April 13, 2011

A Day at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Yesterday, VanCity Credit Union provided free admission to the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) to its card-carrying credit union members.
(Admission being pretty expensive for me right now, I was happy to take them up on this opportunity.)

What a great series of exhibits!

We: Vancouver: 12 Manifestos for the City

This exhibit, located on the ground floor, presents projects that demonstrate a wide variety of visions for how Vancouver can be improved and enhanced. Manifesto statements cover the walls (and parts of the floor) to introduce the theme and goal of each project. It's a diverse group, encompassing graphic design, green architecture and urban planning, innovations in education, and film and photography that documents the history of Vancouver's struggles with homelessness, land development and corporate social responsibility.

The two pieces that stand out in my mind are:
  • A display of photos that show the history and diversity of that ubiquitous housing design known as "The Vancouver Special"
  • Film and photo-documentation of the Habitat '76 Project. (I remember having one of those Habitat buttons when I was a kid. I never knew what it was all about...)
Ken Lum

Most famous recently for his "Monument to East Vancouver" (look at the corner of Clark and Great Northern Way), Ken Lum has been active locally for many years. He has a strong interest in the relationship between words and images in public spaces (i.e. advertising and public signage) and uses that as a basis for ironic, poignant and often funny social commentary.

I think my favourite section was his business signs which had messages using those sliding clear plastic letters you'd see outside of gas stations. He'd show a flashy colourful sign promoting an all-Canadian business like "Akbar's All-Canadian Maple Leaf Clothing Store", and on the board next to it, in those sliding letters, Akbar will have left this message: "Going out of Business. Drop Dead Canada". Tragic, unreal (i.e. contrived, I'm sure), and funny as hell.

The biggest piece in his show was his maze. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to go in. Something about being in a maze or a hall of mirrors gave me the willies that day. Brr! I just couldn't do it. This became awkward when the security guard noticed my turning back from the entrance and began to encourage me ("C'mon! Go in! Go!") Well-intentioned, but kind of awkward

Walking and Falling:

A fascinating combination of artists who explore concepts of time, existence, motion and sequence, through key technologies from different eras of the past 100+ years:
  • The classic human and animal motion study photography by Eadweard Myubridge
  • Jim Campbell's haunting and mysteriously engaging LED displays
  • Chris Marker's hypnotic 1960s black and white film, "La Jetee"
Walking and Falling made me feel like an anthropologist from another planet, regarding and analyzing human motion, motives and interaction as if for the first time.

All of these exhibits seem to share themes of change and transformation: people and a city and its people in motion, and reacting to their environment.

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