Olympic Magical Thinking

When Vancouver was awarded the Olympics years ago, someone commented to me, “Maybe they were good 2000 years ago…”     I agreed.  I had voted against them.  They cost too much and will impact Vancouver’s education, health and housing budgets for years, maybe decades.   Most Vancouverites I know are disillusioned by the cost and as yet do not feel included.    

 But since the Olympic Games are here and we are paying for them,  I’m trying to accentuate the positive.  Get what you can while you can, is the best policy.  While roads close to traffic and giant sporting images appear on buildings, I have concentrated on getting some very magical moments out of the Olympic cultural events.  

On the steps of the Art Gallery, there is a huge jumbotron screen showing short films and images made by international artists.  Passing the screen as I walked home one day, I saw a black and white film of a tiny jetliner flying through a kitchen, past the cupboards, sink  and fruit bowl to land smoothly on the countertop.   With a crowd of about 20 people, I watched the miniature plane taxi to a stop beneath the kitchen window. 

I went to a concert by the Kronos Quartet featuring the dazzling throat singer Tanya Tagaq.  She undulated to a fabulous soundscape, giving voice to primal sounds that suggested a range from keening to panting to speaking in tongues.  It was mesmerizing.  While Kronos played the composition “Tundra Songs”  behind her  – Tagaq seemed to be vocalizing the human unconscious.   Kronos also played another work based on the sounds of the Weddell seal.  For several minutes, this animal’s strange call amplified through the Chan Centre theatre –  an electronic-sounding, long whistling followed a kind of rusty door creaking in the wind.   It felt like the whole audience was under water.

Last night I went to see KAMP at the Roundhouse theatre. Filling  the stage was a miniature recreation of Auschwitz, modelled by Dutch artists.  These artists also had made thousands of little gumby-like white figures with eyes and mouth of twisted voids, wearing the Auschwitz striped, grey pyjamas.   Some of these figures can be moved and manipulated with wires.   Three artists moved the tiny figures and, using a camera, projected the images up on the wall at the back.   In projection, we watched these strange little figures shovel rocks, sweep, prepare a hanging,  get beaten to death by guards, drop their clothes and herd naked and frightened into the gas chamber.  A train arrived and more frightened gumby figures were unloaded.  The camera scanned the tiny suitcases and shoes left behind.  Bodies were loaded into ovens.  A prisoner electrocuted himself on the barbed wire fence.  It was amazing how the camera made the set look large and real.   It was fascinating, weird and horrifying.  Not so much Auschwitz, I felt, as documentation of a horrible place in the human psyche.   What an extraordinary work.   Afterwards, the artists came forward and stood silently while the audience solemnly clapped.   One artist’s grandfather had died in Auschwitz. 

At 560 Seymour, the old A&B Sound building is being redeveloped.  I entered a blacked-out door, walked down a hallway stripped for reconstruction and took the elevator up to the second floor.  There is an art show there, including  an interactive exhibit called IKONS.   Narrow wooden pyramids are arranged in rows, painted in abstract designs done in shades of green.   They are a kind of “sound trees”.  As you walk in and out of them, sounds of strings, drums and electronic music are triggered by your proximity and kind of strange symphony plays. 

Finally,  the Vancouver Museum has a fascinating show called “The Art of Craft”, which showcases top Korean and Canadian craftspeople.  Some people say craft is not art, but I disagree.  One work in particular impressed me.   An artist from Northern BC had taken the idea of the lowly shipping pallet and reworked it into furniture.   Instead of using cheap lumber, he made several pallets out of black walnut wood and polished them with tung oil to a lustrous dark sheen.  They were then stacked slightly at angles to make a coffee table.   From humble to high end.   That is what art is about – changing our perspective on things.


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