Three people go about their daily lives inside a 25-foot bubble, while a car slowly pumps exhaust fumes into it. As the air becomes cloudy, they frantically search for any means of escape, but there’s no exit in sight.
This dystopian nightmare is the premise of The Gas Trap, a public-art installation and free performance that’s coming to the Turntable Plaza at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre next Sunday (September 10). The piece is designed by Seattle’s Coltura, a nonprofit focusing on encouraging the public to move away from gasoline use.
According to Coltura founder Matthew Metz, The Gas Trap was not conceived as a dystopia—it is a commentary on our world’s reliance on gasoline, shrunk down to the size of a stage.
“It’s a microcosm of how we live,” Metz tells the Georgia Straight from his home in Seattle. “We think of the sky as this enormous space where we can dump whatever and it sort of goes away, and the reality is that it’s a bounded space. Whatever carbon and other junk we put up there stays within our atmosphere.”
This will be the first performance of The Gas Trap in Canada, but Metz thinks the message is especially relevant to Canadian audiences, as it asks people to consider what role they might play in changing the market’s demand for gasoline.
“That’s a key, absolutely central part of environmental preservation, because once the oil companies start to see a trend in terms of declining revenue, a lot of these projects like the tar sands and et cetera become not profitable,” Metz says.
The Gas Trap was designed to be visually striking and interactive. Metz and the designers chose a warped, nonspherical shape to give the bubble structure an interesting look, and to offer the characters some hope of potential escape routes. Audience interaction is anticipated, and interested folks can come inside to explore the set after the performance.
This isn’t the first public-art piece Coltura has undertaken. Back in Seattle, the comany is working on installing a sculpture made of gasoline-related found objects, and an anti-gasoline mural in the city’s Georgetown neighbourhood. It recently put on a concert where everyone arrived without using gasoline.
Metz and his team use public art as a means of environmental activism because of how it can tell the story of climate change as something affecting, imminent, and personal.
“When you see people sort of asphyxiating and they’re in this trap, you have this realization, like, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t want to be in that trap, hooked up to a car!’ But then if you have a car, where does the exhaust go?” Metz says. “It starts to raise these issues in a way that the bureaucrats, the economists, and the activists or whatever aren’t really able to do.”
At various performances, Metz has had people talk to him about their intent to get rid of their cars, or to go electric.
“It starts to prompt—I’m not sure I’d say it was exactly guilt, but just this desire to get away from gasoline,” he says. “People kind of know at some level that it’s a dirty, messy thing that’s bad for the environment, but there’s almost no one pushing them or prompting them to really re-examine that.
“What we’re trying to do,” Metz adds, “is really start to spur the public and say, ’There actually is something coming out of your exhaust. You need to consider it; you need to stop doing it.’”
The Gas Trap plays the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on September 10. More information can be found here.