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!

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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?

Getting to Know Stanley

I really should know this place better, seeing that it was recently named world’s best park by TripAdvisor.

Beating Central Park in New York City is no small feat. Who would have thought Stanley Park is BIGGER than Central Park? It certainly doesn’t look like it on a map, but then again, it is hard to compare a circle to a rectangle. The figures are 1000 acres to 840, so not a huge difference, but significant nonetheless.

I’ve cycled the Seawall a few times—that scenic 22 km path that wraps around the Park, but even tourists do that. It’s so easy to stick to the outskirts of this city, maybe because everybody thinks the beauty lies between ocean and city. A liminal place. And don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful.

But I don’t just want to stick to the edges anymore of what urban theorist Lance Berelowitz calls an “edge city.” He says Vancouver is a bit odd insofar as we don’t have a central public square like most traditional European cities. Vancouver’s public space is the beach, which is always on the verge of disappearing. We are an edge city in other ways too—East meets West, a Pacific Rim city that attracts many Asian investors who buy condos but don’t occupy them or only occupy them once or twice a year, leaving many beautiful but empty buildings in this city of glass/city of ghosts.

City of GlassDouglas Coupland talks about this problem in the above book. And it is a problem when it comes to creating dynamic, vibrant neighbourhoods. People actually need to be present.

But I digress. Back to Stanley. I made my way from the edge to the centre this weekend so I could get to know what great discoveries lay hidden to those seeking a little deeper. I wanted to immerse myself in its forests and trails. And immerse myself I did. So much so that it took a couple from San Francisco to help reorient me. Ah, the irony! But I’m going to enjoy those moments when I’m lost in my own city because the longer I live in a place, the less likely it will occur, and I kind of like the feeling of, “Where am I and how did I get here?”

So here’s what I would have missed if I had not ventured towards the centre.

The Painters Circle. Gorgeous canvasses by local artists who sit here every day selling their paintings. One of them, Tim Fraser, paints Vancouver’s Seawall in abstract form:

“One of the reasons I started painting the seawall and the park was because I felt a lot of people were missing out on it,” he says. “Stanley Park is a different kind of park in the mornings. It’s beautiful and empty.” [note those two adjectives again]

Lord Stanley. What a great posture to have immortalized in stone. Come, welcome, enjoy! Arms open, delivering a celebratory speech or embracing for a hug. There is joy in this image. By the way, this is the same Lord Stanley (previous governor general of Canada) for whom the Stanley Cup is named after, in case you were wondering.

Beaver Lake. It looks more like Beaver Meadow, but apparently the City has plans to restore it. You have to look hard to see it, but there is water under all those weeds, grass, and lily pads. No sign of beavers though.

Robert Burns. A poet in a park. Reminds me of the Mall and Literary Walk in Central Park, where I also saw his image.

Seven Sisters. Seven stately Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees once stood here. Now only their stumps remain.

Klahowya Village. Experience the First Nations history of Stanley Park, where many Aboriginal peoples lived in villages before being moved to settlements between the 1870s and 1920s. Signs of their presence pop up all over the park, including a section of large totem poles.

Lost Lagoon. Get lost in its wild beauty. I had read about it many times in Stanley Park by Vancouver author Timothy Taylor, but had never visited it before. Now I want to re-read the book because I am that much more aware of references and spatial relationships in the Park.

Here’s the opening, which highlights the importance of place in the novel:

They arranged to meet at Lost Lagoon. It was an in-between place, the city on one side, Stanley Park on the other. . .

Now Jeremy lit a cigarette and watched an erratic stream of homeless people making their way into the forest for the night. When he arrived there had been seawall walkers and hotdog eaters, birdwatchers, rollerbladers, chess players returning from the picnic tables over by bowling greens. Then lagoon traffic changed direction like a freak tide. The flow of those heading back to their warm apartments in the West End tapered back to nothing, and the paths were filled with the delusional, the alcoholic, the paranoid, the bipolar. The Professor’s subjects, his obsession. The inbound. Four hundred hectares of Stanley Park offering its bleak, anonymous shelter to those without other options.

You’ll learn a lot about Vancouver’s history and folklore in this book, as well as what it means to be “rooted” in place from a geographic and culinary context. Yes, foodies will love it, as well as those with a penchant for mysteries. I had to keep reminding myself this book is fiction, because if it were true, it would be Vancouver. Now on that suspenseful note . . .

If any of you local or faraway readers want to help celebrate Stanley Park’s history, come visit August 24-25 when Vancouver will host a 2-day party in honour of the Park’s 125th birthday. See for yourself what life on (and off) the edge is all about!

A New Face on Terry

In between visiting some friends from out-of-town in Vancouver this weekend, I hopped over to BC Place to see the new Terry Fox monument (new as in September 2011).

New Terry Fox memorial designed by Douglas Coupland. 2011.

“Monument” seems like the wrong word to describe these Terry Fox statues. Yes, there are statues plural — four of them actually, each showing a separate stage of Terry’s distinct step-hop gait. The figures become progressively larger as he runs westward (his final destination was to be Stanley Park), indicating Terry’s growing legacy since 1980, when he started his Marathon of Hope run across Canada to raise money for cancer research.

The old Vancouver monument for Terry Fox more accurately reflects the characteristics I associate with a monument: weighty, grand, symbolic, a structure of heroic proportions. The old classical triumphal arch designed by Franklin Allen surely is all that. I never saw this monument in real life (I tried once but it was covered up with a big white tarp while construction was being done on BC Place’s new roof), but apparently it received a lot of criticism and many people considered it an eyesore, which is not hard to see why.

Old Terry Fox monument designed by Franklin Allen. 1984.

Architectural critic Trevor Boddy marks the old Terry Fox monument as the beginning of the postmodern era in Vancouver architecture in his essay “Plastic Lion’s Gate: A Short History of the Post Modern in Vancouver Architecture.”

Franklin Allen’s 1980s postmodern monument has all the signature moves of its time – a polychromed structure in the latest colours as well as a poly-textured structure with tile, brick, and steel. Four fibreglass lions sit atop the arch, symbolizing Terry’s heroism. All these elements combine to make this modern pastiche of a classical triumphal arch.

Pastiche is one characteristic of the postmodern architectural style — another is the irony of attempting to set in stone and make permanent something that is not permanent. How do you monumentalize a fleeting, short life such as Terry’s?

Trevor Boddy writes, “This sense of monumentalising the pungently ephemeral, of reconciling emotions with visuals, of rendering permanent a patter in the social electron flow of a few months duration, was crucial to the winning scheme’s selection by a jury not otherwise committed to postmodernism as theory or style” (Allen’s monument was the winner of a design competition).

How do we attempt to remember a significant person or event in history? Monuments surely are one way. Yet why did the old statue get so much criticism? Boddy explains because it didn’t include any visual representation of Terry, the person it attempted to remember. Boddy goes on to say that in order to appease the public outcry over this monument, etched steel plates bearing larger-than-lifesize photographs of Terry were placed inside the arch, much to the architect’s chagrin. I guess the symbolic fibreglass lions weren’t enough — we like to see images that resemble the person we are remembering.

Coupland's memorial from the back

So it’s interesting that over two decades later, a new memorial (I hesitate to say “monument” for the above reasons) of Terry Fox has replaced the old one, and the differences couldn’t be more obvious. In Douglas Coupland’s Terry Fox sculptures, the public doesn’t just get one, but four images or motions of Terry, broken down into a four-frame cycle. They are open, life-like. You can walk around them. You might not even notice them from a distance because on a busy day around BC Place, Terry blends right into the crowd.

Can you see the statues?

Allen’s arch was ostentatious, noticeable, built to match a national hero; Coupland’s statues are subtle, built to commemorate a national hero but also to remember an individual whose single act of determination inspired hope, rallied the country, and changed lives — a determination meant to inspire and challenge us us on a personal level. It is this humanness and point of connection between Terry and ourselves that I come away with from the new memorial.

Coupland leaves us with these words: