July 20th, 2010 We lucked out for two – another walk with Bryan Newson – this time we take on Coal Harbour

Walking Home Yaletown Public Art  July 202010  – Coal Harbour with Bryan Newson

Written by Samantha Knopp

Today we were happy to again have Bryan Newson (Manager of the City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program) join our walk and share his first-hand experience of the city’s public art.  This session was in Coal Harbour, a neighbourhood we had yet to explore.  The day began at the busy entrance to Stanley Park on West Georgia at Denman, where we stopped to interact with a relatively new work Aerodynamic Forms in Space by Rodney Graham which was commissioned as part of the city’s Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Program, and will be a permanent fixture for many years to come as part of the Legacy Series.  At a passing glance the work seems abstract, a strange assemblage of pieces and colours, but upon closer investigation one realizes the pieces are reminiscent of an old wooden toy glider plane, that has been enlarged nearly 20 times and completely rearranged.  The work has a playful, child-like quality that is intended to reference both the nature of this family friendly park as well as the many float planes that fly over it.

Aerodynamic Forms in Space by Rodney Graham/ Photo by Bali Singh

One of the interesting things about this artwork – and all of the Olympic and Paralympic Public Art – is that there’s a phone number to call in order to learn more about the artwork.  This number leads the caller to a pre-recorded interpretation of the work, often by the artist, who talks about the experience of making the artwork, and gives the viewer a much deeper interpretive insight than the few sentences on the information signs.  This seems like an amazing way to engage the public in these artworks; not only does it eliminate the need for large signage (which, as we would later see, often gets vandalized), but more importantly, it provides people with an easy and informative way to better understand and connect to the public artwork with which they’re interacting[1].

Vancouver Biennale signage taken off post and moved/ Photo by WHYPA guest

The telephone recording about Aerodynamic Forms in Space made by Graham himself, gave me a new sense of respect for the work.  He expressed his trepidation in creating a piece of public art for such an iconic location, explaining that Stanley Park was (and is) so beautiful and such a presence on its own, that it could be extremely difficult for any unnatural element to enhance the space.  Thus Graham attempted to connect with the playful nature of the park, something he felt spoke about the space itself.  This honesty really won me over.  Even though toy glider planes are not my own experience of playing in Stanley Park (or as a child!), the artist invites the observer to understand his work as a metaphor for the imagination and life the space inspires.  Creating this level of understanding by an artist is essential for the development of successful/resoved public art because it enables viewers who may not necessarily love a piece to at least respect it.

Solo by Natalie McHaffie/ Photo by Bali Singh

Moving east along Georgia Street we passed another piece of public art, Solo by Natalie McHaffie. McHaffie created the work in 1986, and it was evident that it has been largely neglected since; many of its wooden pieces are deteriorating, and others are missing entirely.  Seeing this work right after Rodney Graham’s freshly commissioned piece made me really begin to think about the importance of not only commissioning artist fees, as well as research, development and production costs, but also the long term maintenance budget for any public art project.  It seems disrespectful to both the artist and the public/taxpayers , to allow their investments of time and money rot away.

Solo is apparently the victim of “funding misplacement,” by the organization that originally commissioned the work, but has since ceased operations.  Because this work was not commissioned by the city, city bylaws do not permit the city to spend any of its Public Art Fund restoring the work. This attitude seems bizarre to me, as this work is on city property (though it is Park Board property which is not managed by the City of Vancouver Public Art Program…), orphaned and yet no one seems to be able to do anything to prevent its further deterioration.  Obviously, there must be some complicated legalities that prevent this work from being saved, as even Bryan admitted his frustration.  Bryan did assure us that the Public Art Program realizes that there is a developing problem, and that they’ve learned from such experiences.  In order to prevent more works from being orphaned, the City now makes sure to have better contracts with public art organizers to ensure that artworks will be properly maintained and preserved.  Learning about this scenario made me aware that successful public art is not only the physical work itself but how the work is organized and maintained; in this way, public art is no different from work in a gallery, which needs a curator and gallery to help it successfully pass through time.

But we didn’t spend the whole day talking about two works!  Instead, we moved around the seawall looking at the various fountain designs adorning Coal Harbour’s glossy condominiums, a few pieces from the Biennale that members of our group had researched[2], and some of the City’s public art projects[3].

Ceramic Forms by Yee Soo-Kyung/ Photo by WHYPA Participant Neudis Abreu

The King and Queen by Sorel Etrog/ Photo by WHYPA Guest

Pillows by Liu Jianhua/ Photo by WHYPA Guest

This session was interesting because I realized the growing sense of ownership I have for the city and its public art.  Looking at Aerodynamic Forms in Space and Solomade me aware of my feelings regarding the roles and responsibilities I think the various stakeholders in public art should have.  I’m beginning to look at public art differently.  The works are not just dropped into our public spaces but pieces of art that need to be planned and cared for, and engaged with in a sustainable manner.

-Sam Knopp

[1] http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/cultural/publicart/2010/index.htm

Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Phone Line 604.998.8038

[2] Ceramic Forms by Yee Soo-Kyung, Meeting by Wang Shugang, The King and Queen by Sorel Etrog, and Pillows by Lui Jianhua.

[3] Search by Seward Johnson Jr., Weave by Douglas Senft, Make West by Bill Pechet, Light Shed by Liz Magor, and Sliding Edge by Jacqui Metz and Nancy Chew & Muse Atelier

The Map of Where We Went – July 20th, 2010

Meeting by Wang Shugang/ Photo by Bali Singh

July 20th, 2010 Vancouver Biennale: Meeting

Written by Laura Lam
During one of our sessions on July 15, we had a chance to speak with Gillian, who works for the Vancouver International Biennale. She was a great help and we got to know more about the whole project. Then the opportunity came to present a piece of work from the Biennale to the rest of the group on July 20th. Time to use some of our research skills!
The piece I researched on is called Meeting. It will definitely catch your attention as you stroll down Coal Harbour, you can’t miss it. Its the eight red figure squatting down on the patch of green grass. From afar, they look almost real.

Meeting by Wang Shugang/ Photo by Bali Singh

This piece is by Wang Shugang, a famous Chinese artist. He crafted these eight crouching figures from painted bronze. The vivid color catches the attention of crowds. The striking red has a symbolic meaning to the Chinese culture. For one, the Chinese flag is red, it is the national color. Red is also the color for communism and it marks an important period in history, when China turned red. It can also symbolize the blood lost during this transition in history. For us in Canada, looking at these figures can merely be a creative work of art, but would this mean something different in a different country, different setting?

Meeting by Wang Shugang/ Photo by Bali Singh

These Buddhist monks are in a ‘meeting’ position. In fact, this piece of work was created during the Heiligendamm Germany in 2007 for the G-8 summit meeting. In a way, this work mocks the nature of the meeting. These statues are having a ‘meeting’ but obviously nothing is going on. In the same way, are the leaders of the world at the G-8 conference having a ‘meeting’ but virtually doing nothing at all? This work clearly exhibits irony. Something to think about.
Information from the Vancouver Biennale
-Laura Lam

Pillows by Liu Jianhua/ Photo by WHYPA Participant Justina Faith Lee

July 20th, 2010: Pillows

by Justina Faith Lee

Liu Jianhua, the artist of “pillows“, worked in the porcelain factories at 15. After being exposed to the New Wave Art movement, he left behind the traditional practice of ceramics and moved on to the domestic objects in fiberglass. He works with the ideas of repetition and arrangement. In this installation “Pillows“, his ceramics training can be seen in the painted fiberglass. The pillow, portrays an everyday object.

Pillows by Liu Jianhua/ Photo by WHYPA guest

The pillows looks soft and inviting with a clean white surface, but are in fact, hard and rigid and are not meant to be functional. Because of the placement of these pillows, the original function is denied. The sculpture is very intriguing and people often raise questions as to why these pillows are installed where they are. The sculptures are in fact heavy in weight and are elevated from the ground to properly interpret the pillows.

-Justina F. Lee, the discovery kid.

July 20th, 2010: The Most Famous Man I had Never Heard of

by: Laurie Dawson

Sorel Etrog truly is ‘Canada’s National Living Treasure’.
This prolific artist is the most famous person I had never heard of… until I looked up a few things about the Vancouver Biennale’s Sculpture #12, The King & Queen.
(This awesome shot of the piece I’m talking about was taken by Patrick Doheny, completely separate from me or the Walking Home Projects program and I gratefully found it through wikipedia).

Etrog’s The King & Queen is at Harbour Green along a scenic and busy route in Vancouver. (It’s #12).
It weighs about 4000 pounds and is painted steel. There are some bird droppings on it and a few well-meant words of graffiti etched into it. You can tell it is used as a seat. It’s so inviting to climb up on even though it’s made of material that can be seen as hard and calculating.

There’s a warmth to it, no matter the material or the regal stance of The King & Queen; maybe its warmth comes from its curves. The way it bends into itself, offering so much to those of us lucky enough to have a few moments to stop and really view it and touch it.
This is one of three of these sculptures. The first “The King & Queen” was made in the city of Windsor, Ontario at Demonte Fabrication Inc. It is a “crowning piece” of work for the city of Windsor, tying together art, industrial labour and the city’s history in one 10 foot tall piece. Through the Walking Home Yaletown Public Art Program, I’ve been learning that Vancouver, has a largely industrial past which is alluded to by public art pieces along False Creek and the old steam engine 374 fought for and saved at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre.

Etrog’s The King & Queen fits well along Vancouver’s waterfront where not so long ago it was home to the timber industry, cooperage and railway. Much different scenery from the plush green grass and deep blue of the water today. His piece articulates this loss and gain, this difference and sameness.

Which leads me to finish up with “the Betty White factor”. On first glimpse it may not seem like ‘Canada’s National Living Treasure’ Sorel Etrog and comedian extraordinaire Betty White have much in common save that they can both get a senior’s discount at Denny’s. And although their mediums don’t touch on the arts spectrum, they are both making incredibly relevant art today. Whether that’s hosting SNL at the age of 88 or making a third King & Queen sculpture at 77. We can learn so much from this. From bending industrial steel to crossing five generations in laughter. We need these connections. We need to realize there is no “past their prime” work.

The best thing about getting to stop and visit Sorel Etrog’s The King & Queen to me, aside from how pleasing it is to interact with public art, is finding out more about Sorel Etrog and his work. It’s like this unassuming pair of regal industrial shapes are sitting there, open to everyone, a huge clue to our future and past, connecting us to each other and the materials that shape us.

-Laurie Dawson

Skin of Time by Choi Tae Hoon/ Photo by Dan Fairchild

Skin of Time” by Choi Tae Hoon – review by Justine Lee

Choi Tae Hoon is a prominent contemporary artist in Korea. Not only did Tae Hoon study in Korea, but he was also a student at the Cité Internationale des Arts Residency Program in Paris as well as at the Vermont Studio Residency Program.

Tae Hoon works with steel sheet which he welds into different forms, working the sheet metal as if it were malleable like fabric. His favourite technique to use when working with steel is the plasma torching technique which uses compressed air to make holes in the steel plate; this is how the installation “Skin of Time” gets its unique texture.

Skin of Time close up/ Photo by Dan Fairchild

Skin of Time” is a giant tree laid on its side with punctured holes in its bark and engraved messages and memories that can only be seen at night. Trees represent multiple facets of Korean culture. According to the Vancouver Biennale, in Korea the tree symbolizes such things as the Shinsu or sacred tree, the tree at the core of the world, and the tree of life. The ability of the tree to embody so many different things yet still uphold its significance is extraordinary as though it may contain special values to each individual, the tree is representative of Korea nonetheless.

Tae Hoon’s sculpture represents parts of his life and his race against time. To me, it is as if he is solidifying his existence in the world and etching his memories into this permanent sculpture, effectively carving his life into his art. Lightbulbs have also been installed within the piece so that when the piece is lit up at night, light can shine through the thousands of holes in the sculpture. Light breathes life to the piece and gives the piece some dimension and movement so in this way, Tae Hoon is bringing time and life together through light.

Skin of Time by Choi Tae Hoon/ Photo by Dan Fairchild

For Choi Tae Hoon, this piece is in stark contrast with his other works from past seasons. Tae Hoon’s previous works included objects such as armchairs and telephones forged out of his signature material but in “Skin of Time’, Tae Hoon has created the natural tree out of a very industrial product.

At first, realizing that the tree was made out of steel warranted some mixed feelings but after some thought, I came to the conclusion that perhaps Tae Hoon is trying to illustrate the reality of society today: we have stepped so far away from our natural environment as to have almost completely immersed ourselves in industrial products for little of what surrounds us today is completely natural.

Skin of Time” is exhibited in the same place the piece which became known as the ‘upside down church’ used to be. The ‘upside down church’ is still a very memorable piece for many Vancouver residents and I have encountered many who preferred the previous piece through my research. However, as we have been learning through the Walking Home Yaletown Project, perspectives of art change over time and perhaps Choi Tae Hoon’s “Skin of Time” will soon became as memorable to these Vancouverites as the ‘upside down church’.

– Justine Lee

Our group learns about LightShed by artist Liz Magor (photo credit: Bali Singh)

Click below to hear Byran Newson, Manager of the City’s Public Art Program talk about the public art piece LightShed by Liz Magor and WHYPA Participants Sam Knopp, Laura Lam and Justina Lee talk about three different Vancouver Biennale pieces: