Sunday, November 20, 2011

Turnng the Lights On

The title testifies that turning the lights on is not an act of passivity. What we give our attention to activates and animates not only the object but also something intrinsic within us -- Koki Tanaka

They wouldn’t come here on their own. They ended up here, pushed into an abyss. The corner of Carrall and Hastings is the darkest intersection in Vancouver. Ironically, on one corner sits a building that was the city’s first utility headquarters. Instead of being torn down like so many historic buildings in the city, it’s now the Centre A gallery. The intersection is a place where the nefarious meets the neglected on most nights. People here don’t cast shadows when they’re standing in the dark. Drug deals go bad here and people die, but their light has gone out long before they arrive in town. Decades of futile bureaucratic responses from the city, rough tactics by police and sporadic attention by well meaning government agencies haven’t provided much of a fix. If anything, the corner of Carrall and Hastings became renown as one of several locations where Pickton in his pick-up truck came to solicit prostitutes over a decade before he was caught. He confessed to killing 49 women at his pig farm, but there are many more women still missing. Pickton said he lost count. What continues unabated is Vancouver’s East Side shame, along with rampant drug abuse, prostitution and grinding poverty. All this happens in a city where the net worth of people living downtown could be about the highest on the continent.

The night I came to the intersection it was bitterly cold, a few weeks before Christmas. The  glass towers overhead look like vultures. These edifices funnel the winds down dark canyons blowing so fierce that they tear  umbrellas apart and blow debris for blocks.  In the bus shelters the homeless huddle out of the wind to share something from a pipe. People move about in clusters to keep warm. The street lights are dim if working at all. A bus stops but we are the only ones who get off. 

People don’t make eye contact, standing with their backs to the wind in lightweight raincoats. My friend and I stand at the intersection waiting to see a contemporary artist who has set up an installation that casts light out of three ground level windows and a double glass door. We observe and take notes. We peer into the windows of the gallery exhibit space. On occasion someone asks us what we are looking at. We tell them we are there to look at the lights and they smile in the way local residents smile at tourists. Some of the local people are inspired by the exhibit to put lights in their tenement rooms. Others smile and enjoy having regular people coming to the area as if it were a destination. Now there is light where there was none before.  It brings its own warmth. A few people ask us why the lights are on. It involves art, we say, which really doesn’t mean anything to people who are cold, hungry and ill most of the time. One thing for certain, we are as much the audience for the exhibition on the sidewalk as they are. We share a moment in space that now has light.

Titled, Turning The Lights On, the exhibit was the creation of Koki Tanaka,  a young Japanese artist and was held at Centre A Gallery in November 2007. Amarie Bergman, a visual and conceptual artist,wrote a compelling review of the exhibit for Whitehot Magazine Vancouver.  - M.S.

 Bustling Carrall and Hastings, 1933

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