Thursday, August 19, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
Today’s Walking Home Projects focused on the history of Yaletown. John Atkin, a well-known local historian and author was our guide, so the group was very excited. John explained that his interest in Vancouver’s past was initially spurred from the lack of thorough and accurate information about our city’s history. He illustrated this point right off the hop. We had all met in front of the Roundhouse, and John decided to give us a more in depth explanation of the history of the rail-yards in Yaletown, the Roundhouse and Engine 347. In an earlier session, we had learned that Engine 347 was the first to make it all the way across Canada. Although this is true, John let us know that the engine had been almost completely reconstructed by the time it found its way back to Vancouver and that, today, it isn’t even operational!
As we walked south along Davie Street, John informed us that, when the rail-yard was first built in Yaletown, the waterfront actually used to be much closer to the Roundhouse. In fact, the water reached all the way to Pacific Boulevard! The land which we were standing on was essentially created to make space for train tracks, yards and terminals. The area had originally consisted of mud flats which were filled in with sediment, contrary to the popular rumour, which John was eager to debunk, of scrap trains and tracks. John explained that some people have worried about the buildings in this area being constructed on unrooted sediment in recent years, thinking that this ground would be less stable in the event of an earthquake, particularly “the Big One”, which is predicted to hit the Vancouver area anytime in the next 100 years! You can bet I was keeping my fingers crossed for the rest of the day!
After some discussion, we headed west along Marinaside Crescent to see something rather unexpected: Co-operative housing. I’m continually surprised to see that Yaletown is more than the “yuppy” label it receives, but I feel as our sessions continue – and in light of this session in particular! – that things are almost never what they seem!
John explained that this area ceased to be the hub for train activities after the 1920s. The space was inefficient for the newer large freight cars and with most of the railroad companies out of the business of transporting people, the yard was relocated to Port Coquitlam. The area went mostly unused until Expo ‘86, when it was purchased by the BC government who cleared the old buildings to make room for the exhibition. The only building saved was the Roundhouse, escaping demolition thanks to a group of historical activists who stood between the building and a herd of ready bulldozers – literally! After Expo ‘86 the province sold the land in one large chunk, rather little pieces, to Chinese billionare Li Ka-shing. John explained that this sale bothers many people, who think the land was given cheaply. But, at the time, this kind of sale probably saved the province (and the city) a lot of money in development planning. Because they sold in bulk, there was only one developer, Concord Pacific, and one consistent plan, which resulted in a well-designed, multi-purpose neighbourhood. John explained that North False Creek has served as a laboratory of sorts for figuring out how to make high density neighbourhoods work, and because of its success, cities often use it as a model. The model is so popular that it’s known in architectural circles as “Vancouverism”!
One interesting detail of this urban design that John pointed out was the use of street level condos with patios that open onto the street. They are separated by a small slightly raised porch with a staircase descending onto the sidewalk; John explained that this design feature was inspired by the Georgian architecture of the 1800s, which used these raised terraces to house servants beneath the steps. These terraces were mimicked in Vancouver, but not for their original usage! Unlike many flat high rises, which come right down to the sidewalks, these buildings create space between the building and the street which creates a sense of safety and community; pedestrians feel like they are able to easily access and interact with their neighbours, while residents have privacy and separation from the street. This little detail of urban planning stood out for me because it was something I would never notice on my own, but did affect me and my interpretation of this neighbourhood on a subconscious level. It was also an amazing reminder of how past innovation and style continues to be used – albeit in a modified form – in the present.
From here we headed up Drake Street towards Hamilton and “the warehouse district”, which was, according to John, the name for much of what is now “Yaletown”. The warehouse history is most evident along Hamilton and Mainland which both used to function as loading docks for train cargo and thus have raised sidewalks, narrow streets and large garage doors on the buildings. John explained that these industrial details were left in place to preserve the history of the neighbourhood and create a sense of character. This historical preservation seems important for a young country like Canada which doesn’t have a long history, and I was impressed by the foresight of those who worked (and work) at maintaining this neighbourhood’s identity.
The day ended back at the Roundhouse Canada Line Station where we learned that the narrow weaving concrete wall in the park surrounding the station was a marker of where the shoreline used to reach. It was a good final reminder of the changes this neighbourhood has undergone, from its natural state, to industrial train yard, to cosmopolitan residential neighbourhood.
sam - the notepad kid
sam - the notepad kid
A-maze-ing Laughter by Yue Min Jun
The Denman Walk
As I make my way among the
Wafting of international incense
And the cajoling of men in aprons,
8 tall men
bronzed in the sun;
not a demonstration of giants,
but a sculpture by Yue Min Jun
(says the plaque on the grass).
I look up at their grinning faces,
None of them look at me
But I feel as if I had done something wrong.
They have no clothes on except jeans.
They all look the same.
And I wonder,
Why are they laughing?
A Walk of Shame
I am falling
But I know that where I am falling
No one is caught.
And land with a
On cold worn earth.
I hope for redemption
But I know I have sinned one too many times.
My sins are wrapped in layers and layers
Of greed and jealousy,
Like a newborn baby in a hospital,
The only difference is that my sins
Are not swaddled.
Finally I come to them,
The decision makers,
Bearing down on me:
They mock me with
Their laughter and leering grins,
Show their teeth to me,
Pull faces with crude hand gestures,
While I shuffle down the long walkway
Arms held awkwardly against my chafing pockets.
Red Horizontal by Gisele Amantea
The incongruous red line
In a staccato of grey
Somehow remains ignored
Amongst the yuppie mothers
in spandex tracksuits
And the high-flying businessmen
Who promote environmentalism
As they turn on their Range Rovers,
it seems we live in a world of
hypocrisy and ignorance,
where standing out
becomes a national calamity.
The red horizontal stripe
Has a different interpretation,
For crammed between Designer Diane and Trust Fund Troy
Lives an individual who
Enjoys the company of cuckoo clocks and old things,
And the person living in the penthouse of that
Cookie cutter condo
Enjoys a mess of comfort
And has no idea who
Karla the cleaning lady is.
For art can tell a different story.
Art can find what has lost,
Or the truth that has been buried
Art can change peoples’ perspectives,
And art can give a new face
To a group of people
You thought you knew.
They flood my living space
And engulf me as I sit at my dining room table,
For these letters
Are all I have of him.
They’re not much,
But through these scraps of paper,
I feel closer to him;
Him who is thousands,
Of kilometers away,
And suddenly our distance apart
Does not seem so great.
Letters give me a glimpse into a life
I will never know;
A life I can only glance at
Through a foggy window;
And the letters are like puzzle pieces
And try as I might,
I can assemble all the puzzle pieces I have
But there will always be gaps,
And these gaps contain the things
I do not want to know.
Death by Letter
They flood my living space
And engulf me as I sit at my dining room table
Trying to write yet
Their interminable flow pays my emotions no heed,
For even as I turn my head away in frustration,
They slid under the door,
Down the hallway,
And plop into my discouraged hands,
For they are slowly killing me.
My hands are cracked and peeled from handling the rough paper;
My fingers are blistered from holding the pen too tightly;
And my heart is slowly being ripped apart,
For these letters
Force me to think of you,
To think of the children,
And to think of me.
This cheery disposition I seem to uphold so well
And soon enough,
When I bid the world farewell,
I will lie in the ground,
And the tombstone above
Tragic death by letters."
Thursday was our last day of the Public Art Program. I emailed Catherine to tell her that I was coming and realized that this would be the last time I would RSVP her; suddenly, RSVP’ing did not seem so bad.
I was welcomed at a grassy spot outside the Roundhouse Community Centre to Stephanie French, our head chef for that day, preparing food with Jennifer Sarkar. The menu included a salad, garlic bread, flatbread from the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company, and pies from Aphrodite’s Organic Café and Pie Shop. All the food that day was local and organic and, thanks to Stephanie, wonderfully delectable! Other participants had also been invited to contribute food so Neudis brought a flan-like dessert, and Jennifer brought noodles with eggs and other yummy ingredients.
We had three guests from ISS join us: Evgenia, a volunteer at ISS; Chris Friesen, Executive Director of ISS; and his assistant, Helen Aqua. They added to the merriment and picnicking, and we listened as each of the Walking Home Yaletown participants described their final projects. We had known what some people were doing but it was neat to learn what had inspired everyone else, and I truly look forward to seeing everyone’s projects soon!
After we had finished our delicious picnic, Veda Hille joined us and told us a bit about herself. After training in classical piano from a young age, she switched gears and attended Emily Carr. There, she was forced to create art pieces and a friend of hers suggested she apply this mindset to music. Taking her friend’s advice, she attempted to write music and immediately found something that clicked with her and so, Veda Hille’s role as a songwriter began to emerge. She has since written pieces for dance companies, local theatre, and has been producing her own albums since 1992.
Veda Hille’s songs evoke sadness and happiness, all through her tremendous sense of humour, intelligence, family life, and love for her surroundings and culture. Veda is able to bring so many different aspects of life into her music and this was apparent even through the few precious songs she was able to share with us. It was like riding on an emotional rollercoaster (of the very best kind), but by the end of it the room was filled with laughter. Marie Lopez, the woman who has arranged for us to use Roundhouse space, whom we are so grateful towards, was able to join us and she was literally keeling over with laughter. Chris and Helen from ISS who had first appeared to us so prim and proper were yelling out – even they could not contain themselves. Two women working at the centre were so drawn by Veda’s music that we found them listening outside the door. Veda Hill’s profound comments and words resonated within us all and after an hour was over, we were left spellbound and yearning for more of Veda Hille’s enchanting melodies.
Heads spinning with thoughts and musical satisfaction, we sat back on the grass and Catherine began to tell us about her life. She attended the University of Guelph and spent her first year exploring adulthood. She decided to take her third year off and spent that time travelling around Australia, New Zealand, and Bali. In the years that followed, she participated in Summer Language Bursary Programs at Université Laval and the University of Victoria, programs where students spend a five weeks in French immersion programs. After growing up in a small bilingual community in Ontario and keeping up her French in Pierre Trudeau’s French legacy programs, Catherine was one of seven students chosen from the University of Guelph to partake in a pilot program offered through the university in Paris. The University of Guelph wanted to do a test with seven students, all with varying French language abilities (Catherine could speak the most French) to determine whether they should open an exchange program to Paris for all their students. This year in Paris qualified as a year of education at the university with the students studying five courses which included: Food and Wine, learning to dine in hole-in-the-walls and five star restaurants; Social Interaction, speaking to museum guards or a person on the subway and gauging the different levels of their response; and Photography and Film. This was one of Catherine’s best experiences and was, in essence, an experiential learning program. Since then, Catherine has helped numerous others plan their own programs but she decided to dedicate a year of her life to implementing her own programs, inspired by her life-changing year in Paris.
The fact that Walking Home Project Yaletown is Catherine’s own pilot program for Walking Home Projects is extraordinary to me. We have been through ten sessions and although I missed the first four sessions, jumping in at the fifth proved no object as the participants were so friendly and willing to recap what I had missed. Catherine has also designed the program so that each session stands alone and is not necessarily dependant on knowledge gained from previous sessions, this made it very easy for me to step in and I never felt as if I was at a disadvantage to the other participants. However, although the sessions are not meant to rely on each other, I also found that after attending the last six sessions consecutively, there was a build-up of knowledge and an increase of AHA! moments as the sessions are also incredibly cohesive.
The level of detail and planning that goes into each day seems so polished and we are always learning during every second of the program. Catherine told us that the manner in which she has organized the program and facilitates each session is another thing from which she hopes we have learned; even though she has not explicitly taught us the life skills she has picked up through her travelling and experiential learning, she is teaching us through demonstration.
Walking Home Project Yaletown is much more than a project to learn about public art, and not only did we learn tremendous amounts about our own city, but Catherine has tried to instill the meaning of her life values and lessons in us. Who knew learning about public art and life lessons could go hand-in-hand? To Catherine Pulkinghorn, on behalf of the Walking Home Project Yaletown participants, our sincerest thank you. Not to be forgotten, thank you also to all the other wonderful individuals that made this program the ideal experiential learning environment it was. Laurie Dawson taught us all about telling stories and audio recording, even featuring us on her radio show at CJSF 90.1 FM, and making us feel like local celebrities. As she approached each of us and respectfully asked if we wouldn’t mind being recorded, it was difficult to resist her beaming smile and even as one stumbled along, trying to find the words to describe why this particular art piece was so special, Laurie was always there nodding her head and giving us the confidence to blurt out whatever was on our minds (thanks also for all the administrative work you did!). To Bali Singh, thank you for being our wonderful and dedicated photographer. Bali would quietly disappear for moments at a time and we would spy her balancing on some log or ledge, trying to get the perfect angle to take a photo of us. Her insightful comments into the public art pieces gave us wonderful perspective and often caused us to think differently about the pieces after experiencing one of those AHA! moments that crept up on us when we least expected them.
Walking Home Project Yaletown fuelled creative inspiration, life aspirations, and a deeper self awareness. Thank you for sharing this experience with me.
By Justine Lee
On Tuesday we met at the Stadium-Chinatown skytrain station. It was a much smaller group but Hiiro and I both commented that the size provided a more intimate environment which was nice on that particular day. We walked past the Beatty Street Drill Hall, an armoury located right in downtown Vancouver (at the intersection of Beatty St. and Cambie St.) which houses the British Columbia Regiment. Catherine explained to us that during election period the armoury is rented out as a voting pavilion and how strange it was for her to see men in uniform walking around with guns in a space that is right in the city. We admired the old army tanks and a cannon, then came across a park that was adjacent to the armoury.
In this park were two pieces of public art, both part of the installment titled “Writing to You” by Yvonne Lamerich and Ian Carr-Harris. “Writing To You” was inspired by the millions of letters that are sent between soldiers at war to their loved ones overseas. This particular piece highlights letters between a husband and wife. At one end of the park sits a letter written by the wife on top of a military trunk, and on the other end is an oversized table, on top of which is a World Atlas and a letter from the husband. Both the trunk and table have been cast in bronze and hold a dark feeling of nostalgia, as Neudis pointed out. The two pieces are also lit and supposedly the text is illuminated from behind. The beauty of this piece, installed through the City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program, was well appreciated by all. We discussed the importance of letter writing in those days and how quickly we have moved from post to e-mail. With letter writing, people were forced to think deeply about how their writing affected others and about how they themselves were truly feeling at that point in time, making it a more personal form of communication. E-mail nowadays, however, allows us to blast words off into cyberspace without really feeling the consequences.
Next, we moved to the foot of Robson Street where a big arch stands right in front of BC Place. The Terry Fox Memorial, by architect Franklin Allen and artist Ian Bateson, was erected in 1984 by the City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program and according to feedback seemed to be a disappointment to most who lived in the vicinity. They had expected a Terry Fox memorial but instead received a seemingly Oriental-inspired arch and a 2-D Terry Fox stuck inside the arch. The Public Art Program’s write-up on the memorial expresses it differently, describing it as “a postmodern interpretation of the triumphal arches of Rome." The installation has weathered over time and although Terry remains well preserved, the outside of the arch is dirty and shabby looking.
“Fulcrum of Vision” was next by Mowry Baden. Similar to “Writing to You”, this installment is comprised of two pieces: the first is a bright green upright lilypad with a red seat that protrudes out the side, almost looking like a tongue; the second looks like a misshapen aluminum soccer ball with a seat coming out the side as well as two rows of seats that border one side of the piece. Catherine encouraged us to explore the two pieces by sitting on the seats. After we had finished discovering all the different methods of sitting by the pieces Catherine read out the Public Art Program’s description. Mowry Baden intended to force people to examine the art a certain way: up close and personal. This way, he was able to obstruct a part of people’s vision and only give them one way at looking at things. Some Walking Home participants remarked that before they had not understood the piece but they liked it much better after Catherine had read the description. Me, on the other hand, being the art critic I am, simply did not like the piece (sorry Mowry Baden!). Maybe it was the way it was so blatantly placed in front of you, or the fact that the pieces did not seem to work together, or the slight headache I got after sitting a foot away from a big ball of deformed aluminum, but Fulcrum of Vision was not my cup of tea.
On our way to the CBC plaza, we examined “Uncoverings” by Jill Anholt and Susan Ockwell. These sidewalk reliefs are dispersed throughout downtown Vancouver; they look like manhole covers with punctured holes and work with the city’s hot water system. Not only do they have a very practical use, but there is raised text in the center of each (all saying different things) and they illuminate at night.
At CBC Plaza, after renourishing ourselves with the wonderful snacks Catherine always prepares, Barbara Cole, of Cole Projects and Other Sight’s for Artist’s Projects spoke to us. An artist herself, she has taught at Emily Carr for 17 years (including teaching some of our fellow Walking Home participants). She became interested and involved in public art and got to know Brian Newson, program manager, for she was on the board of the City of Vancouver Public Art Program.
A big part of her job is taking unused city space and installing art pieces there after negotiations with the city, other businesses, and the artist. Last Chance is one of Other Sight’s for Artist’s Projects more recent installations, having been installed in April 2010. Eric Deis’ photograph stands in one of the city’s previously unused spaces. CBC had a wall space that they were going to sell to Concord Pacific, the neighbouring buildling, but Concord Pacific did not have enough money so the space was sold to JJ Bean (JJ Bean has a moveable coffee pavilion in CBC Plaza). Barbara Cole then negotiated with JJ Bean and together they have initiated The Wall, an artist’s exhibit space where artists can temporarily place their work. Eric Deis’ photograph depicts a small residential house amidst commercial space including businesses and a towering apartment building in the background. A tall cedar tree stands beside the house and on the other side is a sign that says “LAST CHANCE FOR PRECONSTRUCTION PRICING”. The photograph portrays a long battle between the owner of the small house to keep her property away from the hands of commercial realtors. Unfortunately, we were told that this woman, who had managed to stand firmly on her property for 45 years, was finally forced to let go of it as financial struggles to maintain her house proved too heavy a burden.
She has many unique projects on the go and we were astounded that she could keep up her involvement with the City of Vancouver public Art Program, run two of her own organizations, teach at Emily Carr, and be a mother. One of her current installments is in the Olympic Village where two artists, Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser, have taken the wheatboard that was used in the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Athlete’s Village to build a sculpture, but this sculpture’s life does not end there. This wheatboard, which is made of corn, will decompose, so the artists have invited South East False Creek residents to plant plants so that after the wheat board has disintegrated, the residents will have a plant nursery. The plants from this plant nursery will hopefully then be replanted in different areas.
The time Barbara took to speak with us was greatly valued and was a perfect way to wrap up a sunny day in Downtown Vancouver.
By Justine Lee