Art & Culture
May 17, 2019

Tough Questions I Wanted To Ask

[Update: Do read Geoff’s comment at the end of this post.  Powerful and provocative.]

 

SFU Vancouver – the downtown campus – is now 30 years old since SFU came down from the mountain.  It’s what President Andrew Petter says helps make SFU the engaged university.

Engagement is the particular work of the Centre for Dialogue, Public Square, City Conversations and the City Program – all of which had events happening on Thursday, and two of which featured Mary Rowe, the speaker for this year’s Warren Gill Lecture.  They certainly engaged me, with more questions than I had a chance to ask.  Here are some.

INEQUALITY AND DIVERSITY

When considering the rural-urban divide in Canada, Mary began with two points that are pretty much taken as self-evident in academia: diversity is good, inequality is bad.  Policies for healthy cities should encourage the former and reduce the latter.

But what if inequality is a measure of diversity?

Since a diverse city is one in which there are many different kinds of people and pursuits, do those differences of equality become magnified with greater diversity? In fact, is increasing inequality how we know the city is more diverse?

Let’s say public policies were effective at reducing inequality by redistributing benefits, by building the infrastructure, physical and cultural, to build a stronger middle class.  Isn’t the result a more homogenous city, perhaps less likely to generate the cultural and economic energy we associate with places like New York in the 1970s, London in the 1800s, Florence in the 1500s?  Does equality mean boring and less diverse?

 

MAKING CHOICES IN A CLIMATE EMERGENCY

At noon, at City Conversations the topic was the climate emergency, with Councillor Christine Boyle (who introduced the climate emergency motion at council and is interviewed here on PriceTalks); Atiya Jaffar, digital campaigner for 350.org;  and New Westminster Councillor Nadine Nakagawa.

I had three ‘tough questions’, with the opportunity to ask only one – itself somewhat facetious:

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Fifty-two years ago today Expo 67 opened on two man-made islands in Montreal. The 20th century was about World’s Fairs, and this fair with the theme “Man and His World” attracted fifty million visits in its six month run. At the time Canada’s population was only 20 million people.

Several notable buildings were constructed including Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao’s geodesic dome for the United States pavilion, and Moshe Safdie’s iconic “Habitat” as an example of prefabricated concrete dwelling construction.

Visitors had “passports” and obtained stamps at various pavilions. In many ways this event put Canada on the international map. The legacies of the Fair were classic 20th century achievements that included transportation infrastructure:  Montreal’s Decarie autoroute was built, as well as the Hippolyte-Lafontaine bridge and tunnel.

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Kudos to TransLink, for making some space for Indigenous art that doesn’t shy away from engaging people on social and even political themes.

Marianne Nicolson is a member of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nations, an artist, and the creator of “The Sea Captain”, the new public installation at the recently upgraded Surrey Central Skytrain.

As she explains in the following short video, she’s interested in interactions between peoples, particularly related to colonial encounters, and bringing something different to the public realm.

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An American named Bill Heine moved  to Oxford Great Britain and ran two cinemas. This gentleman had studied law before turning to running movie houses.

But in 1986 Mr. Heine had a Big Idea and commissioned a fibreglass shark which he craned to the top of his house. The timing of his installation of a headless shark on the roof of his 1860 British townhouse was the  “41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.” The piece was created by artist John Buckley.

The shark weighs 400 pounds and is 25 feet from its headless body to its tail.  As this web page on the Hedlington Shark attests  the placing of such a large object on the roof of a pretty ordinary residence sprung the local Oxford city council to action.

First city council said the shark had to go because it was a dangerous hazard. But when the shark installation was inspected, it was carefully installed and was safe. Then Council used Section 22 of the Town and Country Planning Act that had no provision for the placement of large things like sharks on roofs within the municipality.

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Once again, New York City is taking public art literally one step further in the design of the public art piece “The Vessel” by artist Thomas Heatherwick.

This is the first public art installation at Hudson Yards, the old working dock and shipbuilding site on the west side of Manhattan. By square foot, Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in the United States, with 16 planned buildings. Total cost of this megaproject is $25 billion.

The Vessel is fifteen stories high and as Amy Pitt observes in in CurbedNY.com, “The piece is made from 154 interconnected staircases, and is intended to be used by the public—for climbing, running (though probably not too fast), and, most likely, for providing the backdrop for selfies and Instagram photos.”

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A brilliant piece of performance comedy from two guys – Benjamin Kheng and Hirzi Zulkiflie – who together as the BenZi Progect satirize their home city, Singapore, and its people and culture.  Here are fresh eyes on the multicultural, global world we share, with a startling similarity in character but enough local references (peranakans!) to go beyond cliche.  The writing is, from the opening line, gently absurd.

Kheng and Zulkiflie play two execs at the Singapore Tourism Commission, interviewing a third, Andrew Marko, for a job.  Give it a couple of views, and then check out other skits here.

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Two Vancouver urbanistas – Michael Gordon and Gordon Price – have decided to celebrate their birthdays in New York City.  Help us out.

  • What off-the-beaten-tourist-tracks should we hike?  (And remember, we’ve seen a lot of NYC.)
  • What’s new in the boroughs?  Even Jersey.
  • Shows, performances, galleries, museums?  (Middle of March through April.)
  • Restaurants, of course.  (Food carts too.)
  • Your favourite book about, set in or metaphorically referencing the Apple.  (Video series, movies or print articles included.  Even policy reports.)

Are you in New York?  Would you like to meet?  Would you buy us a beer or a cupcake with a candle?

And yes, of course we’ll use Citibike.

 

 

 

 

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What do you do if you are a world-famous city that has suffered horrendous terror attacks and a famous artist decides to “gift” you with a sculpture you really are not that happy with?

That was the scenario for Paris when American artist Jeff Koons offered a ten meter long work called “Bouquet of Tulips” as a ‘remembrance to the victims of the terrible tragedies”.

The Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo originally planned the art being installed opposite the Eiffel Tower. The piece called “Bouquet of Tulips” has a hand grasping flowers, kind of a reference to the Statue of Liberty which was given to the United States by the people of France. But France’s art world were not so happy with this gift, or the fact that it was going to be beside some  Paris landmarks that had no reference or place in the attacks.

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