For the Georgia Straight’s 19th annual Best of Vancouver issue, our editorial team has spent months on the lookout for good deeds, weird urban details, and various howlers to highlight. Here’s our contributors’ picks for Best of Vancouver 2014.
Best disgustingly beautiful public art
Most bacteria found in human saliva will die fairly quickly upon contact with air. That’s worth knowing if the idea of adding your own lovingly chewed contribution to Douglas Coupland’s Gumhead squicks you out. It might have given mysophobics a serious case of the vapours, but the sculpture—a two-metre resin-and-polyester bust of the artist that will remain installed on the Howe Street side of the Vancouver Art Gallery until October 7 and to which people are encouraged to stick their own chewing gum—is strictly public art, not public health hazard. (Unless you count the risk of stings from the bees and wasps that were attracted to all that sticky stuff in the summer.) Coupland himself has described the work as “ugly-beautiful”, but, as usual, the greatest wisdom comes out of the mouths of babes: back in June, one kindergarten-aged visitor was heard to declare: “It’s a disgusting masterpiece!
Best proof that art is a subversive medium
In a protest against cuts to programs at Capilano University, arts instructor George Rammell did what he does best: he made a sculpture, and out came an unflattering effigy of CapU president Kris Bulcroft. Bulcroft’s likeness was wrapped in an American flag—she was hired from the U.S.—and holding a poodle. University management seized the piece from the school grounds, declaring it misogynistic and tantamount to harassment. After almost two months, it was returned to Rammell with the heads of Bulcroft and the pooch removed. Rammell will unveil a restored and enhanced version sometime in the fall.
Sweetest new piece of public art
Suddenly this summer, it looked like God had dropped a few giant treats from his colossal loot bag in the sky. On the seawall in South False Creek, between Leg-in-Boot Square and Granville Island, Canadian sculptor Cosimo Cavallaro had, in fact, installed three shiny, deliciously realistic, megasize jellybeans as part of the Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum. Ever since, children have been climbing them, scrambling around them, hugging them, and generally getting a sugar rush from the pieces. And the humungous candy has already made its way onto a thousand Instagrams. Who says public art can’t be fun? Cavallaro has worked with everything from chocolate to cheese, but in this case it just looks good enough to eat.
Best place to take in culture while rocking your inner Rat Packer
Dances for a Small Stage’s spinoff “point 5” event is that perfect mashing of unexpected elements. MovEnt producer Julie-anne Saroyan has not just matched indie musicians and dancers to collaborate on new works but set their creations in a show at the Emerald—the Chinatown haunt that’s a monument to retro Vegas kitsch. The work on-stage is coolly cutting-edge, but the menu beforehand? Think Mad Men–era shrimp cocktail, spaghetti and meatballs, and meringue mousse, savoured while you sit surrounded by gold-leaf wallpaper, faux-crystal chandeliers, and old-school martini carts. So that means that while the artists on the tiny stage defy genres, you can defy your cholesterol levels. The show’s been such a hit it’s had to move out of its backroom location and out into the Emerald’s main dining room. Now that’s Vegas, baby.
Best new homes for art in parks
Dance performances over a dinner table of homemade food, elaborate pieces woven from discarded green waste, and a community comics library: these are just some of the unexpected works to have come out of the Vancouver park board’s field house artist-residency programs. The unassuming little cottages in parks around town used to be the homes of caretakers, but now they’ve become hubs for community art projects unlike anything we’ve ever seen. A highlight this summer was Justine Chambers’s Family Dinner at Hadden Park (by Kits Point), where the dance artist invited audience members to a sit-down meal with performers who played with the gestures of formal etiquette. Elsewhere, on any given day, you can find double bassist and composer Mark Haney rehearsing in the Falaise Park field house, Urban Weavers working their magic at the MacLean Park field house, or the Cloudscape Comics Collective holding workshops at the Memorial South Park field house. There are many more—a dozen altogether now, housing about 50 artists’ projects. Those artists would be hard-pressed, by the way, to find, let alone afford, studio space anywhere else in the city. So peek in, or follow your ears, and see what kind of grassroots art is growing amid the trees and lawns of your local greenspace. And for an overview of all that is going on, check out an exhibit at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre until September 25: Field Guides celebrates the first three-year round of field-house residencies with highlights of all the projects, from the bizarre to the transcendent.
Best way to celebrate the Christmas season East Van–style
Leave your pretensions and seasonal treacle at home and head down to the refurbished York Theatre for one of the city’s most fun—and most refreshingly warped—new family-holiday traditions. Theatre Replacement and the Cultch’s East Van Panto is rollicking fairy-tale silliness, cranked up by a cast of performers who carry an impressive pedigree and a taste for fearless insanity. Last December, they debuted with Jack and the Beanstalk, complete with local stage favourite Allan Zinyk jumping between the gender-bending roles of Jack’s sarcastic mother and the gargantuan bad guy (who sported a Giants hockey jersey and stick along with a towering wig and troll feet). East Van references abounded, from the trip to the Trout Lake Farmers Market to the menu from Nick’s Spaghetti House. There are political jabs for the adults and, yes, fart jokes for the kids—most of whom were almost peeing their pants with laughter. We can’t wait for the mayhem to ensue when the creative team of Amiel Gladstone, Veda Hille, and Charles Demers puts its twisted touch on Cinderella this December.
Best new event for design nerds
Vancouver Design Week
Vancouver is home to some of the world’s top architects, was the birthplace of West Coast modernism and so-called Vancouverism, and has spurred some of the most precedent-setting green building on the planet. So, finally, it’s getting the kind of smart, aesthetic-happy event it deserves: the inaugural Vancouver Design Week brings together the scene’s various strands, with pop-ups, parties, talks, walking tours, open studios, and exhibits happening across the city and across the spectrum of design forms. We’re talking sneak peeks at private gardens; a design-book and -magazine exchange over wine; an urban bike tour; a Monogram Dinner by Design that brings in renowned names to create “tablescapes”; and a “Nerd Jam” on cultural spaces. At the centre of it all is IDS West (September 25 to 28 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West), a showcase of hip design and cool home stuff that captures the whole design Zeitgeist. Vancouver Design Week happens to be on right now, running till September 25, all around the city.
Best place to gorge yourself on art
There’s a reason tens of thousands of people escape the late-fall rain each year to wander the labyrinthine studios and industrial spaces that house more than 300 artists in East Van. Giant multimedia canvases, ethereal blown glass, retro ceramics, salvaged-wood furniture, and hip jewellery: they’re all being made in the nooks and crannies of Strathcona and the streets off the Drive, and this 18-year-old event continues to be the one time of the year when all that work gets revealed from its hiding places. Devote a whole day or two to exploring with your map in hand—or, as long-time Crawlers do, head out for the Thursday- or Friday-night openings, when you’re likely to find wine and cheese along with unexpected art discoveries.