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.
During the last weeks of August, many Vancouverites spent time checking out the city’s first annual Mural Festival – an exhibition of 35 murals by over 40 local street, graffiti and mural artists mostly clustered around the lower Main Street corridor. The event was sponsored by a $200,000 grant from the City of Vancouver, with additional support from Mount Pleasant BIA and Burrard Arts Foundation
Last spring, an Economist article declared Vienna, Geneva, and Vancouver to be “mind-numbingly boring” cities. The concept is well worn. The author of the article doesn’t claim to be making some grand statement on Vancouver. Nonetheless, Vancouverites responded explosively. A lot rests on our city being desirable. There’s a looming sense that somehow this matters. Even in local artistic communities, defined by a sort of rejection of the placid kind of fun that Vancouver offers, musicians and artists and label-heads are quick to reject the title “No Fun City.”
A small media storm emerged last week after a profile of Socially Responsible Vancouver tours appeared in Travel section of the Toronto Star. Since 2014 the tours have charged tourists $185 per person ($195 for two people, and $275 for a group of 10) to view the Downtown Eastside.
Today we took to the streets and reversed the narrative by leading a “yuppie gazing tour.” Our message was that we’re not okay with poverty tourism. We flipped the script and made rich people into the subjects of our gaze, marching through Chinatown while chanting, “Downtown Eastside is not a safari, drive away in your Ferrari”