Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Imminent demolition of 122 year old building in Vancouver’s old Japantown

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Demolition of 120 year old Ming Sung Benevolent Society building/SRO/art space

The frantic festival of demolition continues in Vancouver, a city whose demolition rate is double that of Toronto’s. And Toronto is no paragon of heritage either.

The City of Vancouver is attempting to force demolition of the 122 year-old building which belongs to the Ming Sun Benevolent Society. The building, on a significant block of Vancouver’s vanishing old Japantown, functioned as a clean well-run SRO with eight units and a community reading and meeting room, all above an extensive cultural space rented out to an art collective called Instant Coffee. The art collective produced the poster above.

The building was said to be structurally damaged (it wasn’t) when the building next door, for unknown reasons (vandalism? sabotage? maintenance issues?) cracked and then was hastily ordered demolished by the City. By most accounts the City bears  responsibility for this situation. Following the demolition next door, the City then condemned the Ming Sun building and barred tenants from entering. These elderly tenants, mostly Chinese Canadian and First Nations, were evicted without warning. They were given no time to collect their belongings. The City took no responsibility for finding replacement housing for them, and some went on to sleep rough. It now appears that the building will be demolished by this Friday. The owner, a Chinese family association, is unable to pay for the demolition and rebuilding and will therefore be forced to sell the lot to the City.

Members and former residents of the Benevolent Society are beyond distraught.

In all of this there is rumoured involvement of a neighbouring landowner, said to have ties to the City, who has had his eye on these lots, but this is not yet confirmed. In any case there have been reports of what appears to be suspicious vandalism of the Ming Sung building since the City closed it off.

Access to the building is currently barred. The Instant Coffee art collective is unfortunately away in Korea working on a project. Its friends in Vancouver would like to help but are unable to enter and clear out all its goods. The City has been arbitrary and unresponsive throughout with all parties. Its uncommunicativeness serves to give the appearance of wanting to bury the story and complete the demolitions as fast as possible before an outcry can be raised. If the belongings of the tenants are destroyed in a demolition – and since tenants can’t get in to retrieve their possessions this seems inevitable – will the City compensate them? And in a city that is the 2nd most unaffordable in the world relative to median income, where will these tenants go?

The City has said, and will no doubt continue to say, that the public doesn’t have all the facts (and given the lack of transparency of the current administration, there’s often some truth to that), that the offending building is a “fire trap” (ie. the municipal version of the “national security” excuse), and in short that the City knows best.

But does it?

This is one of the the twenty oldest buildings in the City and a good example of that era’s boomtown architecture. It offers affordable housing to seniors in the Downtown Eastside. It is an important component of cultural life for the Chinese community.  It played a major role in the history of Japantown and the Japanese Canadian community in Vancouver. And it provides valuable affordable art space in a city where that commodity is fast diminishing. Affordable housing, a hedge against homelessness, a sturdy old resilient building made of old growth lumber that would be non-ecological to replace, a piece of architectural heritage for many communities and for the whole city, and affordable studio space for the arts. This building matched every stated objective of the current regime at City Hall. And they’re now mandating its demolition, for no reason. They must make this right.

How is any of this in line with the City’s stated commitment to affordable housing, to protecting the arts from unaffordability, and to heritage values? The city’s new heritage plan was announced only this week. Other cities maintain buildings in far worse shape than this one.

How is any of this demolition part of a Greenest City initiative?

Those of us who live and work down here are closely watching the City of Vancouver, the ruling Vision Vancouver party run by Mike Magee, and City Manager Penny Ballem. This level of hermetic and arbitrary behaviour is undemocratic and just one more example of the poor urban management we’ve been enduring here.

Powell Street demolition

The first demolition on the Powell Street block in question. This photo taken in August.

Protected: Interpretation of Enzo Mari’s Sedia Chair by Russell Baker, Bombast Furniture

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Protected: Enzo Mari’s classic 1970s chair modified by artists and designers – Presentation House Gallery auction

Friday, November 15th, 2013

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Ken Lum’s Pecha Kucha talk in Vancouver

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Ken Lum on the demolition of the Pantages Theatre and everything else in Vancouver

Vancouver artist Ken Lum took the opportunity of a Pecha Kucha appearance to talk about the his city, its history and its habits, and its demolition and disappearance. Though he said little about his own work, none of the concerns or ethic of his art were missing. His offhanded, throwaway tone only barely conceals outrage. And there’s a surprise ending.

Like me, Ken is one of the few Vancouverites with deep roots here. Of course Ken has now left the city, and we miss him.

How many others will leave now that the city is up for grabs by Big Money, derelict government and careless stupidity?

Ken’s right when he says that the demolition of the Pantages Theatre—the oldest vaudeville theatre in the country, soon to be condos—was an “abomination.”

The following slide got an immediate laugh of recognition from the audience. “It just shows you how crummy the details are now when you look down at the street…”

Ken Lum - "how crummy the details are when you look down at the street in Vancouver"

 

Tower of Babel

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

	Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel, 1563 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Bruegel painted a series of three pictures of the Tower of Babel; one, on ivory, is lost.

‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ (Genesis 11:4).

“The workers in the painting have built the arches perpendicular to the slanted ground, thereby making them unstable and a few arches can already be seen crumbling. The foundation and bottom layers of the tower had not been completed before the higher layers were constructed.”

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel, 1563, detail

“Bruegel’s depiction of the architecture of the tower, with its numerous arches and other examples of Roman engineering, is deliberately reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum, which Christians of the time saw as both a symbol of hubris and persecution…

“The parallel of Rome and Babylon had a particular significance for Bruegel’s contemporaries: Rome was the Eternal City, intended by the Caesars to last for ever, and its decay and ruin were taken to symbolize the vanity and transience of earthly efforts.

….

“It is a fact that the story of the Tower of Babel was interpreted as an example of pride punished, and that is no doubt what Bruegel intended his painting to illustrate. Moreover, the hectic activity of the engineers, masons and workmen points to a second moral—the futility of much human endeavour… Bruegel’s knowledge of building procedures and techniques is considerable and correct in detail.”

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel, 1563

See also The End of the Age of Tall Buildings.

Mobiles on the set of a Seekers concert, 1968

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

The Seekers Stage Set Design

Beautiful. Why are things so overdone now? This was a great set. 1968, BBC, London.

[Sorry about the ads; being allergic to advertising I have ad blocker and never see ads, but I’m told there’s advertising on this one.]