LocoMotoArt @ Queen Elizabeth Park
Experiencing nature versus grace
Words by Lucia Misch
Video by Leslie Kennah
LocoMotoArt Collective’s show of “digital eco-art” in Queen Elizabeth Park began at 9pm on Sunday night, meaning that my bike ride from Commercial Drive to Vancouver’s most elevated—and perhaps most beautiful—spot occurred at the height of the evening’s glow. Turning my head toward downtown as I crossed Grandview Highway, I was met by a tunnel of golden light. It was the kind of illuminated ending that a movie character gets to walk serenely into once he has died, failed to make it over to the other side, become stuck as an angry but impotent specter to the world of the living, realized the pettiness and selfish ways of his all-too-brief life, discovered means of releasing his loved ones from their grief, and finally come to peace. It took all my willpower not to ride toward the light.
But I’m glad I didn’t, because the rest of the ride was equally stunning: the song issuing from the open door of the Or Shalom Synagogue at 10th and Fraser, the many hues that trim Mount Pleasant’s character homes, the calm streak of crows wending their way east above my path at 27th and Ontario. As I crested the final hill up to Queen Elizabeth Park, a grove of dandelions at its top were pierced with rich light from the setting sun, each one transformed into a molten lantern.
At the top of the park, in front of the geodesic Bloedel Conservatory, a diverse crowd of somewhere between one and two hundred people were gathered, milling around the viewpoint (which overlooks mountains, city, and water) waiting for the opening ceremony of the LocoMotoArt show. At this point the sun had sunk below the visible sliver of ocean, and the myriad pinks and oranges of the sky were met at the horizon by endless shades of blue in the trees, and peaks, and rooftops. Everywhere I stepped I found myself in front of someone’s camera. It was the ideal setting for an event that reflected on the interaction of nature, technology, and the human relationship with both.
At the request of Laura Lee Coles, LocoMotoArt Collective’s Project Manager, we formed a large circle and after an acknowledgement that we were on Unceded Coast Salish Territory and a short introduction to the show, Russell Wallace, a traditional Lil’wat singer and composer (among many other things) was introduced. He stepped into the centre of the circle and spun slowly to face everyone as he spoke. After a brief welcome, he invited his family to come up and join him for a welcoming song. In the quickly cooling evening air, with the mountains folding up from the city’s distant edge, the four voices rang into the immediate silence they invited from the crowd. The songs (including a warrior song in memory of Terry Haines, a video and installation artist who died earlier this year, whose work was featured in the exhibition, and to whom the night was dedicated) were arresting, harmonic and bold. The drumming that accompanied them made me think, suddenly, of the migrating crows that had crossed my ride earlier.
As the ceremony wrapped up, the darkness deepened, and orange street lights began to glow below us, like hundreds of the illuminated dandelions from the hill. We filed slowly down steps into the quarry garden, which was excavated around 1900 now beautifully landscaped into a lush bowl of foliage.
The quarry has a circular path around the inner perimeter along which the thirteen digital art installations, most of which were created for this night, were exhibited. At the very bottom of the stairs was D is for Diorama, by Sarah Shamash. It consisted of two videos of animals (both live and in diorama) recorded at The American Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo, projected side-by-side onto a hedge. It was mesmerizing. I settled on the ground in front of it and gazed at the vivid images of baboons, giraffes, zebra, wolves, polar bears, and elephants moving slowly on the needles of the hedge. As I watched, my sense of scale and distance were distorted by the texture of the plants, lending incredible new context to the creatures. They appeared to be in the foreground, while the clusters of needles took on the aspect of far off, densely forested hills. The effect was trippy and vivid - the animals growing increasingly present and real as I watched, though sometimes they seemed miles away, and sometimes dangerously close.
From time to time, people wandered in front of the projector, momentarily getting art on their jeans. There was a strong smell of lemon grass in the air, and almost complete darkness around us. I could have happily sat here for the duration of the show (which was, unfortunately, only about ninety minutes), losing myself in the textures of light and shrubbery in front of me. Making my way around the exhibition, I discovered that I felt this way about almost every piece, and had to tear myself away from each with the reminder that there was more to see.
An especially wonderful aspect of the show was that the artists stood next to their work, explaining and answering questions. That’s how I learned from Jamie Griffiths that what we were watching in her piece, Pathways and Parakeets, was a ten minute loop of footage taken just days ago at Kew Gardens in London. It was projected perhaps eighteen inches high on a rock, turning the surface into a sharply focused portal into another park thousands of miles away. It was like a geode split to expose an interior, but parallel, world. Audio recording of ambient noise and the calls of hundreds of parakeets— who, due to climate change, have relocated from South Africa to live year-round in London —played nearby. Again, the texture of the rock and the moss growing on it played delightful tricks with my sense of size and perspective.
Perhaps the most arresting piece, and the one which drew me in most, was Living by Sebnem Ozpeta. In it, video of a dark haired dancer with bright legs and arms emerging from a black leotard was projected at least fifteen feet tall on a towering tree. The piece was haunting; the dancer appeared to be part of the tree— even made of the tree —but also trapped inside it, elevated and estranged. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why the movements of the figure were so eerie until I learned from Ozpeta that she had slowed down the footage and reversed it. Graceful, deliberate, and poignant, unsettling as it was enthralling, I couldn’t look away as the figure emerged from and retreated into the tree like a ghostly dryad.
On an outcropping of rock next to Ozpeta’s piece, Rob Sharein’s contribution, SunStorms, cast a lucid image of the sun compiled from five months of NASA footage sped up nineteen thousand times. The sun spun, spots and storms moving across its surface, as Sharein, a former astrophysicist, explained that a solar flare of sufficient magnitude could take out the entire electrical grid upon which we are so reliant.
Another favorite was an untitled piece by Merlyn Chipman in which video feedback allowed the spectators to interact with the work in real time by moving their hands in front of a video camera which captured the image and projected it onto the path with hallucinatory colors and mirroring, fractal patterns. I could easily have entertained myself for hours discovering the constantly changing images and impressions the piece created.
Moving back towards the stairs up from the dark quarry, passing the shadowy figures of others heading home, I realized that the night itself had been an integral part of the exhibition: not only did it make the projections vibrant and the sound installations mysterious, but it also dictated how we were able to experience art. In most galleries or museums, I get caught up observing the people around me, or find myself wishing that the place were empty so I could be immersed in that way that only solitude allows. But in the garden, the darkness allowed a rare, focused engagement that let me get lost in the work on display, and left me reluctant to ride away from its thrall.
Loco Moto Art Collective http://locomotoart.com/
Merlyn Chipman http://www.merlynchipman.com/
Laura Lee Coles http://lauraleecoles.com/
Jamie Griffiths http://www.jamiegriffiths.com/
David Leith http://www.davidleith.com/
Wynne Palmer http://wynnepalmer.net/
Sarah Shamash http://sarahshamash.com/
And many more…
by Lucia Misch