Eva Peng (Interactive Design), Florian Grond (Surround Concept and Mixing), François-Matthieu Mariaud de Serre (Research and Design), Hervé Laurendeau, (Research and Design), Jane Kate Wong (Interactive Design), Jennifer Thorogood (Project Designer), Joel Friesen: (Research and Design), John Gurdebeke (Film Editing), Mikaèle Fol: (Research and Design), Nick Cabelli: (Research and Design), Pawel Karwowski (Graphic Design), Randolph Jordan (Sound Curation), Remy Fortin (Model Fabrication), Rosayln Dunkley (Model Fabrication), Sarah Mackenzie (Communications), Sergey Zakharov (Web Development), Thomas Balaban (Project Manager), Tim Sidock (Fundraising), Wipawe Sirikolkarn (Interactive Design)
Partners and Sponsors
The presentation of Impostor Cities is made possible by the support of SAJO, McGill University, the Université de Montréal, the Ontario Association of Architects, and Panasonic Canada.
Images may be downloaded at the following link: www.impostorcities.com/press
Photo credit: Impostor Cities
Web and Social Media
Official Impostor Cities website: www.impostorcities.com
Official Impostor Cities hashtag: #ImpostorCities2021
Canada Council for the Arts website: www.canadacouncil.ca
Canada Council for the Arts
Communications and Engagement
1-800-263-5588, ext. 5151