The Space of Difference is a multi-media projection art piece exhibiting with the Surrey Art Gallery's Urban Screen initiative at the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre in Surrey, British Columbia. Taking the Chuck Bailey site as its point of departure, The Space of Difference arranges an aleatoric cycle of confrontations between past and present video artifacts. The resulting striated composite, at once uncommon and familiar, demands the active engagement of the viewer: in searching for the allele that resides in the space between the past and present, another possible reality, perhaps a future, is glimpsed. By setting forth a framework of imaginative connections, the work offers the public a place of their own making.
The Space of Difference was installed September 19, 2014 and has been extended to March 29, 2015 each night from sunset to midnight. View the piece on the SkyTrain by riding the Expo Line between Gateway and King George stations, or by visiting the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre.
Located at Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre in Surrey BC, Surrey Urban Screen functions as a satellite venue of the Surrey Art Gallery. Since its launch in 2010, the project has furnished a permanent infrastructure for video and interactive media artists to project their works on the building’s west façade—a surface some 100 feet long and 30 feet high. Selected artists are awarded a four-month period for exhibition, their pieces being displayed every night from dusk until midnight.
Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre stands as the primary public building on a site that is a complex of overlapping biological and mechanical ecologies: indoors, the Centre sees hundreds of users move through its spaces each day; outdoors, its sculpted fringes teem with the athletic maneuvers of skateboarders, in-line skaters, and BMXers; adjacent, sports teams race across nearby fields; to the west, Skytrain cars thread their way along the Expo Line's concrete piers; and, to the northwest, condo towers afford occupants expansive views from sky-borne domestic parcels.
Its present diverse energies befit the site's equally plural past. It has been, as it is now, a site of multiple occupations, and multiple edges.
It has, at times, been a stand of Douglas Fir, a productive agricultural land, a home to transient migrants, a sacred place of funerary rites, a pasture for animal husbandry, and a contested cultural and biological landscape.
Spatially, the Centre's immediate context makes manifest a theatre of sorts, renders its west wall a focal point that holds the capacity to gather in the interest of an often mobile audience—the Expo Line hurtles tens of thousands through the Chuck Bailey site every evening. Projecting on Chuck Bailey's 'billboard' an examination of the site's multiple incarnations can enrich our understanding of the site today and help us envision as yet unmade futures.
The passengers on the Skytrain are often passing time in a commuter-induced ennui, or, phrased another way, simply participating in an everyday practice of resolute necessity. For Michel de Certeau, a thinker fundamentally interested in the everyday, this passage through space is not something to be dismissed. The stories that we tell about our movement through the world are inherently spatial, and likewise, the way we tell stories about space are loaded with productive capability. 'Narrative structures have the status of spatial syntaxes', and as such, they 'regulate changes in space (or moves from one place to another) made by stories in the form of places put in linear or interlaced series'.1 The interweaving of past and present speaks not just to a tale of days gone, but to a heightened understanding of the pluralistic reality of the place. Through this movement, a generative spatial story is told, one in which the Skytrain passengers are simultaneously creating, reading, and interpreting.
In excavating the past and present for visual artifacts a host of uncanny pairings—consonant and dissonant—begin to announce themselves. Two important train systems have played major roles in shaping the local environs. Aggressive landscaping practices trope the site, beginning when slash-and-burn techniques first made way for arable land, and then later, when recent occupants set concrete infrastructure down into, and also above, grade. Lamp standards capped with projection boxes bear formal similarity to the tree burial boxes of the Kwantlen people. And the cantilevered canopy atop the youth recreation park evokes the structural logics of tents pitched by transient occupants of the past. The thrust of the project is to stitch these artifacts into a compelling visual narrative.
1. Michel de Certeau. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press (1984), 115.
Left: Jiri Kolár, Baudelaire (Les Fleurs Du Mal) Series, 1972.
Right: Outdoor advertisement, Hornby and Drake Streets, Vancouver, BC.
The project arranges an aleatoric cycle of confrontations between past and present artifacts. But, much like rollage art and rotating billboards, there is embedded in the liminal space of their coupling the potential for something else to be disclosed, a third and uncertain meaning—an allele.
In pursuit of these alleles—the catalysts of unforeseen interpretations—a generative taxonomy of 12 past and 12 present artifacts is created, and a grid constructed to foment their productive collisions. With every permutation performed, 132 distinct possibilities emerge—possibilities, however, that nevertheless require an act of imagination to make real.
Petrified forest in a bog
Canoeing alongside log booms of the Fraser
Bulrushes swaying in the wind
Man turning raw logs into lumber in backyard sawmill
Itinerant worker shucking corn
Cranberries floating in a bog at harvest
Settler domiciles near the Fraser
First Nations carver at work on owl
Freight cars rushing past
Flow and frenzy of skaters at Chuck Bailey
Riding the SkyTrain to Gateway Station
Vehicles speeding alongside boulevard
Cinematic beauty of sports field at night
Moths at light of lamp standard
Verdant lawn of Chuck Bailey grounds
Sublime repetition of concrete condo structures
Green metal canopy above Chuck Bailey skatepark
Crew paving a road in asphalt
Dark, smooth bowls of Chuck Bailey skatepark
Flickering light of a projector
Strategically striating the artifacts manifests past and present in a radical simultaneity, as realities that now occupy the same spatio-temporal territory. The jointed pairing of the sliced images demands the active engagement of the viewer: in searching for the allele that resides in the space between the past and present, another possible reality, perhaps a future, is glimpsed. Goats graze in a vertical pasture of condo towers, and the lights of the city beckon through the golden corn fields of an autumn evening.
The vast number of possible combinations of both artifacts and density patterns makes for a work that remains novel for habitual commuters and adjacent residents, groups which will encounter the piece repeatedly, perhaps even several times a night. The system of contingency ensures that no two engagements with the piece will ever be the same: over one-hundred alleles will be seen through an expansive continuum of striated patterns.
The scale and density of the masks are governed by a sinusoidal graph derived from the water level cycles of the Fraser River (as measured at Port Mann, just north of the site).2 The lowest water level, the nadir, corresponds to the coarsest scale of masks in which a binary condition is created between the present and the past. At the median water level, the masks reach their median scale, while at the peak of the water level, the zenith, the masks reach their finest condition. With 100 vertical striations, the images are synthesized into a new composition in which the past and present are collated into a single, timeless interpretation of the space.
2. Environment Canada Water Office. Station 08MH126 Fraser River at Port Mann Pumping Station. http://www.wateroffice.ec.gc.ca/graph/graph_e.html?stn=08MH126
As the SkyTrain enters the field of view of the webcam, it catalyzes a process that resembles the transitioning of a rotating billboard, one image rolling across the other piece by piece such that two images can, for an instant, be seen simultaneously. The project seizes upon this ambiguous moment and draws it out, interlacing two videos together in vertical slices representing the site’s past and present. This composite pairing runs until the next SkyTrain passes through again and resets the screen to its singular state, a fresh video playing full-screen as it waits to be paired with another randomly-selected clip.
Imagination is The Space of Difference between present reality and future possibility. Opportunity lives when art demands the public address its participation in its own narrative. By setting forth a framework of imaginative connection, this work offers viewers a place of their own making.