Saturday, April 10, 2010

Edmonton and its Pervasive Giant Objects

The city Edmonton is filled with a number of giant objects which pervade on our everyday life. This pervasiveness is a result of an objects massive scale which takes control of a subject’s gaze. “The gaze, whether institutional or individual, thus helps to establish relationships of power.” (Sturken and Lisa Cartwright 2009,111) Large scale intrudes on everyday life by establishing a relationship with human curiosity and one’s desire to observe that which sets itself apart from the norm or our expectations of the norm. The act of looking as a result of curiosity is a type of satisfaction. Curiosity arouses one’s scopophilia which is “the drive to look and the general pleasure to look” (Sturken and Lisa Cartwright 2009, 459) in order to capture a subject’s gaze.

Expectations of the Norm and Kitsch

Southgate mall has recently received wide scale renovations as a result of its expansion. The new designs seem to suggest that the mall is one of the more sophisticated and classier malls in the city. But what may leave some in utter confusion is the decision to erect a giant monument of a pair of striped stockings inside two ill-colored shoes. This artwork, which overshadows the Southgate transit terminal, is seemingly done in bad taste. This artwork invokes the all the sentiments of kitsch upon the viewer because it is an artwork that is “judged to have little or no aesthetic value, yet that has value precisely because of its status in evoking the class standards of bad taste” (Struken and Lisa Cartwright 2009, 446). The contrast between the classy and modernised Southgate mall and the aesthetically unappealing monument is exactly what draws one’s attention to it. It is normally expected that a sophisticated mall or any place trying to suggest “good taste” for that matter would not contain such a monument. And because of our expectations, the large scale of this art and its tacky design is what captures our gaze thus giving value to the art. Kitsch in this instance is used to provoke a relational activity of looking by intruding on our expectations of the norm.

Buyers, Desires, and Cost Efficient Advertising

Businesses spend large sums of money on advertising in order to promote their products/services and increase sales. In Edmonton a number of businesses have put to use an alternative way of advertising that is cost efficient compared to other methods of advertisement. Television commercials normally range from hundreds of thousands to up in the millions (ehow 2010), billboard ads average about $1000 - $3000 a month per billboard (buzzle 2010), but advertising balloons typically range from about $100 to $1500 in a one time payment. This cheap method of advertisement allows smaller businesses to capture a viewer’s attention without having to claim bankruptcy.

When a spectator’s gaze is captured by a pervasive giant balloon advertisement, the object then relays its intended message to the subject, putting him/her in a relation where his/her desires play a major role. The Muscle Maxx fitness shop located down 97th street uses a balloon which depicts an image of an outrageously muscular man curling two hundred pounds with each arm. One of Lacan’s theories suggests when caught in the gaze it “contributes to a self-centered anxiety about [one’s] identity. This anxiety, in turn, is transformed into an experience of being externally scrutinized...” (Krips 2010, 93 ). The muscle man balloon is suggestive of strength and optimum physique. Though one cannot contain the same type of 24 pack as the muscle man balloon, the underlying message of a superior strength and brawn causes one to reflect on their own inferior physicality when caught in the gaze of this balloon. "Consumer products and brand and the advertising that sell then aim to present an image of things to be desired, people to be envied, and life ’as it should be’" (Struken and Lisa Cartwright 2009, 265). This uses one’s anxiety to cause them to desire that which would make them adequate in this relational activity, which potentially will increase the sales of the business.

The Gaze of Champions

Edmonton’s baseball history dates all the way back to 1884, with the formation of the Edmonton Legislatures. In 1984 the Edmonton Trappers would become the first Canadian Triple A team to win a pennant. By 2002 they won three more titles and have sent over 500 players to the MLB (Wikipedia 2010) One of Edmonton’s most pervasive and longest standing giant objects is a 15 meter long aluminum baseball bat located on 97th street and 118th avenue. 118th avenue is also known as the Avenue of Champions. The bat was most likely erected to commemorate Edmonton’s long standing baseball history of excellence. Like all other giant scale objects discussed the aluminum bat establishes the gaze with its massive size. For those who don’t know much about the city or the history, this monument has little significance. But for those that do, this baseball bat is loaded with connotative meaning. The monument establishes a relationship with the subject imposing a message of excellence and dominance, with the baseball bat itself being the symbol of excellence and the bat’s grand symbolic for power and superiority. The subjects sense of power and control in looking is overcome by the messages of this monument which in turn cause the subjects outward look to “become a self-directed, passive, ‘being looked at’” (Krips 2010, 93)

Reference List



Krips, Henry. 2010. "The Politics of the Gaze: Foucault, Lacan and Žižek." Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research 2, 91-102. SocINDEX with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed April 10, 2010).

Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to visual culture. New york: Oxford University Press.


Image Credit

Stanley Cup Monument

Group Members: Sansitny Ruth & Teresa Zhu

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