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Ford City/Working the Line

January 25, 2014 - April 6, 2014

AWE Gallery

Ford City: Working the Line is a film installation documenting the assembly line process at the Ford Motor Company’s Windsor plant in 1938. Researched and produced by independent curator, Rosemary Donegan, it was a central element in the 1994 multi-media exhibition at the Art Gallery of Windsor, at the Devonshire Mall, entitled Ford City/Windsor. It was assembled from archival footage from the 1938 film The Song the Map Sings, produced by Director Gordon Sparlind and Cinematographer Alfred Jacquemin. The film was originally commissioned by Ford Motor Company as an educational and promotional vehicle to illustrate the wonders of mechanical assembly line production and the scale of Ford operations in Canada.

Today, much of this work has been taken over by automated robots and, as such, the installation documents a time when assembly line production was more mechanical and required significantly more physical labour than in present times. On sourcing the 1938 film a half century later, Donegan utilized the original imagery, while re-constructing the sound track. The work is shown here as a two-channel, simultaneous-image installation to create an immersive experience of the scale, sound and intensity of the assembly line work experience.

Donegan’s 1994 Ford City/Windsor project was a continuation of her engagement with larger themes of reconstructing social, labour and community histories and their relationships to modernity, industrialization and urban culture in Canada. Donegan is currently an Associate Professor at OCAD University in Toronto, where she has been teaching since 1991, and has served as the Graduate Director of the Criticism & Curatorial Practice MFA program, and held various administrative positions in the Faculty of Liberal Studies and Faculty of Art. In exhibitions, such as Industrial Images/Images Industrielles; Work, Weather and the Grid; and Ford City: Windsor, Donegan strives to use the range of archival imagery and the form of the installation to evoke the layering and complexity, and often contradictory nature, of modernism, industrialization and urban life.

The 1994 exhibition, Ford City: Windsor included the entire series of photographs that Yousuf Karsh was commissioned to produce by the Ford Motor Company in 1951. These Karsh photographs are a recent gift to the AGW from Ford Motor Company. It is timely that Donegan’s response to the Sparlind-Jacquemin production and the Karsh photographs from his 1951 Ford Company commission are shown concurrently as it was in the 1994 exhibition, where the two bodies of work were first brought together. It is also relevant that, that these two exhibitions are shown concurrently with Border Cultures: Part Two (work, labour). As we observe the permeable Windsor-Detroit border, in relation to the historical crossing back and forth of the Ford Motor Company and the strong labour movements on both sides of the border, we can examine histories and views on work and labour over eight decades. This installation moves from the 1930s, as illustrated through the assembly line project, to the 1950s, as revealed by Karsh’s dramatic portraits of Ford auto workers, to the current exhibition which focuses on the present reality of Windsor/Detroit.

Co-curated by Catharine Mastin and Rosemary Donegan 

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