Site of public art to be reviewed

Twenty-five-foot high ancient bullrushes with a soundscape of the water that flows below ground is the design concept for a public art piece next to the Richmond Oval.

“Typhas” by Vancouver artists Charlotte Wall and Puya Khalili, earmarked for the stairs on Hollybridge Way by the Richmond Oval, elicited praise from council for its esthetics, but several councillors voted against it at Monday’s council meeting, with concerns for its location and why it isn’t part of a larger art installation.

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In the end, the piece was endorsed but its location will be reconsidered.

Coun. Carol Day asked to refer the decision back to staff, citing concerns about the location, birds making nests in the piece and the cost of $320,000 that could support local artists.

“Why rush this, why not table this until we get all the answers that we need,” Day said.

Coun. Bill McNulty said if people at the council table didn’t like the art piece, they should have spoken up earlier in the process instead of changing it at the last minute.

“If we don’t like the process, we should change it,” he said.

Coun. Alexa Loo pointed out this was how the piece was always conceived and the location that was identified for it, and a process was followed.

“Moving this forward and just continuing with the process makes sense to me – the location looks great to me,” Loo said. “I would think that to table this, to wait any longer on this, just adds costs, adds more staff time, adds more to this whole process, instead of just moving it forward and being able to celebrate this place.”

When the staircase was originally built, the midway was reinforced for a future art piece to hold up to 8,000 kilograms. An art piece designed two years ago, “Flower Tree” was offered for the space by a developer, but this was rejected by council.

Coun. Harold Steves was opposed to “Typhas” being placed in front of the natural view.

“I voted against the plastic tree because it was blocking the view of a beautiful river,” Steves said. “And I don’t care how good the art is, we should not block the view of what is already beautiful, that’s nature.”

McNulty later told the News that people get hung up on abstract or contemporary, but he said he’d like to see “local themes,” art that reflects the community and history or Richmond, like the sturgeon in front of city hall or the three cannery workers in Steveston, that reflect the “real community of Richmond.”

“I’d like to see more of that out in the community because the community has changed and the community does not know its roots and where Richmond came from – we have a story to tell, or a story to remind people of,” McNulty said.

McNulty will take this idea to the next Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Committee meeting on Dec. 19.

The $320,000 budget for “Typhas” comes from the Oval Precinct Public Art capital budget.

Artists were asked to submit designs with the theme of river and sky and to take into consideration the “ecology and historic use of the site.” The concept submitted by co-artists Wall and Khalili was recommended by the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Committee.

The “Typhas” bullrushes will be made from polished stainless steel with the insides a yellow-gold colour. The artists plan to record the sound of groundwater that runs just three feet under the surface and project this sound through speakers by the art piece.

On doing their research, Wall and Khalili learned that bullrushes were some of the most ancient and prolific plants in the area. They were used for food and fuel as well as for warmth as their fuzzy coat retains heat like feathers do, Wall explained.

Wall likes those looking at her pieces to be part of the installation

“I like to immerse people in the art so they’re affected by it, and they stop or pause at least to consider it,” she said.

Wall hopes the art installation will be ready for the summer of 2019.

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