Snow way in heaven or hell

By Benjamin Massey · February 3rd, 2017 · No comments

It snows in Vancouver most years so how are we so terrible at it?

I’d call this town a “dumpster fire” but that carries an unfortunate implication of warmth. It took me something like two hours to make the thirty-minute trip to work this morning, but my co-workers didn’t mind since half of them couldn’t make it at all. The train was immobilized by the wrong type of snow, the buses were getting stuck, the queues were so long we went “oh to hell with that” and went for a walk through the flurries like we were proper Canadians instead of effete left-coasters. I’m hosting a couple visitors for the women’s soccer game, including the other 49.5 of 99 Friendship. She is from Montreal, and she was throwing shade at our transit system. How has it come to this?

Bitching is fun, but for catharsis I gotta really castrate some blameworthy fuckers.

You can’t hate someone for not stocking up more on “essential” equipment, because for 360 days of the year there’s nothing essential about it. As anybody in parts of the country with actual winters knows, no amount of money keeps a snowstorm from occasionally being a real pisser. In Vancouver I get not fitting snow tires when you’d need them twice, or trains freaking out for a bit, or the city not keeping a mechanized division of snowplows around and filling the Capilano reservoir with rock salt so, when the weather does the dirty, we get to work twenty minutes rather than two hours late. There’s a point, and in Vancouver it’s pretty early, where preparation is waste. This city burns enough cash without us encouraging them every time we get our umbrellas frosted.

Even some failings of intellect come with excuses. You don’t get much practice at driving in the snow so you won’t be very good at it, fine. Some people genuinely don’t seem to realize that they sell little brushes at 7-11 which you can use to sweep all that snow off your Porsche Cayenne’s windshield. It’s not something they’ve seen, it’s not a solution that’s occurred to them. But the carnage is usually limited to the initial orgy of destructiveness as the snow is falling; once a bit of plowing happens and guys in 30-year-old Miatas realize you won’t automatically do a powerslide if you take that left-hander above walking pace, we don’t wind up far above the usual Vancouver background noise of anarchy and uselessness. Heck, we had snow in December and the Canada Line kept ticking the whole time. In February we got unlucky but were back on our feet after an inconvenient but not indefinite horror show.

The lazy pricks who own homes in Vancouver can’t be arsed to shovel their sidewalks, and they are the worst people in the world. But this is not a Vancouver-only problem, though admittedly here those pricks are property owners and therefore by default multi-millionaires so hate has the delicious zest of envy. Anyway it’s not a chronic commute-lengthener for everyone, just a substantial commute-lengthener for the guys who slip on neutron star-dense ice and break their clavicles. Do what I do and stomp all over their lawns, it’s much safer that way. Besides, the ice wouldn’t be so bad if we were used to it, or we had serious winter temperatures that hung out at -15-odd instead of bouncing between barely freezing and barely thawing every day until the most effective way to get around town is a pair of skates.

So it’s not the City’s fault, particularly. And it’s not the people’s fault, much. It definitely isn’t my fault. Which leads us to the obvious culprit for why Vancouver turns a flurry into Captain Oates’s worst nightmare: God. Don’t worry, I’ll sort Him out. I may be some time.

The smug people who like it make it all the worse

By Benjamin Massey · October 2nd, 2015 · No comments

You must have seen the new “conceptional design” for the Vancouver Art Gallery. It is some cardboard boxes stacked on top of other cardboard boxes in the shape of a stack of cardboard boxes.

What is with these people? New or substantially renovated art galleries have recently opened in Edmonton and Toronto and they both look ridiculous. The Art Gallery of Alberta looks like a beer can attacked with a pair of tin snips, and was initially designed without the knowledge that sometimes in Edmonton it snows. The Art Gallery of Ontario, and there’s no polite way to say this, has cancer. Vancouver is always happy to follow the leaders.

Vancouver Art Gallery

Vancouver Art Gallery

Art Gallery of Alberta. IQRemix via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Art Gallery of Alberta. IQRemix via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Art Gallery of Ontario. sodapop via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

Art Gallery of Ontario. sodapop via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

Nobody builds this sort of post-modern clever-dickery with his own money. Even an office block meant to be a showy landmark, like the new TELUS Garden in Vancouver, is essentially conventional with some chrome1. Meanwhile, for art galleries and similar buildings uniqueness, never to be confused with creativity, is the only virtue. Unconventionality can lead to glory, but here are no equivalents to the Sydney Opera House’s delicate shells enlivening the harbour. It’s uninspired doodling, trying to catch the eye without bothering to please it, secure in the knowledge someone else is paying the bills. In this respect the Vancouver design is perhaps better, since it goes all out with its IKEA-shopping-spree motif rather than farting around with the roof or some glass. You’ll certainly notice it in the neighbourhood. (The fact that it’s so hard to find a decent exterior photo of the Art Gallery of Ontario, which is much ghastlier in person, probably says something about how far out of individual scale it is. It’s not “grand.” It’s just “big,” like your father’s disappointment.)

In Vancouver’s case most of the cost of the new building is (theoretically) being raised by public donation2, so it’s not like the taxpayer is in for a night of pillow-biting. However, with the Art Gallery far short of reaching its goal it would be a brave, brave man who’d bet that they won’t come calling on government again. $350 million is a huge amount of money, equivalent to 25 years’ ordinary operating expenses, enough to buy ten first-rate art collections at auction with change for the world’s most expensive Rembrandt. This is what we’re comparing that building to.

We are told that the Art Gallery requires a new space because its collection so vastly outstrips the area to display it. This is true of almost every museum in the world but never mind that. It would be unfortunate if world-class pieces were being warehoused because there simply wasn’t wall-space enough. I am gratified to report that is not the case in Vancouver. On any given day when the gallery’s own collection is out probably half of what’s displayed is crap. I don’t mean lousy art, on which opinions may reasonably vary. I mean huge, room-sized empty declarations, things for which sheer scale seems to be half the point, crowding out even modern works3.

Such mundane things as a highway sign – a perfectly ordinary British Columbia highway sign – will use up entire walls. A heavy Emily Carr presence is justified by geography but surely to God nobody needs as much Carr ephemera as has been sprayed willy-nilly across the upper storeys. Orgies of multimedia modernism fill the floors, and I know some people like this kind of thing but they take up supposedly-precious acres. Recently they exhibited a room with videos of people standing around. That is not a metaphor. A recent touring exhibit, Unscrolled, featured some interesting Chinese art plus what was literally “nine hundred-odd stools glued together,” consuming the whole of a room somewhat larger than an average downtown condo. The word “monumental” recurs with dismaying frequency, as in the design of the expensive new buildings meant to house this rubbish.

You will never blow away the taxpayer-funded visual artists “engag[ing] with current debates on the real and its representation” (actual quote), no matter how much I wish you would. However, if you have an alleged space problem, handing out colossal amounts of it to single works which only a minority of potential patrons are interested in seems like bad strategy. It’s particularly bad if it costs you the Art Gallery’s current location, which is bought, paid for, architecturally pleasing, centrally located, easy to access, easy to walk around, near everything a visitor needs to have a nice day, and even has plenty of room in front for local rent-a-Stalinist protesters to complain about Stephen Harper’s bowel movements. Add in the colossal, unmet bill, and the whole project looks positively self-indulgent.

What we have here is a lot of time, effort, space, and money going to create vast ugliness that will hold other vast ugliness. I’m sure a cardboard box heap can be made to look good, but the Art Gallery is the last group I’d bet on to do it.

Ravi Shah via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Ravi Shah via Flickr, CC BY 2.0