10/3/11

Princess, just off Powell



The project ends with the name it all began with. I can't really say that I knew her, but for a long time, I used to see her almost every day. And then one day, I didn't see her ever again.

The first time we met it was dusk, almost dark and I'd been combing the alleys behind Hastings Street looking for scrap lumber, abandoned clothes and other interesting bits and pieces (i.e. art materials) and I stumbled out of the alley with a load of stuff on my back and abruptly turned the corner on to Pender and almost collided with her. She'd been coming around the corner from the other direction and was as lost in her world as I was in mine, and suddenly there we were, staring at each other, face to face, frozen under the glare of the corner streetlamp.

We both gasped aloud and for half a second, we thought we were going to turn right around and disappear back the way we'd come from, but instead, we stood still in our tracks, just quietly looking at each other and then she broke the awkward silence with a giggle and the biggest smile I'd seen in a long, long time. We said a tentative hello and then she bounded off around the corner and disappeared into the twilight, like a deer slipping into the forest.

Whenever we'd meet after that, passing on Hastings or wandering along the fringes of Chinatown, we'd say hi and maybe share a few words. She'd wonder about the backpacks full of junk I'd be carrying, I'd comment on her outfit or compliment the current stuffed animal she'd have clutched under her arm and we both probably looked a little strange to anyone zipping past us on the bus, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that for a minute or two we were not alone anymore in our own worlds, we'd accepted each other's presence and the street was not such an empty or challenging place. Our lives were connected in a very simple way; we were neighbours. There were days when she looked lost or disturbed by things that only she could see and there were days when it was all I could do to catch or hold on to another person's gaze, but every time we bumped into each other, her face would break into that huge, beautiful smile, which would stay with me for the rest of the day.

All this was years ago, when my studio was down on Cordova and I spent a good part of each day walking back and forth through the neighbourhood, searching the backstreets for supplies, going to Army and Navy for dollar packs of hardware or the old Save-On-Meats for day old bread. My new studio space is up off Powell Street now and I still spend a fair amount of time wandering the nearby alleys, looking for more odds and ends or just looking and remembering.

It took too many years to find out what happened to her and it will take a long, long time to accept the way she was found.

Across the street from my old studio space, there's now a stack of condos, a wedding shop, a salon/day spa and a designer clothing boutique and right next door, is a fancy Italian restaurant. Army and Navy is still Army and Navy and Save-On-Meats has re-opened and seems to be trying to bridge the gap between the old and the new phases of the neigbourhood, but some things about the area have changed forever. And some people are still missing.

I've put off writing this for a couple months now, it's been hard to figure out what to say or how to sum things up. With this post, the Evergreen project is officially complete and while I'm hoping that people will keep stumbling upon the site and remembering the names, I know that sooner or later, traffic will drop off and people will stop looking for new garlands or stop seeing the ones that are out there still. As the Downtown Eastside continues to be developed and the area keeps changing, some feelings will fade, it's inevitable, and there will be new people, moving into the neighbourhood, who don't know or want to know about a past they haven't been a part of and I suppose there's no way around that either. But in doing this project, I've also learned that there are a lot of people who won't forget, people who cared for and still care for those who are missing and many people who are working hard to make sure that what happened, never happens again.

It took me a long time to install the last garland. I wanted to find the perfect spot, somewhere that represented everything that Evergreen was about. I searched the neighbourhood for a long time, looked everywhere, but in the end, I hung the garland somewhere close to me. It's in a place where I see it almost every day and each time I walk past the garland, I remember her big smile and hear her voice in my head and I speak her name aloud - Angela.





5/7/11

Main, between Terminal and Industrial




About 10 years ago, when I first noticed this lot being put up for sale, the real estate signage bolted to the fence claimed that this stretch of Main Street received exposure to over 50,000 cars a day. That's a lot of traffic. I remember thinking at the time, that the number seemed incredibly high, but the site was a car lot, so I figured somebody must have known what they were talking about. I imagined that if you added in the occasional carpool passenger and factored in all the commuters packed onto buses, wandering pedestrians and the occasional, virtuous cyclist, you'd have, what, a total of 75,000 sets of eyes passing by that spot every day? That's a lot of witnesses.

Behind the lot and across Quebec Street there used to be a large patch of scrubland, which concealed a number of modest living structures; a refuge for old timers who combed the shores of False Creek and migrated back and forth between the bush and the McDonald's on the corner of Main and Terminal. A number of warehouses and manufacturers were still in full swing and the city works yard underneath the Cambie Street Bridge, kept a steady flow of dump trucks and garbage trucks rumbling along 2nd Avenue during the day. At night, women worked in the deserted industrial areas just off Main and the residential alleys that sloped down towards the foot of Mount Pleasant.


Gradually the scrubland got cleaned out and paved and over the next few years the area was used as a pit stop for the Indy, an impromptu in-line skate park, a gathering place for Dragon Boat races and a location shoot for various film productions. Construction cranes started to dot the surrounding skyline and before long most of the remaining industry between 2nd Avenue and False Creek was squeezed out or trickled away. Access to the water was almost completely closed off and for a long time there wasn't much more to the area than a fenced in bike path running the gauntlet of excavators and soil remediation equipment. As towers and box stores began to take shape in the near distance and as the city got ready to invite the world to the Winter Olympics, a narrow strip of the foreshore was replanted with indigenous species to mimic the area's original ecology, rehabilitated with boardwalks, promenades and public art and reopened, this time as a designated green space.


Cut to the last few years, with the Downtown Eastside becoming a gentrification hotspot and more and more people funneling up Main Street and into the old city core to eat, party and live and you could maybe plan on somewhere around a 125,000 people a day passing by that identical place? That's a lot of bodies.

It was towards the end of March, when I hung the garland up on the car lot fence. It was the second last garland of the Evergreen project and the second garland I'd made for this particular name; the other one was placed on another fence, in another location, for a different person, but for the same reason. I considered the new traffic numbers and I wondered how many other people would share the name I'd spelled out and what were the odds now that anyone passing by would have known the person the garland was made for?


The car lot changed hands, was emptied, re-opened, scaled down, subdivided and despite a brief spell as a Winter Olympic transport depot, just over a year ago, it's now vacant again, though some new on-site signage hints at a major real estate development coming soon. Residential, Retail, Industrial. Not far away, beside a re-tweaked False Creek, the post-Olympic Village is starting to fill up and every day the lower slopes of Mount Pleasant become pitted and dotted with more holes and the hoardings that signify new condos.

Given this latest round of activity, I'm willing to bet you could now bump up the daily drive by figures for the car lot fence to at least 150, 000 a day. Which would mean that even though this one particular garland only stayed up for about 3 1/2 weeks, say 25 days, it's possible that some 3,750,00 people got a chance to read the name. That seems incredible to me.


And I guess, by extrapolation, you could say that, averaging it all out, in the 10 or so years that the fate of this one car lot has been in question, roughly 270 million pairs of eyes passed by this very same spot, while not that far away, in the neighbourhood just up the road, more than 60 women went missing. I find those figures and what they imply more than incredible, they're hard to contemplate, especially since one of those pairs of eyes was mine.

So many people passing through such a small piece of real estate. So many potential witnesses, victims or innocent bystanders. So many names. So much hope and growth and change, so many things abandoned, repurposed or still waiting to be reclaimed. So many friends and strangers and people we wish we could have known and only one who was exactly like - Andrea.




2/16/11

Just east of Clark Drive, below 6th Ave.









I squeeze past the fence and drop down under the bridge and onto the slope of the Grandview Cut. It's early evening, New Year's Eve, a few hours before the fireworks and cheering, the resolutions and regrets. The night air is hushed and the traffic up on Clark Drive is light and I hope that no one can see me as I trip over a patch of blackberries and go shooting down the steep incline, the frozen, matted grass making a perfect toboggan path, hurtling me towards the edge.

I manage to grab hold of the branches of some young evergreens and stop myself from disappearing into the darkness. I find my feet and then start angling my way further down the slope, cautiously moving from tree to tree, until I reach the fence that clings to the edge of the man-made ravine. It takes me a little while to untangle the garland, pull out the twigs and dead leaves that have got caught up in the letters during my tumble downhill, but then it goes up quickly and afterwards, I sit for a few minutes on the edge of the drop, catching my breath and listening for the sounds of the old year ebbing away.


When I started Evergreen, over a year ago, I thought the project would go faster and I hoped I'd be able to keep some distance from the tangle of emotions and politics that surrounds the tragedy. But of course, things turned out differently. The more carefully I considered everything that I was doing, the more time I needed to take and the more I had to feel.

The construction of each garland couldn't be rushed, the process became a kind of meditation on the identity and the absence of the individual behind each name. A personal one, bound up with the makings of my own identity and woven together with some of my own losses. Each name needed to be fully honoured, each spot, that the garland would eventually occupy, had to be carefully sought out. Some spaces, after long consideration, just weren't right, other places revealed themselves in an instant, seemed to call out to me as I walked through the streets, searching. For whatever length of time each garland stayed up, I imagined that the marginal space it adorned seemed a little less neglected, not entirely abandoned. And every time a garland disappeared, the sadness and sense of outrage I felt, for the loss of the person behind the name, got deeper.


While the project I've set out to do is almost complete, with only two more garlands to install, two more names to acknowledge, you and I both know that there's a lot of other work that needs to be done, many more names that need remembering. But for now, this is all I can do.


I look out and across the darkness and catch a brief glimpse of nearly empty train cars flashing by on the other side; it seems that almost everyone is already where they want to be on this last night of the year. The air is getting colder, I can see my breath and I'm stiff from sitting on the frozen ground. I pull myself carefully back up the slope and head off to ring in another year.

Much later, in the first tentative hours of 2011, I'm riding in the back of the Knight St. bus, heading along Clark and as it passes over the Grandview Cut, I look over my shoulder and out the window, but can't see anything, just flickering streetlights and the dark outlines of silhouetted evergreens.




This garland is placed in a pretty secluded spot, it almost feels like a private space, even though it's on the edge of a number of very public thoroughfares. But I know it's there and now, you know too. It may be hard to read the name through the trees, especially in Spring, when things start growing again, but you might catch a glimpse of it one day, when you sail by on the Skytrain and look down, just past the giant cross, on the other side of Clark, where the road spans the ravine. Or you might not, the garland may be long gone by the time you read this. But the name will never disappear, from one year to another it will always be - Dianne.






1/25/11

Terminal and Western, just behind Main.





Another vacant lot, quarantined, waiting for the past to leach away. Another cold morning, black sky threatening snow. It's the day before Christmas Eve and I'm up early, way before dawn and on my way to work. I pass the spot where Kerry was and the corner where Cara used to be. I move past Inga, whose almost gone now, see Debra and then cut across National and over to Station Street, not far from where Cynthia still is. And all the way along, I walk past women whose names I don't know, still at work in the shadows.

Just over a year ago, the first garland with this same name appeared. It was only the second garland that I'd installed and it stayed up throughout the winter and spring and right into early summer, before it disappeared.

I cut through the darkness of Thornton Park and look across to the lights on Main Street and see silhouetted figures, huddled under the arcade next to the Skytrain station. Men in small groups, moving in and out of the shadows, smoking and spitting, waiting for the temporary labour office to open and daybreak and other kinds of work.

As lone commuters trickle off buses and stumble towards the station, I creep across Terminal and sidle up to the fenced off lot that backs onto Western Street. Bristling green strips of PVC, probably the same material that's used to make the garlands, are threaded through the chain link, screening three sides of the lot from view, though there's really nothing left in it to see. The side that faces away from Main is uncovered and headlights from the first few cars coming up Terminal seem to flick over and past me and peer into the void of the deserted lot for a second or two, before quickly glancing away. The garland goes up fast and the lot no longer feels quite so empty. I take a couple of hurried photos and then rush off to catch the first Skytrain for my last day of work before the holiday.

A week later, at dusk on the day after New Years, I'm on my way home from work and I look down from the station platform, into the lot across the street and the garland is no longer there.

The holidays are over, another year has passed, seasons and other people have come and gone. More abandoned spaces, other names that need to be remembered and another empty place, where I'll always look and expect to see another - Heather.



12/28/10

Behind Hastings, off Commercial







A lament, a warning, a plaint. All night long, I hear the sirens calling. Outside, squad cars tear up and down alleys, fire engines barge through busy intersections and ambulances, in pools of quavering amber light, huddle around bodies, cold and still on the sidewalk. The night after the morning after the second last Wednesday of the month. December. Hard times in the neighbourhood, the temperature is dropping, Christmas is fast approaching and people are hurting.

Making my way down Hastings, I'm overtaken by a pack of Paddy Wagons. Hanging up the garland, the sirens get louder and louder and I know what's coming. Each time I freeze and for a few seconds, I'm caught in the staccato glare of flashing lights. But no one's interested in me, there's bigger and more desperate things going somewhere else. The vehicles careen past, lights pulsating, sirens keening away into the night.

The fenced off lot has been quarantined for so long that I can't actually remember what used to be there. A gas station or some kind of factory? Either way, the business and the buildings are long gone and the soil left behind, corrupted. The ground has been churned up, sifted and then smashed flat again and the whole surface punctured by a grid of white PVC pipes, venting off the toxins. In the darkness, the pipes hover low over the ground, like pale ghosts. In the throbbing red light of passing emergency vehicles, they seem to leap up like outraged demons, dancing to the distorted wail of the sirens. I'm almost done when I see trembling blue lights tracing out the tops of the surrounding buildings. A troop of police cars seem to be combing the side streets, working their way towards me, so I tie the last knot fast and drift away quickly and don't wait to document the garland. Back home, it takes me a long time to fall asleep. As I drop off, the yelping, moaning and snarling of the sirens merge and become one long, drawn out cry of protest.

After a black, sleety night, day breaks cold, clear and still. Fresh snow lies low on the North Shore mountains. I'm back at the lot early and the streets are quiet. For a little while. Long before I'm finished taking pictures, the stillness is broken by another police car screaming past and a few minutes later an ambulance follows dolefully behind. In the sharp morning light the rows of PVC pipes stand rigid like sentinels or mourners.




Some kinds of pain take a long, long time to go away. I know that the neighbourhood has had more than its fair share of tragedy, that some memories will always remain bitter and that the noise of the sirens will never fully fade, but hopefully, some things can change. Some demons will be laid to rest and some ground reclaimed. And while some people may want to, or need to, let go certain parts of the past, I hope that we will never forget - Tiffany.






12/7/10

Cordova and Princess





A cold rain, almost snow and I'm heading down Cordova in the dark when a woman, working on the other side of the street, angles through the traffic and runs up behind me to ask, gleefully, "Are you selling your wreaths?" I laugh, surprised, and say, "no, sorry" and she laughs, "ok" and we say, "see you later" to each other as she runs back across the street and off into the darkness. It's spitting snow as I drape the garland over a fence on the edge of a vacant lot at the end of a row of old houses on Princess. They've been pretty run-down for a long time, but over the last year or so, they've been fixed up, a little at a time. A new layer of paint, some plastic tacked over the cracked window frames, and in the night, with softly glowing light leaking out through the curtains, they seem almost cozy. Later that night there's snow and heading home, I see the woman's coat, abandoned on the ground and no sign of her anywhere on the street.

The next day I'm back on Cordova, heading to the studio. The coat is gone, the sky's bleak, the street is cold and the house that seemed warm and almost safe in the night looks emptied, the windows stare out across the vacant lot, waiting and watching for - Helen.


11/10/10

Prior, at the foot of Gore





At the south end of Gore, a large space sits waiting, almost empty again. Less than a year ago, new perimeter fences appeared and the ground was covered with huge white, shrink wrapped tents - a staging ground for the Winter Games. Every 15 feet or so, a sign warned the neighbourhood to keep it's distance. The space was now within the 'Secure Zone'. Before this happened, the site lay neglected, weeds and the remains of razed warehouses. A schematic arrangement of cracked concrete aprons, broken foundations and bent re-bar. In spring and summer, the space became an impromptu skate park, with the autumn rains, it turned into a shallow pond, a resting spot for migrant geese and gulls driven inland by ocean storms. A few years before that, the space functioned as a sort of refuge, with stands of rank grass crisscrossed by coyote paths and scattered groves of scrubby birches, screening the occasional temporary shelter. More recently it has served as a dumping ground, a car park and a Hollywood North film set. The future of the site? A re-located Saint Paul's Hospital complex, re-claimed riparian parkland, floodlit soccer fields, community gardens, a community centre, a shopping centre? All kinds of schemes and proposals, a long list of wants, a few pipe-dreams, a world of possibilities and some very specific needs. Right now, for the next little while at least, the space belongs to - Cynthia.



11/4/10

Powell, 1100 Block East



A temporary space closes down and I gather up the garland and head out into the drizzle and gloom of a late October afternoon. Further down Powell, I find a small finger of scrub land clenched tight between the curb of the road and the high security fence that cuts off access to the train tracks. Dead grass, dying goldenrod and dropping leaves. The remnants of another fence. The grey sky is turning black and a slow creeping line of traffic stretches back towards the downtown core. The drivers are invisible, cocooned safely inside and their winking taillights peer back at me through the darkness, tiny red eyes, leading the next car forward and beckoning others away from the city and further on into the night. Outside now and in another place - Diana.


9/28/10

Powell, at the foot of Victoria





From out of the blue, a long lost colleague, with some very thoughtful things to say about Evergreen and a request to consider installing one of the garlands as part of a public art project that he's been conducting. Every Letter In The Alphabet is the name of the space, an old storefront down along Powell, next to the tracks at the foot of Victoria. An area I'd been scouting out for a while, trying to find a place for one of the garlands. Maybe it was a sign?




I head down late in the day, get help clearing out the window wells and by the time I get organized, it's getting dark and I'm alone in the space. Red taillights slide by outside and the area feels deserted, but I know that the nearby streets and alleys are not all empty. After a while, a van pulls up out front and someone unloads a set of drums and amplifiers and then people start trickling by, in twos and threes until suddenly there's a crowd built up on the sidewalk. Everyone is laughing and talking and shouting, there's an opening underway at the gallery next door and a band is playing somewhere in the building. People wander past, looking in at me, lit up in the window like I'm part of the show and I stare back at them, clustered together on the dark sidewalk outside, like they're part of a different show.




I feel a little uncomfortable being watched, but keep focused on finding the right pieces of fake ivy and fir and soon I forget about everything, except the name that I'm weaving together. I'm almost done and standing outside on the sidewalk, checking the lighting, when a slightly drunk man separates himself from the crowd and staggers over to stand swaying in front of the window. He looks up at the letters hanging there, but can't quite figure out what they spell. The three he can make out he reads aloud, slowly - D, N, A, 'I wonder what the symbolism of that is...?', he mutters, half to himself and half to me. I don't know how to answer him.



Over the last few weeks, a number of the garlands have been ripped apart or cut down. Sometimes I'll find stray letters, randomly scattered along the street, spelling nothing. Occasionally, half a name, intact, with bits and pieces of the other letters lying nearby, crushed and crumpled into strange, suggestive shapes. A few of the garlands have been violently wrenched apart. Torn and twisted into erratic green lines. Every letter a distorted, indecipherable message left sprawling on the ground. Or else, a whole garland simply vanishes, overnight. I expected all these things to happen, sooner or later. But what I didn't plan on were all the things I would feel, every time it happened. Anger, sadness, betrayal and more, keep welling up and none of them feel related to 'art' disappearing. When I got asked to put up this latest garland, in the storefront window, I was kind of glad; this one would be protected for a while and I made it a little more delicate and decorative than some of the other garlands. I wanted this one to last a little longer. I wonder what the symbolism of that is...?




I keep thinking about being inside or outside of the glass. About feelings that last and art that doesn't and the show that we're all a part of. About what happens to people when we can only read them as symbols or signs. And about all the names and faces that will not fade.





For now, above the dark sidewalk in the light of a storefront window, five letters, put together, to spell out - Diana.





9/2/10

Hastings at Glen


I was up and on my way before it was light. Gulls were crying and calling to each other on the rooftops, the air was cool, almost cold and there was a heavy dew on the ground, but already the neighbourhood was hard at work. An early start to the day, a late end to a long night.

Where Hastings arches up and passes over Raymur and the train tracks cut underneath, there's a big plot of land that slopes down from Glen drive. It's hemmed in by a barbed wire topped, chain link fence and from the outside, it looks almost overgrown with scrub. Actually, there's two sides to the lot. The chunk of land on the south side of the overpass is pretty much covered over with weeds and brush, but on one edge, down towards the tracks, the brush has been cut back and someone's built a couple of raised beds and planted vegetables and a few flowers.

A thick wall of towering blackberries lines the inside of the fence that surrounds the north side of the lot. From a distance it looks sealed off, like there's no way in, but at the bottom of the slope, right underneath the overpass, the chain link's been peeled back a bit and if you duck down and crawl past the small gap, there's a tunnel that leads you under the blackberries and on through, to the inside.

Once you're in there, it feels quiet, the waking sounds of the surrounding warehouses and manufacturers are muffled and it's a bit like being in a thicket in a forest. But it's no secret garden. All around the edges of the lot, little niches have been carved into the brush for sleeping. Tucked into the dark bushes for another night, wet blankets and musty quilts, or tossed away for ever, tangles of pantyhose and socks, broken high heels and soiled jeans. Halfway up the slope, in the dead centre of the lot there's a bare scab of lifeless hardpan, where nothing grows. Even the blackberries won't take root. The only thing poking out of the ground is a stack of crumpled up computer motherboards and the half buried shell of a gutted monitor.

I make all this out in the half light. The dull whine of morning traffic up on Hastings is building into a steady roar, creeping down through the fence and the bushes and slowly driving away the quiet. I get to work and drag an abandoned home-made ladder up the slope.

Overhead, the gulls that have been dipping and skimming through the dull sky the whole time, drop down lower to investigate. The blackberries are thinner here and I work my way past and weave them back to prop the ladder up against the perimeter fence. I'm on top and starting to thread the garland through the barbed wire when dawn breaks. The sky is suddenly a bright clear blue and the joyful shrieking of the gulls drowns out all the noise of the cars and the light of the new day spills down into the lot and for a second or two, looking back over my shoulder, filled with light and warmth, it does look a bit like a sanctuary or a garden. I finish tying the garland, climb back down and leave the way I came.

At the top of the slope, facing east, in the morning sun - Sereena.





8/18/10

900 Block Main


Long, hot August day. No point waiting for evening to be discreet, everybody comes out at night to cool off. The afternoon sun angles down and seems to overexpose everything. I head out, cutting back and forth across corners, trying to walk in the thin strips of shade that cling to the edges of buildings. In Strathcona, a voice calls out from the overhang of a house, " Excuse me, are you the one that's putting up all those names?" I hesitate, but answer, "Yes" and then it's their turn as they ask haltingly what the garlands mean. To me. We gently sound each other out and both seem a little relieved when it becomes clear that we are talking and thinking and caring about some of the same things.

I carry on into the glare and end up on the edge of Main Street, which is hazy with the heat and exhaust of traffic. The small fenced off lot, waiting to be rolled into a bigger re-development parcel, has been empty for quite a while and the blackberries grown up and over the south side of the fence are almost ripe. I thought I was going to have to jump over the gate to get to the spot I'd chosen, but with a bit of climbing, a few scratches and the remnants of an old foundation wall for help, I manage from the outside. The sun beats down harder, pavement shimmers in and out of focus, cars and people appear and disappear, as if in a mirage and there, in broad daylight - Debra.



video


7/31/10

151 W. Cordova


A while ago a friend of mine was poking around online and she came across a bunch of sites with images from Evergreen. People who'd come across the garlands on the streets, taken pictures and posted them with comments that wondered what they were all about. There was a whole online discussion going back and forth about what the garlands referred to and whom the names belonged to. It was one of the kinds of dialogue I was hoping for, people from all over bringing their own associations and feelings to the work and deciding on their own interpretations or sharing ideas and collaborating with others to find meaning. One of the comment threads eventually worked its way back to me with an anonymous request to contact another unknown person about being involved in some kind of an exhibition. I was a little hesitant, I was heading out of town the next day, I had no idea who was behind the request or if they were being serious and I wasn't even sure that the garlands belonged in a gallery setting, but it seemed important to follow the process all the way through.

So I responded and one contact led to another and I was very generously invited to include one of the garlands in the Surge Festival, July 30th -August 28th,which is opening up the W2/Storyeum space this summer, (www.creativetechnology.org/events/surge-festival-of-urban). The festival is being dubbed the 1st annual festival of Urban Digital Culture and it seemed like it might be the right place to try and talk about what it is to be named or unknown or mediated in the DTES. It turned out I 'sort of' knew a lot of the people involved and they 'sort of' knew about me but we'd never really connected each other's names with our faces and various on and off-line identities. As each of the four components of the festival was going to include work from community activists and artists and collectives all concerned and involved with maintaining and nurturing the wide range of DTES voices, in the end, despite the short notice, I felt I should say yes.

I got back into town the day before the opening and rushed down to hang the garland. The space looked huge, dark and empty, a lot of the work still needed to be hung, but people were working hard in the shadows. I hugged tight to tall pillars, 14 feet up in the air and slowly worked the garland ropes into place.

The night of the opening the space still looked huge and dark, but it slowly filled up and from out of the shadows more people came who had seen the garlands around but not known who they were about or why I had been putting them up. I talked a fair bit about Evergreen that night, answered a lot of questions, asked some others and listened to a lot of stories. People told me about seeing the garlands and knowing the people behind the names. I felt I'd made the right decision to be involved and was grateful for the 'anonymous' support of Evergreen. At some point in the night I looked up and there, above me and out of reach, but a part of it all - Jacquelene.



7/16/10

Terminal, just past Thornton




On the south side of Terminal, there's a parcel of empty land that's bordered on one side by tall Lombardy Poplars. The land has been scraped level and filled with gravel and the other three sides have been demarcated by roadways and a new sidewalk and sooner or later the rest of it will be filled up. Until then, the Poplars turn the north edge of the parcel into a small slice of forest and even though there's garbage and junk dumped all through the underbrush, it's still kind of pretty. Peak rush hour and the sun off the pavement is blinding, but there's a little breeze that gets picked up by the trees and it helps to make the spot feel more restful than it actually is. Traffic streams by, commuters racing back to the suburbs and overhead, the Skytrain roars past, crammed with people heading for home and there, in the shade at the base of the Poplars - Tanya




6/11/10

Powell, just past the Cordova Diversion




Earlier tonight, as a friend and I were cutting through Gastown, we were noticing, not for the first time, how much the area's changing. Water Street was full of people just hanging out and not because they were going to be sleeping there later on. There was music and laughter and a lot of money being spent in the restaurants, bars and stores and it wasn't all by tourists. There's a whole new batch of people living in the 'hood, which means a lot of added pressure on the people who are going to be sleeping rough. I suppose there's a few good things that come with the changes, but I still get touchy threading my way through the well dressed drunks and angry, when neighbourhood landmarks get reno'ed for 'loft-style' condos and incensed, when unofficial resting spots and the few remaining patches of untamed green space get razed or re-purposed.

I know it's an inevitable part of gentrification and even though I've lived down here for years, I guess I'm a part of it all. I imagine it's probably not much better than what happened when the area was taken over for first time. I keep hoping that this time 'round it'll be different, the people moving here will want to support the heritage of the area, save some of the history and respect the rights of it's long term inhabitants. But some days, that kind of change seems a long ways off.

Later that night, as I left my studio with the garland, there was an unmarked police cruiser idling out front and radio noise coming from another one, waiting with it's lights off, just around the corner. I passed by a new storefront gallery with a smart-ass poster in the window that read, " There Is No Romance In Taking A Risk". Heading east, down Powell, the streets were quiet but not empty. Single figures wove through the darkness and settled in doorways or sat on the curb, watching the night. The rain held off and a row of blooming trees just before Hawks Avenue filled the street with scent.

Just past where Powell and Cordova merge, the train tracks run right up against the road and there's a fairly serious chain-link fence that does it's best to cut off access to the waterfront. Beyond the razor wire, a row of shunting rail cars rattles back and forth and past them, cranes and piers and container ships are waiting in the harbour. Across Burrard Inlet, on the other side of the First Narrows bridge, West Van climbs out of the black water and the lights of the North Shore flicker like the embers of a distant fire and somewhere beyond that - Georgina.


5/30/10

Hastings And Abbot


It's evening when the rain lifts and the night sky is almost bright as a gang of drunk karaoke girls spill out of the Met bar and into the alley for a smoke break. Screeching with laughter, they don't seem to notice the rats teeming all around them. I start to climb under the fence and into the empty lot that's for sale across the alley, until I notice that the rats have the same idea.


Instead, I opt for scuttling further down the alley, tossing the garland over the fence and tying it up so that it'll face out towards Hastings. The sky gets darker. Up above me and across the street, on Abbot, the newly illuminated, old 'W' spins slowly; an intellectual property. Meanwhile, good natured drunks are stumbling over the backwards letters of the garland, trying to read the name out loud and I'm trying to ignore the sound of rats, fighting and hunting in the garbage and rubble of the pitch black ground.



Early next morning, the bar's quiet, the alley's hosed down and the rats have holed up for the day.



I'm coming along Hastings and admiring the Butterfly bushes, which are doing their best to take back the vacant lot before it gets built on, when a white van idling in the alley pulls away, revealing - Andrea.




5/18/10

Main and Georgia



Just off Main, at the dead end of Georgia, there’s a small, fenced in gravel cul-de-sac. In the daytime, it’s a makeshift parking lot. At nighttime, it’s used for other things. At the edge of the fence, there’s a small path that lets you slip down off Main and cut through into the alley.

On the South side of the lot, surrounded by a higher chain-link fence, there’s the Murrin sub-station, a 1940’s Art Deco hydro facility that currently supplies all the power for Downtown. It’s listed as a Class B heritage building, but with a new Mt. Pleasant sub-station and a re-routing of power lines in the works, who knows what'll happen.

On the North side of the lot, there’s a half empty,1980’s commercial building that looks a bit like a neglected villa, complete with walled courtyard and patchy upper verandas. The building and most of that block in fact, look ready for a major makeover or more likely, a complete tear down.

In the space between the two structures, Fireweed, Morning Glory and Alder keep cropping up and filling in the margins. Looking over the shoulder and back up the street – Kerry

5/1/10

Clark Drive, 1 block North of the Grandview Cut



It was late at night when I headed out, skirting the edges of the warehouse district just behind Venables. The streets were empty except for the occasional taxi cruising into or out of the depot at the far end of Vernon drive. And almost quiet. The only sound, beside the soft wash of light traffic up on Clark Drive, was the throb of an idling freight truck backed into a loading bay somewhere nearby.

The garland was a large one and I had it looped around and over me to keep it from dragging on the ground and picking up garbage. Moving through the murky puddles of light under street lamps and caught once in the glare of a pair of headlights, I must have looked like a cedar hedge shuffling off under the cover of darkness, trying to find somewhere else to take root.

I cut up onto Clark drive, where it climbs to become a ridge, just before the Grandview Cut. A long time ago, the tidal flats of False Creek would have come right up to the base of the slope. China Creek, on the other side of the Cut, was a natural ravine where all the streams in the area converged and drained into the salt marsh. The trees would have been alive with birds and the streams full of fish.

The ground is probably still pretty toxic from years of industry and dumping.Most of the flats is a landfill, soil that was excavated from up the hill to make the Grandview Cut and provide a base for the railway lines. During the Depression, in the scrub bush that's now covered with warehouses, there was a Hobo 'jungle', a camp for homeless people. China Creek became the City's first unofficial dump site and trash from it spilled down and out over the remaining marshlands. Up until recently, there were open pits and tunnels dug in the brush along the edges of the C.N. right of way. Collectors and scavengers sifted through the layers of junk and history looking for buried treasure. The City posted 'No Digging' signs and eventually the brush was cleared and the impromptu midden paved over. But some people still dig. And some still make shelters there.

Just over my shoulder, the Skytrain swooped past, windows strobing, illuminating me briefly as it banked and then squealed away into the night, heading towards Downtown. I tossed the garland onto the top of the chain link fence and then standing on an overturned plastic bucket that I found en route, draped the garland and tied it into place. Looking out through the darkness, across the flats and even further - Patricia.





4/4/10

Hastings and Princess



There used to be a row of tiny little houses, just shacks really, down from the corner, fronting right onto Princess. They were old, tilting at odd angles and held together mostly by layers and layers of paint. But someone always seemed to make a point of keeping the stoops clean and covered with pots of flowers and in summer, the doorways were usually festooned with climbing Scarlet Runner beans. One day the houses were emptied. They became immediately shoddier, got boarded up and then they were gone and the site became a gravel parking lot. Next door, right on the corner of Hastings were two old cafes, sitting side by side. One closed down, then the other and after the storefronts had sat vacant for a while, the gutted spaces were turned into a makeshift women's drop-in shelter. Then about a year ago, they were both knocked down and the whole corner lot was dug up and from the bottom of a big pit rose the concrete foundations and ramparts of what is going to be the new Union Gospel Mission Centre.

This Good Friday with darkness falling, the winds rising steadily and rain squalls battering the neighbourhood, I headed out to hang up another garland. Hastings was awash with tumbling umbrellas and sodden sleeping bags. Emptied garbage bags and wet blankets sailed down the middle of the street likes ghosts. The lineup for Easter dinner at the old UGM on Cordova stretched around the block and up into the alley and hugged the wall on the lee side of the new building site. As gale force winds tore sheets of plywood off billboard hoardings and tossed branches, bottles, pillows, paper plates, melon rinds, and backpacks through the air with equal ease, I pulled myself up onto the base of the scaffolding built out over the sidewalk and lashed the garland tightly to the side of the structure. Fluttering and snapping in the wind, like a pennant on the mast of a ship turned into the face of the storm - Jennifer.





3/19/10

Prior, after Dunlevy and before Malkin





Spring took a step backwards into winter last night. The air was very cold and my hands were awkward as I tied, untied and then re-tied the knots. I didn't realize until later, when I had gotten home, that reaching through the barbed wire had left deep gashes all up and down my forearms. Early next morning, on the other side of the fence - Sherry.



2/16/10

Powell, just before Oppenheimer Park


For the last few days the constant thudding of Olympic security helicopters over the neighbourhood has been getting on everyone's nerves. Late afternoon and the sky is filled with agitated gulls, the trees all around the park alive with restless crows. A local resident wanders up and down Powell telling himself over and over again - "They want to play their games, They can keep their FUCKING GAMES!" Last night, the street was full of cruising Police cars, empty of people and the uptown spotlights and the beams from the circling helicopters overhead looked a bit like the Northern Lights, but I avoided going out. Today, just before sunset, under the watchful eyes of many crows - Marnie.


1/24/10

Railway, just west of Jackson



The surrounding streets are filled w/ film trucks, the night sky crackles w/ walkie talkie chatter. The corner of Gore and Powell is lit up brighter than daytime. Police are posted at the mouths of all the nearby alleys and private security guards patrol the shadowed sidewalks, keeping an eye on the equipment. I slip an orange safety vest into my pocket, in case I have to pass myself off as a film crew roadie and head away from the noise of Hollywood North. Further along Railway, it starts to get quieter and the streets feel empty. Overlooking the docks, in a gap between the warehouses, there's a small stand of fir trees. Underneath them it's dark and deserted. Almost. The warning lights flickering on top of the shipping cranes shine down through the boughs like stars, softly illuminating - Mona.



12/24/09

Hastings and Gore


On the south east corner, the First United Church is all lit up and the roofline gables covered with Christmas trees. It looks very pretty. On the northeast corner, women are working. On the northwest corner, a guy is selling single smokes. On the southwest corner, hanging above the sidewalk - Wendy.