I'm just back home from having taken in Dutch artist Dries Verhoeven's site-based installation Fare Thee Well! Located on the observation deck of the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre, the piece involves viewers peering through a bank of telescopes pointed at an LED display screen that has been mounted on the side of a building several kilometres away (a warehouse at Railway and Jackson, according to the very helpful PuSh volunteer staffing the station at 3 pm on Monday afternoon). As the haunting aria "Ah! Spietato" (Oh, misery), from Handel's opera Amadigi di gaula, loops over the headphones that spectators are invited to don, a series of valedictory phrases scrolls across the screen.
To the naked eye, the words are not only indistinguishable because of the distance, but also because they appear upside down and move across the LED display right to left. However, seen through the telescope they are turned right side up and rendered intelligible--and intimately so, the magnified keyhole view combining with the music to make us register this catalogue of loss in a visceral and deeply embodied way.
***SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO VISIT FARE THEE WELL! DON'T READ ANY FURTHER, AS I QUOTE FROM SOME OF THE TEXT IN WHAT FOLLOWS.***
Some of the goodbyes are fairly general and non-place-specific: "Farewell Libido"; "Farewell Kodak"; "Farewell Old Age Homes." However, working with the Vancouver based public art collective Other Sights, Verhoeven has also included many adieus specific to Canada, BC, and Vancouver, several of them bitterly ironic: "Farewell Canada Council"; "Farewell Jian Ghomeshi"; "Farewell Macmillan Bloedel"; "Farewell Canucks"; "Farewell Colbalt Motor Hotel." Then, too, scattered amid this account of leave-takings are some equally biting salutations: "Welcome Highway of Tears"; "Welcome Harper"; "Welcome Kinder Morgan." Finally, poetry (e.g., from Byron, "Let's not unman each other/ Part at once/ All farewells should be sudden when forever") and proverbs ("Great is the act of beginning, but greater is the act of ending") are also mixed in as part of the unfurling text.
One of the things that I most appreciated about the piece was that it was sited to the east, overlooking Vancouver's working port and industrial harbour rather than pointing in the direction of Canada Place and Stanley Park. If, as I suspect, Verhoeven is partly playing with classic philosophical ideas of the sublime in having us survey--and be unsettled by--the accelerated history of development and privatization in our urban surroundings, then far better to have us gaze with awe and horror at all the construction cranes in the rapidly gentrifying east side of Vancouver than be seduced by the picturesque perspective offered by Coal Harbour and the north shore mountains.
Fare Thee Well! is paired with Cinema Imaginaire, a work by Verhoeven's fellow Dutch artist Lotte van den Berg (it opens this Wednesday). Both site-based pieces have been grouped under a thematic called "Dis/Appearing City," and point once again to the PuSh Festival's ongoing concern with the intersection between performance and place.