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