Art & Culture
August 1, 2018

A Summer Night With Vancouver’s Biennale

Doin’ Vancouver stuff the other night and strayed purposefully to check out two sculptural pieces and a film event from the 2018 Vancouver Biennale.  See the pix below.

One piece and the film event were in poor lonely Leg-In-Boot Square, normally empty, but buzzing then:

The other piece was “Paradise Has Many Gates“, Ajlan Gharem, at Vanier Park.

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A mosque is rising at Vanier Park in Vancouver. It’s part of the 2018-2020 Vancouver Biennale, which has brought public art to Vancouver since 1998.

The artist is Ajlan Gharem, a graduate from King Khalid University. A public school mathematics teacher in Riyadh, Gharem is also co-founder of Gharem Studio, along with his brother.

On Tuesday, June 26, the unveiling of Gharem’s “Paradise Has Many Gates” will be the official launch event for the 2018 – 2020 Vancouver Biennale. The artist will be on site.

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In Australia a 200 kilometer “silo art trail” follows murals painted in farming country in Victoria state. This area has been heavily impacted by drought for the past two years. The work started in the farming community of Brim with a street artist from Brisbane, Guido van Helten  painting a giant mural on an abandoned grain silo.  The artist incorporated local people and their stories in the murals. Now other street artists are being commissioned to paint murals on  silos in other towns. The intent is to create a tourist opportunity for viewing this large scale art, and providing  a much needed influx of cash into these towns.


A previous post on Price Tags describes the creation and opening of the “Giants” on Granville Island, painted on the Ocean Cement silos for the Vancouver  Biennale.

Daphne Bramham wrote  about the fate of Vancouver’s “Giants”  in the Vancouver Sun  last month, noting that they desperately need some restorative paint.The Giants are painted by Brazilian twins Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo (also known as Os Gemeos). The link above also has a time lapse video showing how the two brothers painted the silos.

As part of the Vancouver Biennale, the work is supposedly temporary unless there is an outpouring of public support and funding for the art to stay. They are a fabulous attraction on Granville Island, and iconic in their simplicity and artistic execution. I really hope they are able to stay.


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You might miss this installation (and its point) unless you know where and what it is, since this is what it looks like to passersby at Bute and Hastings:



This, however, is what it looks like from above:


It’s F Grass, by “China’s most internationally celebrated artist and social activist, Ai Weiwei.”  After two years of persuasion, the Vancouver Biennale was able to secure this public-art installation created specifically for this section of Harbour Green Park where it will reside for a year.

F Grass uses industrial cast iron “grass” to shape an elegant calligraphic “F”.  It’s an enigma that a Vancouver audience might interpret as symbolic of the recreational crop we’re most famous for and our laissez faire attitude towards the laws that prohibit it, but the meaning is more about the relationship between the individual and the collective and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of Chinese government censorship, control and secrecy.

More here at the Vancouver Biennale site.

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Vancouver Deputy Mayor Heather Deal has a number of portfolios – usually all the ways to make sure our City is becoming delightful – including Arts & Culture. She is passionate about the topic and a Councillor Liaison to the Arts & Culture Policy Council so I asked her to tell me more. She shared stories about her conversations with Vancouverites on public art. 1. Poodle on a Stick

Poodle (no official name) by Gisele Amantea got negative media when someone from the area complained that Main Street isn’t a poodle neighbourhood. Which is awesome because public art got people talking about the identity of their neighbourhood.

There were also complaints about cost and it not being a local artist (both based on inaccurate reporting).

(TP note: How many of our public art pieces have their own Twitter account? Follow @MainStPoodle)

When people complain to me about the poodle, I ask them what piece of public art they do like.

2. A-mazing Laughter

9/10 answer: A-mazing Laughter at English Bay – a Vancouver Biennale piece. So I ask them 3 questions about it:

Does it reflect the West End?

How much did cost?

Where is the artist from?

No one can answer that. Not one person to date.

(TP: I was able to answer all 3 – including who negotiated the counteroffer and donated it.)

3. The Third Piece

Then I ask for opinions about a third piece of public art. Very few can name one. Some come up with Myfanwy MacLeod’s The Birds in Olympic Village.

Some can name Giants by OSGEMEOS on Granville Island – another biennale piece from an international artist team.

4. I love it when people talk about our city.

Art is a great place to start that conversation. Learn about the hundreds of pieces of public art in Vancouver at the City’s website here.

5. Notice art.

Think about whether you like it or don’t. Look it up and learn about the artist and their inspiration.

Did you know that the poodle was made by an artist living in the region at the time and that it was inspired by the antique shops on Main Street? (TP: I had no idea.)

We also want to encourage people to think about what they like and want in public spaces such as art (murals, pieces, etc.) and what type of programmed space, festivals, and unprogrammed squares or plazas they’d like.

Ask yourself: Do you want to be entertained? Amused? Challenged?

Reminded of something in our history, negative or positive?

Awed? Do you want to be able to interact with it?

Does it compel you to take a selfie with it?

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The opening of the Os Gêmeos mural, sponsored by the Vancouver Biennale, at the Ocean Cement Plan on Granville Island this last weekend:



I’m struck by the comparison of “Giants” to “A-maze-ing Laughter” – a Biennale legacy at English Bay.

  • Both are fun, graphic and representational
  • Both are distinctly non-Anglo, created by artists who have done works that look like the people from their places
  • Both engage people through the act of photography

All right, everything engages people through photography, now that everyone has a camera in their hands at all times.  But so many who viewed “Giants” took a selfie with their friends and family or of themselves that it seemed almost compulsory, as though the art demanded it.

Indeed, can we even engage with art unless we take a picture of it?   Is this just a lazy way of visual consumption, as though, once photographed, the art is then ‘seen’?  And is the art the ancillary image, secondary to the photographic selfie?

The difference between the two works, though, is that people will not be able to get close to the silos when the cement plant is in operation.  And it’s just not the same from the other side.

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Between Shanghai and Chicago:

Vancouver delivers on nature’s eye-candy – visit, and you’ll never be too far from  spectacular mountain vistas, rambling evergreen parks and protected sandy  beaches. You’ll appreciate the big-city-look/small-town-vibe the moment you  arrive at the airport.

Situated neatly on the Burrard Peninsula, a hotchpotch of  office towers and hastily planned condos compete for the best of some of the  world’s most expensive views, earning the nickname ‘City of Glass’. People live  here because they love to run, bike, swim, ski and play. Boredom is not  permitted here.

If you simply can’t take any more of how good it gets, or it  won’t stop raining, or you’ve run outta cash, head for the hills: Cypress,  Seymour and Grouse Mountains and the world-famous Whistler (ski) and Blackcomb  (snowboard) areas are within easy reach.

All of ’em here.  No. 1 is Paris.  But No. 2 might surprise you.

Thanks to Bryan DeLeo.

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Yes, the Canada Line makes it easy to get Richmond.  But where’s the there there? 

Obviously, at the Oval. 

So I took the train to Lansdowne Station on No. 3 Road, figuring I could walk the route that would take me to the Olympic speed-skating oval, and, along the way, see one of the most provocative pieces of public art in years.  Namely, this:

This is “Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself at the Top of Lenin’s Head.”  It’s all the rage in Richmond – another piece of the Vancouver Biennale that’s pushing people’s buttons.  At least it does in Beijing, where the hometown artists – the Gao brothers – aren’t particularly welcome. 

Here, reactions are more quizzical than condeming.

A mini-Mao with breasts.  What are they trying to say?

For me, as interesting as the scuplture was the location.   Miss Mao is posed on a bust in a new park just under construction on the edge of an urbanizing Richmond still embedded in Motordom.

These few blocks at Elmbridge and Alderbridge are the first to reflect the future Richmond, where within walking distance of the Canada Line stations there could be a population surpassing Vancouver’s Downtown Peninsula.

But not yet.  Way not yet.   In the meantime, and certainly during the Olympics, visitors will experience in their treks to the Oval the Richmond of decades past – a triangle of industrial and commercial sprawl, designed when planners, engineers and developer simply assumed everyone would drive, transit would be non-existent, and nobody walked.

This is Richmond’s ALO Triangle – the land between the Aberdeen and Lansdowne Stations, and the Oval.  And that’s a problem.  (More tomorrow).

(Miss Mao and Lenin are within the green ring.)

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