The Art of Navigation

9 October 2021 – More precisely: the art of using public art for personal navigation.

I’m just off my bus at the main transit hub on UBC campus, and all pleased with myself because (a) I am wearing a bright water-resistant jacket suitable for the misty day, and (b) I know exactly where I am going.

My clever little brain instructs my feet: Go there-there-there, and then I’ll be on University Blvd. and after that it’s just turn right when I reach West Mall, and after that hop across the road to the Museum of Anthropology (MOA).

So feet go there-there-there as instructed, and … ooops. Neither clever little brain, nor obedient feet, nor any bit of me in between, is now on University Blvd. Or anywhere else I recognize.

Brain meekly asks feet to take over. Feet dance another there-there-there, following some algorithm of their own inaccessible to the brain, and …

And here we are, from feet to brain and every bit in between, here we all are on University Blvd. The University posts helpful sign-maps at all the major intersections, but the campus is also dotted with public art and I find it much more rewarding to navigate with the art.

Brent Sparrow Jr’s Double-Headed Serpent Post, for example, here at the intersection with East Mall.

I border the serpent as I climb on up University Blvd, enjoying the gleam and the prickles of raindrops in the watercourse as I go.

Martha Piper Plaza, honouring the former UBC president and vice-chancellor, marks the intersection with Main Mall. The dancing fountains are not dancing, now that it’s fall, but the rain drops are definitely dropping, for the same reason.

Just across the way, my next two navigation aids. Your eye has surely already snagged on the bright yellow one, back right corner of the above photo? Now pull your focus a little more central, yes, there, to that brown triangular structure.

That’s it. And don’t I wish I could name it for you, but I can’t find signage anywhere. I circle it two-three times, not just in the interest of artist credit, but also because I really like the design.

And then I move on.

West Mall lies straight ahead, and I already know it has some kind of bright yellow artwork to mark the spot.

Very bright, very yellow, and it even has signage: Cumbria, by Robert Murray. Again I circle around, no artist mystery to solve here, just the pleasure of viewing from all angles.

Just out of frame, a student with a pile of luggage grows steadily more anxious as he awaits some promised ride that must by now be long overdue. I feel slightly callous as I step around him to admire the geometric dance between Cumbria‘s strong angles and the equally strong (and colourful) verticals of the Audain Art Centre behind it.

Good-bye University Blvd! Right turn onto West Mall and then straight on — or so my clever little brain intends — to the MOA. Except that, there at the corner of Crescent Rd., I see a sign pointing to the Belkin Art Gallery. It says, “Open.”

Sod the MOA! says my clever little brain; on to the Belkin! My feet smartly right-turn onto Crescent Rd.

I don’t remember ever visiting this Gallery, but I do remember this piece of art at the entrance: Myfanwy MacLeod’s Wood for the People. The descriptions I read about it are full of the kind of artspeak that makes me cranky, so I’m going to ignore them. I’ll just say: whatever its larger objectives as socio/eco/political commentary, this piece also perfectly depicts the way people stack a woodpile. My mind flips back to an autumn visit to Fernie, BC, a few years ago, with stack after stack next to one home after another, ready for the coming winter.

Thoughts of Fernie still in my mind, I enter the Belkin.

Where I meet Dark Matter, and Sudbury’s SNOLAB, instead.

I drift with the art …

and I emerge again into the Gallery’s own firm angles of light and space.

Back outside. The rain is now bucketing down. My merely water-resistant jacket proves more protective than I have any right to expect.

Brain, feet and all the bits in between arrive back home perfectly happy with the day.

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7 Comments

  1. Gorgeous autumn trees – a lovely backdrop!

    Reply
  2. I agree about the art speak; it can be quite irritating and condescending, too. Like you, I just like to look at the art. I also like the brown triangular piece. It looks like two collapsed trellises (and then I went on a flight of storytelling fantasy about dead flowers and an empty house). Definitely triggered my imagination. Thanks for sharing your walk. Have a good long weekend.

    Reply
  3. But will you go back, visit the MOA, and do a post about it? Because that’s a favorite place. Not to say that I don’t enjoy all this. I like your photos of the triangular wood piece and the bright yellow one. And you’ll guarantee that you’ve photographed the elusive dark matter, too, right? 😉

    Reply
    • I like some MOA special exhibits and of course the outdoors installations, but I find the rest of the inside somewhat overwhelming & don’t much get into it — I realize that says something about me, not about the MOA!!

      Reply

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