fear & loathing in Lotusland

Category: Icons

Modular Structures

by Zbigniew

2015-02-08 13.06.40


Human Structures (64 Figures Connected), Jonathon Borofsky, USA

How do these brightly coloured figures reflect the cultural landscape of Vancouver?

In keeping with the 2014-2016 Vancouver Biennale exhibition theme “Open Borders/Crossroads Vancouver,” Borofsky’s work seeks to convey the feeling that everything is connected. Human Structures (64 Figures Connected), a site-specific installation for the Vancouver Biennale, illustrates this feeling of interconnectivity. The sculpture’s organic, modular structure suggests an ongoing process of building and learning, As Borofsky says, “we are all constantly in a process of connecting together to build our world -we are all learning to be free.


St. Jack

by Zbigniew

Besieged by autocratic Medicis and the aspirations of its city-state rivals, Michelangelo’s statute of the Biblical David, the diminutive Giant Killer, came to represent Florence’s endurance in the face of these many threats to the Republic.

No less a figure than Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) watches over Rio de Janeiro, his outstretched arms an invocation of peace.

In New York Harbour stands Libertas, torch held aloft to enlighten the world.

Where’s our protector, redeemer and/or liberator? Wherefore the aspirational icon? Where is the embodiment of our de facto guiding principles of “lifestyle” and “a quick buck”?

There are quite a few candidates, but they don’t quite resonate.

A bronze statue of Captain George Vancouver graces the top of the steps at the north side of City Hall. The celebrated mariner and intrepid explorer pointing the way to a future filled with promise/North Shore real estate opportunities? The good Captain is tucked away at the back entrance, diminished, half forgotten.

The Reclining Figure at Guelph Park perhaps speaks to a reputation for being “laid back.” In my experience, this was once quite true. Sadly, slack is no longer a widely shared virtue.

A-maze-ing Laughter (sic) at Denman & Davie is a popular tourist attraction. I imagine the maniacal and macrocephalic statutes speaks to the Vancouver Is Awesome crowd.

Much closer to the mark is the fluid, undulating sculpture at Vanier Park. Officially entitled Freezing Water #7, it could easily pass for a cum shot. West cost lifestyle as orgasm on a mountain and condo canvas.

In the same throbbing vein, there was the “Satan-with-a-hard-on.” Installed at the comically named and neo-fascist styled “Piazza Italia,” against a backdrop of glass towers, the Horned Hand of the tumescent Prince of Darkness stood sentinel to those venturing to the fleshpots of the west: perfect. Sadly, this unsanctioned effigy was expeditiously removed by city officials.

And then there’s John “Gassy Jack” Deighton.

On September 29, 1867, Deighton rowed -or had himself rowed by his aboriginal associates- from New Westminster to what we now call Gastown. The choice of landing was strategic: just a few feet beyond the Hastings Mill’s prohibited drinking area. On the promise of an initial free drink, the thirsty locals built The Globe -the area’s first saloon- inside of 24 hours.

Its success quickly led to the establishment of a half-dozen more watering holes –“an aggregation of filth,” in Captain Stamp’s opinion.

As a popular innkeeper, Deighton quickly gained his nickname “Gassy Jack” from his “gaseous” nature -he talked incessantly.

When he ran out of gas, Deighton’s native wife -the niece of his deceased first wife- was disinherited.

Deighton is immortalized in a bronze image that appears to celebrate the effects of cirrhosis. (Not so long after its 1970 installation, the statute was decapitated; the head was exchanged for a $50 ransom.)

Therefore: for taking advantage of proto-land use bylaws to found Vancouver’s first entertainment district, for being immortalized as a grotesque and capturing the imagination of slackjawed tourists, for being of poor moral fibre, and especially for being a blowhard, I nominate St. Jack.


I could feel Jack’s presence in the room today, finding purchase with the incumbent mayor his steady stream of spin-laden cliches, obfuscations and non-sequiturs; a staccato beat occasionally punctuated by the rich velvet tones of CBC senior lightweight Andrew Chang. (I will say this for Mr. Chang: he’s got great hair.)


The Human Origin

by Zbigniew

In 1960, following visits to the Berlin Aquarium and the British Museum of Natural history, Murray Newman envisioned a bold old idea to reel in the punters for his fledgling Vancouver Aquarium: life sized sculptured replicas of the charismatic orca. In 1964 sculptor Samuel Birch was hired:

“He set up a harpoon gun on Saturna Island …. Two months later, a pod of 13 killer whales approaches the shore. Burich harpoons a young whale, injuring but not killing it. Immediately, two pod members came to the aid of the stunned whale, pushing it to the surface to breathe. Then the whale seemed to come to life and struggled to free itself–jumping and smashing its tail and, according to observers, uttering ‘shrill whistles so intense that they could easily be heard above the surface of the water 300 feet away.’ Burich set off in a small boat to finish the job. He fired several rifle shells at the whale … but the orca did not die.”1

Newman proposed saving the 15 foot, one-ton whale. A line was attached to the harpoon in its back and the whale towed to Vancouver, a journey of 16 hours through rough seas and squalls.

“Moby Doll” –the first killer whale to be studied in captivity- was put on display in a pen at the Burrard Drydocks. He died 87 days later.



“The pressures facing our oceans, and indeed our entire earth, are complex. The Vancouver Aquarium, with its long history of research and conservation work, is committed to generating science and expanded public engagement to promote the long-term solutions. Almost all of the pressures in the ocean realm are of human origin, and it will have to be humans that bring forward the needed changes.”2

Dr. John Nightingale, President & CEO, Vancouver Aquarium








A Summertime Primer

by Zbigniew

Sitting by the window for the better part of an hour and its been a river of humanity, an uninterrupted flow of youth and families, posers and poseurs, a couple of shirtless guys with large snakes draped over their shoulders, a significant contingent of suburbanites, and a whole lot of newbie’s -all making their way down Davie for English Bay and for the Festival of Light.

The Festival of Light -it’s all you really need to know about Vancouver, a summertime primer:

  • corporate sponsorship;
  • competition;
  • crowds;
  • cops;
  • razzle-dazzle;
  • drones; and,
  • forgettable.

Hot Air

by Zbigniew

According to The Guardian, “The ten strangest musical instruments” includes wave and wind organs, instruments made of ice and stalactites, a stretch of road near Lancaster California that plays the William Tell Overture, and the Gastown Steam Clock.

Vancouver’s contribution to the list of wonders and oddities is remarkable for “notes created by steam forced through whistles,” and for the steam itself, supplied by “underground pipes that heat downtown buildings.”

Built in 1977 by horologist Roy Saunders, the steam clock “is an oft-cited and popular attraction. There are always people waiting at the Water Street and Cambie location to hear the hourly Westminster chimes or to see the almost-five-metre-high cast bronze clock ‘blow off steam’ every 15 minutes.” (The Greater Vancouver Book)

And gather they do. Day in, day out,  images are captured and superlatives are expressed: “iconic;” “magical.”

And it’s all bullshit: the steam engine is powered by a belt, connected to a hidden electric motor.

Fake, full of hot air, and geared to visitors -an icon in fact.