• ArtworkLight Art
  • ArtistDiana Thater
  • Completion2005

Diana Thater

Light Art

We started this public art call with the goal of using the location of this property andthe height of the tower to maximum effect. We also wished to explore the use of light to reflect the building’s association to Burrard Inlet and the skyline of Vancouver.

Diana Thater’s piece consists of a straight line of dissolving coloured light running from the top of the building to the ground, where it disperses into a reflective surface while fog generated from the bottom of the building lifts the pool of light back up and out, producing a dynamic lightshow. The Shaw sign at the top of the building and the reflective pool at the bottom also creates a compositional balance.

Westbank took a monumental step forward in its conception of public art, and moved away from simple ornamentation toward an artwork whose conception is in direct relationship with the building architecture. In doing so, Westbank also began to craft larger and more progressive engagements and collaborations with artists, a facet of the work that continues to the present.

Completed in 2005, and designed by James Cheng, the Shaw Tower sits on Vancouver’s Coal Harbour community and is the third tallest residential building in Vancouver. It is also, by far, the tallest on the city’s waterfront, which gives the building particular prominence for the skyline, especially from the North Shore and the scenic approach into Vancouver across the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Taking advantage of these assets and working with the unobstructed view, Los Angeles based artist Diana Thater created an artwork that transects the entire side of the tower’s north face, accentuating the building’s vertical assent and giving a striking visual feature to downtown Vancouver at night.

One of the world’s leading contemporary artists, Diana Thater gained her reputation through works that bridge media technologies, particularly film and video, with the architecture of (typically) interior spaces. Her subject has often been the natural kingdom, and she has a particular interest in the complicated relationships forged between animals and humans. One of Thater’s signature early works, for example, was a video installation installed in the turret tower of 12th Century castle during the 1997 Skulptur Projekte Münster, a prestigious, once-a-decade festival of contemporary outdoor sculpture. Titled Broken Circle, Thater’s work responded both to the form and history of this medieval bastion through the installation of six video projections climbing the building’s interior spiral staircase. The projections showed a herd of galloping horses, and within the turret they appeared as if they were running in a radius up and through the spherical interior. Thater had filmed the horses herself on a ranch in California, in a landscape that recalled a Hollywood Western. In Münster the result was a provocative tension between the new world and the old, and between cultural associations of the horse as an animal of medieval servility and a more modern image of it as an icon of new world heroism. Thater then manipulated and modified the images by breaking down the video into a basic video colour spectrum (red, green, blue, light blue, magenta, yellow), so the horses changed colours as they slowly moved across the screen and around the room. By covering the windows with coloured gels, Thater also created a powerful effect from outside the turret itself, which at night projected an unearthly, vibrantly multicoloured glow.

Thater extended similar lines of thinking for her commission for the Shaw Tower, which grounds her formal interest in the sculptural qualities of light within an artwork that acts similarly to Broken Circle in defining and accenting a building’s architectural properties. Unveiled in 2005, the signature focus of Thater’s work for the Shaw Tower is a thread of LED light that runs 487 feet vertically up the side of the building. The light originates at the building base in a reflecting pool from which fog machines, not unlike those used for rock concerts, emit clouds of water vapour into the path of passersby. Emerging alchemically out of this atmospheric pool, the LED light rockets up the building flank, subtly shifting in colour from green to blue at the building’s crest. Accented through simple animating gestures of coloured glass at the foot and top, Thater’s work takes the entire building as its palette, subtly, (and paradoxically) evoking the natural world through a glaringly “stage like” lighting effect.