New public art installations function as an understated but alarming urban intervention


Mark Soo: Cat & Mouse
Alison Fu: Date Stamp
At the Canada Line City Centre Station to September 30

Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky: A False Creek At Coopers’ Park and beneath the Cambie Street Bridge, indefinitely

At the entrance to the Canada Line City Centre Station, near the southwest corner of Georgia and Granville streets, Mark Soo’s Cat & Mouse plays with different combinations of word pairings and fonts. Using large capital letters cut out of coloured and patterned vinyl and stuck to both sides of the station’s west-facing glass wall, he gently prods our everyday experience of written language in public spaces. By overlapping familiarly connected words, Soo creates an effect that is somewhere between concrete poetry, commercial signage, and urban babble. His layering of, say, “CAT & MOUSE” and “BRIDGE AND TUNNEL” folds itself into the many different languages you overhear as people walk past.

Halfway down the stairs at the same Canada Line station, look for Alison Fu’s Date Stamp, eight colour photos that also use layering as a strategy. Fu superimposes photographs of residential sidewalks, stamped with the dates of their construction in the early to mid 20th century, upon photos of the adjacent houses, some old, some new. This overlapping imagery prompts thoughts about the rapid cycle of development, demolition, and redevelopment that is reconfiguring our ideas of home, neighbourhood, and heritage preservation.

The visual effect is both lyrical and melancholy: the grey of the sidewalks casts a ghostly atmosphere across the images of the houses, and fallen leaves create an almost funereal framing device. Both serve as a metaphor for Vancouver’s architectural history as it is being lost to time, greed, and real-estate prices.

But don’t despair. Not yet. Instead, hop on the Canada Line, take it to the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, then walk east along the seawall toward the Cambie Street Bridge. There, you will see another new addition to Vancouver’s growing inventory of public artworks. A False Creek was created by the collaborative duo Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky, and functions as an understated but alarming urban intervention. The work consists of horizontal blue stripes, ranging chromatically from dark to light, painted on the massive concrete pillars that support the Cambie Bridge.

Chromatic blue stripes are also painted on a series of lampposts along the stretch of seawall bordering Coopers’ Park. Initially, they lend a cheery, aquatic appearance to the place, but then, well, perhaps not so cheery and maybe much too aquatic. Signs on either end of this multicomponent work tell us that the top stripe “indicates a five metre rise in sea level”—what happens when the world’s polar icecaps melt. Not if, but when.

Weppler and Mahovsky don’t merely alert us to the drastic pace of global warming and rising sea levels. They also speak to the changes we have already wrought upon our natural setting. False Creek, for instance, once extended as far as Clark Drive and Great Northern Way. According to Tom Snyders’s terrific book Namely Vancouver, it “was filled in during World War I to provide rail yards and terminals for the Canadian National and Great Northern railways”.

Whether through dams, dikes, levees, canals, or in-fill, human beings have been altering water levels and shifting shorelines for centuries. Global warming, however, promises the most mammoth and apocalyptic human-engineered change yet. I guess now’s the time to buy that bitumen-powered lifeboat you’ve been admiring. You can store it on your fifth-floor balcony, which soon, much too soon, will serve as a dock.

Comments (2) Add New Comment
I don't like it. Art should be beautiful... in some way.
Rating: -1
Andrew S.
Love it, keep it coming. I love to think, look and engage (mentally at least) with these projects.

@lia, with such a narrow view of art I fear there is so much you are missing.
Rating: -4
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