Contests over social memory in waterfront Vancouver: Historical editing & obfuscation through public art

Gordon Brent Ingram

Resumen


Every public art site has a relationship to the history of surrounding areas whether in obscuring social memory or in highlighting certain relationships and events over others. Over the last decade, much of central Vancouver's waterfront, particularly around False Creek (a marine inlet), has been redeveloped with international capital - much of which has been linked to Hong Kong. Several large redevelopment areas have involved close cooperation in urban design processes between `the city' and `the developer'. In these megaprojects, public art has emerged as a more substantial and stable urban amenity while becoming less overtly ideological and associated with democratic public space. In this part of North America, such relatively public art projects have become almost iconographic for economic and social changes associated with globalization. Contentious historical information has tended to be censored - particularly around a range of non-European communities and events over the last century involving social conflict. In the same period, outdoor art has been increasingly used as a part of strategies to reclaim public space and attempts to democratize it. These two kinds and functions of public art have tended to be used for divergent experiences of the relationships of history to the present, of public space and the existence of and responses to social conflict, and of `sense of place'. Six public art sites, with four built, along the north shore of False Creek, in central Vancouver, are analyzed in terms of their cultural, urban and spatial politics and, in particular, in terms of contemporary tensions around the extent of aboriginal presence before and after the arrival of Europeans, the multiracial and multicultural origins and character of the city, contamination with toxic chemicals, violence against women, and the AIDS pandemic. A method for better analyzing the cultural politics of public art sites (and the design processes that were central to their creation) is outlined along with a framework for considering sites with a broader mosaic with a sort of (cultural) landscape ecology. Certain newer cities such as Vancouver put as much if not more of their resources in public art into obliterating and obscuring reminders of social memory than in more carefully highlighting diverse experiences. In comparison to other cities of its size (2 million), Vancouver has a relatively low number of public art sites though the costs for many of the newer works, especially those associated with redevelopment involving `off-shore' capital, are relatively high. In this paper, I discuss some of the mechanisms at work around the functions of public art in city-owned spaces in central Vancouver. I also reflect on being a member, appointed by City Council in early 1999, of the City of Vancouver Public Art Committee.

Palabras clave


Vancouver; Canada; Public Art

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