Last week Vancouver was immersed in smoke from forest fires across Northern and Southern British Columbia. The smoke seemed to speak, without speaking, about our present uneasy condition. On this occasion, The Mainlander has decided to publish the long-delayed online version of a small chapbook, ‘Five Images of a City Without Buildings,’ originally published in 2012 by the artist collective coupe.
Model Minority is a publication assembled by Gendai, a non-profit visual arts organization that engages the East Asian diasporic community in Canada. This volume is a collection of research in the form of essays, articles, and commissioned artist projects that broach the subject of “model minority” in North America. By combining artists projects with archival material, academic research and recent political activities, the book investigates a territory usually given exclusively to social sciences.
The Arts + Culture Supplement hopes to foster and support dialogues with the arts through the publication of writing about events in Vancouver, including public lectures, shows, festivals, film screenings and other cultural projects. The supplement will support both established and emerging writers working in the form of narrative essays, art writing, interviews and reviews.
Often, we liken cafés to living rooms due to their hospitable decorum. To apply that comparison to a concert floor, however, is much less precedented. On an overcast summer evening, I arrived at Sunset Terrace, an independently operated gallery in East Vancouver, to find an impressive makeshift tent fashioned from tarps, rope and planks of wood. Beneath the tent was a selection of inviting armchairs, stools, and ottomans stationed upon Mexican blankets strewn like area rugs where audiences could sit crossed-legged for the evening’s lineup.
Beyond the highly publicized and debated issues that pertain to Vancouver’s visual and physical space, mainly focused on the much publicized Downtown Eastside, there is a competition for sonic space that has gone largely unnoticed. Noise Pollution caused by the rapid development of condominiums dominates Vancouver’s soundscape, while the relatively minor sound intrusions of live music — in the streets, in public venues, or private spaces — is regularly restricted by city officials. This discrepancy exists largely as a result of Vancouver’s Noise Control by-law, which has a strong bias towards developer-friendly regulations, and shrouds musical/cultural sound policy in a cloud of ambiguity, hyper-regulation and selective enforcement.
In the spring of 2012, the City of Vancouver’s engineering department passed a revealing by-law. It stated that no longer could bagpipes or percussion instruments be played in the streets of the city. The engineering department claimed to have based their decision on “noise concerns”, but whether or not they were conscious of it, their disruption of legitimate street music was actually ideologically motivated. There is a trend in Vancouver toward anti-cultural and pro-developer policies concerning noise.
2013: THE YEAR OF EVICTIONS
After the predatory spectacle of the 2010 Olympic Games, a state of precarity and relentless eviction has become the norm in Vancouver. A landmark example was the closure of the Waldorf Hotel, and since then casualties have piled on top of each other like a sea of ivory in an elephant graveyard: VIVO Media Arts Centre, the Junction, ROYGBIV, Nowhere, Spartacus Books (temporarily reversed), to name just a few. Although each case is different, these evictions are a result of a pernicious mix of excessively high rents, restructured state funding, profit-driven renovictions, and an apathetic city council who turns a blind eye to slumlords and developer greed while maintaining an absurd regulatory protocol for cultural space.
“That the world is out of joint is shown everywhere in the fact that however a problem is solved, the solution is false.” – Theodor Adorno
After years of political negligence, a failed architectural proposal, and prolonged economic recession, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is finally getting a new building at Larwill Park. A good dose of public elation, institutional relief, and civic boosterism has accompanied the announcement. But situated squarely within the double-edged contradictions of cultural production and presentation, the new VAG might be less a rebirth than a last gasp. To complicate matters, a wild spate of developer-city-state evictions of artist-run spaces have recently exacerbated the fierce symptoms of Vancouver’s rapid gentrification. And with the surprising yet decisive re-election of a BC Liberal majority at the provincial level, coupled with unilateral corporate control at the municipal level, the political and aesthetic status quo appears practically guaranteed. The VAG’s announcement in the context of ongoing neoliberal reforms and much decried cultural fragmentation and displacement, may yet be a “kiss of death” for Vancouver — sweet at contact, but fatal in the long run. Viewed critically, the announcement seems more sobering than joyous, more foreboding than fortunate.