Curbside public art rolls on Main Street

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      Instant Coffee: A Bright Future

      Three buses on Main Street, until April 30. Various sites along Main Street, ongoing

      Public art and things vehicular—an intriguing correlation has emerged in Vancouver in the past couple of months. Marko Simcic’s car-size sculptures on wheels on Ontario Street (ongoing), Kristina Lee Podesva’s altered shipping containers at Langara College (to April 21), and now Instant Coffee’s friendly colonization of three articulated trolley buses on Main Street (to April 30) all provoke our thinking about how we inhabit and read our urban environment.

      Much contemporary public art also attunes us—or re-attunes us—to the ubiquitous world of popular culture. We are so surrounded and bombarded by visual and verbal messages that we often become oblivious to them. Instant Coffee, an acclaimed artists’ collective based in Vancouver and Toronto, awakens us to such overlooked aspects of the everyday. It also provides us with ways of finding meaning in the otherwise chaotic flux of experience.

      A Bright Future is Instant Coffee’s contribution to 88 BLOCKS: Art on Main, an ongoing public-art program planned and implemented by Maureen Smith and presented by the City of Vancouver, TransLink, and Transport Canada. It emerges here as a suite of complementary artworks, including the exterior of bus 2513, the interior advertising cards in bus 2519, an installation of full-spectrum lights in a bus shelter at Main Street and 22nd Avenue, and permanently located sandwich boards on Main Street sidewalks.

      Blanket Bus beautifully riffs on the photo-based advertising that often wraps the exteriors of public buses. Mounted on three sides of bus 2513 is a lively overall pattern, a kind of found abstraction composed of multiple squares, waves, and zigzags. These forms are much-enlarged reproductions of sections of five different, brightly coloured, crocheted afghans. Yes, those unassuming creations of the domestic realm appear in a place we expect to see slick exhortations to spend money. The patterns on Blanket Bus, however, make no such demand. Instead, they play with the public-private interface and provide us with a soul-warming respite from the clamour of consumerism.

      The advertising inside bus 2519 has also been displaced, this time by individual works that Instant Coffee commissioned from 14 international artists. During the first week of the installation’s run, from January 10 to 17, passengers were invited to vote for their favourite, on-line or by text messaging. The winning piece, by Will Munro, is scheduled to be mounted on the exterior of a third Main Street bus by the end of January.

      Another of Instant Coffee’s lively interventions comprises seven brightly coloured, hand-lettered sandwich boards, bolted to sidewalks near Main Street’s intersections with 22nd Avenue, 20th Avenue, Broadway, and Kingsway. The boards pose sometimes cheery, sometimes ironic, often slightly ambiguous texts as interventions in the retail environment (“It Doesn’t Have to Be Good to Be Meaningful,” “Nothing Happens in Nice Weather,” “You Have Everything You Need”). They also create an interesting conversation with existing sandwich-board signage, the modest, old-fashioned advertising that lets you know which restaurants, beauty salons, and coin laundries are open for business. For sure, Instant Coffee is open.