In July 2013, members of the public art group Other Sights for Artists’ Projects held an open studio event at Kingsgate Mall at Broadway and Kingsway in East Vancouver. The project, titled I Know What I Want, offered to make small models of residents’ desires for the future of the neighbourhood. Using materials from the mall’s dollar store, the models were combined and recombined on an aerial plan of the adjacent intersection and ranged from the whimsical, such as a pony ranch, to practical concerns, such as affordable housing and food security. The I Know What I Want research proposes an alternative to community consultation practices that includes the generative and resisting principle of friction.
One striking desire was for a monument to the mysterious fires that have occurred in the Main Street area over the past several years. One such fire happened Christmas morning 2009, when a humble two-storey building in the 200 block of Broadway was destroyed. Lost were several local businesses and over seventeen artist studios, including those leased by Other Sights members. On the occasion of the Capture Photography Festival, Other Sights has transformed both sides of two billboards at Quebec Street and 6th Avenue into a temporary monument, commemorating the Christmas 2009 fire alongside the Great Fire of 1886, an event that harkened the development of Mount Pleasant itself. Text panels make reference to the FIRE economy—an acronym for finance, insurance, and real estate—now the world’s principal source of wealth creation. It has transformed our political, economic, and social landscapes with a complex web of global finance, light regulation, debt, risk tolerance, and property bubbles. Instability has accompanied this new orthodoxy, according to authors such as Jane Kelsey, from rising inequality and ballooning household debt to a global financial crisis and fiscal austerity agendas.
Addressing the east/west and the north/south axes of the city and how they factor in the currencies of “views” and the escalation of property values creeping eastward, Monument to Mysterious Fires triggers historical and recent memories of the neighbourhood. The billboards, set perpendicular to one another, carve out a sculptural space within a parking lot, in which to gather and reflect on the transformation of the city.
Other Sights for Artists’ Projects presents artworks, publications, events, and programs that consider the aesthetic, economic, and regulatory conditions of public places and public life. The creative team for Monument to Mysterious Fires includes Rachel Topham, Tung Yi, and Jack Chiu, along with Barbara Cole, Vanessa Kwan, Jen Weih, Lorna Brown, Marko Simcic, Colin Griffiths, and Joni Low of Other Sights.
The Capture Photography Festival and Other Signs for Artists’ Projects gratefully acknowledge the support of the British Columbia Arts Council, an agency of the Province of British Columbia, and Pattison Outdoor.