Exhibition Review: N. Vancouver
Burrard Inlet, so named by George Vancouver after his friend and fellow British sea captain, Sir Harry Burrard, is a coastal fjord that has for thousands of years served as the home and workplace of the Musqueam, Skwxúmesh and Tsleil-Waututh people. Since Vancouver’s visit in the summer of 1792, the inlet has become a staging ground for global industry. Today, it features two impressive bridges, the comings and goings of cargo ships and ocean liners, a sulfur pyramid and, closer to its second narrows, grain towers. And now, on the North Vancouver waterfront, the Patkau-designed Polygon Art Gallery.
The Polygon and its inaugural exhibition—N. Vancouver—both recognize the historic place of industry in the development of the region (from sawmills to shipyards), but also that region’s symbolic production: how local artists work with and against the world of our making though the use of its materials, its manufacturings and its modes. Among the highlights of the inaugural exhibition is Greg Girard’s 2013 work Untitled (Grain Terminal). At first glance, this 30 x 37 inch pigment print irks me, evoking as it does the artificially hued splash of a stock-prospectus cover image. Or maybe it’s more than that. Maybe the angle of the shot, its post-production touch-ups and its commercial veneer have it closer to a full-page ad for a luxury condo tower. But whatever the case, I wonder, where’s the art? Maybe that’s the point: in a region where real estate has less to do with homes than with other global commodities stored in these siloes, the artist is pushing us to think twice about what we think we are seeing.
Le Corbusier pointed out something similar in Vers une Architecture (1923). Integral to his emphasis on Mass, Surface and Plan, to his appreciation of the historic use of Regulating Lines, is the engineer who, unlike the Beaux Arts-trained architect, uses emergent technologies—not in the service of artifice, but in an effort to keep things honest, effective and simple. Le Corbusier provided numerous examples, some of which continue to act as players in the staging ground that is Burrard Inlet, most notably those cargo ships and ocean liners, but also the grain towers that came to replace what in George Vancouver’s time were colonnades of fir and cedar.
Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song.