The area around the lot on the corner of 98th Avenue and 103rd Street is busy. There’s constant traffic, a bus stop out front and, according to visual artist and former resident Gabriel Esteban Molina, it’s not the safest spot in town. “There were squatters in the neighbouring house, before it burned down,” he says, “and once our house was broken into and ransacked.”
But Molina loves the house. Or at least he loved it, before the landlord told Molina and his mother they had to move out so it could be torn down.
The main reason he loved it was because it had a yard big enough for his dog Layka to play and grow up in. “We lived there for 15 years — basically Layka’s entire lifespan, because shortly after we got the notification that the landlord wanted the house knocked down, Layka died.”
It was a lot of grief in a short time, so like many artists, Molina turned his grief into art. This weekend, Latitude 53 hosts Memory Palace, an immersive video documentation of Molina, his mother and Layka’s final days in their perfect-for-them home. Taking up both exhibition spaces, four projectors play 360-degree footage into each of the corners, which act as natural “slices” to make the fish-eye-lens-film easier to view. On two of the walls, high-definition videos show the front steps and backyard, and in the corresponding floor space sits Molina and his mother’s actual furniture (his bed in front of his projected “bedroom,” lawn chairs looking out to the “yard”), which viewers are welcome to sit on.
The footage — taken from the early pandemic days up until the final day they lived there — has been condensed down to a 30-minute loop, showing slice-of-life footage counting down to eviction day, including audio. “Besides being super painful,” Molina says, “there are many peaceful moments too — the pitter patter sounds of little dog feet on the ground, Layka sleeping next to me — with the background traffic rolling down 97th Avenue.”
At one point, mother and son are out back talking about vaccines, “And then there’s just a moment of silence and I’m like, ‘I can’t stop thinking about Layka.’ And we just sort of break down and start crying, and my mom’s talking about how her routine was all about the dog and now there’s nothing.”
But now there’s something — a final something Molina wants to share with you as a celebration of the life his family led in the only place that ever truly felt like home. “If we had won the lottery, we would have bought it,” he says. “My hope is that once it’s all done, once it’s all up on the walls, that it’ll be like a weight’s been lifted off. Maybe it’ll help the grieving process to see it all in one place and have it contained in this digital monument, as an unblinking look at the grief. I’ll always carry that pain with me, but it’ll be somehow preserved. That’s my hope, anyway.”
The opening reception for Memory Palace (which runs until December 17) is on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.