With most projects and exhibitions the starting point is to look for a way in. To find some footing, a window to metaphorically climb through that might afford a clearer perspective and a way forward.
The first step is to case the joint, get to know the place front and back, look for it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses. As a context the Telus Garden project is a curious one. Outside of models and renderings it doesn’t yet exist. On one hand it makes sense to introduce the art to the architecture as early on as possible but the danger is they may become friends, one complicit with the other.
There is a great deal of information that can be drawn from plans and models but equally a large amount that cannot. The human scale in relation to a building or the atmospherics as the light changes and day dissolves into night. The city noise slowly changes and the specular reflections of the sun on the glass facade give way to transparency as lighted interiors fade into view. It’s the wonder of one place becoming another.
In November 2002 I produced a large scale installation that took the form of a fragmented urban park and in January 2003 a sister exhibition at the CAG Vancouver that collapsed a garden with an interior. In a conversation with Douglas Coupland for the accompanying catalogue we talked of, not my plan for the exhibition as such but rather what the exhibition had revealed to me. I spoke of how spatially and temporally the work had appeared like a frozen moment, like an image revealed in a flash or caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. I likened the sensation to seeing something from the window of a passing train. A landscape captured in a glimpse, only now that glimpse had become elongated or looped and we could step into it. These two exhibitions were turning points for me in that they used sculpture to conjure up landscapes out with the places they were shown in. This idea of collapse continued in Melbourne in 2008 where I described a large public work as being one place shipwrecked inside another and at the Venice Biennale in 2009 where in the exhibition No Reflections, one place appeared to be blown through another or abandoned within it. It’s a strange condition for an artwork, on one hand site specific while on the other it’s antithesis.
All of this brings me to Telus Garden and a development that to my mind seems very assured of it’s presence in the urban context of Vancouver. It’s a building that’s having some fun, that celebrates itself. However in thinking about the project it was difficult to find a way in for my work. I wasn’t looking for it’s weakness but was perhaps looking for something a little less stable, something that might match the tone of my work. And so in search of this I snuck around the back and into the alley. Immediately this place opened up a number of possibilities, it is place not so much of the architecture but a by product of it. An archetypal landscape. It’s what usually happens when a number of buildings turn there back on each other but here is a development that has a desire to activate this site and include it.
The proposal ‘Beyond the Sea. Against the Sun’ consists of three continuous chains of hanging lanterns that converge at the point where the Richards St lane meets the alleyway running from Robson St through to Georgia St. At this point one line of lanterns scales the wall of the Telus
offices until an aestheticised snip leaves it hanging in space. A similar fate has met the lanterns leading from Robson St. while the row running past the Kingston Hotel ends abruptly as it careers into a wall.
The lanterns follow a geometric design with their component shape being found as the ‘leaf’ in the 1925 abstract trees of Jan and Joel Martel. They are produced in perforated stainless steel and coated with a two part epoxy paint system. Each lantern will be around 1.5 metres in height with it’s fringed tassel reproduced in stainless steel chain.
This industrial translation belies the lightness of traditional paper lanterns, directing it away from any cultural specificity via the french modernism of Mathieu Mategot and out into the realm of the uncanny. They are objects in and of themselves but more importantly mark and activate the space below them. Their state of partial collapse simultaneously suggests the residue of a celebration long since passed and an arrangement in advance of such an occasion. This incomplete condition is very deliberately at odds with the Telus Garden development. It is this tension as well as the sculptural presence of the piece that will give the work life and longevity. It is not resolved in the way architecture and planning requires but instead hovers with a sense of openness.
Scaled up and clustered in colourful constellations their presence will heighten the dramatic possibilities of the site and draw people in. They will create spectacular vistas whether seen while walking past or captured snapshot like from a passing car.