One of the biggest surprises for me here in Olympic-hosting Vancouver has been the incredible number of homeless drug users. The area around Chinatown along the 20 Bus route, specifically the street called East / West Hastings, is a strange place to be in 2010. It’s not just people on the verge of collapse; buildings and businesses too. ‘The Only Seafoods’ stands despondent, its window-sills scattered with dusty sea-shells and plastic replica fish, doors plastered with Closure Orders and the note below.
It’s the Push Festival, and for the opening a new version of Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On, with local Canadian performers, was staged at the brand new and badly-named “SFU Woodward’s Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre” -surely the best first show you could hope to open a theatre with, the empty stage taking its time to transform from Darkness ‘Tonight… tonight’ to light (“the sun shines in”) to peopled (‘Come Together’). The theatre is part of a new development on the above West Hastings Street, and walking through the covered / shopping area, I was amazed to see one of the bravest and most fascinating works of public art I’ve ever seen. The large scale photo installation by Stan Douglas – on laminate glass lit from both sides – is a reconstruction of a riot on pretty much the exact same spot. The title: Abbott and Cordova, 7th August 1971. The subject matter reminded me of Deller’s Battle of Orgreave re-enactment, but above all left me wondering if there would ever be a situation in UK like this: of a development on this scale (multi-millions) in a troubled area allowing for the inclusion of an explicit reference to something at the heart of the problems it seeks to redress. So much easier to forget with the usual heavy dose of ‘glassitecture’, glossy brochure, shopping malls and huge banners with 20-something couples unpacking / reclining on their brand new floorboards, smiling at each other, fingers in mouths. More here on the brave decisions and, above all, history behind this amazing work. Click on images below for bigger versions.