Ephemeral art appears in Stanley Park

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      Fringe is so subtle and so unexpected, it’s almost possible to walk past it without fully apprehending it. An apron of pale blond horsehair sewn onto a band of white cotton, it hangs in the archway of an old stone bridge on Stanley Park Drive, at the foot of Ravine Trail in Stanley Park. As Fringe flutters in the breeze, catching the thin autumnal light, Vancouver artist Shirley Wiebe talks to the Straight about its inception, its making, and the ways it interacts with its environment.

      “I chose an architectural site rather than a purely idyllic setting,” she says. “The bridge spans Beaver Lake Creek.”¦It’s a kind of shelter and passageway for wildlife and humans.” Then she adds, “It is the underside—the shelter side—that I’m drawn to for this installation.”

      Wiebe is one of six artists, including Tania Willard, Davide Pan, T’Uy’Tanat Cease Wyss, John Hemsworth, and Peter von Tiesenhausen, chosen to participate in the Stanley Park Environmental Art Project. (Pan and Wyss are working as a team, as are Hemsworth and von Tiesenhausen.)

      A partnership of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, the Stanley Park Ecology Society, and the Community Arts Council of Vancouver, it evolved out of concern over the massive devastation that occurred when hurricane-force winds hit the city’s biggest park in December 2006.

      The artists are mandated to create ephemeral and semi-permanent installations during their park residencies, using natural materials that will eventually decompose and disappear into their surroundings. Their work, if successful, will honour the place, stimulate curiosity and conversation among passersby, and expand community understanding of our complicated relationship with the natural world.

      Wiebe’s Fringe speaks not so much to the big blow-down as to the piece’s location between nature and culture, past and present, order and disorder. “My concept for the residency was to explore the social and physical relationships that take place in this forest within a city, and how they continue to shape the park,” she explains. Nearby, a small squirrel scrabbles around on a log leaning over the stream. Insects skate across the water’s surface and unseen birds chirp and chitter in the surrounding foliage.

      At the same time, cars thrum on the Park Drive overpass and noise resounds from the dockyards across Burrard Inlet. Hikers walk by, tourists take pictures, and a team of enthusiastic teenagers swarm over the place picking up litter. “The day before I installed the piece, the bridge had been tagged [with graffiti],” Wiebe recalls. “It made me realize that there are people here at all times of the day and night.”

      Wiebe’s chosen material, horsehair, alludes to the horses that are stabled in the park: the broad draught animals that haul tourist carriages around the paved roadways and the sleek creatures ridden by Vancouver police officers patrolling the park’s trails.

      “When I went to the stables, the groomers talked about how birds will perch on the backs of horses and pluck the hair out for their nests,” Wiebe says. “I wondered if another species might try to appropriate hair out of this piece.” She adds that she likes horsehair for both its tactile and symbolic qualities. “I work from a premise that materials are laden with meaning. But, like in dreams, association is embedded within layers of personal experience.”

      Personal experience also informs her work-in-progress, a temporary installation of soft, biomorphic sculptures in the old polar-bear pit in the former Stanley Park zoo. Walking to that overgrown spot, in an area otherwise highly groomed and cultivated, Wiebe remembers visiting the park as a child, when her family was on holiday from their rural Saskatchewan home.

      “I was interested in the idea of how we like to observe something at a safe distance,” she says, musing on the shift in public attitudes towards animals in captivity. She was also struck by the dramatic design of the pit. “It’s like a cubist theatre,” she observes.

      “I want to create a kind of dynamic with these different forms and how they appear to be relating to each other in this space,” she says. “I see it as a way of honouring the bears that were here, and also recontextualizing this history.”