Wheeling around Art

You know how I talked here about encountering art in places other than museums and art galleries?

The other day, my sister and I had a chance to do this by going on the Art Wheelers bike tour in Vancouver. It was a 2 ½ hour ride stopping at about 15 works of art, beginning in Coal Harbour, passing through Stanley Park, going along English Bay and False Creek, and then ending up in the Olympic Village.

I won’t list all 15 but I’ll share with you some of my favourite pieces.

1. Lightshed. Liz Magor

Location plays a big part in this piece. This ‘wooden’ shed sitting on log pilings in Coal Harbour recalls the area’s maritime history since freight sheds once sat here on wharves. I say ‘wooden’ in quotation marks because although that’s what the material looks like, if you go up to touch it, you’ll find it’s actually made of aluminum – including the barnacles crawling up the posts. According to this article, the artist likes to challenge our assumption of the familiar, not just through an unexpected material but also through the precarious angle of the shed, as if it’s about to collapse. I would love to see this piece at night because apparently a silver light shines from inside it, lighting up the windows. It gives the illusion of habitation even though the out-of-reach doorway means whoever or whatever’s inside remains inaccessible to us.

2. Engagement. Dennis Oppenheim

It’s hard not to notice these gigantic engagement rings standing about 30 feet high in Sunset Beach Park. American sculptor Dennis Oppenheim made them, who also designed this interesting bus station in California. Oppenheim likes to leave his works open to interpretation, and many have interpreted this piece as a political message about same-sex marriage given that both rings are ladies’ rings and they’re situated in the West End, Vancouver’s gay community. The angle of the rings tilting away from each other also speaks to the precarious balance in marriage, but also in any relationship. This piece would be another great one to see illuminated at night, where the ‘diamond’ part of the rings shine.

3. Khenko. Doug Taylor

This kinetic sculpture hanging over the False Creek pathway gets its name from the Coast Salish mythical term for Great Blue Heron. Addressing sustainability, this piece celebrates the return of this bird to the False Creek waterway, which was a main industrial site in the city’s early history. Notice the combination of man-made, heavy mechanical elements and the grace and lightness of the bird that actually flies through this wind-powered device.

4. King and Queen. Sorel Etrog

King and Queen highlights the relationship between man and machinery. King is on the left; Queen is on the right—a regal looking pair sitting in Harbour Green Park. Despite their rigid steel parts, Etrog makes these figures inviting through the curvature of their multiple laps (a favourite for children to climb on) and their humanized features like rivets for eyes. I like the play between the forms’ formality and casualness, just sitting in the park like all the other Vancouverites enjoying the sunny evening.

5. Time Top. Jerry Pethick

This 1940s-style spaceship standing along the False Creek shoreline evokes time travel, as if it just washed up from another world. We saw it at low tide, but depending on the time of day, its bulbous feet can be completely submerged, changing the way we interact with the piece. I’d imagine it could also look like a spinning top bobbing along in the water. This piece literally underwent some ‘time travel’ itself. It was submerged for two years in the ocean by Gibsons, BC, where it was also given a low-level electrical charge to attract sea life to its bronze surface. I love how the colours of Time Top echoed the colour of the water when we were viewing it, blending it with its ‘natural’ environment. Unfortunately the artist passed away before he saw the completed work.

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And now for a different type of bus station…

After last week’s post about riding public transit and the week before that on liminal spaces, I thought it’d be fitting to bring them together to discuss this striking image:

Bus Becoming a House in Venturi, California

Picking up on the relationship between work and home, New York architect Dennis Oppenheim brilliantly put into architecture this idea of liminality while waiting at a bus stop. Perhaps you’re on your way home from work, thinking or wishing you were already at home. Or maybe you’ve left home and are heading off to work. I’ve spent many years commuting by public transit so I know the anticipation and reverie that bus stops induce.

When I commuted by bus in Ottawa and Victoria, I often found myself figuring out what things I would do in what order once I arrived home, playing it out in my mind before I even got there. Similarly, Oppenheim plays with this idea of anticipation and transformation with his bus station – of being stuck in the in-between place between work and home (or anywhere else versus home). It has a fairy-tale, imaginative quality to it, caught up in a transformation similar to Dorothy’s home in The Wizard of Oz, as seen in the image.

In fact, the precarious perch of the house in Oppenheim’s design adds a theatrical, cinematic quality to the space. The square windows and rectangular door of the house give it a face. It’s as if the eyes are wide open in surprise and the mouth is similarly revealing its shock and exclamation at the radical alteration it is undergoing.

Speaking of other fairy-tale, face-like houses, I was walking along Victoria’s Foul Bay Road in the fall and came across this keyhole-door house that seemed like it could model as the house for a number of different stories – Hanzel and Gretel, Alice in Wonderland, or The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe.

The arcs created by Oppenheim’s bus station/house design remind me of paintings by Victoria artist Marty Machacek who can often be found selling them in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. His style is distinctly recognizable with the extreme distortion of favourite landmarks.

The movement and precarious tilt of Oppenheim’s bus stop, the arcs and angles, bright colours, and the metamorphosis taking place underground all create a dynamic space that nevertheless invokes some tension. We are not sure where we are – halfway from work or from home? About to enter a bus or a house? It seems the architect even understood this hesitation about embracing his space. Here are his words of reassurance to those commuters a bit fearful to board from this liminal position: For the tired and often alienated traveler the experience of waiting wished to be intervened by the realization that the transaction will be complete. The passengers will arrive at their destination. They will arrive home. On that note, happy travels this week – I hope you too arrive at your destination.