The Art of Quote-Unquote

22 June 2017 – It began with an email from my friend Sally, off kickin’ up her cowgirl heels in Alberta, sharing a quote she read on the washroom wall in the Bear Paw Café in Jasper:

Off to the woods I go

To lose my mind

And find my soul

The washroom scribbler helpfully added attribution: Scottish-American naturalist John Muir (1838-1914),  whose poetry is very findable online. As well as on washroom walls.

All of which got me thinking again about quotations, and how we use them, and respond to them, in public space.

A thought process much stimulated by the tail end of a long walk into/through/out of Stanley Park, ending in downtown Vancouver, where walking companion & friend Frances pointed out some landmark buildings, including the soaring Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

It was sufficiently intriguing to pull me back downtown the next day, solo, to look more closely.

Enroute, walking north on Hamilton St., I did a head-snap at this line of text on an otherwise unremarkable little building.

Confession. I originally read the text as: “Unlimited Growth Increases the Dividend.

This is richly ironic, given that artist Kathryn Walter’s 1990 installation is meant to decry rampant capitalism, and honour Del Mar Inn owner George Riste, who refused to sell out to BC Hydro and continued to offer clean accommodation at modest prices.

A major contrast, in scale and price point, with the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, at Cordova & Burrard!

But look. They have something in common.

Text.

This time in two-foot-high letters, Helvetica Bold (I love that detail), the 2010 work of British artist Liam Gillick. Repeated, again and again, between floors 5 & 22, dividing the hotel portion from the 25 additional residential floors above.

A single sentence, wrapping two sides of the structure.

lying on top of a building

the clouds looked no nearer than when I was lying on the street

I really love this, even if the unspaced letters make it hard to read.

Frances & I spent perilous long moments mid-street, puzzling it out. (Changing traffic signals & some vestigial instinct for survival caused us to scurry to the sidewalk in time.) I am more prudent on my return visit.

Safely back home again, I think about another artist who makes brilliant use of text in some of his public pieces — Toronto’s Eldon Garnet. A favourite example: his 1995 Time & A Clock installation on Queen St. East, which includes this adaptation of a Heracleitus quote on the façade of the 1911 bridge over the Don River.

Sometimes, words & images fight it out for supremacy.

Sometimes, though, the fit works perfectly.

 

 

 

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10 Comments

  1. susan Corbin

     /  23 June 2017

    Have never read the bridge…..s.

    Reply
  2. Your confession is safe with us. 🙂 Very ironic, yes, but you make up for any lapses in PC’ness with your wonderful post. Thanks for finding and transcribing these urban bits. They reminded me of a wonderful Robert Irwin piece done at Wave Hill, a public garden just north of Manhattan, where I used to work. He had the inscribed stone that is pictured below installed in the woods back in 1987. Maybe it’s still there. I found it mentioned on someone’s blog post from 2006.
    http://excellentwalker.blogspot.com/2006/08/ever-present.html

    Reply
    • “Ever present / Never twice the same” says the stone, I just clicked on the link, thanks. And yes, what a good cross-reference: I think it is exactly the same sentiment as the one on the Toronto bridge.

      Reply
  3. Your bathroom graffiti is more profound than ours! Your misread is interesting as a reflection of expected values: “dividend” is a more likely collocation. What a great story behind the actual reading. I’m still puzzling a bit over possible implications of the clouds quote, especially given its placement. As I am over the bridge quote. Which come to think of it could well be the characteristic of a good quote – almost oracular, in that its meaning is hard to pin down.

    Reply
    • I suspect quotes, like art, mean something different to each person — and the value comes from that interaction between the words or visual, and the person seeing it. Oh, dear, which sounds pompous. But in fact is meant to be reassuring & relaxing. I liked all those texts, for the way they tease the mind. As you say, almost oracular.

      Reply
  4. Graca Dubery

     /  25 June 2017

    Hi Pat
    I am in Lisbon, Portugal and follow your posts with great pleasure and admiration.
    If you want some info on Portugal, please let me know.
    I lived in Toronto, and know Vancouver , and your walks are my ªwalksª from so far away.
    Thank you
    Graca

    Reply
    • And thank you! I’m so happy you enjoy my posts, and that they bring back good memories. I like the idea that you are walking with me…

      Reply
  1. More Quotes, Some Keys, a Ferry, & a Dragonfly | WALKING WOMAN

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