Small Matters Matter

Taken with Nokia Lumia 520

At home, 65 centimeters exist between my eyes and the surface in front of me when I stand to pee. In most public washrooms, urinals are attached to a blank, boringly surfaced wall. That wall is typically spaced about 35 cm away. Sometimes there is a framed picture, many times an ad, hung up to attract us, the pee-standing population. If there is some depth in the image, a slight sense of relief accompanies the process of relieving my bladder. In rare occasions there is a ledge at chest height that adds a welcome sense of space. In even rarer installations, there is a small window.

Taken with iPhone 4

I’ve been enjoying the freedom of pee-standing forever, really. However, at times I simply get tired of the small accidents or even the occasional harmless splatter. As clean as I have always been, the stray drops that escape me accumulate in hidden gaps and get on my nerves. For a few years I managed to stick to pee-sitting. A seemingly small sacrifice for the sake of bathroom wellbeing. But temptations are not restricted to erotic avenues. One of my fantasies is to install a urinal at home.

Taken with Moto G5

However, the one I really want is just way too expensive, at least for the time being. So I stick my stick through the zipper and enjoy my musings in front of the blinded window in our humble bathroom. This morning for instance, I was wondering about the pattern of light that formed on one of the slats facing me. Light waves generate intriguing projections thanks to a variety of phenomena. When I thought of taking a picture of the light pattern, it occurred to me that until I set up the tripod and attach my camera on to it, the sun will move and the pattern might vanish with it. Still, which of the four cell-phones at our disposal would be best for the task? Why not try all? So yes. By the time I got to the fourth device, the projection changed. Thankfully, none of the phones dropped into the toilet.

Taken with LG X Power

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What culture expects us in the future?

As I lock my bike to the railing beside the Croatian Community Center, another guy has just about finished locking his own. He grumbles something about the lack of racks to accommodate the mass of bikers who came to the planning workshop. “Pretty impressive” I share in irony. “We seem to have parking challenges” I smile and continue my unpacking. “Assholes”, he scoffs and walks inside.

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The last of seven planning workshops for Grandview Woodland concluded on Saturday, March 7, 2015. The series of workshops has generated an intriguing process of interaction. The neighborhood is made up of people from a variety of cultures. Can their various interests and intentions then constitute a Grandview Woodland Culture?

Doug Saunders, a Globe and Mail columnist and author of Arrival City, spoke at Surrey City Hall in November of 2014. His opening remark relates nicely with the process Vancouver is going through these days. “We have just finished five decades in which we got lucky… and, we are now at the beginning of five decades in which we will have to be skilled”. Saunders’ discussion focuses on “the urban districts that form the bottom rung on the ladder”. (The full talk by Doug Saunders can be watched here). However, his observation is valid for any planning process a city goes through.

In mid-2013 the planning process for Grandview Woodland ran into what can be seen as a clash of cultures. To the best of my knowledge, the people at City Hall, responsible for that process in Grandview Woodland, are all skilled.

Has the City of Vancouver missed on being smart? What qualities do we need to successfully head into the coming half century?

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Good will? Or in Y2K speak, Transparency? In 2012, the Commercial Drive Business Society (CDBS) commissioned a consultation process that resulted in a document: Vision and Design Guidelines. The Grandview Woodland Citizens’ Assembly (GWCA) has approached the CDBS in a request to share that document. I’ve been among those who signed an open letter that had urged the CDBS to allow circulation of the document in the community. However, I had a feeling that the two groups were heading into an unnecessary power struggle. I was very quickly happy to realize I had been wrong. On March 7 Nick Pogor, CDBS executive director participated in the workshop. Copies of the Visioning document were circulated in the hall. Not bad, eh?

The Citizens’ Assembly are in the final stages of working out their recommendations to The City. The learning process that they’ve gone through is sure to yield many benefits for the neighborhood as well as the individuals involved. The play between scales is at the core of planning, designing and caring for our city: the interests of an individual and the needs of the community; the livability of a street and accessibility within the region. A bench on the sidewalk is a result of a layered process that is more than just screwing it in place.

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It was a beautiful day on the Saturday of the last workshop. My daughter wanted to get there in the car. My wife and I wanted to take our bikes. “It’s all downhill from our place to the Croatian Center” I told her, “We can take the Skytrain on the way back”. On our way back we cycled halfway and crashed at Inbal’s classmate’s home. They were very happy to see us and without delay opened a box of cookies. Both kids and parents had another hour of socializing. The rest of the way to our place was a piece of cake.

We can only plan some of our moves. The gatherings in Grandview Woodland exposed a multitude of interests and needs. What then is the culture of a neighborhood? How do you facilitate its success for the future?

Blindness of Power

140 West Plaza: Exhale

140 West Plaza: Exhale – Chapel Hill, North Carolina

When Mikyoung finished her presentation, her call for questions resulted in a strange stillness. Maybe it was the lack of light that kept her in that moment of power: everyone else could remain hidden in the comfort of their silence. However, Ms. Kim’s care for her audience stayed: she inquired who in the room were students, who were architects and so on. By then I was already heading out so that I could contemplate the parts of the lecture I enjoyed.

I remember, as a student going to presentations by guest designers, waiting for words of wisdom from the esteemed achievers. Like many of my peers I am curious to see what other designers are doing. A person on stage has a moment of power when attention is directed to them. What I have to say and how I say it is an opportunity to cultivate a message.

Yet standing on stage can be intimidating. Not everyone might like what I have to say, to show. My audience can be a reflection of my inner critic. The louder that inner voice is – the bigger the fear. That fear can be blinding. It can obscure my sight of the people who took the time to direct their attention to me.

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Farrar Pond Project – FlexFENCE

When Mikyoung Kim stepped onto the stage she started by addressing the context of an audience waiting to hear the words of the accomplished personality. We all start our lives looking to others for reference. Whether it’s the only issue that interests me or not, how to make money out of my skills is a big one. Looking for words, Mikyoung seemed to struggle a bit at first in addressing that balance between aspirations and reality: saying no to a client is one of the hardest things.

Alluding to the fact that she was also a beginner at one point, her words meandered between comfort and encouragement. I appreciate Mikyoung’s effort of presenting a meaningful story. But when you’re on stage you are the story. Even better than that, you are the message.

The work of Mikyoung Kim Design is inspiring. You can get a sense of what it is from the firm’s website and other sources on the web. In her talk, Mikyoung also shared some ‘behind the scenes’ stories that enhanced the visuals in her slides. For me this is usually the better part of presentations. We can all see the details, but how you got there is what we’re here to absorb.

Many in the audience in SALA Lectures are students of the school. But whenever I go, I see other practitioners from the field, beginners as well as veterans. I am always curious to see and hear what other people have to share. However, what intrigues me beyond the immediate encounter, is that interface between intention and result, expectations and outcome.

Horizon Garden - Providence, LI

Horizon Garden – Providence, Rhode Island

Standing on stage is a position of blindness. You present your show and hardly see your audience in most cases. You definitely can’t see the impression you’ve had on their minds. If you practice your show, then stepping from first impressions to conclusion can work to your benefit. Mikyoung Kim advocates finding authenticity. If you don’t see your audience you still have yourself, which in her case is a lot.

The making of Drop Shadow – Artist Staement

Among the layers of creation, a statement is the artist’s way of articulating the outcome for the viewer. Whether this explains the work or adds mystery, is a matter of choice. I find it intriguing to provide a statement that is both. The previous two posts (First StagesResurrection) mainly dealt with the timeline of working on ‘Drop Shadow’. Apart from beauty, I want my work to provoke thought and nurture discussion. Open minded communication with my audience can generate new ideas and insights. The following is my statement for the show in July.

Our built environment is a result of generations of growth and interaction. In this body of work I’m reflecting on components of life and setting them in a pattern that supports new directions. We all come together on an individual journey and find the commons we need. The city is a body with endless faces. The way from which you look at it can change how you feel about and in it.

‘Drop Shadow’ is a process in which I contemplate the move between
stages, the changes in time and scale, the balance between resource and
allocation.
From a young age I’ve been intrigued by the constant development of tools available to us. When I started using Photoshop I very quickly developed a variety of processes that allowed me to generate the features we needed for my team’s projects. Then a tool called drop-shadow was introduced that in a single click created most of what my process had involved.

The city is our most complex tool and changing it seems to be on a larger scale than we can imagine. Within the arbitrary motions of fitting components together, a sense of order evolves. This sense of order is a source of both strength and weakness in all of us, individuals and societies. The need for change repeatedly shows itself. The effort to change is many times bigger than what we’ve thought or even hoped it would be.

‘Drop Shadow’ is merely a work of art. My work on creating it involves traditional arts materials such as acrylics and pencils. However, computer and various hand tools were a significant contribution to the results at hand. In 2003 its various components were constructed in a certain way. Revisiting them more than a decade later has allowed me to relate the small scale of revitalizing their existence to my current state of engagement with urban design. The effort of tweaking an established body of work involves finding the right balance between existing conditions and the boundaries of my imagination; between past, present and future.

My search is in how to turn this effort into play.

The making of Drop Shadow – Resurrection

My previous post (Drop Shadow – First Stages) ended with me leaving my art stored since 2005 for a few years.

Then, in 2010 came my parents’ 70th birthdays. It seemed like a great opportunity to take a look at what I’ve had and make something new out of it. This time, a square plywood board was selected to be the background and support for the whole composition. To make the small squares truly interactive, simple elements of hardware were employed. Making sure to work with an accurate template, I’ve installed screws at the back of each square so that one can insert each piece in any of the nine spots on the background board. I’m not sure my parents play with combinations of the various possibilities but they sure can, and that was my intention.

A little later I tried a down scaled version for a friend’s wedding. Instead of a stained background I took a bunch of color pencils and worked on visually relating the pieces. Instead of nine squares floating above the surface I’ve selected three from the existing acrylics on plywood pieces.

Pressing the pencils on the background boards, there is a physical connection that forms between me and the surface. I enjoy the transparency of pencils where you can gradually add strokes and the color becomes more pronounced and still the color beneath shows itself. By contrast, acrylics tend to just cover the layer beneath. The difference between media supports my narrative of urban change: the effort of tweaking an established infrastructure involves finding the right balance between existing conditions and the boundaries of our imagination; between past, present and future.


My current state of the process is nearly ready with six pieces. They all use plywood boards as backgrounds and pencils in various degrees of application. There is a wide range of styles between them and still they seem to form a coherent family of objects. I am intrigued by how they will look when I’m done. Notice in the small works the similar pieces in blue. As my use of tools allows me to plan and anticipate the process, what I’m showing here is an approximately what they will be.
 On this, I will expand a bit later.

How do you get to 2013 from here?

Well, take a right where they’re going to tear down the viaducts.

Go straight past where they’re going to put in the hi-rize.
Take a left at what was going to be the new community center.
And keep going until you hit the place where they’re thinking of building that cycle-in bank.
You can’t miss it.
(Paraphrasing on Laurie Anderson’s Big Science – 1982)
The street grid here shows Kingsway between Victoria Dr. and Rupert St. in Vancouver, BC. The background image shows part of the planting around our sidewalk tree.

In the past year I’ve been involved in a variety of meetings and discussions relating to urban and other issues. My fascination with urban life gradually brought me to realize how much I enjoy dealing with the massive challenges that urban planning imposes. The coming year is going to be another step in my constant
 exploration, exposure, planning, building and connection with the subject matter I am so engaged in.

Best wishes for a graceful move from one year to another, from day to day, from one thought to the next. Some steps are bigger than others. All are important.

PKN – Norquay Mosaics in 20 slides at 20 seconds each

My first Pecha Kucha talk was delivered twice: in November 2010 I was the last in a line of speakers at the first ever Coquitlam BC PKN; in September 2012 the first ever Richmond BC PKN was held at the Cultural Center there and I was the eighth among ten. The Norquay Park Clean Water Mosaic was a Vancouver Neighborhood Matching Fund  project. This talk describes in 20 slides the issues related to the creative process we, Yoko Tomita and I facilitated in the Renfrew-Collingwood community back in 2010. Here it is in its revised and updated version: 
Halfway into a mosaic making session I’m delivering an enthusiastic speech about the fascinating process of telling a story through careful one by one laying of pieces onto the cement base. As part of my routine I ask one of the kids I am working with, “what is the story in your tile?”

“Whatever”, he responds in a typical juvenile bored expression.
“How do you spell whatever?” I ask him, still with the same breathless enthusiasm.
He starts with “aam, W. H. A…” and finally retreats to “whatever”.

At the time my daughter was six years old. I must have been influenced by the games I was playing with her. “How do you say it; How do you spell it” and so on.

Making mosaics was new to me. I haven’t really realized what I got myself into by joining this Neighborhood Matching Fund project. Working with the community is a challenge. In most cases it was fun.

Yoko Tomita is a community artist in the Vancouver East side. She is the one who actually prepared me to working with youth: they would say “Yoko, I’m bored” she warned me. “Hey, this is child labor…”. And they actually did.

For many of the artists out there community arts is a treacherous way of making a living. For me it was an opportunity to engage in design for urban space. 

My first encounter with design and production of large scale objects was in 2001, about a year before moving from Israel to Canada. I had an exhibition of eight lighting objects at the 

foyer

 of the Pavilion for Performing Arts in Tel Aviv.

For the mosaic project I had the fortune of meeting Bruce Walther and Liz Calvin, two professional and generous artists who have their mosaics installed in various locations around the lower mainland and even further away.

Our challenge was not only bored kids but many people’s low expectations that in many cases leads to lagging engagement. This drawing was made by a woman who initially said she could not draw. “Oh”, I said to her. “Can you draw a straight line?”; “Can you draw a circle?” “Looks like a drawing to me”.

No matter what skill level, it was a pleasant surprise to see people’s creative process evolving as this pretty example shows.

The youth leader who started this one, occasionally asked for advice or direction. I would point to a simple pattern and half an hour later she’d come up with even better creations.

It wasn’t always easy. No matter how patient Yoko would be, with the boy who started this, he would lose interest as soon as his design was covered by the broken tiles we worked with. But we needed more detail, we wanted to push the limits.

When I took the drawing home and played a bit with PhotoShop I wasn’t sure how the boy would react to someone else taking over his design. Miraculously, he loved it and continued working with a new sense of purpose.

It was always heartbreaking for people to realize that this was not the end. The woman who showed this to us thought it was perfect. We were looking for more detail. For us the task was simple: the gaps had to be even; every piece made a difference. Notice the chunky red border at the top and the yellow border around the dolphin.

One day she approached me just a few pieces before her mosaic was complete.  With the little English this woman had she managed to say, “It’s not beautiful”. “Ah,” I reassured her, “Whatever you manage to do is perfect. From there you can only improve.” 

The mosaic process was almost over when demolition of the old park started and we moved on to dealing with the landscape architect and contractors. It was mostly a friendly exchange of information. We were just a tiny component of the whole production but the coordination required some back and forthing that exposed a few challenges.

Even at the planning stage, the mosaics were supposed to go into the floor of the water spray feature. When the health authorities said that mosaics are not allowed in or near the water, I encouraged my colleagues with the realization that now the whole park could benefit from the art. The red dots show where the mosaics were proposed; the green marks show where they were eventually installed.

In the cold spring of 2011 we finally installed the pieces that were waiting in my basement throughout the winter. You need to wait for the concrete structure to cure before you can install the mosaics in the recesses that were made for them. During the winter it was too cold for the mortar to efficiently attach the tiles in place.

I think the achievement with the credit plate was managing to fit in all of the info we were expected to. But it was also the fact that we got a stone carved element with the absurdly low budget we had. The stone carver who made it for us was absolutely generous and committed when we explained the context of our project.

For me, Community Arts is not about art; it’s not about community. It’s about our connection. For this I’d like to thank you for reading this far and making it happen. To read even more, go to the Mosaic page of this blog.