As we walked through the fifth session of the Walking Home Yaletown Public Art Project, it was exciting to see how many of the participants’ gears are beginning to shift from passive to reactive learners, spurred on by the beginnings of their own projects in response to things we've seen and learnt. Laurie Dawson thus introduced the afternoon perfectly by giving us a lesson on storytelling. Laurie gave us some amazing advice on how to engage an audience and successfully capture one's purpose, regardless of the medium (though she did draw extensively on her experience in audio journalism for examples); she shared her tips on how to interview, what makes a captivating story, and for those particularly interested in audio work, shared some of her expertise in the realm of recording equipment.
With many of the participants now armed with recording devices, ready to record our every step – and not afraid to stick the microphone where it needed to be – we walked around the Roundhouse to the glass annex that houses "Engine 347". As we were moving, Catherine told us about the area's social and historical contexts, focusing mostly on the Roundhouse itself. She explained that this area of Yaletown used to be the old railyard in Vancouver and at one time the last stop on the transcontinental railway. Before the railway made it to the Roundhouse, the last stop on the line was the small town of Yale, but when the line was extended to Vancouver, many of the residents of Yale 'extended' to Vancouver as well! Thus, the neighbourhood was dubbed "Yaletown".
Today the Roundhouse is unique, the only building left that was constructed before Expo ‘86. That event precipitated the clearing of every other structure in the area to make room for its pavilions. It has been very interesting to me that Expo ‘86 keeps coming up in our sessions; this relatively short event had a truly enormous impact on our city!
The glass annex was added to the Roundhouse's original structure during the Expo to showcase the CPR steam train, "Engine 347". Upon hearing that this train was the first to cross the transcontinental railway, I started stumbling through the archives of my memory, all the way back to Grade Ten social studies – this was the train that helped to bring British Columbia into Confederation! It was the promise of a transcontinental railway connecting East and West that finally convinced British Columbia to become a province of Canada. It felt pretty amazing to stand witness to this relic of Canadian history.
As we walked around the old locomotive, we all noticed the brick floor engraved with thousands of names. Prior to Expo ‘86 the train was in a sorry state after resting outdoors for nearly fifty years in Kitsilano Park. In 1983 a group of citizens decided to restore the engine to its former glory by raising funds through the Heritage Brick Program, where individuals could purchase a brick, engraved with their name, towards the refurbishing project. These bricks were then used as part of the floor and remain there today, a beautiful testimony to the community’s effort and support.
After discussing this fundraising initiative, we moved back outside where we shared our ideas for individual projects. One project, proposed by Crecien Bencio , was particularly inspiring to me because it looked to reach the larger audience of Vancouver and propose change. Crecien learned about Walking Home Projects through TAG, the Vancouver Art Gallery's Teen Art Program, which recently announced it will no longer be offered. The Gallery apparently wants to put all of its resources – including the meagre $6,000 dollars it costs to operate TAG – towards its campaign for a new art gallery. It’s interesting that the public gallery, whose primary mandate is art education for the public, would remove one of its only programs that tangibly provides that service. Crecien was obviously disappointed by the elimination of TAG – it has been important for his artistic development and connected him to the Walking Home Projects – has decided to start a letter-writing campaign to oppose the Gallery’s decision.
After our discussion came to a close we headed out to the waterfront to look at "Red Horizontal" by Gisele Amantea. This public artwork is made of 63 red porcelain enamelled steel panels which have been installed on the back of a concrete seating wall in David Lam Park. Sequences of the panels depict half tone photographs of the surrounding buildings’ residential interiors, giving the viewer a look into the private lives of Yaletown’s so-called “Yuppies”. We all particularly enjoyed looking at this piece because, let’s admit it, there is something undeniably satisfying about prying into the lives of others. With this natural attraction, as well as the physical length of the work – it extends approximately ninety-one and a half meters – the piece has a strong durational quality and keeps the viewer engaged for a long stretch of time.
Unlike some works, there is no obvious reading of this piece. Instead, it exists on multiple levels, and that led to a great many meanings being presented in our discussion. One of our observations was that the work reveals the private lives of individuals, thus inviting the public into these traditionally private spaces. Yet there are no people present; the viewer only gets one, perhaps contrived, frame of these living spaces, making the perceived accessibility somewhat illusory. Neudis, our colour-loving participant, pointed to the use of red and how out of place it seemed in this neighbourhood of white and grey, suggesting that this infusion was perhaps a conscious reaction to the monotonous colour palate (and lifestyle?) of the area. For me, these different levels of understanding made the piece all the more fascinating. Amantea’s piece was the last for our day and it was interesting to see people slowly head home, some lingering longer than others to reinvestigate this work and the stories it helps create.
sam - the notepad kid