Waterloo Architecture and Downtown Cambridge BIA partner to exhibit student work in local businesses

Monday, May 15, 2023

Reverse shot of two mannequins wearing masks from Jessica Hanzelkova's Artifacts of No-Place
The Downtown Cambridge BIA and University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture have partnered to exhibit student work in a local business. Several pieces from Jessica Hanzelkova’s recent thesis project, The Artifacts of No-Place, is now on display in the window of Colour Dress Boutique located at 34 1/2 Ainslie Street North.

Jessica Hanzelkova graduated from the School of Architecture in 2020 and now works at Vancouver-based architecture firm, Human Studio. Waterloo Architecture caught up with Jessica and discussed the installation, her arts practice, and the evolution of the project. 

Waterloo Architecture (WA): How did this opportunity come about and what has the experience been so far?

Jessica Hanzelkova (JH): I was contacted by Julie at the School of Architecture back at the beginning of this year. Brian from the Downtown Cambridge BIA had seen my work in a dezeen article alongside 9 other students’ works. I very excitedly accepted the request to display my work and it has been great so far!

WA: Has having the artifacts from your thesis being shown to the general public in a new context changed your relationship with them or provided you with a new perspective?

JH: I’ve had the work shown in a few art spaces/galleries post-grad but this will be the first time the artifacts are exhibited in a very public space. It’s quite different knowing that people might unexpectedly stumble into my work, especially since the masks can be quite startling and evoke mixed reactions. Some people think they’re cool, others find them unusual and are therefore creeped out by them; I think my hope is that either way they will give pause to the person seeing them and prompt them to think about their own relationship to their head, face, or the rest of their body.

WA: Your thesis work largely predates the pandemic, how has the experience of revisiting the material and themes for this installation been with the additional context of the past three years?

JH: Sitting with the fact that I produced a series of masks before the pandemic, then masks became ubiquitous, has been a bit of a ride the past few years. Masking and the idea of covering your face and therefore concealing your identity has always had politically-charged connotations even before the pandemic. In many ways, the way this conversation burst into public consciousness has only reinforced my desire to play with these themes and the boundaries of identity and the body.

"It taught me that there are multiple ways to connect architecture to your own interests as a person and the things you believe in."

WA: Your thesis was defended in May of 2020. How has your work evolved since that time?

JH: I’m excited to say that I’ll be building another mask this year! I’m looking to keep the sci-fi influences but subtly weave my cultural heritage in as well. During my thesis I was really engaged in reading feminist literature of the posthuman monster/goddess/cyborg variety, my research post-thesis has combined this with studying the effects of racialization specifically related to my own identity (think: techno-Orientalism, ornamentalism). Part of this is because I developed some comfort in my own cultural identity once I was outside of the institution and the requirements of a masters degree.

WA: Can you talk about how your experience in the graduate studies program at the school prepared you for the jump to practice.

JH: During my time at the school I was surrounded by people sculpting pottery, fiddling with 3D printers, reading lots, and not necessarily designing buildings 24/7, it was a very expansive way of viewing architecture. It taught me that there are multiple ways to connect architecture to your own interests as a person and the things you believe in. Architectural practice is of course one way of impacting the environment but there are also millions of other ways you show up as a person in this world on a day-to-day basis. Recognizing this can bring some balance to life post-grad.

The School of Architecture and Downtown Cambridge BIA hope this display to be just the first of many such collaborations. Hanzelkova’s window display will be on view for the next three months.