The Balancing Act

1 October 2021 – Balance. That’s our daily context, isn’t it? Leonard Cohen pointed this out back in 1966, when (in Beautiful Losers) he praised those who achieve “balance in the chaos of existence.” But never mind grand philosophical abstractions, just consider the balancing act involved in putting one foot in front of the other. Some 6-3 million years ago our ancestors decided to get up off all fours and walk upright. We’ve been dancing with gravity ever since. (And our backs, so beautifully shaped for horizontal life, have been complaining ever since.)

I must add that absolutely none of this is in my mind as we stand at Denman & Davie streets, just off English Bay. We are entirely focused on the building in front of us, with its display of Douglas Coupland’s latest contribution to his home town.

Berkley Tower is being comprehensively renovated, all 16 storeys of it, and author/artist Coupland was commissioned to create the murals now being applied to all four sides. They’re bright & sassy & up-energy and we decide we like them. They hold their own, we agree, in an area already rich with public art — new Mural Festival additions all around, and the A-maze-ing Laughter collection of Vancouver Biennale sculptures right across the street in Morton Park.

The Coupland work gave us a starting point for our walk; now we’ll wing it, as we head east along the False Creek north shore Seawall, from English Bay Beach on past Sunset Beach near the Burrard Bridge, and on down to Granville.

There’s been lots of rain lately; we’re both wearing Seriously Waterproof jackets. With hoods. Without umbrellas. (Vancouverites tend to divide on the subject of umbrellas, pro/con.) No rain at the moment, just mist dancing in the air, creating a depth of mystery and potential beyond anything blatant sunshine can offer.

On we walk, now just east of the giant Inukshuk monument whose setting curves into English Bay right at the end of Bidwell Street. “Here,” says my friend, sweeping an arm to pull my attention forward. “Look.”

I look, I blink. How have I never noticed all this before?

More inukshuks, all of them unofficial, uncommissioned, but look at them. One after another, more sizes & shapes (& quantity) than the eye can register.

Later, hunting around online, trying to find names to credit for all this beauty, I discover they are examples of a global phenomenon known variously as rock balancing or rock stacking. I’m happy to adopt this language: these creations certainly are feats of balance, and they are not truly inukshuks, which tend to have humanoid structure. (I never do find current names of local rock balancers, alas, so cannot give the credit so richly due.)

We keep hanging over the Seawall, admiring one subset of rock stacks after another.

Sometimes imposing towers …

sometimes just a few tiny pieces, in perfect relation to each other.

By the time we reach Sunset Beach, the great sweep of rock stacks has finally ended. But look… there is compensation.

One of my enduring favourites of all the Vancouver Biennale sculptures: 217.5 Arc X 13. Bernar Venet’s work is exactly what its title promises — 13 arcs of steel, each curved to 217.5°. (It’s not a balancing act in the sense of the stone stacks we have just been admiring, but it does still have to contend with the laws of gravity…)

Close to the Burrard St. Bridge, we cock our heads at the astoundingly large, perfectly vertical cones poised like chandeliers on the branches of this enormous evergreen.

And then later, under the Granville St. Bridge, we see an even more improbable chandelier.

“And… why???” you ask. I can tell you it’s 7.7 m X 4.2 m of stainless steel, bedecked with polyurethene “crystals” and weighing more than 3,000 kilos, and you’ll wave away all those factoids, won’t you. You’ll ask again: “Why???”

Here’s why. Vancouver bylaws require that the developers of any building over 100,000 sq. ft. must contribute some piece of public art to the City. The developers of Vancouver House were simply meeting a legal obligation.

But they did it with panache, didn’t they? So I’m willing to be grateful.

“Strange Adventures”

13 May 2021 – I’m not looking for adventure, I’m just walking Point A to Point B — and I get highjacked by this little sign. Who could have predicted it? Who’d expect anything even mildly interesting, on the little grass island smack beneath the traffic ramps at the south end of the Cambie Street bridge?

But here it is: well beyond interesting, all the way to Strange Adventures.

I step past the sign, through the gap in the scruffy hedge … and there’s the first Adventure.

An unexplained, and definitely unofficial, wooden chair, with a tree stump foot-rest.

So I sit down, of course I do. The overhead ramps don’t offer anything adventurous … but, wait, there’s that shocking-pink poster on the pillar …

Surely the promise of Strange Adventures to come?

Yes, it is.

Voxel Bridge, explains this Vancouver Biennale signage, will bring us an “immersive installation” here beneath the bridge, courtesy of this Colombian artist and her planned combination of adhesive vinyl and Augmented Reality.

Hop a few days, and I’m about to enter an immersive installation (perhaps a Strange Adventure) already on offer: the Imagine Van Gogh exhibit in the Convention Centre down on Burrard Inlet. Waiting my turn, I look back through the lobby windows to Douglas Coupland’s wonderful Digital Orca, a pixellated happy-dance for the city, the harbour, and the Coast Range mountains beyond.

After the barrage of high-tech inside, it’s a pleasure to go back outside and see what adventures are on offer just from walking around.

A shot of horizontal yellow: from buttercups and dandelions, to those float-plane logos, to the sulphur piles of North Van over there on the north shore.

A shot of vertical light: storey on storey, the mirrored panels of one building reflect the balconies of the building next door, given extra sparkle by the fountains in Harbour Green Park.

Another day, more adventures.

A real, live crow guards a bus stop …

and a stone lion guards a parking lot.

It’s just one adventure after another, isn’t it? He is in a parking lot. He has blue eyes. And he is hanging out with a gnome. (Oh please! Gnomes.)

Later, I look up the Recovery Gnome Project, and change my attitude. It’s a grass-roots project, started here in Canada by people who have loved ones in recovery. The idea? Get people to celebrate the positive impact of addiction recovery, by creating and placing a gnome in their own community — anywhere in the world. (It’s already spread to the USA and England.)

Now, that‘s an adventure.

A Secret Handshake on Pape (with cheese)

18 October 2018 – I’m walking north on Pape and stop at the corner of Wroxeter for a fond smile at The Schmooz, where I enjoyed many a fine coffee during my Toronto stay last winter.

Click!

(There’s only one of me. Something about that reflecting glass doubles me up.)

But that’s not the best. The best is the café’s sidewalk sign, both sides of it.

A “secret handshake!” I chortle.

And now we digress.

The term is the invention of Douglas Coupland, who first burned his way into the global mind by inventing another term back in 1991 and writing a novel about it: Generation X.

By 2014 he had long since added other media to his initial reputation as a novelist. That year, he had an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery in his sort-of home town, called everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. (Though not born in Vancouver nor always resident there, he is very much claimed by the city.)

One of its sections was The Secret Handshake.

Said the VAG:

Through a wide range of media Coupland has persistently investigated Canadian cultural identity, both benign and menacing.  Using imagery and objects latent with symbolic meaning for Canadians, he delineates what it means to be Canadian, offering a “secret handshake” not easily understood by others.

In April 2015, The Secret Handshake was one section of a Douglas Coupland exhibition in Toronto, and I blogged about it. With no pretence at originality, I called that post The Secret Handshake.

End of digression.

We’re back on Pape, with The Schmooz’ addition to the canon of secret handshakes.

North side of sign:

South side of sign:

If you’re not Canadian, but you get the references, then welcome! You are an honorary Canadian, and entitled to say “double-double” with the rest of us.

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

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

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