Sunday, September 20, 2015

Stan Douglas' Circa 1948 and SCA House Party at SFU Woodward's

Yesterday, on my way to the School for the Contemporary Arts' 50th anniversary House Party at SFU Woodward's, I had thought I would hustle down to Granville Island to take in a quick 1 pm Fringe show. Timing is everything at the Fringe, and those precious minutes between the end of one show and the start of another can require major distance and speed calculations on the part of audience members. For me, all I needed to do was get out of the house in a mildly alacritous manner. So far this year my teaching schedule and other beginning-of-semester commitments have wreaked major havoc on my Fringeing. Likewise yesterday. I was ready and able, but Translink wasn't. Knowing I was going to miss the start of Brendan McLeod's Brain by more than 10 minutes, I opted to stay on the bus and head downtown. I walked through the main floor of the new Nordstrom's instead--which provided its own kind of neurological dissonance. Watching what looked liked hundreds of folks waiting to file onto escalators in an American brand-name store that used to be Sears, and before that Eaton's (two Canadian retail giants felled by successive recessions), reminded me--in this globalized age of the metropolitan "non-places"--of the need, in Frederic Jameson's famous take on blandified commodity culture in late capitalism, for place-specific cognitive maps of one's city.

Such is what celebrated Vancouver-based visual artist Stan Douglas attempts to give us in Circa 1948, an app, website and immersive installation project co-produced with the National Film Board of Canada. The installation is up in the Cordova Street concourse of SFU Woodward's as part of the "Hidden Pasts, Digital Futures" festival of immersive arts that SFUW's Cultural Unit has programmed as part of the university's 50th anniversary celebrations. The installation combines computer-generated technology and kinaesthetic navigation to provide participants with a 3D-like, immersive experience of two Vancouver landmarks no longer in existence: the original Hotel Vancouver and Hogan's Alley. A docent with an iPad invites you into a square wooden room. On the floor is what looks like a painted archery target: a solid black inner circle enclosed within a grey one of larger diameter. The black circle is your stop button; walking along the grey one moves you into and through the projections.

I chose to explore the Hotel Vancouver and was plopped into the middle of the ballroom, the interior of which is recreated based on Douglas' meticulous historical research. Frankly, it looked rather empty, and when I went to the edge of the grey circle on each side of the installation walls I wasn't lead through the projected sets of doors or windows into another area of the hotel, as I'd expected; instead, the projections just came to a stop. Eventually, I did make it through one doorway and into an office. Snippets of voice-over reminiscent of the film noir dialogue of Douglas' recent Helen Lawrence informed me that a woman wished to pawn some jewelry. And then the walls went blank. The whole thing lasted less than five minutes and was rather underwhelming in terms of both its interactivity and what, on the display text outside, we are told is Douglas' interest in historically-based diachronic/recombitant storytelling. The docent told me I could come back and explore other rooms in the Hotel Vancouver, as well as multiple views of Hogan's Alley, but I'm pretty sure I won't.

From there, it was inside the SFU Woodward's building for SCA's big celebration of its own past, present and future. The work of alumni, current students and faculty was on display throughout the building: the current MFA Visual Art Graduating Exhibition in the Audain Gallery on the main floor (featuring work by Lucien Durey, Curtis Granhauer, and Jamie Williams); audio and video installations by MFA student Lara Amelie Abadir and my faculty colleague Henry Daniel in Studios D and T on the second floor; and open rehearsals in the fourth floor studios by recent dance and theatre alumni (including Billy Marchenski and Nneka Croal, and the companies Hong Kong Exile, New to Town Collective, Raven Spirit Dance, and Warehaus Dance Collective). At 4 pm, my colleague Ker Wells presented a site-specific performance co-created with graduate students Robert Leveroos and Ashley Aron, and featuring students in his undergraduate playmaking classes; it took place outdoors in the concourse in the pouring rain, and we watched from the second floor World Art Centre patio as two rival groups of students squared off Sharks and Jets style, before being scattered in all directions by a gold lamé and stilt-wearing fairy--played by Kerr himself. Finally, following a reception, music alums Stefan Smulovitz and Bill Clark joined faculty members Martin Gotfrit and Albert St. Albert in improvising a live score to a screening of the animated NFB/Radio-Canada short film The Man Who Planted Trees--which was amazing (the film and the improvised music). There was also a screening of award-winning short films by SCA film alums, but I was already so over-stimulated (and also in need of some dinner) that I ducked out and headed home.

Still, what I saw confirmed to me that, with my official new cross-appointment to SCA, I've definitely found my own institutional place at SFU.


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