Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘public art

Weekly Photo Challenge: Graceful

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Every Friday WordPress posts a single word prompt for a photo. Today’s is Graceful

Olas de Viento

The sculpture is called “Olas de Viento” and was installed in Garry Point Park in the City of Richmond BC by the Vancouver Biennale. The photo was taken in December 2009. I was very taken by the subject and made several images at that time. The City decided not to buy it and by March 8, 2012 it had gone.

The name translates as “Wind waves” and the sculptor is Yvonne Domenge from Mexico

It is now installed at Herman Park in Houston, who clearly have much better taste than the Mayor and Councillors of Richmond.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 20, 2017 at 11:40 am

Public Furniture | Urban Trees

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There is a sculpture exhibit on Spanish Banks at present. It is the latest manifestation of Vancouver Biennale – and the title is theirs. And that is really what has inspired this opinion piece. I think it is misleading – the furniture is not public. The artist, Hugo França comes from Brazil. This is what the signage at the exhibit says

Hugo França reimagines fallen trees in poetic ways, transforming them into beautiful sculptress for public enjoyment. The sculpting process respects the natural features of the trees, promoting minimum waste and the beauty of the natural organic forms, lines, flaws and imperfections. Their memory remains alive with their uniqueness, offered back to the community in harmony with the natural environment. This is the first time the artist is creating public sculpture outside Brazil and using a variety of of local wood species.

The pictures are all in a set on flickr which includes a Google map showing the location.

Public Furniture | Urban Trees 1
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 2
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 3
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 4
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 5
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 6

The signage also includes the warning “Please do not cross the line” (in large friendly capital letters) but as you can see from some of my images this seems to be moot. The line – a bit like crime scene tape – has been supplemented by snow fence, which has also fallen – or been taken – down. One of my flickr contacts Tom Abrahamson remarked “Elaborate and nicely done bench at the beach. Just have to hope that the usual brain dead idiots are not trying to put it on fire or damage it.”

This is an issue for all art works outside of private houses. Put something on display in public and unless you guard it night and day it is at high risk of damage. Even if the damage is unintentional. There are, of course, raw logs that end up on all our beaches. It is a feature of the remarkably careless way logs are moved around – in log booms.

River Eagle North Arm Vancouver BC 2007_0530

But also the natural erosion of the banks of streams and inlets mean that trees – or what remains of them – get cast up on beaches. In Vancouver these are carefully marshalled to provide a certain amount of amenity to visitors, who thus bring much less in the way of furniture to the beach with them. In other places, chairs, tables, loungers, windbreaks – and umbrellas – all proliferate. On many beaches around the world the provision of such amenities is a source of income.

4 poster beach bed

Yucatan Beach

At the beach in Spanish Banks near where the sculptures are placed, the city allows people to cut up spare logs for fuel or other purposes

Trunk full of stepping "stones"

The sound of chainsaws is as common at this beach as dogs barking at others. There seems to be a clear understanding of which logs are for cutting – and that people will not take the work of others for themselves. But somehow we are not so trusting when it comes to art.

Rainblossom Project

Not long ago near this location another art installation appeared. Red umbrellas hung from some trees. They did not last long. I saw some being “adopted”. Just as some people will pick flowers in public places. Though they do seem to respect the floral tributes left on benches.

bench marker and flower

I have heard of flowers being stolen from graves, and I am afraid some of my family’s monuments in a cemetery in East London were destroyed by anti-semitic vandals.

The art work benches are not actually public furniture – because they have not been provided for people to enjoy through use but merely by looking at them. Even though their very nature invites touch – they have been lovingly smoothed – and relaxation. Unlike the unfinished logs on this and other Vancouver beaches

View from the Boat House pano

The art is also not going to last very long in this state as the cut surfaces have not been “finished”. Exposed to the elements, they will decay. Indeed in their natural state trees decay and return to the soil even before they fall

Detail of downed tree

It isn’t the tree we want to preserve, it’s the work of the artist we value. But the work has potential value that exceeds that of the visual amenity. We long ago recognized that lawns – the product of careful gardening, extensive and expensive maintenance – are vulnerable when used for human activities, but we stopped putting “Keep off the Grass” signs in most city parks many years ago, recognizing the value of lawns for games, recreation or even a quiet snooze.

early tanner

The introduction of tables and chairs onto city streets was also a risky undertaking, but in New York at least, theft – or other unintended uses – does not seem to have been a problem.

I think it would be a Good Idea if we could turn the guys with chainsaws loose on some of the raw logs on our beaches to see how they could be improved. Not for firewood. Well not initially anyway: for the failed experiments, possibly. But to increase their utility – and quite possibly their beauty too. And pubic art will get used as a sitting place or a climbing frame, and needs to be sufficiently robust and secure enough to withstand that.

Art climbing

Art reduced to a bench

Art as adventure playground

Art climber

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm

So, about that art we had …

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I was talking about that art lecture that I wrote about yesterday – and I recalled that at the time what was going through my mind, on the way home, was the difference between what Sans Façon does and what has been happening here. For a start in Calgary they are embedded as part of the project team. The art is actually part of the process from the start.

A good example was how they got involved in attaching drinking fountains to fire hydrants. These are not permanent installations, but temporary public amenities provided for events like the Stampede or the Folk Festival. It helps Calgary get across the message that there is nothing wrong with tap water – so there is no need to go to a vendor and buy bottled water, when the stuff that comes out of the tap is freely available. Originally, the water people saw a device that essentially plugged a commercial drinking fountain into a fire hydrant, and they just wanted the artist to design a label to stick on it. But Calgary has one of the largest and finest metal workshops in North America – a bunch of skilled and talented people who came up with a number of innovative ideas – and actually fabricated them. They then went and installed them where they were needed, and let them speak for themselves.


Contrast that with the public art program on the Canada Line. As regular readers know, the process by which that amenity was procured leaves a bad taste in my mouth for a number of reasons. The cycle path on the bridge is a good example. It was an afterthought – literally bolted on after the bridge itself was completed. And the ramps on either side showing a degree of contempt for users that is hard to comprehend but only too obvious to its users. The ramps zig-zag. They do not provide not a smooth transition: they do not connect properly to the “network”,  the cycle routes on either bank. The art program is even worse. A bunch of ill considered, nearly always temporary installations. Most of which need to be “explained” by signage. It is very significant, I think, that there no signs on Sans Façon’s work, like Limelight. They trust that people will “get it”. And, of course, they do because they – the public – are the art, the performers, not just a passive audience.

Sans Façon does do temporary installations as well as permanent ones. Both have their place. But what sets them apart is their understanding of the place and the people in it – and the amount of effort that they make to ensure they have that before the piece is even considered, let alone installed. Can you say the same about any of this?

Public art at Langara 49th Ave

The bright orange bears were at least striking and memorable. Can you think what is there now? Didn’t think so.

Le Banc

I heard this referred to as “a used maxi pad”

Joe Sola is Not Making Art

And that goes for the public art program in Richmond too – these are all Biennale installations all of which were controversial, none of which remain in place


“Olas de Viento” became one of my favourite pieces – far more distinguished I think than the laughing men that were kept at Davie and Denman. Garry Point seems bare and deserted after this bold red open work globe went. I still miss it. I will also admit to not really understanding it when I first saw it – but then that is probably the point of a lot of art. Guernica doesn’t mean much if you don’t know anything about who made it, when and why.

Cabeza Vainilla, Cabeza ordoba, Cabeza Chiapas

There was a glut of fibre glass giant heads, I thought, and I don’t miss any of them.

Lighting effect

The people who installed “Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself at the Top of Lenin’s Head” had so little understanding of the artist’s intentions, that they lined up each of the horizontal slice perfectly. So it is perhaps not surprising that is was misunderstood as some kind of tribute to Lenin – since in communist countries, dignified busts of Lenin were all too common.

Lenin's head is all over the place

Actually once misaligned, as originally intended, the joke “Lenin’s head is all over place” sprung to my mind instantly. The feminization of Mao and her nudity, and tiny stature all speak for themselves. No-one ought to have misunderstood that – but they did.

All of this is a very strong contrast to the public art program on the Sound Transit rapid transit line to their airport which opened at around the same time. We even had a presentation about that here. And it seems I chose two of the same images then to illustrate that post as I did this one. No wonder I keep thinking I am repeating myself. We did go to Seattle soon afterwards, and I considered riding the whole of the light rail line just to see the art first hand. It turned out that when we got there there was plenty to do within the fareless square. We walked and cycled too – and the LRT got forgotten.

PS  SoundTransit has an rfq out now for an artist to aid in “identifying art opportunities for multiple artists at the facilities and 10 stations along the 14-mile light rail extension being designed from downtown Seattle through Mercer Island and Bellevue to the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.”

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2013 at 8:31 am

Posted in Art

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What’s art got to do with it?

I went to Richmond City Hall last night to hear the first of the Lulu Series lectures. Though I made all sorts of what now look like very cryptic notes, all of the information is either on the web already or will be shortly. For a start, the whole thing was videoed and will be on the City’s youtube channel.  I was surprised they had one!

Sans Façon comprises two people Charles Blanc, a French architect and Tristan Surtees an English artist.

With the participation of artists, can urban infrastructure designs be re-imagined to renew the relationship between citizens and their environment? Artist and architect duo, Sans façon, explore the relationship between people and places through site-specific projects such as performances and permanent pieces in public spaces, and strategies that involve artists in the rethinking of specific places.

That quote is taken from the Lulu Series event page and I was pleased to discover that all of the material they discussed last night is available on their own website which saves me a lot of typing. They are currently working in Calgary with the  Utilities and Environment Protections department of the City of Calgary on Watershed+. They are part of the team of engineers and scientists developing new working methods and processes which have resulted in some very innovative projects. You really need to follow these links since their pictures convey much more than I can – even though at present you cannot see and hear their presentation. Their enthusiasm and humour made the event worthwhile – and they can do a much better job of telling you about what they do than I can.

But I do want to flag up an upcoming event this weekend

Limelight: Saturday Night is a live public art installation and a video work. Since 2010, the installation has visited more than 10 cities internationally discreetly replacing two conventional street light heads with outdoor theatre spotlights, creating an open invitation for passersby to perform and transform the street into a stage. Look for it in Vancouver, beginning at dusk on Friday, January 25, and Saturday, January 26. There will be two simultaneous installations happening at Granville and Hastings Street and Granville and 68th Avenue in Marpole. This will be followed by a Community Event at the Metro Theatre on Sunday January 27, from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. 1370 Marine Drive SW, Vancouver.

Huffington Post covered the event here

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2013 at 11:23 am

Posted in Art

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