Vancouver Mural Festival, at the core of its structure, does not represent a culturally diverse or marginal perspective as you might expect from a mural festival. Instead it is the initiative of a group of predominantly white men who have built alliances, not with the everyday people of Vancouver, but with real estate developers, Business Improvement Associations (BIAs) and the City government.
While arts and culture aren’t bad things, governments and developers have increasingly instrumentalized them as a way to stimulate market value in marginalized and working class communities. Under intense pressure by the City to develop, BC Artscape is the latest wolf in sheep’s clothing making an incursion into Chinatown.
“Every day that the Liberals delay allowing a new government to be formed,” said NDP’s Spencer Chandra Herbert earlier this month, “is a day that more people lose their homes.” With today’s vote of non-confidence, a feeling of optimism is now in the air. But will an NDP-Green government actually address homelessness? Will it fund non-market housing or even minimally alter the rules of the housing market?
As Canada 150 draws nearer, those committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty and dislodging the power of colonialism are faced with the task of dispelling the myth of Canada as a benevolent nation. While the expanding grip of neoliberalism has given rise to a reactionary global right-wing populism, the violence of supposedly “progressive” liberal settler-colonial states has fallen through the cracks of popular analysis and comprehension.
In Vancouver, there is no image of nature that is not at the same time an image of private property. Possession structures the visual culture and economy of the image. Whether this image is a meticulously crafted photograph for a condo advertisement staged in False Creek, or a self-portrait posed for at the top of Grouse Mountain, almost always the photograph is invested with an inflated sense of status, projection, and desire. And regardless of whether the image circulates on Instagram or Twitter, Grindr or the gallery system, the image is strictly that of appearance, never perceived as the product of labor or violence. Its value is measured by likes, dates,♡, second dates, re-posts, and most importantly, in the context of real estate, the inflation of the property’s price-tag. The possession of nature goes hand-in-hand with nature’s commodification.
On a cold Saturday night in January a haphazard line-up has formed outside the Fox Cabaret. Everyone is underdressed – young women with leather jackets draped over tank-tops and men with tight black jeans, thin t-shirts, and undersized polo hats. Above, the refurbished façade glows red, hinting at the building’s previous incarnation as a worn-down porn theater. However, the crowds outside are not here to enjoy “adult entertainment,” they have come to dance at one of Vancouver’s up-and-coming nightclubs.
In the central rotunda of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Alison Yip has constructed a mural of a ruined gazebo. Rendered in trompe l’oeil, Yip’s Gazebo (2016) is a scene sensed at twilight. Occupied by skunks, foxes, overgrown weeds, garden tools, and a raft of mythological figures, her vision is steeped in a strange mingling of dream, nature and everyday domesticity — reminiscent of the murals in Robert Altman’s unnerving film, 3 Women (1977). In one panel, the side profile of a figure is composed from an array of cleaning tools; another pictures a long garden hose snaking across a lurid yellow ground, spurting water erratically. Yip’s gazebo is no west coast arcadia, where nature is imagined to exist in a harmonious relation to its subjects. In fact, the central figure of Gazebo is the veiled goddess Themis, the blind goddess of Justice, whose furtive presence suggests a persistent and speculative haunting.