Thesis: Public Art Private Views

Underlying this website and the series of 23 short films (available on a two-DVD set from public libraries*) is my Master’s thesis. It describes the project, its goals and methods of investigation, elaborates on the variety of public art seen and experienced today, elaborates what “public space” and “public sphere” means in relation to our cities, describes the challenges of situating art in public spaces, and offers conclusions with regard to the challenges of situating art in the public realm.

I wrote it to be readable by everyone, not just a professor or external examiner familiar with the topic. It’s 94pp long including four short appendices. The thesis refers to the documentaries, but for my MA project I created a separate, single DVD with three twenty-minute films.

The paper can be downloaded here:

Not to make things more complicated, but if you were to go to Simon Fraser University’s thesis repository, SUMMIT, you can find (and download) not only the paper but also links to the three films submitted as integral to the thesis project (you’ll require Adobe Flash to view the films):


this artist thinks big


Oriflamme – Tianjin, China

Composed of fin-shapes attached to a mast 68 metres high, the sculpture stands out boldly against this new cityscape. Most strikingly, this is not a static work: in perpetual movement, it interacts with external forces like the wind. The fins are activated by a system of electromagnets which simultaneously attract and repel each other. The work is lit up at night by dynamos that store its dynamic energy. — Vimeo post

This is the work of French artist Jean-Bernard Metais


Few cities in Canada have the funds or the imagination or the courage to permit an artist to build something as imposing as the works created by Métais in Europe and China.

“Making art in the public sphere,” says Métais, “means building a bond with a place and the people who live in it. My sculpting is essentially based upon the experimenting I do with the place I work in. The elements I bring into play are not an attempt to explain the location; they try to create a resonance, a sensorial bond between people and their environment.”

Métais often uses words to convey ideas that aim to reveal the location’s function and unique character. The words he chooses, usually short, are significant for what they represent, but also for their expressiveness, imagery and poetic richness. This work with words also entails design research with the graphics themselves, to make them an integral part of the work’s aesthetic dimension. Herve-Armand BECHY

In the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, he has integrated art within an historic site, Fort Lambert. “The Wave,” the artist says, “creates a wholly new perspective on the fortress, an alternative vantage point between the visible and the invisible, yesterday and today.”


Litanie (2007), Valenciennes, France


Placed precisely at the former location of [Valencienne’s] belfry (an ancient 14th century edifice that collapsed in 1840), Métais’ work is a 45-meter high arrow that marks the spot, regenerating an emblematic link to local history. The belfry, a lookout tower characteristic of northern French cities in the Middle Ages, was a meeting point where diverse crowds would gather daily to conduct business, debate rules and laws, and celebrate events… It was above all a neutral, open forum where people could come to share and discuss news.

To valorize the location of the Place des Armes, Métais designed a light yet stark structure: a giant needle that points to the sky. Aside from its formal function as a monumental landmark, the work also acts upon the square like a “rumor”. The structure is filled with thousands of whispering voices, with words of local significance, secrets shared by people of the city and its surroundings. —

In this video we see the fabrication and installation of “Litanie” for the city of Valenciennes. (Videos supplied by the artist, on


Métais has been given carte blanche to design a 61 acre public park in Jurong, China (population 1,000,000). The location of one of the largest archeological sites in the world, dating back to 150 BCE, Jurong is close to Nankin, the former capital of China.

Jurong 2142

Lisbon’s monumental found-object animals


Artur Bordalo

Artur Bordalo (aka Bordalo II) is a street artist who has created a series of wall-sized animal murals using paint and clever reconfigurations of recycled trash. Among his “found” materials are scrap metal, tires, tubing, and crushed bumpers — anything that has been produced, used, and thrown away to last an eternity in the landfill. Stunningly, Bordalo has turned such tarnished objects into delicate feathers, soft fur, and complex exoskeletons, paying a bold homage to the animals he represents. In a clever blend of 2D and 3D art, the creations emerge from the walls like brilliant optical illusions, demanding our attention and curiosity. (Hayley Evans, Beautiful/Decay)

bordalo-1 bordalo-7

More images can be found in these articles:

And in Bordalo’s Facebook photo stream.


is it money well-spent?

Vancouver’s Board of Parks and Recreation, which is composed of elected commissioners, is considering funding an installation created by Lead Pencil Studio for a park on the city’s east side, bordering neighbouring city of Burnaby.


There is concern that public money is being spent recklessly at a time when Vancouver is facing transit cuts (if a referendum fails to pass), a persistent and growing homeless population, and its standing as the world’s second-least affordable city to live in.

Tara Carman, writing in the Vancouver Sun: (complete article)

Staff are recommending approval of the $450,000 installation, entitled Home and Away, designed by Lead Pencil Studio. Artists drew inspiration for the sculpture from three historic structures Hastings Park is known for: the old bleachers and scoreboards at Empire Stadium, a constructed ski run built there in the 1950s and Playland’s signature wooden roller coaster. The bleachers, with the “home” side in blue and the “away” side in yellow, will be about 15 metres high, 30 metres long and hold a maximum of 150 people, according to a park board staff report. It will be located at the northwest corner of Empire Fields and visible from Hastings Street.

Empire Stadium 1954-1993

Empire Stadium 1954-1993


Playland's venerable wooden rollercoaster, constucted in 1958 and still going strong

Playland’s venerable wooden rollercoaster, constucted in 1958 and still going strong

Five days before the Board was to vote on funding the proposed work, I wrote them:

Dear Commissioners,
Much as I enjoy public art—my MA thesis was on public art in Vancouver, I produced a 23-episode series of short films on public art, and I’m giving a talk at the Harmony Arts Festival this summer in West Vancouver on public art—I do not support the proposed work for Hastings Park.
My reasons:
1. Public perception. In a time when this city is unaffordable to many, not only to potential home-buyers but to those who struggle to make enough to pay the rent, this expenditure is going to be seen as a shocking waste of public monies.
2. Too large, too imposing, and potentially too dangerous, even with guardrails. With the vertical insertions of the PNE’s Playland rides next to the park, another vertical structure, playful as it is, is too much for one area.
3. The Park Board could still assign those funds to art, but in a more low-key, spread-out series of projects, not necessarily installations of permanence.
4. What if the Park Board were to set aside these funds toward a major and exciting project to be built in a few years—for instance, something by Antony Gormley, or another artist of international calibre?



Shore to Shore: a new sculpture for Stanley Park

Coast Salish artist Luke Marston has created Shore to Shore, a four-metre tall work in bronze depicting his great-great grandparents, Portuguese pioneer Joe Silvey flanked by his first wife, Khaltinaht, and his second wife, Kwatleematt. (Joe’s first wife died of tuberculosis.)

Born on Pico Island, of Portugal’s Azores Islands, sometime between 1830 and 1840, Joseph Silvey began whaling when he was just 12 years old. In 1860, when Silvey came to the BC coast on a whaling schooner, he decided to jump ship to try his hand at gold-mining.

From harpooning whales in small open rowboats, to serving up liquor to rambunctious millworkers, to being the first man to have a seine license in BC, Silvey was the Renaissance man of his generation. His friends were many, and included saloon keeper Gassy Jack Deighton for whom Vancouver’s Gastown is named, his prestigious grandfather-in-law Chief Kiapilano (of the Capilano Nation) and a remittance man who liked to wear either his wife’s clothes or none at all.

Although Portuguese Joe and his family prospered – he had 11 children with two wives and his many descendants still populate the BC coast – they also had their share of grief. Joe’s first wife Khaltinaht died after a few short years of marriage; his eldest child Elizabeth was later kidnapped and forced to marry against her will; and his sixth child John was murdered in a rowboat while on his way to buy clams.

(Harbour Publishing: Jean Barman, The Remarkable Adventures of Portuguese Joe Silvey )

The video above is excerpted from documentary filmmaker Peter Campbell‘s feature-lenth project about Coast Salish artists and the creation of Marston’s Shore to Shore sculpture. There is also a new book, Shore to Shore, by Suzanne Fournier, available from Harbour Publishing, about Marston’s work and this sculpture in particular.

Some of Luke Marston’s beautiful work:

CBC Radio interview with Marston (8 minutes):

The Divide

Kevin King photo

Kevin King photo

“Let’s Heal The Divide” is a neon artwork by Toni Latour, a commission for the 2014-2016 Vancouver Biennale. It is installed at the crossroads between the impoverished, troubled downtown eastside and the financial district, on the front of Vancouver Community College, itself a victim of “the divide.”

The divide can be variously interpreted as rich/poor, immigrant/First Nations, or on gender identification, education, and other ways of grouping ourselves. The divide is what feeds misunderstanding: prejudice: violence. It is real but it can be bridged, by reaching out, listening, welcoming, being open to differences.

Toni Latour is an East Vancouver artist and educator.  Her works have been exhibited and collected nationally and internationally for 15 years, including an acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery of Canada.  Toni is also a 2-time Vancouver Biennale artist, with work installed at the Brighouse Skytrain Station in Richmond.  She taught at Capilano University for 11 years before the Studio Art program closed in 2014.  She currently teaches at Kwantlen University and the University of the Fraser Valley.  Her work can be seen at

The use of neon refers to Vancouver’s history as one of the neon capitals of North America; where once we had over 19,000 neon signs, many of them animated, now only a few remain, the result of neglect, gentrification, and the city’s policy of removing large advertising signs including billboards. Recently the Museum of Vancouver presented The Visible City, a retrospective of the neon signage. The location specific work is also a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Vancouver Community College, which has offered a diverse range of programming for the mosaic of cultures in the city. The Visible City is available as an Google Play/Android and iPhone app.

The sanctioned and the not-so-approved

On this corner in Metro Vancouver…

The city of New Westminster saw the unveiling on October 4 of a three-dimensional representation of a 1940 photograph which was taken at the same street corner where the statue will be situated. It is called Wait for Me, Daddy. The newspaper photographer was Claude P. Detloff.

Wait For Me, Daddy. 1940: Claude P. Dettloff, Vancouver Daily Province. Archives# CVA LP-109.

Wait For Me, Daddy. 1940: Claude P. Dettloff, Vancouver Daily Province. Archives# CVA LP-109.

Pictured are five-year-old Warren “Whitey” Bernard and his parents Bernice and Jack Bernard, as the family was about to be separated on October 1, 1940. When asked about the photo, Dettloff later told family that “he knew what he had even before he printed the picture.” Father and son were reunited in 1945.

Father and son reunited. 1945: Vancouver Province Newspaper

Father and son reunited. 1945: Vancouver Province Newspaper

The city of New Westminster, the oldest city on Canada’s west coast, commissioned Canadian sculptors Veronica and Edwin Dam De Nogales* to recreate this moment in bronze.

On October 1, 1940, Dettloff was photographing the British Columbian Regiment [Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles] march down 8th Street enroute to battle overseas. In a random moment, Dettloff snapped a young boy, Whitey Bernard, escape his mother’s grasp and run towards his father marching off to war. Wait for Me Daddy became an enduring symbol of Canada’s WWII effort. The photo appeared on the cover of Life Magazine, was displayed in every school in BC during the war, was showcased in the Canadian war bond fundraising campaign with Whitey Bernard on tour, is the 2nd most requested photograph in the National Archives and is amongst the 30 most popular photographs in the world. – From

I haven’t been out to see and shoot the monument yet, and the photos available online at “press time” aren’t of the best quality.


The Royal Canadian Mint has struck a new $2 coin commemorating the original event (click image for more info)

The Royal Canadian Mint has struck a new $2 coin commemorating the original event (click image for more info)

Canada Post has created a stamp commemorating the event - photo Elaine Yong, Global News. Click for story.

Canada Post has created a stamp commemorating the event – photo Elaine Yong, Global News. Click for story.

While in the other corner…

An unofficial work which was quickly taken down has been replaced by yet another unofficial, unsanctioned, uncommissioned public artwork.

In early September someone erected, no pun intended, this statue in an otherwise unassuming little corner off an industrial road overlooking a rapid-transit station:


Which, as you might imagine, caused some flurry of news cameras and editor’s concerns about how much to reveal.

 “The statue was not a piece of City commissioned artwork and consequently it has been removed,” explained city spokesperson Sara Couper to Global News.


The site was previously home to a bronze Christopher Columbus commemorative statue, installed in 1986. The statue was moved to the Italian Garden in Hastings Park 10 years ago.

And, this being Vancouver, there was a petition to bring it back, with 2,634 signatures. The city has not responded.

Click on image for story by Lindsay William-Ross, in

Click on image for story by Lindsay William-Ross, in

The city of Vancouver has removed a statue which had replaced a naked red devil art installation on an empty pedestal at a park plaza at Clark Drive and Grandview Highway.

The statue, a penguin sporting a bow tie, was erected Tuesday and is the second piece of non city commissioned art to be taken down off that pedestal, after the city last month removed a statue of a lusty Lucifer that could be seen from the SkyTrain. – Vancouver Sun, October 1 2014