Friday, September 6, 2013

What a laugh, eh?


I'm still mopping up Canada/Alaska material - no, on the contrary, I'm squeezing out the last unused bits, turning them into uncommissioned stories that I will have to send out alone into the world to make their fortune (actually, mine, and for 'fortune' read 'pittance'). It's Vancouver I've been focused on today, specifically the Art Wheelers bike tour I did, that for about 3 hours took me around the city's main streets, cul-de-sacs, sea wall and parks, discovering all manner of interesting artworks, and hearing a bit about their creators and their history.

It was what I believe is called an eclectic collection, including deliberately gob-smacking works like the lovely LightShed, a baby boathouse that looks like silvered wood but is actually cast aluminium, perfect in every tiny detail; and the rock Inukshuk that was the symbol of the Winter Olympics. But there were also fascinating sneaky things like four circular platforms with benches and potted trees on them, that revolve v-e-r-y slowly, disconcerting those who've sat down for a quiet read of the paper; and even manhole covers beautifully cast in a native design of tadpoles. In between there were all sorts of things, some of them interactive, some of them buildings, some of them street art. It was a lot of fun, and interesting, and a very pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon.

I was intrigued, though, by the familiar look of an installation of 14 bronze larger-than-life Chinese men, in different positions but all identical and all laughing. It was A-maze-ing Laughter by Yue Minjun, and I'd never seen it before, but I knew the face. Today, I've made the connection: at the Beijing Dirt Market in 2009, I saw a painting of these laughing men hanging at one of the stalls. I can still envisage the place clearly (helped by all the disgusting hoiking and spitting that was going on all around my thankfully shoe-shod feet - it was an early morning market) with all its huge variety of stuff laid out. Chairman Mao ornaments, ivory (tch) carvings, heavy shiny furniture, beautiful paint brushes, porcelain and pottery, statues and fabrics...

There is a huge Chinese population in Vancouver, about 30% of the total, so really it shouldn't be surprising to come across a connection like this. But we were in China on a Silversea cruise in 2009, and why were we in Canada in 2013? Yup, Silversea cruise.

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