by syaffolee

Playing Tourist

Sometimes, I feel like the stupid tourist. But how else can one experience a new place without taking pictures? There’s too much for me to do while I’m here, but I am trying very hard not to visit more than two or three places a day. Ideally, I should just stick to one place and just soak up the location. It’s not the same if you play coach bus tourist, rushing here and there, staying in a place no more than an hour and a rest room break. Otherwise, you might as well just type in “Paris” in the Google Image Search and hit the button.

Brian Jungen's ShapeshifterCameras weren’t allowed into the Vancouver Art Gallery so I was forced to dredge up a photo from Google of Brian Jungen‘s Shapeshifter, one of a series of three sculptures of whale skeletons. The majority of Brian Jungan’s work comprises of organic depictions made of man-made products. Hence the whale skeletons of lawn chairs, masks of Nike shoes, and a living bird sculpture of IKEA furniture. There is also an interesting anecdote. The artist made a survey of the Canadian people, asking them what they thought of when one mentions the Native Americans. They replied: totem poles, tepees, beer, and the symbol being used for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The negative association with beer isn’t the only problem–not all Native Americans use totem poles or tepees. And the Olympic symbol isn’t Native American at all.

This is a theme cropping out throughout the VAG. Do people, specifically artists, not of Native American descent understand Native American culture or do they appropriate Native American icons for their own use? Many of the works shown of the gallery’s collection were made by Emily Carr, a popular Canadian artist who painted in the style of the Group of Seven. Her most common motifs were totem poles and other Native American objects. I am not particularly enamored with her work–it seems to me that she’s only famous because she happened to be a woman artist in a time period where there were few female Canadian artists. The bigger question then remains, what does a white, European woman know of native culture outside of a few trips to Indian villages? She might as well be the early twentieth-century equivalent of a tourist snapping a picture of a totem pole simply because of the nice design and not because of any deeper understanding of its meaning.

the view from the sky trainThe rest of the day, I caught the sky train to Burnaby, a suburb just east of Vancouver. The sky train is fast–it takes only twenty minutes to get to your destination compared to an hour and a half by bus. The scene is terrific as well. Because the rail rises above the city, you get to watch the urban sprawl whiz by with the snow-covered mountains as a backdrop. When I went, it was Easter Sunday and most of the shops were closed, but I was quite surprised at the number of people milling around the immensely huge Metrotown (a mall) despite the fact that there was nowhere to shop besides the Canadian Superstore (a giant supermarket), Chapters (a Canadian bookstore chain), and a Chinese restaurant. I was told that the place would be even more packed when the stores actually opened. That boggles the mind. Metrotown was already stuffed like a can of beans. If they fit any more people into there, they’d have to start stacking.