Geyser for Hillcrest Park makes invisible water systems visible—and playful

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      Have you ever wandered past Hillcrest Park and witnessed a geyser suddenly erupting?

      It's not an actual natural wonder (or a burst pipe) but an artist-made one.

      Geyser for Hillcrest Park, created by artists Vanessa Kwan and Erica Stocking, is a civic monument commissioned by the City of Vancouver Public Art Program as part of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Program.

      Here's how it works.

      The geyser is hooked up to the Hillcrest facility's water system. The facility's non-potable cistern is supplied with water by rain and groundwater (otherwise known as grey water). The water is then used for things like park irrigation and toilets.

      But when there isn't enough grey water available, intake from the city's potable water supply kicks in. As the water is pumped in, the geyser is activated, which shoots the water above ground and into the air (up to 18 feet high), before it falls into the triangular catchment basin and drains into the cistern.

      Here's a diagram that illustrates the flow of water.

      Although it's human-made, the geyser, inspired by natural water spouts, cannot actually be controlled by anyone. Instead, it responds to the needs of the environment and the community.

      For instance, during Wetcouver's notorious rainy seasons, the geyser will remain relatively dormant due to the supply of rainwater. During dry periods, however, the geyser will become more frequently activated in response to the need for more water.

      (Accordingly, the geyser, which doesn't waste any water, appropriately activates more often during the time period it will most likely be appreciated by the community—on sunny or hot days.)

      And thus, it's a visual indicator of the hidden systems at work in the area that we might not otherwise think about. It reminds viewers of the invisible forces that influence both the natural elements of the park, including the climate, and the urban environment.

      It also can inspire viewers to think about all the numerous systems around us, many of which we're disconnected from visually but nonetheless affect us as we go about our daily lives.

      The public monument was officially launched by deputy mayor Adriane Carr on September 15, with several city officials in attendance.

      Kwan and Stocking also talked about the piece, after having worked on it for several years with numerous others who provided technical expertise.

      Stocking pointed out that the geyser provides a missing link to two major components of the community centre: the pool, which presents water in its liquid form, and the ice rink, which utilizes water in its frozen form. While the geyser doesn't quite make use of water in its gaseous form, it does provide a symbolic approximation in its direction towards the sky.

      Needless to say, it's a hit with children, who are been attracted to its interactive, unpredictable, and playful nature.

      If you want to check it out for yourself, Geyser for Hillcrest Park is located in the Riley Park-Little Mountain neighbourhood on a mound at the northeast side of Hillcrest Park, which is north of Queen Elizabeth Park and west of Riley Park.

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      Councillor Adriane Carr

      Sep 18, 2012 at 2:10pm

      Great explanation of how this piece of eco-art / water-engineering works. When the geyser spouts people can also think about the possibility (except for this year which was rainy until August) that our city's reservoirs may be low and everyone should be conserving water.

      Adrian L.

      Jan 2, 2013 at 4:30pm

      Listen.......I guess there's a slightly interesting idea somewhere in this. But as a work of art? Come on. It is about as interesting as a garden hose.

      Artistry...expression..transformation of materials. We have to start demanding more from works of art, public or otherwise.

      An Emily Carr grad