July 13th, 2010 Engine 374 & Red Horizontal – more goodies in Yaletown

Walking Home Yaletown Public Art  July 13 2010  – Historical Roundhouse Tour and Red Horizontal

by Samantha Knopp

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.

Laurie Dawson and Sam Knopp Photo by Bali Singh

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”.

Engine 374 Photo by WHYPA Participant Laura Lam

Today the Roundhouse is unique, the only building from the original train repair yards remaining, 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”[1]. 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.

Engine 374 Pavilion Photo by WHYPA Participant Laura Lam

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[2]. These bricks were then used as part of the floor and remain there today, a beautiful testimony to the community’s effort and support.

Engine 374 Pavilion #2 Photo by WHYPA Participant Laura Lam

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 Group, which recently announced it will no longer be offered. Crecien explained that 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 to youth. Crecien was obviously disappointed by the elimination of TAG – it has been important for his artistic development and connected him to Walking Home Projects – has decided to start a letter-writing campaign to oppose the Gallery’s decision.

WHYPA Participants looking at Red Horizontal/ Photo by Bali Singh

After our discussion came to a close we headed out to the waterfront to look at Red Horizontal by Gisele Amantea[3]. 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.

WHYPA Participants looking at Red Horizontal/ Photo by Bali Singh

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 Knopp






Red Horizontal – A blog post by Crecien Bencio from July 13, 2010

Photo by WHYPA Participant Crecien Bencio


Red Horizontal by Gisele Amantea Photo by WHYPA Participant Crecien Bencio

Red horizontal by Giesele Amantea is a piece of public art that stretches across the seawall in false creek. This piece specifically caught my eye amongst more common blaséconcrete, glass, and steel structures of public art in Yaletown. Each tile contains a photograph of an interior room of the residents of Yaletown. I feel that the art piece is successfully executed with a brilliant red, yet a lingering feeling of dishonesty resonates in the photos. Each living space is organized, orderly and despicably spotless with beds made, books placed in shelves and unwanted unmentionables quietly tucked away. We lose a sense of transparency when we look at these photos. We lose a sense of realism. It is like looking into a glossy magazine with of course, the perfect lighting that correctly highlights the room furniture and no flaws that awkwardly distract the living arrangement. The coldness and stagnancy of the rooms leave something to be desired, as if they are “un-lived” in.

Presumably it was the home owners choice of how their living space was going to be portrayed. I can understand why they chose to tidy up though. If your living space was going to be immortalized in public, wouldn’t you want it to look at the very least, decent?

Now to finish off with a haiku.

Red living room.

Is that chair from Ikea?

I believe it is.

By Crecien Bencio, the resident haiku kid

Centre of Story and Sound booklet

Click below to hear Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn and WHYPA participants interpreting public art piece, Red Horizontal by artist Gisele Amantea and Walking Home Projects Audio Coordinator Laurie Dawson talk about what makes a good story:


Up close with Red Horizontal by Gisele Amantea (2005) (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)