November 9th Interactive Environmental Art with Sharon Kallis

November 9th, 2010 Review
Written by: Samantha Knopp

A sudden turn of the seasons was felt this week as a chilly grey day greeted us on our last session of Walking Home Carrall Street. Meeting at the pavilion in CRAB Park (at Portside Park) we huddled together, still excited for another opportunity to walk through Vancouver. Sharon Kallis, our presenter for the day, was already waiting for us under the pavilion, very ready to share her unique perspective and experience of the city. Sharon has been an artist in Vancouver for nearly twenty years, and has focused primarily on environmental and community based artwork for the last ten. Sharon explained that her practice has evolved from installation work – using conventional artistic mediums such as fabric and ceramics – to her current practice, which only utilizes natural materials. This switch in media and process started out of financial necessity, but over time, has become the foundation for her ethos about art and life. For Sharon, meaning and truth do not exist in any physical objects, but rather, in the shared experiences and relationships we create with one another. As such Sharon actively collaborates with various communities on her art projects.

Sharon went on to describe some of her projects in Vancouver, including one in Stanley Park where she worked with Vancouver Parks Staff and ecologists as part of The Ivy Project. This environmental art project addressed the issue of invasive speciesEnglish Ivy in particular – as an addition to its Ivy Busters Campaign. Ivy was brought to the area as a garden variety but quickly spread into the wild. The plant is responsible for the death of many trees and wildlife by smothering natural vegetation and compromising shelter and food sources for wildlife. Many of us were surprised to learn that these beautiful plants that romantically adorn many buildings around Vancouver could also be responsible for so much havoc! Sharon explained that Stanley Park has had to remove nearly half an Olympic-size swimming pool full of ivy since 2004! Leading this project, Sharon decided to collect this unwanted material as both an act of ecological stewardship and intervention, and re-purpose it by creating woven bio-netting with the help of the local community, which would then be used to help support new plantings in eroded areas of the park. This artwork seemed to be a beautiful and tangible example of problem-solving, addressing both the land itself and the people’s social interaction and understanding of it.

CRAB Park with Sharon Kallis (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Many of us were eager to actually see some of these environmental art pieces which stand free from the usual white walls and frames of the gallery. Luckily, Sharon currently has some work in CRAB Park from a summer project called NEST: Community Building Bird Habitat. With this project she led a series of workshops to create woven sculptures for the marsh pond and trees in CRAB Park, with the intention that these forms would serve as perches, protection and nesting locations for park birds, while also providing an opportunity for community members to learn about the plants and wildlife of the area. As we walked towards the pier, Sharon pointed out her beautifully camouflaged pieces. They came as a real shock to many of us, since we had already visited the park twice during our walks and yet had walked past – without noticing – these intricate constructions. One of these pieces features four woven orbs placed gently in a Californian Lilac. The tree was badly damaged after a severe winter a few years ago, and as a result, much of its cover and protection for small birds was lost. Thus, orbs are being used in an attempt to compensate that loss. Sharon explained that predators, like eagles and dogs threaten small birds like the Bushtit, the smallest bird in British Columbia, which now has a nest safely hidden amongst the orbs!

Because of her involvement with NEST, Sharon worked closely with gardeners, Vancouver Parks Board members, ecologists and the surrounding community giving her an extensive understanding of CRAB Park’s natural composition as well as its history in the DTES (Downtown Eastside). Sharon was eager to share her knowledge of various trees and plants in the park and also share the unique story of how this park came to be, based on the interviews with the park founder, Don Larsen. In our walks with Bruce Macdonald and Annabel Vaughan we learned about the history of the area, known as “Leq-Leqi” before non-native settlement, but Sharon told us about a completely different stage of the area’s history. What is now CRAB Park, it turns out, was entirely covered with water, and until the early 1980’s, was basically an unofficial dump from the port and CPR Rail that border the area! In spite of this, the community strongly desired beachside park because, unlike every other neighbourhood in Vancouver at the time, the DTES had absolutely no access to the waterfront. Thus a movement (led by Don Larson), known as Create a Real Accessible Beach or CRAB, petitioned to city for a waterfront park. The determination and persistence of residents lobbying for the right “to be able to touch the water” eventually paid off and the park was built in 1986 (with the land used to actually create the green space conveniently taken from the extra infill from the Expo 86’ site on False Creek). The park remains an amazing testament to the strong community spirit in the DTES and even though the park has officially been redubbed Portside Park, most people still refer to it as CRAB Park in remembrance of the people who made it possible.

Environmental Art in the natural environment - Look closely... (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

As we began to walk toward the Main Street Overpass, we passed a few tangible markers of the neighbourhood’s history and present. The most noticeable of these, the Missing Women’s Memorial, is an engraved stone dedicated to the many women who have gone missing in the DTES. The memorial was written and placed by Don Larson in conjunction with Vancouver Parks Board and is a cherished and often visited site for the community. Sharon explained that she also had a role in this part of the park when she worked with the community to create a small border (made of natural materials gleaned from the park) to prevent dogs from disturbing the site. We were all touched by the obvious care that went into both the fence and the surrounding garden, which was planted by community members. Continuing along the path we passed other markers of this neighbourhood, including one of the V2K Project’s Story Stones engraved with a poem Urban Indian by DTES resident Fred Arrance, as well as a tile mosaic (part of a project organized by the Carnegie Community Centre) commemorating the Komagata Maru incident.

Memorials and artwork embracing also the dark history of this city (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

It was unfortunate that the weather was not on our side that day, as at this point in the walk our toes were sure feeling cold! Luckily, Sharon had a unique surprise prepared for us at a studio space in the Core Artists’ Co-op. Crossing the overpass we turned left on Alexander Street and left onto Gore Street, which Sharon informed us, was the original skid row. She explained that the term’s original usage referred to the roads used by loggers to skid or drag logs to the mill, and that here at the foot of Gore Street was the original home to the Hastings Mill, which, as we had learned from John Atkin, was the catalyst for the settlement that became Vancouver!

Now inside, Sharon explained that we would have the opportunity to make our own collective art piece with some of the natural materials Sharon utilizes in her own practice. As she laid out the rich palette of leaves, acorns, dried flowers, and grasses, we were all eager to let the inspiration we accumulated during our walk, and our interaction with nature and Sharon’s art be fully expressed. Spread across the room, we were each given the task of creating a unique pathway, with the negative space, which we would then connect with our surrounding neighbours to create a collective map. The task began as a meditative journey; we all felt like a garden designers at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden, carefully considering the placement and meaning of each object. But as our individual routes merged into one another’s path, the room suddenly became a lively collaboration of planners, orchestrating how this imaginary city would be laid out. In the end, we had a beautiful maze that somehow encompassed the myriad styles and perspectives into one unified work. Even as the piece was cleaned up and put away, we all realized what was most important about the artwork was this last shared experience together, a microcosm of our entire journey over the last several weeks. With each new voice, we had each come to understand who we were and who we are as Vancouverites, an identity that can only be had if it is shared.

Nature pathway (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Sam Knopp


The Map of Where We Went – November 9th, 2010:



Youth Reviews

Anna W.                                                                                                             November 9, 2010
Walking Tour Response, Environmental Artist Sharon Kallis
Today’s walk placed in my top three favourites for the whole project. The big, hands-on group activity – where we actually made something related to the information Sharon had told us – served well in bringing us together, and made it even more interesting for me than the previous walks.

When I heard we were getting a presentation from an environmental artist, I figured she’d be somebody who did artistic demonstrations for Greenpeace or something like that. Sharon’s presentation gave me new ways to think about making art, and all the different kinds that anybody can make. Collaborative artwork and also environmental artwork are things I’ve never tried before. I thought Sharon described her experiences and her process really well. Despite the cold weather, looking at all of the pieces of art that I had never seen before in CRAB Park was exciting and a bit strange. I don’t think I would have noticed or appreciated them if she hadn’t pointed them out. My favourite piece was the canoe shape, sinking in the swamp, overgrown with greenery.

I also thoroughly enjoyed making our floor mural out of dried plant materials, and not just because we were finally inside. It was amazing for something so intricate and beautiful to be created out of nothing remarkable – dried plant materials – and then picked up and put away again within one hour. Seeing our class work together to create something was a nice experience, and the best ending possible to the seven weeks, even if the art piece didn’t last long.

Artist Sharon Kallis talking with our group (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)


Jordan Isobel D.                                                                                            November 9, 2010
Write up #7
Our presenter Sharon Kallis was a very cool lady and I could easily tell she was an artist before she even spoke. I really liked how when she spoke about her art changing with time and the elements, as well as people changing it (because they come across it in public spaces), changing it either for the good or the bad (vandalizing, or improving it). Sharon referred positively to these changes as being the community interacting with her art, rather than blaming, or getting angry about the changes. I like how Sharon mentioned her art is only finished when the earth has mangled it, and it has deteriorated.

I loved how she uses only natural materials such as dog hair or her own human hair. In CRAB Park, it was wonderful to see the environmental art, made from only what the earth naturally has to offer – that was once hidden from me, and now it is so obvious.

Learning about CRAB Park with artist Sharon Kallis (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)


Rebekah D.                                                                                                        November 9, 2010

This week we went around CRAB Park with Sharon Kallis, an environment artist. She has worked with the community at CRAB Park, and showed and told us about the efforts made there to make it eco-friendly and beautiful. This tree, native to California, has these beautiful globes weaved of Dogwood tree branches, then placed in the tree to make it look fuller. It gives it a very different look to other trees, and at first glance the globes just look as if they are part of the tree. It is out of bloom in November, but Sharon was telling us of the bright blue flowers that will grow again throughout the branches of the tree, adding a unique look to this one-of-a-kind tree.

Click below to hear artist Sharon Kallis speak about her art and process: