When the Second World War finally ended, Vancouver had a problem.
As soldiers returned from the battlefield, they not only faced a huge shortage of housing for themselves and their young families, but often the crippling effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Aiming to tackle both issues, the city created the neighbourhood around Falaise Park—a location named after the historic end-of-war battle in a French village, where tens of thousands of soldiers lost their lives. Transforming the forested hill in East Vancouver by clearing the trees and building hundreds of small houses, the city created a community where former troops could recuperate and have a fresh start with their families.
While many remain unaware of the site’s cultural history, however, artist Alex MacKenzie has recreated a slice of Vancouver’s past with his Bungalow installation.
“The Board of Parks and Recreation established the Fieldhouse initiative, which allows artists to create site-specific work,” he tells the Straight on the line from his Vancouver home. “Basically, there are many tiny bungalows spread throughout the city in parks like Falaise, which used to be caretakers’ cabins. Those who look after the green spaces no longer live there, and so Parks and Rec have decided to turn them into studio spaces for artists. As part of the Iris art collective, we have a three-year residency at one of these bungalows.”
The first of the group to transform the building, MacKenzie decided to draw on the locale’s military history as the inspiration for his work.
“The piece has everything to do with the soldiers’ experiences,” he says. “I’m using a lot of strobe lights in the building, and the windows at the front of the bungalow are the primary sites for those flashes. I’m teaming those with the soundtrack from a variety of propaganda films from that era—British, American, and Canadian primarily—played on speakers from inside the building. Those sounds trigger the strobes depending on the volume of the audio.
“The awful fallout that comes from PTSD is manifested in a visual way through the strobing, stuttering light that’s emitted from the windows of the building,” he continues. “To look at it, it makes me immediately think of those thundering flashes that you see in war movies—the bombs that are going off in the distance on the horizon. And it’s also indicative of the trauma that existed inside these soldier’s homes—especially considering that the vast majority of individuals that returned from the war were suffering from PTSD.”
Beginning at 6 p.m. every night and ending at 9 p.m., the installation can be seen from across the city. When standing almost at Grandview Highway, the Fieldhouse's lights seem to dance on the horizon with an elegance that only hints at the emotional turmoil the work conjures at closer quarters.
As well as primarily representing soldiers’ post-traumatic stress, the simplicity of the Bungalow’s light and sound display carries multiple meanings based on its specific locale.
“The secondary importance of the work for me is the uncanny and uneasy relationship between war and real estate,” MacKenzie suggests. “There’s booming sound and light emanating from inside a house, which is indicative of the city’s choice to disable what once a forested hill to create what is now very high-priced real estate. That whole boom that came from the war is still trickling down today in both emotional trauma and in the real estate market. Bungalow can be a number of different things to different people, and that’s part of its importance.”
Bungalow is at the Falaise Fieldhouse (3434 Falaise Avenue) from February 13 to February 26 at 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.
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