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!

Cycling the Arbutus Greenway

I had seen others doing it and it looked like fun. So today was the day I finally hopped on the Arbutus Greenway for myself.

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This former railway track was recently converted into a paved pathway, connecting Marpole to Granville Island. It provides a designated north-south route for cyclists and walkers to get from one end of the City to another, something sorely lacking up until now.

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I loved it. It was so convenient to hop on 70th Avenue in Marpole and ride to 41st and onto Southwest Marine Drive to meet up with some friends at UBC. On my way home, I took 16th Avenue back to the Greenway so I could cover most of the path. It’s 8.5 km long—here’s a map.

These vibrant poppies and purple wildflowers near 70th were a delight to see as I started out.

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Community gardens line the right side of the path as you’re heading north. Someone had fun with these scarecrows.

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I loved seeing parts of the City I hadn’t seen before. I was riding slowly up Vancouver’s spine, admiring houses that belong in a fairy tale, smiling at strangers standing in gardens with a hose in hand, and breathing in the scent of wildflowers spilling onto the pavement.

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It was a leisurely ride devoid of traffic and steep hills! Most of the intersections had helpful signage that indicated to cross with pedestrians at the light, like you can see these cyclists doing at Arbutus and 16th.

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Benches and portable toilets were available along the way. The biggest hill from this point riding south was winding through the Quilchena neighbourhood. But it provided some fabulous new lookout points, including slices of ocean.

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Something to note is that there aren’t many trees along the trail so shade isn’t an option, which you really notice on hot days like today.

Between Nanton Road and Quilchena Park, these colourful rocks stopped me in my tracks. Their messages and the conversations they inspired were my favourite experiences along the route.

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Painted all colours of the rainbow, they are as diverse as the people I saw using the path: cyclists, walkers, joggers, seniors, kids, families, rollerbladers, people in wheelchairs, skateboarders, you name it.

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“Pretty cool, eh?” An oldish man spoke to me from the walking side of the path and I said, “Totally cool.” He pointed a little further down where a plaque explained this public artwork done by York House Grade 2 students, a Vancouver Biennale project.

I told him this was my first time on the path and he said he walks parts of it almost every day. “So it’s well used?” I asked. “Oh yeah,” he replied. He said it’s packed on the weekends and he’s particularly encouraged to see a lot of seniors walking with canes on it. He said many seniors don’t feel safe navigating heavy intersections, so this designated route gets more people out enjoying nature and the city who wouldn’t otherwise. I completely get that as a cyclist who doesn’t love riding on busy streets!

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Near the sign, I spoke with another man who was admiring the rocks. He said this Greenway really was a case of “build it, and they will come.” Apparently it’s just a temporary path though with plans to make it into “a destination that fosters both movement and rich social interaction – inspired by nature and the stories of the places it connects” (from the City website). I kind of like it just as it is though, with the exception of adding more public art and trees.

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I ended up having a third conversation with someone along the Greenway when I stopped at 57th Avenue to pick up a few things from Choices Markets. One of the Rainbow Rocks said “Make community” and these friendly encounters with strangers seemed to affirm the spirit of that message already, an experience I don’t take for granted in Vancouver.

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Snaps of Summer

A holiday Monday with sunshine like this called me downtown to walk Stanley Park with a friend. The Rose Garden was in bloom so I snapped some pics of that as well.

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Afterwards, I explored Robson Street and enjoyed this patch of public space set up with picnic tables and an outdoor piano at the intersection of Robson and Bute. Great for people watching!

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Here’s a piece of public art at Robson and Jervis called Jasper.

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From the Vancouver Biennale website:

Jasper is a whimsical sculpture by Brooklyn-based artist John Clement. His trademark steel spirals with bold primary colours invite children to touch and play. The turns and loops of Jasper challenge the inherent properties of rigid tubular steel and the result is an implied movement with the sense of twisting right out of the ground.

Whenever I walk by this sculpture it reminds me of balloon animals popular at children’s birthday parties. Or my coil bike lock. No one was playing on it at the time but I like public art you’re invited to touch. If public art is meant to bring art where people are (because not everyone goes to art galleries), I appreciate works that call for different forms of engagement rather than the traditional “looking only”/observer-observed relationship. That being said, some public art provokes more thought than others and while the form is fun, I find the content strongly lacking in this piece. I think good public art brings form and content together in striking ways. What about you?

Hope everyone is enjoying the Canada Day long weekend!

Marpole’s Golden Tree

A piece of Stanley Park has uprooted to my neighbourhood of Marpole. With a bit of a colour change.

The newest public art in Vancouver is Golden Tree by Douglas Coupland, installed this past August at the corner of Marine Drive and Cambie Street, in front of Intracorp’s MC2 development.

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This artwork sure adds colour to a cloudy day. View from Marine Gateway.

It stands out alright, not just for its size (13 metres tall, the exact replica of Stanley Park’s Hollow Tree), but it also stands out for its colour—gold.

In an interview with the CBC, Coupland says, “I think its more a head-turner, a, ‘what the heck was that?’ That’s my favourite reaction.”

Just to clarify, Stanley Park’s famous 700 to 800 year-old Hollow Tree is still standing in Stanley Park. After the heavy windstorm in 2006, the tree was scheduled for removal due to safety concerns, but thanks to the efforts of the Hollow Tree Conservation Society and private donations, it is still standing (albeit with cables and steel).

Coupland’s replica is made out of steel-reinforced resin and fiberglass, encased in a gold finish.

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The gold looks a little garish to me. I tend to think I would like it better if it looked natural but then it would be like having a real tree there except you know it wouldn’t normally grow there so then it would just be weird. At least the gold makes it distinct. And better than highlighter purple or blue or pink. There’s something regal and magical about gold. Maybe it’s already “growing” on me (see what I did there?).

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But why replicating this tree in Marpole is significant, I do not know. All the CBC article mentions is that Coupland said there are a lot of memories attached to the tree, which is why he chose to imitate it: “I think it takes us from one century to the next.”

Maybe so, but what is the relationship between Stanley Park, the northernmost point of the city, and Marpole, Vancouver’s southernmost? Obviously the artist is trying to make some sort of connection here with the large image of Stanley Park in the background of the artwork.

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Does the tree reference something in Marpole’s history that not many know about? Or is it trying to say something about old and new? Nature and city? Nature and art/imitation?

I love that Marpole is getting more and impressive public art but I wish this piece spoke better to its context.

Have you seen Golden Tree yet? What are your thoughts?

Calgary – An Olympic Wonderland

After Roughing it in the Bush for several days, the second part of our Albertan vacation took us to a few different cities, of which the biggest was Calgary, a place I had never been to apart from the airport.

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The Bow River with a lovely pedestrian bridge that connects to downtown

One of my good friends lives there and she gave me an excellent tour, beginning with downtown.

Stephen Avenue was by far the most vibrant street, offering plenty of restaurants, shopping, entertainment venues, and public art. It’s described as “Calgary’s historic pedestrian mall” on this Calgary Downtown website, and I liked walking on a street that cars don’t have access to.

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Pedestrians line up to cross Stephen Avenue

In the pic above, you may be able to see some cone-shaped steel structures between the buildings in the distance that look like something out of a sci-fi movie. They’re called the Galleria Trees and they were installed between Bankers Hall and the Home Oil Tower in 2000 to break up the wind tunnel that these two buildings created. There are 10 of them in total. I like that they have a functional use and yet they serve a double purpose as public art. They have since been equipped with an audio system to play music and with LED lighting for special events.

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Looking up at the Galleria Trees

Because the Rio Olympics were going on while I was there, the City had put up a gigantic screen on Stephen Avenue with couches and chairs for the public to enjoy the Olympic action, and I thought that was the coolest thing (Vancouver, take notice!)

I was definitely in the Olympic spirit, and so my friend indulged my interest to see all of the major venues when Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics. We dipped our feet into the Olympic Plaza downtown where the medal ceremonies took place.

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Olympic Plaza-turned-waterpark during the summer

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Also near the Plaza are these eye-catching orange pipes listing all 100 parks in Calgary, with different heights according to their age (the taller, the older).

The artists (IBI/Landplan) said this about their artwork titled Centennial Grove installation:

Drawing on the imagery of the native prairie landscape of aspen groves and grasslands and in a celebration of the 100 anniversary of the City of Calgary Parks, the installation symbolizes 100 trunks of aspen trees nestled in grassland.

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Speaking of public artwork, it’s hard to miss this mesh face in front of the distinctive Bow Building (Calgary’s tallest tower) that, together, create probably the two biggest/most distinctive markers to the city’s urban landscape. Wonderland is the name of the large white sculpture made of painted stainless steel, standing 12 metres high, designed by internationally-renowned Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.

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The Bow Building

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Walking into the Wonderland of the artist’s imagination

I like what Christopher Hume says about the two entrances on either side of the girl’s neck in The Star:

Had these entrances not been included, which would traditionally have been the case, our relationship with the piece would be different. Wonderland would have remained a fascinating object that lay forever just beyond our reach.

But because we can enter into the artist’s head, and peer at the world from the inside out, we are able to “possess” the work, or at least, view things from its point of view.

Indeed. I had never been inside someone’s head before.

We eventually left downtown to explore the other Olympic venues, such as the Olympic Oval at University of Calgary.

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It was a little strange to see speedskaters in the middle of summer!

Outside the Oval is the torch that was lit in 1988—quite a stark contrast from the elaborate ones made these days. I told my friend it was rather underwhelming but as she reminded me, “Things were simpler back then.” And it got the job done.

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We took a quick peek at Canada Olympic Park where you can ride the Skyline Luge down the hill like a go-kart, but unfortunately we didn’t have time for this so will hope to catch it on our next visit.

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Apart from finding Calgary extremely spread out and rather disjointed as a city, I enjoyed touring around the downtown part especially, seeing the buildings and bridges and some waterfront/running areas along the Bow. Their public art scene seems to be strong and, compared to Vancouver, there were far more public squares/plazas/seating areas like the one below that integrate well with the landscape and foster a dynamic street culture (though no one was sitting there as we walked by!)

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Float

Inspired by the Richmond public artwork Float (2014) by Mark Ashby and Kim Cooper.

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on the corner of No. 1 and
Westminster Highway
there is a ball and chain and
beside it, a girl
standing on tiptoes
hands reaching to touch these
curious ornaments that
lean just enough
away

oh! the tension of the young
to feel everything so sharply
welded chain and painted steel
the pull to stay on the ground
the buoyancy to float
on

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