Part 1: The Art of the Olympics

Like ’em or loath ’em, the Olympics are coming to town in just a few days! The Olympic Winter Games are a hot-button issue for residents of Vancouver and surrounding areas. For two weeks the population of the city will swell by at least half — a formidable estimate, considering that when it was founded no one believed this rainforest city would ever attract the attention of any but a few hundred loggers.

Despite the many issues that have been the subject of hot debate and much chagrin, there is no denying that the Olympic Games are an extravagant and exciting event, the likes of which few Vancouverites have ever seen before or will again. It’s an unprecendented time for celebration, to strive for the very best.

The attention of the world will be on the slopes and rinks of Vancouver and Whistler, but the attention of locals will more likely be on the streets, parks, skies and water-ways of their municipality.

Amidst the news of scores of arts and cultural programs being denied part or all of their 2010 funding, Vancouver will be the site of a variety of public art installations. In researching this topic I found such an abundance of events and activities, this post has already earned a sequel so keep your eyes peeled for part 2!

Where can you find this public art? Everywhere!

Start with transit stops. Endlessly Traversed Landscapes is a public poster project curated by Natalie Doonan, featuring works by Canadian artists placed in various locations throughout Vancouver. Billboards are highly contested and competitive zones, displaying the drama of shifting social relations, and bus shelters are transitory sites – outposts that speak to the movement of people through a brief moment in time. I was intrigued to see that there are several images on display that were also exhibited at Art Toronto 2009! See if you can spot them!

If you like tilting your head, you’ll also enjoy The Candahar. Stepping inside Irish artist Theo Sims’ The Candahar you’ll find yourself in a meticulously detailed recreation of an Irish public house, based on the interior of the now defunct Blackthorn Bar in Belfast. Part sculpture, part theatrical stage, The Candahar is an artwork that is also a functioning bar, open to the public and staffed, in collaboration with two Belfast bartenders who act as unscripted performers. And like any pub, visitors can expect to enjoy music and good conversation – some scripted, some not! Find The Candahar at the Playwrights Theatre Centre on Granville Island – but make sure you get your TICKETS in advance!

Ikons is an interactive art installation by Vancouver performance and visual artist Eric Metcalfe and legendary American composer, trombonist and intellectual George Lewis. On display from January 28 to February 28, Metcalfe has created seven vibrant hand-painted sculptures, each about eight feet tall, that will house sonar sensors and speakers. The exhibition space will be full of recorded music composed by Lewis and performed by Vancouver’s contemporary/classical Turning Point Ensemble. “When someone goes up to a particular area, looks at a piece of art and stays in one place for a long time it means they’re interested in the work. Computers are good at detecting things like if a person stays in one place for a long time or not,” says Lewis, who is currently the director of Columbia University’s school of jazz studies and is renowned for his work with computers and electronic music. You can check out Ikons at Five-Sixty 650 Seymour Street.

Last but not least is Granville Street. While posh South Granville is home to ‘Gallery Row’, the downtown strip of Granville is where you’ll find a pedestrian-only area converted into an outdoor art exhibition. Many have commented on the carnivalesque feel of the strip, especially in daylight — I overheard one woman saying she felt like she was at an elementary school’s artshow. Many have been talking about their wish for this section of Granville to remain closed to cars and be a permanent – though rotating – outdoor display of art. It’s a risky move to be sure, with this section of Granville Street home to some of the most popular clubs and bars in Vancouver, and an infamous locus for ‘conversations’ between police and partiers.

Like with anything related to the Olympics, your level of participation is up to you. Just don’t forget that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness and weigh in on the biggest and most major event Vancouver has ever played host to.

Vancouver 2010 Cultural Festivals and Events

You Gotta Be Here

Vancity Buzz Vancouver 2010 Olympics Guide

An Awesome Showcase

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