A Somewhat Enigmatic Work
We found something completely different in one of our walkabouts in Vancouver. When our friend Kevin Manion was visiting us from Seattle and we were heading toward the harbor, we came across another work of art, this one unlike anything we had ever experienced before (assuming we consider a church something like a “work of art”).
What we found is a little hard to describe but I want to try because we were so impressed. We saw it on one of the major streets, between downtown and the Vancouver harbor. There it was, apparently just coming up out of the pavement right next to a small plaza that led to the entrance of a building. It just caught our eye, this tall upright metal structure with smaller metal-encased structures attached to the upright beams. And within each of these mobile structures we could see lighted lettering and other lights.
A couple of times one or another of us would think that we had seen one of these smaller boxes move up or down, but by the time we pointed it out, it had stopped moving. Suddenly, Andrew broke away from us and entered the building. Ever the information-gatherer, he had gone into the lobby to ask about the sculpture. The guard told him that the boxes on the sculpture corresponded to the building’s elevators, and each moved up or down when its corresponding elevator moved. Some later research on my part revealed more.
Located at 401 Burrard Street in front of the Environment Canada and Oceans & Fisheries Building, the work has been described by artist/sculptor Alan Storey as mimicking the “inner workings” of the building by using the activity of the elevators.
“In a structure in front of the building,” Storey said, “rectangular boxes travel up and down the poles and an LED screen reveals the footprints of the people inside the building as they travel up and down between floors.”
He provided more details when the project was under construction (in December, 2001): “The five elevator cars are represented in their respective positions on the columns. An interface with the actual elevator system in the building will cause the artwork cars to glide up and down the columns in exact co-relation to the real cars, i.e., if only elevator #2 is used, and it is taken to the 16th floor, the scaled-down artwork will respond accordingly, while the remaining cars stay idle.
“Next, in each car in the building, placed under the pumpkin coloured carpet, will be a multi-contact membrane switch that will pick up the various passengers’ foot prints as they stand or walk in the car, and transmit them out to an LED matrix screen on the underside of each corresponding artwork car. So, from a standing position on the plaza, an observer would be able to look up and see the movement and use of the inner workings of the building represented in a formal yet abstracted public realm.”
Unusual? Yes. Intriguing? Absolutely. And that’s what art is supposed to do for us, isn’t it?