At Façade Festival, size matters as projected artworks animate the Vancouver Art Gallery

Shawn Hunt and Diyan Achjadi are just two of the artists spreading more than pretty colours across the historic building

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      When organizers of the annual Façade Festival gave them the task of creating images to be projected on the Georgia Street side of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Diyan Achjadi and Shawn Hunt shared a common thought: size matters.

      “It’s a big canvas,” says Hunt from his home on the Sunshine Coast, and Achjadi concurs. “When I was invited, I was excited by the idea of doing something a little bit outside of my normal frame of work, and something that was on such a massive physical scale,” she tells the Straight, in a telephone conversation from East Vancouver. “I thought that would be an interesting challenge to take up.”

      This year, Hunt and Achjadi will join Fiona Ackerman, Scott Billings, Annie Briard, James Nizam, Luke Ramsey, Evann Siebens, Ben Skinner, and Paul Wong in creating work for the Façade Festival, organized by the Burrard Arts Foundation in partnership with the VAG. The free, outdoor shows are aimed at bringing art to people who might not normally step inside the venerable gallery’s doors, and at animating the downtown core in a somewhat more purposeful way than, say, a fireworks competition. Viewers are welcome to come and marvel at the spectacle, but they’ll likely go home thinking about more than just the pretty colours.

      For Hunt, the Façade Festival is a chance to continue exploring the formline tradition of his Heiltsuk forebears. In his Line as Language exhibition at the Burrard Arts Foundation gallery last year, he brought three-dimensional shading and blue-grey, nocturnal light to his canvases of clan crests, celestial bodies, and symbolic objects; now he gets to add animation and sound to those images for an even more vibrant experience.

      Hunt also will address the VAG building’s history, in the process reclaiming the former provincial courthouse as a First Nations space. His approach is more abstract than didactic, however, although he notes that “putting Heiltsuk formline on such a building felt pretty in-your-face to me.

      “I like the way the paintings in this series have the feel of bones,” he continues. “The moonlight reveals things, as if we are seeing a sort of interdimensional X-ray of the building. The large painting [Ceremony] that flanks the wings of the building is from my exhibition at BAF.…The dancers in the centre of the composition are behind the columns of the building’s neoclassical colonial architecture, as if they are dancing behind bars. I feel like that says something that may be abstract to some, or it may be explicit or in-your-face to others. I think that depends on perception; what is revealed to the viewer when the moon rises. The final element is the knife in the ground, plunging into the earth—like a wound, or a staked claim. Again abstract or explicit, that really depends a lot on the viewer and the effect of their experience.”

      Shawn Hunt's imagery draws on Heiltsuk tradition.


      Bathed in beautifully spooky light, the VAG, in effect, will become a portal to another way of seeing—one in which buildings are animate, humans and animals are interconnected, and the supernatural is also the everyday.

      Achjadi likewise sees her Façade Festival work as a gateway, one that has been inspired by another piece of multimedia art that’s received wild acclaim this summer: filmmaker Nettie Wild’s immersive, salmon-centric Uninterrupted, screening at Coopers’ Park until September 24. “It’s stunning,” she says. “I just went to see it a couple of weeks ago, and it is such a, for lack of a better word, an otherworldly experience to kind of be in this familiar architecture but be taken to another space.

      “I always like to think of pictures, in general, as portals to another world,” she adds. “I like making pictures because I like the way that they share the space of fiction, where anything can happen. You can make propositions that might be absolutely impossible, but yet kind of live as a proposition, and maybe spark a thought towards the possibility.…That’s something I always consider in making my work.”

      In creating her piece for the Façade Festival, Achjadi has also considered its site, although not so much its history as its architectural qualities. “Its neoclassical form is deemed to be the epitome of colonial European structures that sort of demonstrate a particular type of power, and so I wanted to work in a visual language that was the opposite of that visual language,” she says. Consequently, she’s working with fanciful images of clouds and islands, influenced by Indonesian textile design and thus evoking “women’s work”, as opposed to the patriarchal justice system.

      Diyan Achjadi says the VAG's "neoclassical form is deemed to be the epitome of colonial European structures that sort of demonstrate a particular type of power, and so I wanted to work in a visual language that was the opposite of that visual language".


      “There’s going to be a lot of over-the-top decorative elements,” she explains. “There’s some more geometric decoration; there’s some elements taken from my print work.…It’s going to be very busy.”

      There will also be water, perhaps in surprising form—but we’ve been sworn to secrecy about that, so let’s just say that both Achjadi and Hunt are looking forward to having their work taken out of the art gallery and onto its façade. Achjadi admits that waiting for the public to respond to her work “will be incredibly nerve-racking”, but notes that her art is generally intended to spark a discussion of some kind, and this is no different.

      Hunt is similarly generous in his hopes. “My art is for everyone,” he says. So why not offer it on a really large scale, and in one of Vancouver’s most public spaces?

      The Façade Festival runs from Monday to Sunday (September 4 to 10) at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Georgia Street plaza. Shawn Hunt’s work will screen on opening night, and Diyan Achjadi’s on Tuesday (September 5).