Light & Shadow

6 December 2017 – You look at this image, and you say to yourself, “Why, that’s a 19th-c. landau carriage rejigged as a camera obscura!

And you are right. Millennial Time Machine, it is called, created by Rodney Graham in 2003. It is just one of the works of art visible on the UBC campus, showcased in an outdoor art tour under the auspices of UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery — number 16 in the online tour guide.

The Tuesday Walking Society (Vancouver Division) is enjoying this brilliantly sunny day, the bold shadows it creates,  & the works of art. We don’t take the official tour; we’re hoofing around on our own.

“Look!” I cry, as we wheel ’round a corner and see a dramatic twined sculpture in the mid-distance. “It looks just like a tuning fork!”

I say it as a joke — but, clever-boots me, that really is the title.

Tuning Fork, 1968, by Gerhard Class (number 2 in the Belkin brochure), is located right outside the main entrance to the UBC Music Building. Well, of course it is.

Our extremely wandering path eventually takes us through the UBC Rose Garden. Nary a rose to be seen, in early December, the bushes are all cut neatly back for winter. But there is still some colour, some seasonal substitute plantings …

“Cabbages!” I say, this time not as a joke since — veteran of Toronto’s Cabbagetown — I think I know an autumnal ornamental cabbage when I see one.

“Kale…” says Frances, who is closer to the display than I am, and kale they are. And very handsome too, glowing in the midday sun.

We zigzag into another enclosure, the pond and forecourt of the University Centre.  I start to laugh. What else can you do, faced with a boat balanced on the tip of its nose?

It’s made of Carrera marble, is Glen Lewis’ 1987 Classical Toy Boat (number 12), and, though now in shade, it outshines the sun. I am mesmerized.

Later I read about its travels: first installed outside the Powerpoint Gallery in Toronto’s Harbourfront, later purchased by the Belkin and installed here.

The write-up invites you to think of it as magically defying gravity. I only realize later that one could perhaps view it tragically, as a sinking boat — but, no, somehow that interpretation never occurs. It is so obviously a happy little toy boat, having a good time.

Down the steps, across the road: Frances & I plan a lunch stop in the Museum of Anthropology. But first, a pre-stop stop, to admire Joe Becker’s Transformation sculpture in a small pool right at the MOA  entrance.

I could describe it for you, but Becker’s own words are so much better:

Even with water turned off (presumably for the season), it is still a powerful, sinuous work of art. And how the roe gleams!

Lunch as planned, and then a quick trip around the exterior of the building itself, one of architect Arthur Erickson‘s masterpieces.

As always, the great linear dynamics catch my attention, and my breath. They please from every angle.

Viewed through the trees, here at the entrance …

or along the side toward the back, with tree shadows dancing on the columns.

Erickson’s inspiration, surely, was the traditional lines of the Haida double mortuary pole. There is a magnificent example in the groupings of poles and buildings behind the Museum — this one designed by Bill Reid and then carved by Reid and Douglas Cranmer, 1960-61.

You look from it to the powerful rear façade of the MOA itself.

Yes. They belong together. They belong on this land, and to this land.

 

Recti/Curvi – Linear

8 September 2017 – Straight lines and curvy lines, in other words.

And they don’t come much straighter than this.

Yes, the sewer cover itself is round, thus curvy, but its design (if we may dignify the imprint as such) is very, very straight-line.

Brett Lockwood, in his eclectic and perceptive WordPress blog, O’Canada, recently had a whole post about heritage sewer covers.

This is not a heritage cover.

Even so, it is on display at the Museum of Vancouver for a purpose. The MOV, dedicated to helping us connect more deeply with the city, wants us to think about grids, and what they mean.

The display then muses about straight lines, and curving lines. What do they tell us about the cultures that use them, favour one over the other?

Consider this other Vancouver sewer cover — the work of Musqueam artists Susan Point and Kelly Cannell, commissioned by the City in 2004.

Curvilinear indeed, and deeply meaningful.

The whole rectilinear / curvilinear dynamic enters my mind — indeed, my way of connecting with the city — more deeply than I realize at the time. A few days later, my friend Louise and I are on University of British Columbia grounds, visiting first the Museum of Anthropology and, later, the UBC Botanical Garden.

I stand by the reflecting pond, I look at the magnificent MOA building — so perfectly “nestled in its landscape” as its architect, Arthur Erickson, pointed out — and I am struck by its lines.

Its bold rectilinear lines.

The reflecting pond is all gentle curves, the pathways as well, also the grassy hummock framed by those pathways. But oh, that building.

I see, too, how it echoes the post-and-beam construction of traditional Northwest Coast Aboriginal buildings — and of the mid-20th century sculpture complex in this compound, with its poles and buildings, the work of leading contemporary First Nations artists.

First you see the post-and-beam, the powerful horizontals & verticals. But then you also see the curve of the eyes, the other curves of the carved figures. And you think — well, I think — that perhaps, yes, we do reconcile the curving and the rectilinear, both often and well.

But for that MOV exhibit, I would never have noticed, never have thought about it.

Louise & I walk on down Marine Drive — 17,000 footsteps that day, I want you to know! — to visit two more UBC attractions, both of them part of one entity, the UBC Botanical Garden.

First, the Nitobe Memorial Garden, considered one of the most authentic outside Japan.

The gentle arch of the bridge, made oval by its own reflection. And, to the right, among the trees, the strong, simple, straight lines of the Tea House.

On to the main site of the Botanical Garden, where we follow our whim to its northern lobe, the North Gardens. This route takes us through the Moon Gate.

By now you’re seeing with my eye, aren’t you! Horizontals & verticals, powerful & rectilinear.

And then, drawing the eye and the feet, the distant curve of the moon gate.

Once there, again by whim, we search out the Physic Garden. It is small, beautiful, enclosed by the straight lines of its traditional yew hedge. The garden itself, a showcase of the medicinal plants of medieval Europe, contains 12 concentric beds, with a sundial at the centre.

Curve upon curve — but also the triangular gnomon (pointer), arrowing the sun’s faint shadow straight-line to 2 p.m.

I do take the MOV point about conflicting symbolisms, in those grid vs curving sewer covers.

But I also take heart in all the subsequent evidence that we do often, both in architecture and in nature, reconcile the curve and the rectilinear very nicely indeed.

Swell, Scruffy, Swell

25 June 2017 – And all in one day, too, neatly sandwiched. No surprise about the “swell” that began & ended the day: I’m talking about yesterday, which was Doors Open Vancouver, a day designed to showcase notable city buildings for residents & visitors alike. The surprise was the “scruffy” in between — and an even more surprising (to me) correlation with the later “swell.”

I leave home with a limited Doors Open agenda, limited by the fact that I’m not free to trot around town all day; I am an afternoon DOV volunteer, and decide I can only fit in one morning visit — the very swell Orpheum Theatre. A 1927 movie theatre with the exotically luxurious details of the day, it followed the usual arc of such theatres & by 1973 was on the verge of being gutted & turned into a hive of mini-theatres. Various public & private sector heroes rode to the rescue; it is today completely refurbished, a National Historic Site, and a much-cherished, well-used theatre.

My afternoon shift is in an equally swell structure, the Scotiabank Dance Centre, which opened in 2001. This, by contrast, is an example of a 1920s building (a branch of the bank) that was gutted, save for the façade, with the footprint brilliantly reinvented by Arthur Erickson and Architectura as an 8-storey complex of dance rehearsal and performance studios.

So as I head south on Seymour St., late morning, I am still dazzled by the Orpheum and eager for the Dance Centre. My mind is in Swell Mode.

And then I see this.

Oh, my dears.

Even though I strongly suspect the whole thing is a joke, a carefully spelled-out joke, it’s a terrific joke & I laugh. The black-gloved broad is pretty terrific too…

So my humour is even better as I loop around a bit, and find myself on Granville nearing Davie — and therefore the Dance Centre as well. My mind is back in Swell Mode, I an anticipating the architectural pleasure to come.

Then I glance to the right, where there is a staircase down into a sunken sliver of parking lot. And I see this, and of course I nip right down those stairs.

We are back to scruffy! Not recently-commissioned, high-class parking lot street art by a name-brand artist. No. Definitely old, & peeling. Scruffy.

But it still has charater.

With a space ship, for example, or perhaps bumble bee, take your pick …

and some kind of critter, beckoning me on.

And he really does lead me on, because he is at the corner where this parking lot feeds into an alley.

I peer around the edge, looking toward Davie.

Perfect!

There are parrots soaring over skyscrapers …

and an inscrutable face over a dumpster …

and a bit of Alley Philosophy, to Make You Think.

I’m laughing like anything when I emerge on Davie — all the more so, given I am almost dead opposite the entrance to the Dance Centre, and I like the juxtaposition a lot. I even consider jay-walking (will I never renounce my bad Toronto habits?), but opt for a demure legal crossing at the street corner instead.

And look, virtue is rewarded.

I discover why those two parrots are fluttering around the alley.

At the time, I’m just pleased to get the reference. And admire another bit of neon art.

Later, online, I learn that the ground floor of this 1890s building was the Bank of Nova Scotia local branch from 1912 to 1929.

When it moved to the Bank’s fabulous new building, right across the street.

Which, in the 1990s, was donated by the Bank to the project that was to retain the façade, incorporate the name, and transform the footprint into the new Scotiabank Dance Centre.

Where I spend a very swell afternoon.

 

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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