Conceptualizing a new Gallery for Vancouver: Herzog & de Meuron

The Orpheum Theatre  in Vancouver was packed with cultural creatives this past Tuesday. They were there to listen to one of the world’s architects of note speak about how he and his Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron conceptualize the projects they’ve worked on since their company’s beginnings in 1978.  They are located in Basel, Switzerland and will design the new Vancouver Art Gallery.

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The first thing that stood out for me in the introduction is that Jacques Herzog gets to work with his childhood friend, Pierre de Meuron.  Imagine what it would be like to become friends with someone in childhood and then to continue that friendship into an educational focus, through university, into your life’s work and to build a thriving career and international architectural practice? That seems extremely lucky to me that two people’s lives could converge that way over such an extended time period.

They’ve worked on such well known sites as the conversion of the Bankside Power Station in London, transforming it into the Tate Modern that draws 5 million visitors a year and now their newest addition to that, Tate Modern 2, is in the works.

There’s the Beijing National Stadium, the Bird’s Nest, designed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and a place that still attracts the Chinese people who love, according to Herzog, to congregate.

There’s the Prada Toyko building, more a sculpture than building, its stylized glass exterior like a marbleized magnifying glass of geometric shapes with each thick concave piece creating a sort of picture frame, a way of guiding the eyes to zero in more closely on the fashion on display inside, with the exterior as standalone object d’art.

The design process includes learning about the history of a footprint, past incarnations of the piece of land or buildings being utilized so that the new building is not a separate entity but finds its place as part of the community that surrounds it, improving upon that and providing new collaborations of human interaction and a new destination for everyone, even those who wouldn’t normally find themselves attracted to an art gallery.

In Vancouver, Herzog & de Meuron have the task of designing the new art gallery on a piece of land that is currently a parking lot with the Beatty Street Armoury flanking it to the south and the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on the north located at West Georgia and Cambie.  This place actually has a name – Larwill Park – but I’m willing to bet the majority of Vancouverites, including me, have never heard that reference before. After all, to most of us it’s just a parking lot. A place that Herzog said was used in the past for marching practice and military parades from the adjacent armoury.

A friend reminded me that this piece of land had also been the old bus depot at one point and she had memories of her first venturings at 13 years of age, taking the bus from Burnaby to the Charm School at The Bay downtown. Her memories elicited my own vague recollections of silver buses, exhaust fumes and revving engines as customers huddled under a long shelter, more just an overhang to keep the rain off, people scurrying from one bus to the next.

Currently the space seems to get used as a parking lot that houses the buses of visiting artistic groups performing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, of trucks from movie companies, and as a pedestrian shortcut to the Chinatown Sky train station.

How could an art gallery not be a better use of this valuable city owned space? It’s really exciting to imagine the uniqueness they’ll conceive for this space. Although my first thought when I saw the location is that we have to hope that there’s never another crazy Canuck’s fan riot since this new gallery will be right in that vicinity.

If you’d like to learn more, check out Material Future: The Architecture of Herzog & de Meuron and the Vancouver Art Gallery to October 4th at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Homelessness or that other way, the one we can’t find

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The wanderers. The fringe dwellers. The pulling their belongings behind them scavengers. Us and them. Square pegs. Visible ghosts.

Nothing to do with the endless traffic and nine to five, vacation plans, family dinners. Life’s window shoppers. There but for the grace of God we go.

I watch her sometimes, that tiny woman who walks by every day and I wonder of her past. What’s her nationality? Vietnamese? Japanese? Chinese? Filipino? Canadian? I wonder about her childhood, her parents, and how she got here, pop cans her meager savior.

Every day a marathon. Down back lanes, across streets, along sidewalks, lifting dumpsters, poking inside bins. Focused. Purposeful.

I have no doubt that she knows more about the people who live in this neighborhood than I will ever know. She knows this from what we discard.

On Easter Sunday, her finds were bundled into the largest sized green Glad garbage bag. The metal tins poke their roundness against the plastic. Today’s bundle resembles a gigantic Easter egg. It’s perched precariously above one of those silver grocery trailers that older women use. She pulls it behind her like it’s an impossible toddler.  Around that bulging package she has wrapped a strip of a second orange plastic bag, a ribbon of small possibilities.  Almost festive. She carries on.

Later, downtown in Vancouver Public Library. In the washroom beside the Alice McKay Room, that other woman is there again. More often than not she’s there whenever I use that washroom. If you have been there, I bet you know the one I mean. When I wash my hands, I intentionally choose the sink right next to the one she’s using. I look over at her and say hello.

She looks back at me a little surprised. “Hi,” she says.

She’s washing something. Dark blue, teal blue, squishy and knitted. Maybe it’s crocheted. I can’t tell.  I mistake it for socks.

“It’s a hat,” she says. “I put it in this bag with water and dish washing soap and then I swish it around.”

“Good idea,” I say hating the way these interactions always mimic the lacking.

I walk to the blower to dry my hands, look to see that no one else is here so that she retains her dignity, get out my wallet and hand her a $20 bill.  I forget what I say exactly. Why does giving to those who never ask always make the giver and the receiver feel bad?

“That’s too much,” she says. My heart breaks a little. We all know that it won’t solve anything, not any of those things that have led her to where she is now.

I get the feeling that she’s going to keep it, in plastic, hoarding it the way she hoards the last of those things that she protects in her shopping cart trailer.

“I wish there was some other way,” she says.

“So do I,” I say as I walk away wishing I had a way in, to get to know more about this person and the path that has led her here.

But what is it?

Did you know that New West has a Homelessness Coalition?

On Wednesday, April 30th, Megaphone, Vancouver’s Street paper, launches its Voices of the Street Literary Issue at Cafe Deux Soleils from 7-10 pm.

Time to Devour the Garden

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What better way to enjoy a garden than to eat it, one powerfully tasty vegetable at a time at a themed dinner.

Potatoes. Beets. Beet roots. Butternut squash. Pesto from basil plants. I can’t even recall all that adorned the table thanks to our gracious hostesses Penny (below right) and Gwen and everyone else’s contributions.

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The fact is, unless you count the hanging basket of pink fuchsias and the geraniums and the cherry tomato plant on my patio that has generously dropped some organic lusciousness into my expectant palms, I don’t even have a garden.

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It’s always the little extra touches that make a dinner party special! I loved the way Penny found these dried flowers, or at least great look a likes, from a dollar store. These and the nasturtiums were perfect on top of the long strips of Kraft paper she substituted for a table cloth.

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Just about everyone else around the table has a plot at SFU’s community garden on Burnaby Mountain which, as you can see from one of my earlier blog posts, is a veritable jungle of growth that is not immune, unfortunately, to very hungry deer. Still, there were enough ingredients for this tasty salsa appetizer. Salsa

Penny and Liz, her daughter, had to re-arrange furniture and borrow a bench to accommodate us.

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Our token male,  Drew, (Aloha)  is a wonderful cook. He  took cooking classes while travelling in Thailand and Cambodia, and his delicious Thai soup kicked off the first course. It was smooth with just a bite of ginger and lemon grass to wake up the palate.

Drew and his wife Michelle also shared a rich dark slab of an appetizer of hot chili chocolate (they grew the chili’s). Cut through a piece of that luscious mocha and take a swig of red wine and you’re pretty much on your way to an out of body experience. I’m not even sure how these two managed to stay awake since they had already attended three birthday parties earlier in the day with their five-year-old twins.

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There were ruby beets from Gwen and Penny’s garden plot. Just add feta.

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 Icy pale cucumbers made for a refreshing transitional taste after Drew’s soup and before the main courses.

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Shona made pasta with pesto, Arlette made some curried potatoes and I put together a butternut squash and pear casserole, but at this point, you’ll just have to take my word for that. Apparently,  I was too busy eating to keep up with my photography duties.

Annie and Li arrived with sushi. (No photo of that either).

Gwen made her delectable pumpkin cheesecake, Penny added a plum torte, and what’s a harvest dinner without a pie? Frances came through with a peach one.

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I was so full, I could only eat the cheesecake.

And when it was all done, we were sent home with packets of seeds for next year.

From Shona

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(So apropos for someone who runs a before and after school care program for four kids out of her lane way house, when, that is, she’s not counting air miles after dropping a few thousand on a recent Galapagos Islands trip that she went on with her sister, with the goal of catching up with Mr. Money Mustache.) Her sister is going to start guest blogging for him.

And dill from Penny and Gwen.

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I think I left mine on the kitchen table.

So, what delectable morsels have you enjoyed from your own gardens or from all that shopping at farmer’s markets this summer? I love the Ladner Market. That’s where I got most of my fresh food this summer.

Juggling Acts of the Creatives

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Lichen on a dock railing (Maybe?)

I revel in my once a month writing group gatherings. We move living room to living room, and I consider my fellow writers the embodiment of possibility; the kind of possibilities that for others – non artistic types – are too often the first casualties of getting through the month, after month, after month.

Writer 1

One of them has just returned, her stories trying to catch up with her telling, from a six-day trip to Wells Gray Park, from a gathering of scientists and Lichen Bums, as she referred to them and as they refer to themselves, joined by major Canadian literary types. They convened for six days in the forest. Robert Bringhurst. Tim Lilburn. Patrick Lane. Lorna Crozier. Name after name recognizable speaking about environment, protection, sustainability and she barely able to believe that she had landed somewhere so aligned with who she is.

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Another has been transformed  into a modern day version of Emily Carr on a smaller scale. She’s renting out her second bedroom in a walk up off Commercial Drive that she can’t afford to live in alone. Travellers now traipse in and out as she tries  to figure out how to satisfy the editor of a major New York magazine on a revised version of an article she first got published in The Tyee.

Writer 3

The elder, weary but still committed, in setting up a new type of writer’s working & performance space called Blumin Warehouse. She’s working 16 hour days, recognizing the unhealthiness, and craving time in nature, space to get back to that inner sacredness where creativity blooms. Driving from Jericho, to Iona Spit and outside, quiet, removed, until a chapbook burst forth materializing on the page the way styro-foam washes up on a beach.

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Another  proud of her balancing act in the last month between full-time work and writing time and the equation of balancing, space surfacing like the beginning of seeds previously planted; okay, it’s still possible to create, to muse even in between a full time job and fertility treatments.

Writer 5

And me, two months into a job – a job that demands so much writing of a different kind – wondering how to protect that last grip on my own space for creativity that always gets buried by the demands of a five day a week job; juggling my own need for time, time to think, to wander, to be in nature,  and wondering how to make this time different than all the other times that I tried to make work, to balance, and didn’t.

Writer 6

Away in the Ukraine at an artist’s retreat.

Writer 7

The couch surfer, house-sitter on a mission to find a place that’s bunny friendly.

Writer 8

Away in Massachusetts, a place he hasn’t been in 30 years, settling his university-aged daughter into her future.

Them.

Hearing about their possibilities, reading the stories they’ve produced, leads to threads of ways of being that all people involved in an artistic focus must juggle daily. Make the time. For writers its imperative to keep our writing going, and meeting and sharing keeps it real, especially to ourselves.

Share your passions, mukimuk or not

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Yesterday, I gave a talk at the New Westminster Public Library to about 50 people, mainly women, attracted by my subject Georgia Totto O’Keeffe.  More than 30 years after her death the iconic American artist can still draw a crowd.  They came to hear about O’Keeffe and to see my slides of the Ghost Ranch which I took while visiting New Mexico in 2006 and 2007.

I talked about O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, others who had played a significant role in her life (Mabel Dodge Luhan, Juan Hamilton, Anita Pollitzer). I juxtaposed some of her paintings with some of the slides. She visited Taos in 1929 and the ranch she found in August 1934. It became her full-time home during spring and summers as of 1949 until the end of her life.

She spent winters at her second home, a compound in the nearby village of Abiquiu, until the young man who would become her closest confidante in the last 13 years of her life,  ceramicist Juan Hamilton, picked out an appropriate home for her in Santa Fe where she lived until her death at St. Vincent’s hospital on March 6, 1986.

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I was really nervous about this talk. Something about going back to the place where you grew up is nerve wracking. What if someone I knew from high school showed up?

Up there, at the front, on the other side, you have to keep to the one-hour time limit. You must make sure your information is accurate. But, the real challenge is to weave a story that shares the information you have and touches a chord in some way, preferably, emotionally.  That takes real talent and focused creativity.

I know I didn’t succeed in that last part. The audience liked it, apparently, based on feedback but to weave a really memorable story that sings, now that requires a whole other level of presentation and I have another chance to perfect that because I’m giving it again on April 10, 7:30 pm at New West Public Library.

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So, last night, after my own experience, it was great timing for me to then go to see how the pros do it  when I went to Vancouver’s Public Salon.

Public Salon was developed by former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan and his wife Lynn Zanatta. They used to invite 10 people to dinner, people that normally wouldn’t ever be at the same table, and ask them to share one thing in their lives that that they were passionate about. One of their guests, a friend and older gentleman named Abraham Rogatnick, encouraged Sullivan to bring the wonderful idea to a larger audience. It wasn’t until after Rogatnick passed away that they managed to follow up on his suggestion.

We heard from  writer Timothy Taylor, a cardiologist from St. Paul’s John Webb, a particle physicists who works at Triumf but spends most of her time interfacing on Skype with other physicists all over the world and in Cern, Switzerland, Anadi Canepa; a Shakuhachi flute master Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos, an urban farmer/community activist Ilana Labow, architect (Paul Merrick), a scholar of Native languages David Robertson and well known dog psychologist Stanley Coren.

It was so inspiring. Don’t miss the next one:  June 5th.

Oh, and it was kicked off with a great mini concert by the Hugh Fraser Quartet. Jazzy stuff that really got me jazzed, the music and the talks.

As David Robertson would say in Chinook: Skookumchuk stuff by mukimuks.