On May 7th the Development Permit Board (DPB) approved the application of a 10 storey luxury development in Chinatown. The project, financed by Solterra Group of Companies, comprises 82 dwelling units above three levels of underground parking. This is the first condo project stimulated by the Vision-NPA gentrification plan for the neighbourhood. In spring of last year, Vision-NPA approved a blanket upzoning of land, which increased the value of 189 Keefer from $1 million to $2.9 million overnight. Through the so-called “Height Review” for the DTES, the predominantly low-income Chinese community and other low-income social groups are gradually being displaced by the incursion of market condos, high-end shops, and cultural amenities catering to a wealthier, predominantly white clientele. If a recent “snapshot” of emerging Chinatown by Scout Magazine is any indication, Chinatown will become the next Gastown.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

There was an added controversy at the 189 Keefer hearing, in the form of a serious conflict of interest. One of the members of DPB’s “Representatives of the Design Professions,” Foad Rafii (Architect) represented the Developer (Solterra) at the hearing. Rafii spoke on behalf of the applicant, and did not publicly disclose his conflict of interest. When a member of the public voiced his concerns, the Board Chair Vicki Potter and Foad Rafii remained silent, refusing to address the public’s claim.

This is the second time in a month that Foad Rafii has misused his post on the DPB. Two weeks ago, from his DPB seat Rafii spoke out energetically against community members who protested Pantages condos proposal. In retrospect, his decision regarding the Pantages condo project was tainted by his desire to see his own project approved the next week.


Teachers across the Province went on strike yesterday and will continue for the next two days. With over 41,00 teachers walking out, the industrial action was one of the largest demonstrations in decades. Teachers withdrew services in protest of Bill-22 — provincial legislation against collective bargaining for salary, benefit improvements, class size and quality of education. The bill seeks to immediately force teachers back to work without a contract, but also undermine public education in the long-term.

Yesterday’s demonstrations followed on the heels of a powerful, diverse student walkout last Friday on the Vancouver Art Gallery lawns. Despite uncooperative rainy conditions, the student walkout saw an enthusiastic show of politicization by the province’s youth along diverse lines of class, race and ethnicity. The students made an overwhelming call for justice and equality for fellow students and teachers across the province who have been adversely affected by eleven years of neoliberal austerity measures, cuts to education, anti-union legislation, coupled with generous corporate tax cuts.


Photography in Vancouver during the 1980s passed through an experimental phase that destabilized the technological determinism and established perspectives of image-making in the 20th century. Against the programmatic wishes of historians of the medium, photography was put in a position to resist the false dialectic imposed on it: neither a distinct, reified museum picture, nor a common, ubiquitous document placed carelessly in circulation. Revealing how the photograph and the practice of photography itself operated as a remnant of concrete social relations and political structures, as well as an extension of an advanced and experimental aesthetic culture, the medium was forced to lose its previous consistency. In this context, photography became preoccupied with expanding the field of the photographic itself through and within its own materiality, embracing its reproductive, serial and discursive qualities.

A fragment of this history is currently on display at the group exhibition c.1983 at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery. Artists included in the exhibition — Marian Penner Bancroft, Stan Douglas, Elizabeth Vander Zaag, Laiwan, Michelle Normoyle, Ellie Epp, Ken Lum, Kati Campbell, Arni Runar Haraldsson, (save for Ian Wallace) — answered the earlier international call for critique of the commodification of the art object through the expansion of the photographic image, a movement that found its fluid relevance in Vancouver’s nascent artist run-culture.

A new outdoor installation has appeared at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s OFFSITE sculpture garden located outside the Shangri-La luxury hotel in Downtown Vancouver. Perched next to Georgia Street and easily viewable from a car window, Kota Ezawa’s Hand Vote (2012) is a 3-D cut-out of a 2-D image depicting a regular parliamentary meeting with hands raised in a ritual act of voting. In the brief write-up for the piece, the Vancouver Art Gallery has stated:

“In light of recent events in which demands for societal reform have become apparent both in Canada and abroad, Ezawa’s portrait of democracy could not be more timely.”

Prior to exploring how Hand Vote recapitulates other public works currently on show in Vancouver, we should pose the obvious question: what disavowed event is the VAG pointing to when speaking of “recent events”?

The Global Occupy movement and the Arab Spring are of course the events that come to mind. More specifically, we are reminded of the occupation of the VAG’s North grounds in the fall of 2011. The question is slightly thwarted, however, when we recognize that Occupy Together, and the Arab Spring before it, were not generated by vague calls for social reform. On this point we should be careful not to mince words: the popular movements of the past two years sought to strike a fatal blow to a system of extreme wealth and inequality. The movements in the Middle East, Europe and North America were precipitated by the desire for the wholesale transformation of society itself. To grasp Hand Vote therefore – or as Hegel would say, to seize the concept with our hands – we should investigate the temporal-specificity of the piece.



The new plan for the redevelopment of Little Mountain neighbourhood in East Vancouver has been released to the public. The plan calls for wholesale gentrification of the Riley Park-Little Mountain neighborhood. The 15-acre site that previously held 224 units of social housing will be replaced with 2,000 units of market condominiums.

In exchange for a zero-percent increase in the amount of affordable housing on the site, the neighborhood will be transformed by luxury condos and retail, putting upward pressure on local property values. Like in other working-areas of Vancouver, this new high-end development will usher in rent increases, more renovictions and even more demolitions.

In Vancouver, there are on average two home demolitions per day. The Little Mountain plan ensures that the rate of demolitions will be particularly high in the Riley Park area. In addition to the demolition of Little Mountain social housing, the city has its sight set on demolishing all single-family homes at the north-east corner of the Little Mountain property.

Even though evictions and displacement are systemic throughout Vancouver, the city has not conducted a social impact study to understand the possible social effects of these demolitions and mega-projects. When asked at Thursday’s press conference whether the City plans to conduct such a study, Senior Planner Ben Johnson said “No,” claiming that there are no impacts because “homes are going for $1million in the neighborhood.” According to the city, the renters who make up large part of Little Mountain, Riley Park, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, Sunset, and Mount Pleasant are not part of the equation.

The new plan announced by the private developer, Holborn Group, consists of sixteen towers of luxury condominiums. There are nine towers planned at ten to fourteen stories, while the rest of the density is spread out between four to nine stories. It is assumed that Holborn bought the property from the provincial government for a price fixed to existing levels of zoning, at four stories, while committing to replace the 224 units of social housing.

This “one-for-one” deal is a coup for Holborn because on a mega-project of this size, the city would normally apply its mega-project housing policy requiring that 20% of all units be social housing. The planned 2,000 units would normally accompany at least 400 units of social housing, but in this case the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the City and the Province assures Holborn that only 224 units are necessary.  Furthermore, low-income tenants have been forced into the precarious waiting room of history. The first phase of the project will now not be completed until 2017 at the absolute earliest, even though all replacement housing was promised to be completed by 2010 at the latest.

When Holborn bought Little Mountain, the land was zoned for four stories. Holborn claims to have paid an above-market rate because the Province promised that the land would be upzoned in the future to allow more condo units. Of course, rezoning is a City power, outside the Province’s jurisdiction. If the Province indeed made a guarantee to Holborn that the land would be rezoned, then the Province was on the one hand attempting to undermine the local community planning process (including the existing Riley Park Community Vision), and on the other hand seems to have misrepresented the Province’s powers to Holborn. However, there is no reason to feel sorry for Holborn. Holborn has more than enough lawyers to know exactly what they were getting into. The most likely scenario is that the Province and Holborn colluded to strong-arm the City and undercut local planning processes.


Althea Thauberger "Ecce Homo" (2011)

At the top of the entrance to the Georgia and Granville skytrain station, the actor who played the former chief coroner of BC and mayor of Vancouver, Larry Campbell, lies in state. Elongated on a polished mortuary slab, the body patiently awaits inspection. Firmly planted at the centre of commerce in Vancouver, actively conflating power, politics and death, the whole scene is disorientating, uncanny, if not outright confrontational.

Spanning the entire north wall of the station, the picture is massive both in size and scale. Slightly larger than a typical city billboard, the body is monstrous. The photograph, subtracted from the slogans and brands of commercial imagery of its surroundings, exerts a dramatic austerity. For the passengers moving to and fro on the Skytrain stairwell, the picture appears at first out of place. The billboard both dwarfs commuters and exerts a definitive presence without them. Viewing the work from the Skytrain stairwell, your eye acquires a CSI spectacality and magnifies the body’s intense physiognomy. In the excessive attention to detail, the body’s part-objects take hold of the image: yellow-mangled toenails; sparse leg hair; a few flesh wounds (bed-bug bites?) — each atom asserts an iconic clarity. Within these moments of distraction, it becomes difficult for your eye to stake claim on the image’s totality. In the passengers’ movement, the picture demands a contradiction: a probing gaze onto the photo’s extreme minutiae yet also a skill for the fleeting glance conditioned by the stairwell’s tempo. In a matter of seconds, Campbell’s body unpacks itself piece by piece as we whirl downward to the depths of the platform.

Mounted on transparent glass, the image is a mirror onto itself, and the audience is permitted to view its reverse from the TD Plaza. From this angle, the eye is able to relax and ease into a sedate, plodding study. If it were not for Campbell’s face and stubborn hand, you could almost say the rest of the body was silently composed, patiently awaiting its public with a globular paunch, its legs elongated as though they were just there, sunbathing on a beach.

Once we are confronted with Campbell’s face, however, a different presentation unfolds. Campbell’s gaze is irreverent. As it turns out onto the plaza, and with a gesture that is more aggressive than the rest of his body, his head rejects its placement. With a wide-eyed, brow-raised, mouth-slightly-open glance, Campbell’s face is punctuated with a theatrical exclamation and an eagerness to vocalize something. Sharing a similar glance to Poussin’s ‘running-man’ in Landscape with a man killed by a snake (1648), the body wishes to declare itself, yet it is without the same horror and torsion. The hand, too, is eerily similar to the elegiac shepherd in Poussin’s Et in Arcadia Ego (1640), raised as though it is about to gesture to the presence of an unexpected tomb. In both pictures, Ecce Homo and Et in Arcadia Ego, the hand operates as the picture’s anchor. It is the site for the body’s own contemplative absorption — a means to trace out a pensive, melancholic thought both inside and outside the frame.

We have to ask ourselves however, is this the same ‘sight of death’ that Poussin announced, or even an image ‘of death’ as one might assume? Is it not more ludic, aloof and underhanded? Without the knowledge that Campbell was the chief coroner of BC, or even the presence of a mortuary table, there are no clear markers of death.

But Thauberger is clear at this point: both work and death are conflated in the picture. As chief coroner, death was once Campbell’s work, but now death works on Campbell. But it also works on Larry Campbell’s body double, Nicholas Campbell — the actor who played the former coroner on the TV series Da Vinci’s Inquest (1998-2005) and later in Da Vinci’s City Hall (2005) — especially now when the former actor is out of work. In a weird set of intersections, the camera too assumes the perspective of the coroner, and by detaining the eye, the body appears as though it awaits dissection. But still, the picture remains unconvincing, the body is certainly more alive than dead; or in its own manner just undead, barely hanging on — a body set at the threshold of life and death.


I) Vancouver’s ‘Reserve Army’

For Vancouver’s unemployed and working poor, social and economic life is increasingly precarious. Ruled by a post-Fordist economy determined by risk-finance and the micropolitical strategies of the crisis-State — flexibilization, dispersion of workers, a developer-run city hall — Vancouver’s poor confront employment, health care and housing needs with greater peril and uncertainty. While in the post war period large segments of the labour force experienced relative stability, assured employment and a regulated working day under Fordist production, the last couple of decades in Vancouver have seen a deepening of precarity.

In the contemporary labour field, precarity is understood as a general lack of guaranteed contracts, stable schedules, and secure employment, in which working time and leisure time fuse together in a mystical union. The irreverent alliance between capital and the State has historically waged persistent, running battles with labour in order to cut ties with stability, welfare and support, and for the last thirty years the balance of forces has veered in favor of profit and crisis. Submerged in the present recession, traditional labor is only a small part of the productive system within a city like Vancouver, constituting an unsubstantial rate of profit and little technological development. As structural underemployment entrenches itself, finance calls the shots from a safe distance. In Vancouver and elsewhere, the security of Fordism appears no longer the norm, but rather the exception, while precarity becomes the standard experience of life and work as such.

Made up of a motley crew, Vancouver’s precariat is its “reserve army,” to use Marx’s term for the unemployed. Temporary unemployment, underemployment and unstable contracts have become a general regime of the economy as the flexible precariat becomes the general standard for the labour field. In Vancouver precarity has historically been associated within women’s and migrant’s work (domestic or otherwise), but has grafted onto a litany of identities: low-income workers, students, unemployed, sex workers, artists, migrants, other social identities, all forced to accept the scraps of the service industry or other forms of cheap labour. Without a guaranteed living wage or income, coupled with the rising cost of rent and wholesale goods, labourers take on two or three jobs, work in flexible industries, work on short-term contracts, solicit work for temp-agencies, and not least, rely on friends and family for assistance. All the while, they attempt to construct a life at a distance from exploitation by over-paying for education, plunging deep into debt, getting drunk, or worse, retreating within the calming shelter of a veiled commodity culture and its latest consumption trends.