Canadian artists are challenged to distinguish a national identity from which relevant art discourse can emerge. As a cross-cultural hotspot, Canada’s widespread roots are daunting to deconstruct at first glance. The relationship between the individual and the landscape, however, often appears as a topic for discussion with Canadian artists, likely because of the vastness of the country’s geography. The surface of this landscape is pock-marked with signs of growing habitation and development. Upon closer inspection, the minutia is transformed to reveal a complex social culture.

Cole Swanson and Jennie Suddick both reside in Toronto, Ontario, and are simultaneously examining the impact of the Trans-Canada Highway and tourism on the Canadian cultural identity. Both work in miniature formats, Swanson in painting and Suddick in sculpture, presenting a unique dialogue between the viewer and the work where the former plays a dominant role over the latter.



On a recent trip to Kingston along the Trans-Canada Highway, I noticed that all the service centres en route were shut down for redevelopment. Built by The Ministry of Transportation, Canadian service centres have provided quick service dining, coffee, convenience retail, fuel, tourism information, washrooms and simply a place to get out and stretch for highway travellers since they were built in the 1960s. Apart from an accessible gas station, service centres provide all the amenities and amusements compacted into a ‘one-stop’ building in the middle of a vast parking lot. I was surprised by how troubled I was to find all the familiar exits recalled from countless family road trips boarded up like haunted houses, the ramps leading to them barricaded with reflective orange signs alerting me that I was unable to enter. My discomfort made me notice how important they were as accidental landmarks.

For the past 50 years, service centres have acted as symbols for cultural shifts in the technological (and geographic) growth of North America. Highway systems shaped the face of tourism over the past 100 years to cater to family road-trips, creating roadside attractions, auto-accessible monuments, as well as easy-access one-stop-shops, the service centres. For those who grew up revering these forms of travel and leisure time, mandatory stops became sights that were as memorable as any natural or historic landmarks that may have been the intended focal point of the journey. Through this body of work, I have sought to elevate the status of these buildings, presenting them as icons for the Canadian landscape.

For this exhibition I have created scale models of roadside service centres. In my work I often utilize the format of architectural models and miniature museum dioramas to draw upon familiar modes of viewing, those which present information as truthful and authoritative. By simply presenting utilitarian buildings as carefully constructed, detailed forms, they can be perceived as sights worthy of adoration. The insides of the models will each emit a different colour of bright, artificial light, viewable through the gallery windows at night. This is intended to highlight the supplementary role of these highway stops as beacons that line the Canadian landscape. I draw parallels between tourist stops found scattered along the highway and lighthouses on the shoreline. Additionally, the glow will act as tongue-in-cheek reference to the halo, further suggesting that these sites are romantic symbols of North American Tourism.

Other works from this collection include vintage post cards of local tourist attractions paper-tolled with commemorative stamp images of provincial flowers. These pieces suggest a relationship with the Canadian landscape translated through the eyes of the tourist. The post cards depicting natural landmarks, have been promoted into the realm of roadside attractions. They are no longer one part of the vast landscape, but elevated to a level of having their own, individual status as something all visitors to each area must experience, and something the locals can have a unique pride in. These postcards, originally sent over 60 or 70 years ago, capture a moment when someone visited the site and deemed it meaningful to them. Over time, memories of each trip have inevitably faded away. Consequently, the postcards remain the only lasting recollection of the experience. The ornamental paper-tolled flowers have been made from stamps of each site’s respective provincial flowers. This underscores the preciousness of these moments, and of the importance of the sites themselves to the regions and their community members.


Jennie Suddick is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Toronto, Canada. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, The United States, Germany and Italy. She received both a BFA and Advanced Visual Studies Certificate from The Ontario College of Art and Design, where she was the recipient of multiple awards. She went on to receive her Masters of Fine Art at York University in Spring 2009. She creates work in print, photography and sculpture, which deals with issues of Canadian identity, cryptozoology, museological display, and hyper reality. Recently she has exhibited with Narwhal Art Projects, Harbourfront Centre, Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects, Art Metropole and Blackwood Gallery’s Nuit Blanche Exhibition at Hart House, Proteus Gowanus in Brooklyn, New York The Ministry of Casual Living in Victoria, British Columbia, and has had solo projects featured at The Art Gallery of York University (agYU) and Okazi Gallery in Berlin. She received the Award of Excellence at the 2009 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition and is Open Studio’s 2011 recipient of the Donald O’Born Family Scholarship.

Recently, she has participated in multiple residencies, including Bee-line to Berlin: The Woodn’t Bees Artist in Residency Program in Berlin, Germany, Open Studio’s Resident Artist Programme in Toronto, Canada, and The Elsewhere Collaborative’s Residency program in North Carolina.

She currently works as and art instructor at Oakville Galleries and OCAD University.



In recent years, many regions of Canada have experienced dramatic changes leading to a reshaping of their identities. With a growing population to tend to, rapid development has made a deep impression on the emerging urban and rural landscapes of the country. Small, historic downtowns often represent only the core of an outwardly expanding, formulaic development. Without a long historical legacy to fall back on, many communities are experiencing great difficulty in establishing identities. As such, citizens have become impassioned to seek out and glorify that which sets them apart.

As a response, communities across Canada have invested in the erection of roadside monuments. These large-scale works are often commissioned by tourism committees made up of local politicians, businesses, and independent donors. Monuments represent the collective interests of the townspeople and provide a venue for tourism that might not exist otherwise. Additionally, they help to establish a recognizable identity for the community.

For this body of work, I have produced series of fictional monuments and anti-monuments for regions across the country. By working with rarefied miniature painting techniques, I created images that exacerbate the irony of constructing monuments in lesser known areas; the minuscule scale of the pieces represents the innate difficulty to attract significant attention to scattered communities within a grandiose landmass. The collection provides highly narrative works depicting regional claims to fame. They employ satire in their examination of local history, culture, and development. This paradoxical method of representation provides both supportive and oppositional attitudes toward communities and their heroes, as if engaging in discussion held within a public forum. In contrast to the monuments are a sub-series of Highway Melodramas. These works depict roadside phenomena that interrupt the journey between monuments, most often appearing as tragic events like vehicular accidents, inclimate weather, or unpredictable run-ins with nature. The Trans-Canada Highway is transformed from a purely transitional space, to a setting rich in esoteric histories and a space for Canada’s social and natural landscapes to parry.


Cole Swanson is an artist and curator living and working in Toronto, Ontario. During his undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph, Swanson attended a semester abroad in India to research the miniature paintings of Rajasthan, and the folk arts of the Southern sub-continent. In 2007, he was declared a national fellowship winner through the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute for his study on miniature paintings in Jaipur. Under the supervision of Dr. Nathulal Verma, a renowned artist in India, Swanson continued his study of traditional miniature painting and the preparation of organic and mineral-based pigments.

In 2008, Swanson returned to Toronto to continue his practice across media with a research focus on regional histories and narrative devices. Currently, he curates the exhibition space at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, Ontario where he also coordinates the Centre’s Resident Artist Program. Swanson has exhibited his works in solo and group exhibitions including those in international venues in China, Taiwan, India, and Italy. He has also appeared on several exhibition juries and discussion panels in partnership with the Art Gallery of Mississauga, South Asian Visual Arts Centre (SAVAC), Sheridan Technical institute, Humber College, Pearson International Airport, the University of Toronto, and the University of Guelph. Most recently, Swanson published a critical essay and video commentary on artist Viktor Mitic to be distributed internationally in 2011 through Fourfront Editions. Swanson has received several awards from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, the Ontario Arts Council, The Canada Council for the Arts, and the Gordon W. Innes foundation.