The Conditional Figure

I had just heard Said the Whale talk about their new album As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide at CBC’s Musical Nooners. Stephen Quinn asked frontman Tyler Bancroft about the inspiration behind this noticeably darker album that deals with the deaths of friends, neighbours, and babies. Tyler said something like, “After turning 30, life gets a lot more difficult. There are many beautiful things too, but it comes with a bunch of rough stuff.”

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As a recent 30-year-old, this concert me in a contemplative mood as I wandered downtown on my way to the HSBC building to see David Robinson‘s sculptures at the Pendulum Gallery.

I had seen Robinson’s work previously—in his Parker Street studio during the Eastside Culture Crawl and at Regent College.

The works command attention in the high-ceilinged, glass-covered atrium, as if the lines and angles of his sculptures play off the architecture.

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There is usually an element of tension in his works, whether it be balancing precariously while blindfolded, falling out of a safety net, or pushing and pulling against larger-than-life forces.

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David Robinson, Chair (2013), mixed media. 67 x 33 x 74 inches.

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David Robinson, Draped Figure (2009), paper, resin, 31 x 44 x 15 inches.

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David Robinson, Dead Reckoning (2017), ed. 5. Sitka spruce, Baltic birch, polymer-gypsum, bronze, 96 x 64 x 11 inches.

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David Robinson, Departure (2015), bronze/Douglas fir, 27 x 33 x 9 inches.

The way curator Chris Keatley wrote about this exhibit, aptly named The Conditional Figure, seemed to piggyback on what Said the Whale had just talked about.

This exhibition presents large-scale sculptural works that consider the figure as a conditional entity, created to exist in a dynamic, rather than a static state. Figures are split and penetrated, surfaces are textured and rough. The idea of the unassailable body, strong, solid and resolute, is brought into question, bringing forward the view of ourselves as systems in flux, constantly changing and evolving in time and space. In some works, the figures themselves retain a solidity of form, and it is their extended bodies – boats, planes, wings, ladders etc. – that suggest the fragile nature of both structures and beliefs in which we wrap ourselves.

How has my view of self changed as I’ve aged? What do other people see and what do I see when I look in the mirror? Has the blindfold come off? Am I as secure as I think I am? Am I paddling alone? Against the current? What load am I pulling?

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David Robinson, Binary Vision (2003), ed. 6, polymer-gypsum, glass steel, 90.5 x 45 x 20.5 inches.

I view David Robinson’s sculptures as poetry in space. They ask the tough questions about existence. The vast white walls serving as the background to many of the works create breathing room to consider these questions in a gentle, unhurried way that almost feels too bare.

This exhibit complemented the permanent public artwork in the atrium by Alan Storey I’ve been meaning to see for a while now. Talk about balance and tension. This 1600 kg aluminum pendulum swings back and forth from the roof about 6 metres out, aligning with its base briefly before departing again.

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If you’re downtown, I highly recommend you see Robinson’s exhibit before it closes today!

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Crawling with Culture

Today was an art-filled day roaming around East Vancouver, visiting artists’ studios as part of the 17th Annual Eastside Culture Crawl—a three-day visual arts, crafts, and design festival. It was my first time going and there was so much to see, you couldn’t possibly visit the 300+ artists all in one day, let alone three.

So much culture and so little time.

But what I did see was wonderful. Here are snapshots from the day’s crawl in the Strathcona neighbourhood, East Hastings, and Railtown.

This colourful studio in Strathcona showed the work of assemblage artist Valerie Arntzen:

art studio of Valerie Arntzen

K eye D by Valerie Arntzen

Walking into her studio was like walking into a collector’s shop jammed from floor to ceiling with drawers and cupboards containing trinkets and treasures—discarded and found items that are given new life in playful and surprising ways. Birth of Jazz below, for example, features four clarinet horns, a globe, and sheet music.

Birth of Jazz by Valerie Arntzen

Parker Street Studios (from which the following picture was taken) was the hub of the Crawl with dozens of visual art, crafts, and furniture studios spread throughout the floor floors of this labyrinth-like space.

Here are some sculptures from David Robinson, whose miniature and larger-than-life size figures always seem to on the edge of something—hanging from a precipice, fighting the balance between life and death.

Chair by David Robinson

Many of his miniature pieces are actually maquettes (preliminary models) for large-scale versions.

Arc (Maquette) by David Robinson

Chair (Maquette) by David Robinson

Thompson Brennan‘s wonderfully-titled exhibit, Dirty Pretty speaks for itself. Reminds me of the “garbage to gold” idea I’ve written about before.

Last of all, but perhaps best of all, was walking into the studio of Galen Felde in Railtown. Her light-infused, dissolving landscapes felt like poetry—like holding onto a dream in that liminal space between sleeping and waking.

These two are called Sonnet for Lost Pine (No. 2 and No. 3):

Resource by Galen Felde

Gauze Between Us by Galen Gelde

If you live in Vancouver, you still have one day to soak in all this art and culture at the Crawl, so catch it while you can!