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The Hissing Folly by Cole Swanson (2020)

The Hissing Folly by Cole Swanson (2020)

The Hissing Folly by Cole Swanson

Curated by Sandy Saad Smith

Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington from February 2, 2020 to February 7, 2021.

Foreword by Sandy Saad Smith with essays by Helen Gregory, Darryn Doull, edited by John Oughton.

Acknowledgements by Cole Swanson.

Photography by Toni Hafkenscheid, Jamie A. McMillan, Cole Swanson, Harry Knight and Áine Belton.

Graphic design and illustrations by Áine Belton, Visual Arts Centre of Clarington.


Printed by RGI Graphics using premium, ENVIRONMENT Grocer Kraft Raw (cover) and 80lb Rolland Enviro (inside pages). ENVIRONMENT is made using renewable Green-e certified energy, is FSC© certified and is made using 30% post-consumer waste.

Canadiana 20200305808 | ISBN 9781926772363 (softcover)



The Visual Arts Centre of Clarington is pleased to present The Loft Gallery Commission: The Hissing Folly by Cole Swanson.

The 2020 iteration of the VAC Loft Gallery Commission will feature an installation by Canadian artist, Cole Swanson. Swanson’s ongoing body of work examines biosystems in direct negotiation with human life at a time of unprecedented social, political, and environmental change. The Hissing Folly looks at Durham Region’s ecological landscape and poses critical questions around human relationships with invasive species, specifically phragmites (European common reed). Phragmites is a perennial grass that spreads quickly and out-competes native species for water and nutrients. This plant has been damaging ecosystems in Ontario for decades including areas of Clarington and the wider Durham Region. 

Working with the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA), this collaborative project includes the collection and removal of phragmites from the Thickson’s Woods Land Trust of Durham Region. In an effort to contribute to the control of phragmites in this ecologically sensitive area, the harvest will become part of a multidisciplinary installation in the VAC’s Loft Gallery. Using the centuries-long tradition of thatching, Swanson employs a low-cost and ecological method of using local vegetation to build roofs as the main method to build his structure. The resulting construct is a folly; designed primarily for decoration, while suggesting a greater purpose through its appearance. 

The Hissing Folly considers phragmites as a historically valuable construction material with creative potential compared to its adverse effects on biodiversity in Canada. The project embodies the colonial, consumer, and cultural systems responsible for the passage of phragmites from Europe to North America, reflecting on the dissonance between the generative and destructive capacities of organisms mediated by human values and activities.