Learning from Vancouver
Western FrontLearning From Vancouver
Learning From Vancouver (in Dialogue): a project developed by Bik Van der Pol & Urban Subjects (Sabine Bitter, Jeff Derksen, Helmut Weber) during and after a residency at Western Front
Bik Van der Pol and Urban Subjects have been working together, thinking Vancouver spatially and through linked, yet specific moments; moments in the past and the future that articulate a change in the space and experience of the public sphere.
Vancouver has increasingly developed and manifested itself as a unique model for other cities. Yet, in film and television, Vancouver does not often play itself; it frequently stands in for other metropolises. Correspondingly, as the image of Vancouver has become familiar globally, an image of urbanism based on Vancouver has, and continues to have, a perplexing impact on urban planners throughout the world.
At this moment of Olympic exceptionalism, Vancouver is being broadcast world-wide, carefully framed by its mountains and the ocean. In grabbing their beauty shots of Vancouver for establishment shots, the global media enters into the long politics of representation. This image of the city shines a light on the natural setting, the Vancouver Model, the sustainable city and the tolerant multicultural city, while painting the Downtown Eastside and the people
who make it the political centre of the city as shadowy, troubled and in need of urban renewal. What is the backside of these images that create a specific type of imagination outside the city -- and what is the impact on everyday lives? What effect do urban planning and the imagination of developers have on constructing public space and a public imagery? How does this distort the potential of building a community, when the building of communities is increasingly a global experience? What does it mean to experience space and the representation of space?
I confess I care, by Bik van der Pol, emphasizes the growing limitations of the public realm. The brown box in the gallery of the Western Front is the creation of a space for forms of public speech that have been shut down in the Olympic moment. This box is a discursive vehicle. It accommodates one, two, or three people, and can be closed, creating an intimate space. But, the box is fully wired for sound -- everything discussed is recorded. I confess I care draws upon a public that is not passive but that is willing to become an active participant. In that sense they will disappear as general ‘public’; they will become articulated. The recordings made in the box will be transcribed to text to appear as part of a publication after the end of the show, as a sort of bid book and rem(a)inder of this specific moment, activated by the public.
Unlike the increasing types of surveillance in urban space, I confess I care allows a choice to speak up and speak about -either individually, or in dialogue with others - the issues at stake in the city: the impact of urban developments, the shrinking of public space, limitations of civil rights and how this is experienced by citizens in their daily lives. Does one accept this all, as a state of exception, trusting that it will all return back to normal once the air is cleared of the Games?
Paralleling I confess I care, the installation devised by Urban Subjects grabs two historical moments in the dialectic of the production and closure of public space in Vancouver and one speculative future moment. The historical moments hover as grainy archival photographs.
Premier Bill Bennett and labour leader Jack Munro stand on the patio of Bennetts house in Kelowna just after they have shaken hands to seal a deal that would end the most massive protest in the provinces history. This late-night meeting on November 13, 1983 lingers as the betrayal of “Operation Solidarity”, a coalition of unions, community groups, students and activists, as it moved toward a general strike that was to counter
the initial move in the game of neoliberalism in B.C. Hours of archival research did not churn up the specific image of Bennett and Munro shaking hands, yet that image is dramatically burned into social memory.
The second archival image is of Herbert Marcuse as he speaks to 1,300 students at Simon Fraser University on Tuesday, March 25, 1969. Marcuse was on campus in the wake of the November 1968 student takeover of the administration building that the RCMP ended; he was invited by radical professors and the Department of Politics, Sociology, and Anthropology that was purged following its push to democratize the university. At the time, Marcuse, a leading public intellectual, theorized everyday life within a totally administered society.