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Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 15, 2010 at 8:25 pm

 

 

This is less a piece of writing than a working list of our favourite things to come out of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. A caveat: many of these things aren’t directly linked to the Olympics, but may have been accelerated by them.

Favourite transit project: So many column inches have been written about streetcars in Vancouver—why we took them off city streets so many years ago, why we don’t add one down the old Arbutus rail corridor, why we didn’t build a grid of streetcars instead of a subway line. Vancouverites—or maybe it’s just reporters?—are obsessed with the things. So when the (also) much-written about streetcar line between Granville Island and the Olympic Village Canada Line station was reopened for the Games as part of a demonstration project years in the planning—and with free fares to boot—it was something of a miracle. The length of the line is akin to Seattle’s monorail system (read: short) but it’s a needed connection to an under-served area, and fun to ride. More details on the project linked here.

Favourite Games spin-off at MOV: There are many. Hosting a binational craft show with a section devoted to the work of local craftspeople and artists ranks highly. The B.C./Yukon section of the exhibit was curated by Kirsti Wakelin and Darren Carcary of Resolve Design (read more about them in this January post), who produced four lovely short films of artists at work in their studios. One of the films is posted on the design section of Wakelin’s website here. We’ll post the videos to the multimedia section of this website soon, too.

Another of our favourite Games projects has been working with artist Ed Pien, whose installation Tracing Night opened here two weeks ago. As a city museum, we don’t often host works of this nature. It was one of those rare cultural opportunities that come along with the Olympics and we were thrilled to have it. Working with an artist of Pien’s calibre has been an absolute pleasure. I’ll post my notes on his recent curator’s talk in the coming days.

 

 

Favourite souvenir: Everyone has the red mittens with maple leafs on the palms (us too). Not everyone has one of these beautifully designed, limited edition, graphic umbrellas. Sold for $20 at Vancouver Special (3612 Main St.), they feature a street grid of Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside with venues and events highlighted in red. Proceeds benefit the Bright Light public art project.

Favourite flash mob: We’re just not used to seeing this kind of thing in Vancouver. Which isn’t to say we’re a sullen lot, we’re just not typically so… gregarious. On the weekend, a crowd of hundreds who’d been rehearsing a dance routine set to Martha and the Vandellas’s “Dancing in the Street” descended on Robson Street to perform it. Many videos of the shenanigans are found on YouTube here. It was fun, frosh-week-esque, and we can’t stop watching it.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 14, 2010 at 10:35 pm

So much going on it’s hard to keep up! There’s too much to write; we’ll post more over the coming days.

It’s too early to get into the Games, but so far we’ve been fascinated by—among many, many other things—all the reporting and essays coming out about Vancouver and Canada. Three must-reads so far.

—From today’s New York Times“Crib Notes on Canada, From a Canadian” by Bruce Headlam. For a smart, humorous summary of our nation’s history and character, look no further.

—In Saturday’s Globe and Mail, architecture critic Lisa Rochon has written on Vancouver’s Southeast False Creek neighbourhood—currently home to 3,000 Olympic athletes, and still looking much like a construction zone. No matter. Rochon, who has written critically of the dearth of notable buildings here, hails the area as an urban accomplishment: “It will do for Vancouver what the St. Lawrence neighbourhood did for Toronto in the 1970s—catapult the city as a test zone of urban daring.” The feature story is linked here.

—Gary Stephen Ross’ essay in the current issue of The Walrus magazine. Called “A Tale of Two Cities” it’s a thorough, beautifully written overview of the contemporary history and culture of the city.

How do you think the Games are going now that they’re finally here? And if you’ve come across any great analysis on Vancouver these days, please post a link to it in the comment section below.

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Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 4, 2010 at 10:55 am

Quick post—and an invitation: Tonight, the Vectorial Elevation light show goes live over English Bay. There’s been a bit of buzz about this Cultural Olympiad installation (hosted as part of CODE, their digital program).

In a nutshell, Vectorial Elevation is an audience-generated laser-light show (the rendering pictured at left doesn’t really do it justice). A series of 10,000-watt “robotic searchlights” have been set up along Vanier Park and Sunset Beach. Once Vectorialvancouver.net goes live at noon today, users from here and around the world can design their own light patterns, creating a spectacular, evolving, massive interactive display that will be visible as far as Richmond and the peaks of Grouse and Cypress. There are some parameters in the program to keep the lights aiming skyward, so nix any plans to align the beams into a single condo unit.)

Though created by prolific Montreal-based artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and shown in cities like Dublin, Mexico City, and Lyon, this is the first time it’s been seen in Canada. It runs until February 28.

Bonus: Vectorial Elevation premieres at dusk tonight, and we’re hosting a curator’s talk with Ed Pien here at 7 p.m. (free with admission; details here). Come see the show from our perfectly positioned galleries, and take in some art and culture.

Image credit: Vectorial Vancouver

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 3, 2010 at 11:39 am

Tonight marks the opening Tracing Night, the second exhibit MOV is hosting as part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, and on view until April 11. The launch party starts at 7 p.m.; tickets available here or at the door.

Tracing Night defies easy classification: it’s an installation piece that serves as a stand-alone exhibit; it’s art layered with history, mythology, and psychology; it’s an elaborate drawing that needs to be entered into to be understood, and one heightened by video projection and a humming, eerie sound scape. In many respects, it’s an unusual choice for a city museum, but its location is somehow fitting, occupying a cavernous 1,000-square-foot gallery wedged between our permanent history galleries and Art of Craft, a binational survey of pieces from Canada and Korea (and our second Cultural Olympiad show).

Tracing Night was among Ed Pien’s early immersive works, and now, several years after its completion, it remains deeply personal to him. In an interview with Amanda Gibbs, MOV’s director of audience engagement, Pien described his intention to explore or recreate a child’s fear of, and fascination with, being in the dark. He researched different mythological interpretations of night and darkness, centering on the Rabbit Girl found in Inuit lore. She serves as the heroine of the piece.

“The mood is not meant to be that of a haunted house,” says Pien, “but a seductive experience where you’re drawn into the space… It keys on the possible darkness of the human soul, but it is ultimately a creative and joyful exploration—there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Pien is based on Toronto and represented by several galleries; the Pierre-Francois Ouellette Art Contemporain gallery in Montreal has an thorough description of his work and images of it. Click here for details.

On Thursday night at 7 p.m., Ed Pien will lead a discussion of Tracing Night (event details here), focusing on its references to Inuit culture and the compelling work of artist Irene Avaalaaqiaq; I’ll post an update accordingly.

Image credit: Edpien.com

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on January 20, 2010 at 11:27 am

Though we’re fans, followers, and patrons of Vancouver’s craft scene we don’t often get the chance to throw ourselves into the mix. Tomorrow night we will, hosting a DIY craft night with multiple workshops aimed at novice and seasoned crafters alike. The museum will be occupying interesting territory here, bridging the gap between the perhaps more traditional (classic?) craft world that is represented in Art of Craft, and the emerging, socially driven do-it-yourself/punk/rogue/craft 2.0 world. Two solitudes, as it were.

Of all the programs we’ve hosted over the past few months, none has gotten as much attention as this one. So, why all the interest in a museum taking in the DIYers? What’s this movement about? Quick summary:

New crafters are learning those lost arts of knitting, sewing, printing, etc., that skipped a generation;

The return to the handmade is a reaction to an increasingly digitized world (though the DIY movement relies on the blogosphere and sites like Etsy to spread the word);

Some craft movements reclaim public space, in celebration or protest. Yarn bombing, for example, sees a message knit into chainlink (such as the one scrawled along the fence at Oppenheimer Park, protesting the park’s redesign), or a surface decorated to enliven a stretch of sidewalk (like the one pictured left at the sprawling Davie Village Community Garden). For more on Yarn Bombing, click here for details on the recently published book of the same name, written by Vancouverites Mandy Moore and Leeanne Prain.

Maybe there’s some combination of all of the above at work, but above all else, we think craft 2.0 is simply a sign that long-silo’d artistic practices are merging into a looser, artistic form that doesn’t require formal education or training. Craft, art, design—it’s all for the taking, making, and interpreting. We hope tomorrow night’s event captures a slice of that energy. Blim’s Yuriko Iga will lead a session on button making and screen printing. Knitgirl Robin Love will direct a knitting circle, and illustrator—and Art of Craft exhibit designer—Kirsti Wakelin will lead a round of exquisite corpse, a technique where words and images are collectively assembled. Incredible materials have been supplied by Opus and Blim. Oh, and Got Craft, Yarn Bombers and Blim will have a selection of their crafts for sale (reason enough to come, if you find the learning how to knit in public daunting).

Image credits, from top:

Black Cat Doll - Ari, by artist Mia Hansen.
Davie Street Community Garden, from Monniblog.com

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on January 19, 2010 at 11:01 am

 

After the Cultural Olympiad shows roll out of MOV in April, we train our lens back on Vancouver with a look at locally loved shoe designers John Fluevog and Peter Fox. Opening in May, the exhibit chronicles the designers’ formative years in Gastown in the 1970s to John Fluevog’s independent work today. Their innovative experiments in shoe design and construction, narrative-driven business model (theatre-like boutiques! novella-like catalogues!), and famous fans (Madonna among them) make for the kind of Vancouver story we love to tell.

Needless to say, we’re amassing an incredible collection of footwear to drive the exhibit and specifically in need of Fox and Fluevog shoes, boots, and clogs from the 1970s thru to 1978 or so. Have a pair? Please contact Joan Seidl, the exhibit curator and MOV’s director of collections and exhibitions. jseidl@museumofvancouver.ca

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on January 13, 2010 at 11:26 am

Here’s a task: design an exhibit that’s actually three exhibits in one, relying solely on images of the featured objects supplied in a PowerPoint file—objects that won’t arrive for months. Such was the challenge of Art of Craft, a rich, binational survey of contemporary craft presented with the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad that opens tonight. Exhibit designers Kirsti Wakelin and Darren Carcary of Vancouver-based Resolve Design opted for a simple, spare concept that belies both the complexity of the 173 objects on view and the themes each gallery incorporates in layer, upon layer, upon layer. The range of materials is staggering, too, covering ceramics, textiles, glass, wood, and metal, among others.

If there is a central thesis to Art of Craft says Wakelin, it’s that the world of craft is incredibly broad and doesn’t have a boundary. “Most craft is fine art but the word ‘craft’ has typically referred to the technical ability of doing or making. That’s changing.”

The first gallery or show-within-a-show, entitled Unity and Diversity, is a national survey of works that were recently shown at the Cheongju International Craft Biennale in Korea. The 75 pieces were selected out of 1,400 submissions to six juries coordinated by provincial and territorial craft councils overseen by the Canadian Crafts Federation.

Unity and Diversity represents a more traditional or classic approach to craft, but there’s a lightness here, too, and a common rejection of nostalgia. Many of the artisans question old ideas about Canadian identity, motifs, and history, while others challenge preconceived notions about the materials themselves: Springtime by Nova Scotian Dawn MacNutt looks as though it were made from wicker. In fact, it’s painted bronze-cast wire—and weighs a tonne. The nine ceramic figures of the work fine lines by Margaret Matsuyama (pictured left) are a comment on what she sees as a Canadian tendency to broadly categorize “diversity” while overlooking individual differences. “Diversity in multicultural Canada is often broadly defined by categories that overlook complex, subtle differences of identity.”

The second gallery turns its attention to crafts produced on the West Coast. By Hand/B.C. and Yukon was also a juried show, but when it reached MOV it hadn’t been formally curated. Carcary and Wakelin organized the objects by medium and added a multimedia section that focuses on an area they find fascinating: process. They shot and produced a series of two-minute films of Vancouver-based artisans Peter Kiss, Barbara Heller, Jinny Whitehead, and Barbara Cohen—all with pieces on display here—to capture studio life and the intimacies of the creative process. “By seeing what’s involved in the making of an object, you develop a greater appreciation for the skill involved,” says Carcary. “Each artisan creates a tangible object on film, but their approaches are so totally different.” For some, the materials determine the final outcome; for others, they’re just a means to an end.

The third gallery, entitled simply Craft from the Republic of Korea, offers a representation of objects used or found in the Korean home. It’s more thematically concise than the Canadian galleries, but the exacting attention to form and materials is the same. Some of the pieces have a distinct Pacific North quality to them, too (Bae Se Hwa’s incredible white birch lanterns, Easylight-01, would be right at home at the B.C. Wood Co-op; ditto Kim Kyung lae’s Branch Chair, a high-backed piece made from ash, maple, and ebony woods with a seat fashioned from cord).

Wakelin and Carcary are themselves involved with Vancouver’s craft scene, participating in a regular craft night or “crafternoon” that brings together anywhere from a handful to 15 friends to create anything and everything from knitting to collages to stop-motion photography. The idea inspired the Museum’s DIY@MOV craft night coming up on January 21, and Wakelin will be leading one of the sessions. (More on all that later.)

There’s a lot of ground covered in Art of Craft—and far more to cover still. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at contemporary craft in Vancouver and how various practices are evolving. However you spend your time in the exhibit, be sure to pause near the entrance to watch the projection of close-shot photographs of some of the works featured inside. The discipline and skill used to achieve such extraordinary detail is precisely what Art of Craft is about.

Image caption material, from top to bottom:

Selection from The Meditation of Order by Eliza Au.
fine lines
 by Margaret Matsuyama
Gallery wall featured in By Hand/B.C. and Yukon gallery
Sanctuary
 by Noelle Hamlyn Snell

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on January 11, 2010 at 9:42 pm

It’s not the original “W” that crowned the Woodward’s building, of course (that “W” will be displayed inside the redeveloped building), but what a symbol! The new version, consisting of 6,700 lbs of steel and lit by LEDs, was hoisted to the top of the building yesterday. Media coverage abounded. The Georgia Straight has a good summary on their website with links to video; click here for it. Coverage on CBC.ca links to past articles on the—complex? storied? controversial? acclaimed?—redevelopment project.

This image was taken by Honey Mae Caffin. Her Flickr photostream (linked here) has other equally striking shots of the event. We loved them all.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on January 10, 2010 at 11:05 am

If the Granville Street Fred Herzog photographed in the 1950s represents the area’s heyday, how do we get back there? (See images and intro in the previous post here.) Quick answer: we can’t and shouldn’t. The Orpheum and Vogue theatres are still around, sure, but there’s now an intense concentration of bars and nights clubs alongside them. (There are now more liquor seats in this section of Granville than anywhere else in the city.) In addition, Granville is now a regional transit hub where three subway lines converge onto a car-free transit mall. Downtown Granville Street isn’t Main Street, or even South Granville Street; it serves less charming purposes. A better question is whether the new Granville—the workhorse, not the neon fantasy—can become a beloved, vibrant street again?

We think it just might. Here’s why.

The redesign was conceived by Elizabeth Macdonald and Allan Jacobs, two renowned San Francisco-based urban designers who’ve studied the world’s most significant streets down to the smallest of details. “It’s no big mystery,” writes Jacobs. “The best streets are comfortable to walk along with leisure and safety. They are streets for both pedestrians and drivers. They have definition, a sense of enclosure with their buildings; distinct ends and beginnings, usually with trees… The key point is that great streets are where pedestrians and drivers get along together.”


Macdonald and Jacobs have remade many a workhorse street. For example, in 2005, they completed a redesign of Octavia Boulevard in San Francisco (pictured left), replacing a section of the elevated Central Freeway that was rendered unsafe in a 1989 earthquake with a smart multi-way boulevard. It bears all of their trademarks: side lanes for parking, generous tree-lined sidewalks, and abundant landscaping and green space to counterbalance the pavement. I visited the site on a cloudless Saturday morning in November. The brunch crowd was out in force, crowding the sidewalks of several patios that overlook the boulevard. Hayes Green Park at the boulevard’s north end was just as lively; a public space, bordered by a major throughfare that somehow manages to complement the surroundings rather than disrupt them. According to an article by the Congress for the New Urbanism, since the boulevard was completed, real estate prices in the neighbourhood grew 30% faster than the city average. Retail rebounded, too. “Where it had been previously populated by liquor stores and mechanic shops, soon the area was teeming with trendy restaurants and high-end boutiques.”

The Granville Street redesign is still raw. The black asphalt and gleaming concrete need to settle into the surroundings, and the too-skinny street trees need time to mature (the City shouldn’t have skimped on them). But change is afoot. A light has been turned on. If nothing else, the new Granville will succeed because it doesn’t just manage crowds, it embraces them. Gone is the tired lighting, unwelcoming seating, and the ’70s-era S-shaped/meandering street section at the north end of the street; in, are double-wide sidewalks with inventive built-in benches (PWL Landscape Architects inspire again). Outdoor performance space has been considered, too, with the idea to project video on the side of the Sears department store.

All of it was long overdue.

Additional reading:

City of Vancouver, Granville Street Redesign

Project for Public Spaces “Placemaker Profile, Allan B. Jacobs”
“Building a Boulevard” by Elizabeth Macdonald in ACCESS magazine, published by the University of California Transportation Center.

Image credits:

Artist’s rendering of Granville Street Redesign, Helmcken to Nelson.
Artist’s rendering of Granville to Robson, potential for special events.
Octavia Boulevard, Rosemary Poole

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on January 7, 2010 at 2:16 pm

In 1959, Fred Herzog captured this image of the intersection of Granville and Robson Streets (a link to a larger image is found at the bottom of this post). Back then, the stretch of downtown Granville Street, between the blocks of Drake and Cordova, had earned the moniker “the Great White Way,” and it was a destination for live theatre and entertainment, lit up with neon signs. If you approached it up the hill to the south, the street radiated like an airport runway.

Only a few years later, that same stretch of Granville would change dramatically, beginning a slow and steady decline. In the 1960s, City Hall passed a bylaw banning new neon signs. In the 1970s, Granville Street was reconfigured into a transit mall, accessible only to public transit buses and pedestrians. Then Eaton’s opened their large, windowless white box of a store on the northwest corner of Granville and Robson (now Sears). The design wasn’t popular at the time, shutting out the street as it did, but people shopped there anyway, and in the new Pacific Centre Mall connected to it. Most retailers moved inside, too, their old stores replaced by tattoo parlours and sex shops. (Vancouver may have rallied against inner-city freeways, but it didn’t oppose the shopping mall; its impact on street life is just as profound.)

Herzog’s Granville Street may be long gone, but the energy of that time was a major influence on the latest redesign of the street, now very-nearly completed—and years in the making. If you’ve been to Granville recently, you’ll have noticed the changes; the street has undergone a major exfoliation. There a rawness to it: new double-wide concrete-and-basalt curbs supply parallel parking by day and become crowd-friendly sidewalks by night—newly planted street trees are overwhelmed by their width. Design elements and street furniture by PWL Partnership Landscape Architects and Pechet and Robb stand in gleaming contrast to some of the scrubbier buildings and businesses. Instead of typical streetlamps, vertical light tubes line the street, riffing off the shape and intensity of the old marquee signs (see image at left, also taken by Herzog).

The overall redesign concept was conceived by Elizabeth Macdonald and Allan Jacobs, leading thinkers on “Great Streets” (Jacobs’ 1993 book of the same name). The question is, will Granville become just that? The great street it once was, connecting the east and west sides of downtown? Our next post will explore that question, looking at Macdonald’s and Jacobs’ great streets philosophy.

Image credits, appearing from top to bottom:
Granville/Robson by Fred Herzog (1959), via 
Equinox Gallery.
Three Theatres by Fred Herzog (1957), via 
Equinox Gallery.

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