Making an Art of Health and Safety

By - June 6, 2007 (Updated: November 28, 2014)

Maybe it’s a product of our overly litigious society, (when the coffee shops have to print ‘Caution Hot Beverage’ on their paper cups because some bozo spilled coffee on his crotch, you know we’ve taken it too far), but North Americans can be awfully cautious about health and safety risks.

Every now and then I find myself in the midst of an activity here in Europe where I stop and think to myself, “this would so not be allowed in North America.”

One such incident had me clambering over roman ruins with my Father-in-law in the south of France, with the merest suggestion of a guard rail, to keep us from plummeting twenty metres to the ground.

The most recent event had me momentarily questioning my sanity on Saturday afternoon, when Andrew and I went to see and Art exhibition.

“That can’t be it,” I said in a state of disbelief. We had been driving around the neighbourhood in search of anything that looked remotely like an Art Gallery.

“It’s the right address, and look there’s the exhibition poster taped to the wall,” Andrew replied.

I stared dubiously at the building as we parked.

“It has no windows… at least none that aren’t broken,” I said.

I glanced again uncertainly at the poster for the O[n]ze exhibition as we headed inside what looked to be an abandoned school. We passed three girls with florescent dreadlocks (at least I think they were girls…) and looked around. We were handed a map with a list of the participating artists and we gamely followed the arrows taped on the floor.

The building was damp (which will happen when all of the windows are broken) and the floors were lined with a tangle of power cords. I tried to ignore the proximity of electricity to the puddles of water.

But as I looked around, what first struck me were the people. In addition to the florescent-haired girls, there were people of every age and background.

Then I was taken in by the Art itself. Sure, not all of it was going to find its way to the Bozar any time soon, but some of the works were truly fascinating. There was a lot of photography on display and most of it was beautifully executed (although I couldn’t stifle a cringe at what the dampness was doing to the prints.)

The size of the exhibition was also impressive. Rather than filling one room, it took up the entire bottom floor, what was left of the floor anyway, and it took Andrew and me a couple of hours to make our way through it all.

Back in Canada, gallery space, especially for aspiring artists is very limited. While I’m not saying that we should run out and hang Art in all of our dilapidated buildings, ignoring all health and safety issues that may arise, I can’t help but admire the creative thinking and open-mindedness of the exhibitions organisers. Isn’t that what Art is all about?

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Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 2 days ago


  1. Comment by pugwash pops

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    pugwash pops June 7, 2007 at 05:19

    Yup! … sorry I missed it! Have fun …
    pugwash pops

  2. Comment by Alison

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Alison June 8, 2007 at 10:43

    PP – You would have loved it 🙂 Know of any abandoned buildings in Pugwash we could take over this summer? 🙂

  3. Comment by PP

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    PP June 11, 2007 at 04:45

    … there’s this barn of a garage next door … I’ll do some thinkin’ …

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