Tuesday October 19th, 2010
At the end of my first day here, as I was indulging in a leisurely stroll through Charleston Park from the Biennale office, I chanced upon my first encounter with a Biennale sculpture.
– ‘THE STOP’- I obeyed the command of the second word immediately.
Michael Zheng’s multiple installations of the common traffic sign raced down the hill and into the corner of my eye, a marching line of red that yelled at me to STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!!! This sculpture does not want to be ignored.
It dawned on me that this was what my time writing for the Biennale was going to be about; Halting at large, the traffic in our everyday lives and minds and to give in to the alluring power of the outlandish and bizarre. Already I can see the sculpture has this effect upon Vancouverites. The hordes of human traffic passing through Charleston Park are pausing to go up to it. Bikers are dismounting, runners’ rubber-soled trainers are cooling and children engaged in the amusements of the nearby playground are running away from the swings to weave in and around the giant poles, in a playful game of tag.
Michael Zheng is gauging our engagement with outdoor art, perhaps more specifically; he is measuring how successful an art installation can be at subverting the controlling power of visual motifs in the metropolis. Our natural reaction when we come into contact with signs that forbid entry into a certain area, is to shy away and move off in another direction. Zheng’s STOP signs are, as the artist expresses himself, an attempt at “re-associating the sign with a fresh experience”. Planted next to a playground, the backs of the signs painted a cheeky pink, Zheng plants the seed in our eyes and minds that art can be charming, humorous, disarming. The site also lends itself to a point of public congregation where, it is hoped, the discussion of art can unfold in the open air. Hope fully this blog can be a similar launching pad for all manner of discourses on art!!
The experience of the Biennale and the city of Vancouver is certainly fresh to me and I think we should all, once in a while at least, aim to pause the commonplace routine of our everyday lives and take a moment to explore the sculpture in this city. Walk around them, touch them, look at them from every angle and notice how others are doing the same. Let them draw you in and then take off in search of the next along the Biennale trail. More importantly, let’s get talking, photographing and writing about them together!!
To return to the artist in question, this autumn in Portland, Oregon, Zheng is seen again to be testing the boundaries of our interaction with each other and with art. He explores whether bridging the distance between us, can indeed be achieved with communication and art-discourse. The Worksound Gallery is hosting Zheng along with Laura Fritz and Kim Donaldson and two of their installations. A performance was given by the artists at the opening, concerning the “Distance Between Us” and the former is the name given to one of the installations there. Our artists are active throughout the world and we will keep you updated as to what they are up to.
For more information on the Oregon installations, check out www.michaelzheng.org